electric

Electric isn’t the threat to classic cars – autonomous vehicles are

I MIGHT have to take an extended retreat on a mountain-top monastery and try and meditate my way out of having what – to a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead – are clearly unholy thoughts. For a split second the other night, I thought buying an electric car might actually be a good idea.

They have, from the various ones I’ve tried, come a long way in barely a decade. If I was being sensible I might be tempted by a BMW i3, but if I wasn’t it’d be an emphatic yes to Renault’s Twizy. What’s more, either would make perfect sense on my current commute; a 20-mile drive to and from an office which, helpfully, already has charging points on site.

That’s the way the nation’s moving; for all those longer drives I do to North Wales and the remoter bits of Yorkshire I’m still very much an advocate of internal combustion, but for an increasingly large swathe of the population it’s getting ever easier to go all-electric, especially with unleaded nudging £1.30 a litre.

But that’s not the worry I had for a classic owner who wrote to me the other day, pondering what implications Britain’s lunge towards zero emissions motoring had for his Jaguar Mk2. For me, it’s autonomous vehicles, not electric ones, that pose the biggest challenge.

Again, these are getting better every year, but until you remove humans and their awkward habit of making irrational, last-minute decisions out of the equation, you’re still going to get crashes. Logically, the only way to do that is to have autonomous-only roads – a sort of Docklands Light Railway for cars, if you like – where cars that don’t have that driver-free capability can no longer roam.

There are no plans from the Department for Transport to do this, but it’s already looking at technology that’s pointing in that direction, the most obvious being smart motorways that beam traffic information straight onto digital displays on car dashboards. The EU’s already mandated that new cars from 2022 onwards will have speed-limiting tech pre-installed. Even in an all-electric world it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario where people with classic cars would still be able to get petrol from somewhere, but I dread the day when they’re confronted with roads they’re no longer allowed to use.

What’s more – and I know this is a hugely indulgent, selfish thing to admit in our bid to become a cleaner, greener, safer Britain ­– I like driving. Not thrashing a car to within an inch of its life, but taking a great car, learning all of its little facets and characteristics, and exploring our wonderful country with it. Seeing quaint buildings in villages you didn’t know about. Stopping off at canal-side pubs on summer evenings just for the hell of it. And yes, pondering whether the Jaguar Mk2 is better in 3.4-litre form is actually somehow more satisfying and better balanced than the 3.8-litre one, even though prices still suggest everyone’s after the latter.

These are the sort of things you just can’t do if you pre-program your destination into an autonomously-guided electric pod – no matter how good an idea they might briefly seem. Think carefully, chaps in Whitehall…

Aston Martin Rapide E – licensed to be sensible

SPOILER alert – by which I don’t mean the enormous thing you’ll find sprouting from the back of Honda’s Civic Type R. The next Bond movie is the one where 007 finally settles down for a lifetime of school runs and trips to Sainsbury’s.

Forget any rumours you might have read about the next cinematic outing for Britain’s top MI6 operative being a modern-day retelling of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Or that its working title, Shatterhand, alludes to a SPECTRE mastermind previously only mentioned in the books and thus sets Bond up for a showdown with Blofeld’s right-hand man. Nope, the 25th film in the series is the one where 007, having chatted up Madeleine Swann in the last movie, gets married, takes her on a honeymoon to Prestatyn and they have kids a year or two later. Awwww, Daniel Craig’s take on the orphaned assassin has finally grown up!

I know this not because I’ve got pals at Pinewood Studios, but simply on the choice of car that’ll he be driving in the next film. Elsewhere in the press you might have read about how the new Aston Martin Rapide E is the first time that a 00-agent has been assigned a zero emissions car – nothing wrong with that, of course – but the thing that grabs me that, no matter how cool it looks, it’s a four-door saloon.

A four-door saloon. It’s only the second time in the entire history of the Bond films that’s happened, and on the last occasion it was an Avis-rented BMW that Pierce Brosnan promptly did the right thing to by sending it straight off the top of a multi-storey car park. The fact that 007’s next set of wheels is an Aston Martin, of course, is entirely right. But why does Bond need an extra set of doors? Has he been told that the Ministry of Defence, due to ongoing budget cuts, is insisting on car-sharing with colleagues and that from now on, he’s going to have to give 004, 006 and 009 lifts to their next missions?

I know that Aston Martin is very keen to, er, plug its first all-electric model on the big screen but James Bond is the sort of bloke with no need for a big boot and decent rear legroom – in other words, he needs the newly-launched Vantage, which thanks to its Mercedes-sourced, twin-turbo V8 is not only more sensibly reliable than the Astons of old but looks the part and sounds great too. It has room for our plucky Brit, a femme fatale, some concealed weaponry and nothing else. Now that’s a Bond car.

That’s why I can only assume that Bond’s married-with-children in the next film, because the Rapide’s more B&Q than Q-branch. That, or they’ve picked completely the wrong car.

Jaguar has upped the electric car ante – by driving to Brussels!

Jaguar has shown that all-electric cars can now manage big journeys
A DRIVE of just 229 miles – that’s The Champion’s offices to Birmingham, and back again – could prove to be a bit of motoring history in the making.

That’s how far Jaguar’s just sent its new I-Pace, a plushly-trimmed crossover that could be yours for a shade under £59,000, on a fact-finding test drive. Only it didn’t go anywhere as boring as Birmingham, and set off instead from London’s South Bank, not stopping again until it’d reached the centre of Brussels. I really do mean it didn’t stop at all, because there was no switching it off and letting a ferry or Eurotunnel carry it to Calais. The Channel Tunnel’s operators gave Jaguar special permission to drive through their service tunnel, so it really did do the entire journey in one hit.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the I-Pace is an electric car. Which didn’t have to stop to top up its batteries once on its emissions-free adventure over three countries.

Jaguar’s neatly executed foray across French soil is, of course, a carefully choreographed bit of carmaker PR to plug (sorry) the I-Pace, and I’ve no doubt that it could just as happily cruise 229 miles somewhere a little less exotic. Birmingham, perhaps. But the nice ring to the achievement – and what it means for zero emissions motoring in general – reminded me of the oldest car event of the lot.

The London to Brighton Run can trace its roots back to 1896, when the requirement to drive behind a bloke waving a red flag was lifted and Britain’s petrolhead pioneers could power towards a brighter future. It’s marked every year by pre-1904 cars heading from the capital to the south coast and it’s still a hugely significant event, because it celebrates the beginning of British motoring as we know it.

London to Brussels, with a bit of careful nurturing, could become just as symbolic. I can genuinely imagine an event in another 100 years’ time, when pre-2019 electric cars set off from the South Bank and retrace Jaguar’s route, disappearing into that service tunnel, and popping out the other side to cheering crowds on their way to Belgium. It sounds fanciful now, but the feat of driving an electric car all that way and underneath the Channel through a very lonely-looking tunnel could well become this century’s London to Brighton moment.

Why? Because it neatly sums up what electric cars are finally capable of – if one can get from London to Brussels, it’ll also certainly survive your morning commute. I remember barely a decade ago driving an electric car for the first time and emerging thinking that it was awful. I wouldn’t have trusted it to take me to Liverpool and back without leaving me stranded with a dead battery, let alone making it to Brussels.

That electric cars have gone from this to the I-Pace in under ten years is nothing short of extraordinary.

The Nobe electric car looks cool – but not enough to invest in

The Nobe 100 is an eco-friendly electric car inspired by small 1960s cars(1)

IT’S NOT every weekend that you get asked to help put a car into production.

Don’t worry, nobody from Vauxhall has rung me up, asking whether – as that bloke from The Champion – I have any tips on what I’d like to see in the next-generation Adam. Nor am I loaded enough to be one of those lucky souls invited to, er, help Ferrari develop its next model by paying for a one-off track-day special that you’re only allowed to access three times a year.

But some Estonians have asked me to bung them a couple of quid to help get their retro-styled electric three-wheeler off the ground. They obviously haven’t approached Deborah Meaden and Duncan Bannatyne yet, but as a car nut I’ll save them the trouble.

Nobe – an eco-friendly start-up specialising in microcars, not a mis-spelling of Leicester-based supercar maker Noble – is using a crowdfunding site to attempt to secure £800,000 for the new car. Apparently the thing that’ll excite Greenpeace types is that it’s zero emissions and easily recyclable, but the bit that grabs me is that it looks good. The front end looks like it could’ve come from a shrunken Borgward Isabella (you’ll have to Google it), the way the rear end tapers to a set of full-width lights is lovely, and the delicate chrome details between the two are distinctly 1960s. Oh, and there’s a very faint whiff of Jensen Interceptor about that rear glass treatment.

It’ll also has room for three, will sit at 70mph happily enough and promises a two-hour charging time, but I’m not exactly going to be taking out a second mortgage or hounding my bank manager any time soon. There have been plenty of miniscule motors over the years, from Messerschmitts and Minis to modern day Smart cars, and none of their creators needed to use a crowdfunding site. The asking figure of £800k also sounds a bit far-fetched, when you consider that Aston Martin apparently had to raise £200 million to help develop their new DBX off-roader, likely to be called the Varekai when it makes production.

All this coming from someone who’s owned two Minis, once bought a Renault 5 for £100 for a laugh and is currently restoring a Reliant Robin. I completely get the point of cars that offering up motoring fun in pint-sized packages, but if the Nobe’s that clever an idea I’d expect Dragons’ Den types would be queuing up to invest in it.

Best of luck, chaps, but I’m out.

The Polestar One is a fabulous car – a Volvo, to be precise

Polestar looked at classic Volvo models for inspiration for its new car

IT SOUNDS like something that Gerry Anderson might have conjured up with a couple of string-assisted pilots in mind.

The Polestar One has a name that conjures up images of a machine powered by nuclear reactors and piloted by one of the Tracy family at four times the speed of sound, but in fact this vaguely sci-fi name’s been given to a car, and one that isn’t the normal motor show flight of one-off fancy. It is, according to Volvo, going to be slapped on the back of a fully-fledged production model that’ll be tootling along our streets in about two years’ time.

But it isn’t just the name that’s a bit Blade Runner. This two-door coupe is an electric car backed up by a tiny petrol engine, but with the equivalent of 600bhp on tap it’s easily a match for BMW’s similarly configured i8 supercar. It’ll also only be available to order online and you won’t actually be able to buy it – you subscribe to it, like you would a magazine.

The new arrival also marks the arrival of a new car brand in its own right. To most car nuts Polestar is the Swedes’ answer to what BMW does with its M cars and the magic Mercedes rustles up with its AMG saloons and sports cars, but apparently Polestar is rather more than that. Which is why the new model is going to be followed up by the imaginatively-titled Polestar Two.

Which is a mistake, I reckon. I love the Polestar One’s eco-friendly-yet-exciting take on driving fun and its clever double rear axle. I especially love the way it looks – which is unmistakably like a Volvo.

Specifically, you can tell it borrows plenty of styling cues from the old P1800 so beloved of Simon Templar in The Saint, and beneath those swooping curves it’s based on a Volvo platform too. Yet no matter how hard I peer at the press photos I can’t see the ‘V’ word stamped anywhere on the new arrival, which is a shame. Maybe if they’d launched it when all of Volvo’s cars were styled by toddlers using Etch-A-Sketch toys I’d understand the Swedes being a bit hesitant about launching a Volvo sports car, but these days things are different.

I sincerely hope the Polestar One not only arrives here on time, but does it shouting proudly about its Scandinavian heritage too. It is the coolest car Volvo’s ever made.

The Government ban on petrol and diesel in 2040 will be fine for new cars. It’s the old ones I’m worried about

Cars like the BMW i3 have made zero emissions motoring more fashionable

APOLOGIES to Mark Twain’s estate for having to shamelessly pilfer one of his better-known quotes. Reports of the car’s death – which you’ve probably read over the past week or so – have been greatly exaggerated.

Chances are you’ll already be aware of the Government’s intention to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars as of 2040, which a million internet bores instantly took to mean the death knell for motoring fun as we know it. The party that Karl Benz and his pals threw back in 1886 is finally over, because we all overdid it and got drunk on AC Cobras and Range Rover Sports.

But calling it quits isn’t really doing us as a species, particularly those of who love cars, much credit. Ever since we figured out that we had opposable thumbs and could light fires we’ve been pretty good at working out answers to things, and even by the Government’s own prescription we have roughly 23 years to solve this one.

I’m not going to get into how we make the clean energy that propels a zero emissions car but the end result’s a lot better than it used to be. Seven years ago I drove an electric MINI that had a battery so huge it took up the back seats, a range of barely 100 miles and engine braking so severe you could pull up at roundabouts without touching the middle pedal. It only took another two years for the motor industry to invent an electric car that was fun to drive – take a bow, Renault Twizy – and fast forward to 2017 and the charging points at motorway service stations are crammed with Nissan Leafs and Teslas. If we’ve made it this far in seven years, you probably won’t need a diesel Golf as a new car in two decades’ time.

The bit I worry about is what happens with all the old ones. The more intelligent people at Westminster have already said that banning them isn’t the answer, partly because outlawing the MGB is a bit like banning Buckingham Palace and more importantly because the nation’s classic car hobby is worth £5.5 billion to the British economy (and it’s still growing). Horses have been old hat to commuters since the Austin Seven showed up, but they’re still allowed to use our roads.

But the thing with horses is that you only need straw, carrots and a decent vet to keep them going. If everyone else is driving electric cars in 2040 will there still be petrol stations to fill up the MGF or the Peugeot 205 GTI? Or places that can do a new battery for an Audi TT?

The car, I honestly reckon, will live on. It just might be a bit trickier than it used to be.

BMW ups the stakes for its i3

BMW says its i3 can now travel a lot further than before on electricity alone..jpgBMW has just given its electric i3 model a new battery with 50% more range than previously – despite being the same size.

The new i3 generates the equivalent of 170bhp and can travel up to 195 miles, and is available either with or without a petrol-powered range extender.

Not only can it go a lot further than the old one, but anyone daring to swap from a 3-Series won’t find it too alien either – the dash from 0-60mph only takes 7.3 seconds. While the 93mph top speed isn’t going to trouble anyone on the faster stretches of Germany’s autobahns it’ll more than do for BMW’s natural stomping ground in the UK – the outside lane of the M6.

Prices start at £27,380, once the Government’s £4500 grant for eco-friendly cars is taken into account.