Gary Hartley

Electric cars are everywhere. No, it’s true: read the latest from both the media and the industry, and you could easily think they were.

If it’s not IBM telling the world that 20 percent of customers would be “somewhat or very likely” to buy an all-electric car, it’s Tesla Motors announcing they’ve already shipped 1,500 of their mightily impressive-looking Roadsters.

But as we’ve said before, there are some nagging doubts about battery-powered vehicles that need addressing before you’ll see one in everybody’s next-door neighbour’s garage.

Regular readers will have twigged that we at the Energy Saving Trust harbour our electric dreams – but the mass of people are quite rightly keeping those dreams in check for the time being. The industry, verified by independent experts, needs to prove itself on both safety and performance. And the powers that be need to prove there’ll be an infrastructure capable of supporting this boom in electric and alternative-fuel vehicles.

Some are taking up the challenge. Volvo caused a stir at the Detroit Motor Show last week by showcasing a crashed version of their C30 Electric – a blunt reply to those who say green driving might not be as safe.

 

And the BBC’s Brian Milligan has stopped talking and hit the road in search of answers about charging capacity – driving from London to Scotland using the UK’s current existing charging infrastructure. And he’s making the journey via Twitter as well as the roads, so you can follow him on his way.

Of course, as the Beeb points out:

Many electric cars are designed more for short commuter runs than a journey of the sort we’re attempting but we’re not making any great scientific claims for this, rather we’re hoping to bring the issues about electric cars and their infrastructure to the widest possible audience and we seem to be doing that.

Just to be on the safe side, the Tesla Motors Club has organised a direct challenge in the form of a driver in a Tesla electric sports car following the BBC’s route.

Meanwhile, it’s not just safety and feasibility that are up for debate at this crucial moment in the life of non-fossil-fuelled vehicles. Design and comfort have also entered the landscape of the doubter. Chinese company BYD had a mad rush to improve their car’s rear seating area ahead of an American launch.

As Detroit and all the rest clearly show, the industry is taking the alternatives to fossil fuels more seriously than ever. Commentator Paul A. Eisenstein, writing for NBC, sums it up nicely:

They’re hedging their bets, investing into a wide range of other options including diesel, compressed natural gas and even hydrogen that could increase the appeal of alternative power…it can be difficult to win over customers. So, if the Detroit show is any indication, we’ll be seeing both more battery cars – and plenty of other options – on display for the foreseeable future.

All in all, we’re not concerned about robust and healthy debate around greener, cleaner motoring. In fact, after years of flying below the mainstream radar, we’re pretty delighted to see alternative fuels discussed in such a high-profile, serious way.