Contract Electric Car

Photograph: EPA via the Independent

It seems that Gordon Brown is coming over all credible with his green attitude.  He is “embracing the electric car revolution” and plans to encourage the car industry to mass-produce electrically powered cars, right here in the UK.  

From today’s Independent . . .

He will meet manufacturers this week to try to persuade them to mass-produce electric cars, and is considering a remarkable plan to sell the cars cheap, together with their fuel, that is modelled on mobile-phone contracts.

So as with contract mobile phones, the idea is that you’d get a free car but would be signed up to a maximum mileage.  Well it seems feasible enough to me.  Maybe they will have a pay-as-you-go scheme too but you wouldn’t get your free car.  And also, perhaps it needs to be extended further to include vans and motor bikes (is it possible to include certain types of light aircraft or am I going beyond the realms of realistic possiblity?). 

If this thing took off (and according to the article, Denmark and Israel are already ahead in this) we’d get drastically reduced co2 which, needless to say, will benefit the whole planet.  And we’d have cheaper car costs which will be a definite vote-winner.  And Britain once again gets to produce something which is definitely on the upside seeing as how our days of industry and manufacturing have been on the decline for decades.  

Well I’m liking the idea.  It sounds like an ideal solution but it won’t be without its critics.  As the article states, the electricity needed to power the vehicles will have to come from renewable energy or the whole thing might end up being counterproductive.  Also, the oil giants might try to put their squeezers on it.  And it certainly won’t solve the problem of congestion on our small and increasingly-cramped British Isle. 

But the benefits should surely outweigh those little niggles.  It’s worth supporting, I think.

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11 Responses to Contract Electric Car

  1. matt says:

    Looks very interesting but not sure about being contracted to certain mileage useage per month. Surely only commuters could be sure of value here.

    Here’s an IHT article on the guy setting this up in Israel;

    To quote;

    The state will offer tax incentives to purchasers, and the new company, with a $200 million investment to start, will begin construction of facilities to recharge the cars and replace empty batteries quickly.

    The idea, said Shai Agassi, 39, the software entrepreneur behind the new company, is to sell electric car transportation on the model of the cellphone. Purchasers get subsidized hardware – the car – and pay a monthly fee for expected mileage, like minutes on a cellphone plan, eliminating concerns about the fluctuating price of gasoline.

    Agassi’s company, Project Better Place of Palo Alto, California, will provide the lithium-ion batteries, which will be able to go about 200 kilometers, or 125 miles, per charge, and the infrastructure necessary to keep the cars going – whether plug-in posts on city streets or service stations along highways, where in a structure like a car wash, exhausted batteries will be removed and fresh ones inserted.

    Renault and Nissan will provide the cars. The project here is a major step for Renault, which clearly believes that there is a commercial future in electric cars.

    One of the smart things about this scheme is the intention of having charged up replacement batteries at the ready. Especially useful for longer out of town journeys. You’d drive into the station, drop the new battery in and be on your way. A bit like the gas canister scheme used for campers. Nice.

  2. Dave (The Void) says:

    Are you aware about the polemic surrounding the Manchester Congestion Charge, EP?

    I think the rise in petrol prices could be seen as an opportunity to talk about the electric car, but it could also be an opportunity for something much bigger. It can call individualised mass transit – car culture itself – into question. We could argue long into the night about getting a scheme of taxation/pricing that is both fair and green, or about which technofix allows us to keep up the current system beyond peak oil, and arrive nowhere in particular. But what if there was free/very cheap, comfortable, reliable and regular public transport? That would help the environment while socialising people’s transport costs – and make most people’s commutes a lot more comfortable too. I think now is the time to get these questions into the mainstream, and wouldn’t want to see an electric car distract from that.

  3. matt says:

    Oh I think we go for both Dave, realistically.

  4. earthpal says:

    Matt, yes I liked the idea of ready-charged batteries available. George Monbiot suggests that all chains of filling stations should be obliged to supply leased batteries, fully charged with surplus electricity from offshore windfarms. This is what I call thinking outside the box.

    Dave, I really hear what you’re saying. I have great concerns about the individualised car culture and I guess you’re right that this electric car idea might distract us from the very real problems of congestion which I mentined in the post, especially in this country.

    Realistically, it’s going to be extremely difficult to get people to give up their cars but sure, the congestion problem isn’t going to go away and we definitely need to keep focused on greatly improving and expanding public transport and I wouldn’t like the politicians to lose sight of that.

    Maybe, as Matt says, there is room for both for the time being. I think congeston will probably speak for itself eventually anyway as we reach total gridlock.

  5. Pete Smith says:

    As long as petrol-head idiots like the Top Gear team rule mainstream opinion on personal transport, this will never get off the ground 😦

  6. Pete Smith says:

    “But what if there was free/very cheap, comfortable, reliable and regular public transport?”

    There are people working on new public transport models, but getting no support, e.g.

  7. Dave (The Void) says:

    That’s the point. Sure, the car isn’t going to be abandoned overnight – no matter how much we were to invest in public transport – and so a technological shift within the auto industry is to be welcomed. The electric car has its place.

    But in terms of winning a more environmentally sound set of transport, we have to confront the Top Gear-ists in the battle for ideas. And the way to do that isn’t talking about technology. It’s about arguing about the very nature of our transport system.

    Cars don’t bring “freedom”, whatever Clarkson says; most people who have to commute in the car have a thoroughly miserable time of it, and the only way to change that would be restrict car ownership to a tiny Clarksonite elite – hardly fair or workable. Car culture also exerts a massive overhead on the state – permanent road expansion, dealing with the health and environmental problems from air pollution, dealing with accidents – all the while putting the burden of petrol prices onto individuals who often struggle to cope.

    I think, if we take that argument seriously, we can win it. After which, promoting cleaner technology will be both easier and less urgent. Whereas if we make it about technology in the first place, without challenging the idea of individualist solutions to transport problems, we leave the field open for the likes of Clarkson to dominate. So yeah, I’m not trivialising the likely benefits of electric cars – but I am saying that it would be more productive to throw our political weight elsewhere.

  8. the Grit says:

    Hi y’all,

    Electric cars are great, if you don’t have to go very far and are smart enough to save up for the rather large financial outlay when the batteries need to be replaced. This may work well in Europe and even in some of our insanely large cities, but in most of the US, it’s not even going to get off the starting blocks. This is because, and here I have to dispute Dave’s opinion, cars do equate to freedom in the American culture.

    It may be difficult for non-Americans to understand, except for Canadians and Germans, but we don’t just drive to get somewhere, we drive because we like it. For several generations now, part of the American Dream has been to own a car and enjoy the freedom private transportation gives to explore our huge country, going where one wants, when one wants, without answering to anyone. We have large subcultures that have sprouted around this idea, including motorcycle groups, RV enthusiasts, sports car clubs, antique car clubs, and, well, enough more that we’re not going to change easily.

    As to public transportation, that, as a general solution over here, doesn’t stand a chance in hell of working. Consider, if you would, that we have 38 times your land area and only 5 times your population. Reliable, convenient, and affordable public transportation on that scale is just not possible with current technology. Oh, and that’s before you add in how inefficient Government run anything is. Do a Google search on “the big dig” or “Amtrak” if you need to see the red ink in print.

    On the up side, lots of research is being done on battery technology and alternatives to chemical based energy storage, so there’s hope for the future.

    the Grit

  9. matt says:

    It’s both the types of technology we look to develop or back to mass market and how we end up using said technologies that matters, which relies on policy, markets and human behaviour. Quite a few variables there.

    Grit, you’re absolutely right about large countries with populations that are well spread out not having a hope in hell of dropping the car. It’s not just the lack of profitable public transportation systems and freedom issues but, also because small town businesses are getting wiped out for all sorts of reasons and those small town residents are having to travel further to do their essential chores, such as shopping. Although interestingly those small town stores still in exsistence are currently doing better trade as high fuel prices are causing people to do more local food top-ups.

  10. the Grit says:

    Hi matt,

    On the other hand, if we did have some form of reliable public transportation, it would be a lot easier to make one stop at a mega-store using it than to make several stops at small shops. Which make me think that, now that we’ve pretty much populated all our usable land, and as working at home becomes more common, our smaller cities are going to start changing to accommodate having a central parking area and public transportation hub, from which one can walk or take a rented electric vehicle to all the stores. Based on our local history, I bet we’ll have a move toward that here in ten to fifteen years, if not sooner. I can hardly wait.

    the Grit

  11. NigelWalmsley says:

    Electric cars will make cites much more livable. Hopefully, this will encourage people to drive less, possibly live near where they work. Here in America, I think the best solution is to have an electric car but to only use it once in a while because your life is set up in such a way as to only need it once in a while.

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