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Electric Dreams?

March 2011

By Quentin Clarke, London

London’s no friend to the car these days. It costs £8 to drive before 6pm; traffic is abysmal by volume of buses and taxis alone; UK petrol prices are a record high; you need permits to park anywhere, and parking wardens are commission-hungry. And public transport is good, if expensive, the only car-owners I know are panicked parents driving inherited old bangers. I was defeated long ago, and remain bitter.

An innovation solving approximately 50% of these problems is the electric car. They’re not exactly an overwhelming presence on the streets, but you might say there’s a steady trickle. They’re nippy to park, exempt from the Congestion Charge, very much cheaper (an average 11p per mile), and produce 1/3 of the emissions. You can’t drive super-fast or far, but what does that matter in London? We’re promised for £100 per year we’ll be able to charge them at 1,300 power points across London, though the infrastructure isn’t here yet and with the present Government’s program of swinging cuts it’s easy to be cynical.

Current buzz is for the Nissan LEAF, European Car of the Year 2011, launching this month. At £23,900 they’re not cheap, especially for what’s ultimately a gamble, but reviews are excellent. Their experiential marketing strategy hinges around an interactive “Innovation Station” in the O2, London’s premier concert venue, enabling its 7.5 million annual visitors to learn about the product, simulate driving it and generally press buttons. They also promote a phone app monitoring the car’s fuel gauge. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.


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