Where Are the Electric Cars?

Saturday 2nd August – Saturday 23rd August 2014

We’ve spent the last three weeks in the UK and while we there we decided to have a bit of an adventure and go and find some Electric Cars.

We were staying in North Yorkshire, one of the many counties in the UK. The town we stayed in is 200 miles north of London and 200 miles south of Edinburgh, to put things in perspective. Yes, there are other places in the UK besides London!!

"North Yorkshire UK locator map 2010" by Nilfanion
“North Yorkshire UK locator map 2010” by Nilfanion

In California there are EV’s everywhere, in New Jersey there are certainly a few but I don’t often see another one on a daily basis. What will I find here in North Yorkshire?

Fiat 500 EVs

After a little bit of looking and a little bit of research, below is what I found out.

But… First things first, some exciting news… I think (think – because I was driving round the roundabout at the time so couldn’t stop to be 100% sure) that I just saw a Nissan Leaf by Farrah’s Toffee Shop in Harrogate. Well that is very exciting as it was the first electric car I had seen in 4 days! And then, you’ll never guess… 2 days later I thought I saw a Mitsubishi i-MiEV – this is so very exciting! But it turns out it wasn’t an i-MiEV it was in fact just an Mitsubishi i (not electric) – we saw it parked up a week later – Shame! However, we did end up seeing three different Nissan Leaf’s and the black one must live in Harrogate as we saw it a few times.

ElectraGirl with mask
Anyway – Lets see what happened on my quest in North Yorkshire to find some electric cars. With my trusty side-kick by my side (where else would he be?), we’ve done some ‘Secret Shopping’, but only of the window variety!

To the Results!

In order of least happy with, to most happy with, the one thing to remember is that the very worst was still okay, certainly not perfect by any means but, we were pleasantly surprised that no one tried to cross-sell us a petrol car, no one was rude about electric cars and no one stood in our way when we said we’d keep on looking. In fact none of the salespeople were pushy at all. Very different to our US experiences.


Our first stop of the day was at Mitsubishi in Leeds (not actually North Yorkshire, but it was the closet one to us).

First impressions were not good. We were already put off by the somewhat grotty dealership. Did this mean that the cars would also be rather grotty too? No need to worry, as when we asked if they had an i-MiEV, the salesman, after looking at his colleague for clarification said, “Do you mean the tiny town car that was all electric? I don’t think that they make them anymore.” Oh dear – immediate fail. I had already checked their website that said they sold them, but apparently that just means they are sellers of the i-MiEV, not that they have any.

I said, “Lets go.” I didn’t want to waste any time if they didn’t have any but the salesman tried to engage with us by all of a sudden having a memory jolt. He said, “In three years, I’ve only sold two.” Umm – okay then, but still, let’s just go.

He offered to help us find a car, to direct us to the nearest dealer but ultimately, they were too far away for this test which, is a shame as we really wanted to see the UK version of our little i-MiEV.

On the basis that they didn’t have a car and weren’t sure if it was still for sale, I can only give them ‘One Star out of Five’ – sorry.


Next up on the pre-planned route was Renault and the 2013 Renault Zöe. As we pulled into the car park we were grateful that we were in a Fiat Panda as the car parking spaces were really tiny. They had a charging unit outside so that could be a good sign. We walked inside the showroom and asked if they had a Zöe. The salesman, who barely looked up, said, “There’s one over there.”, and gestured in the vague direction of the car.

2014 Renault Zöe
Well, at least they did have a car, two actually. There was one inside to look at and one outside to test drive. We wandered over to look but we were not overly impressed. The salesman finally came over and muttered something about getting the keys, he disappeared and a couple of minutes later re-appeared with the keys.

The enthusiasm of the salesman was – pretty much non-existent. “What can you tell us about electric cars?” we asked. “Er, well, it’s better than the Leaf because it makes a nice hum and it is very much like the Clio”! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

Over to my side-kick in the drivers seat:

With my eyes closed the Zöe felt and drove just like a Nissan Leaf. Similar suspension, driving dynamics, the lot. That’s to say, it drove like a typical electric; smooth, quick, effortless. It didn’t wow me in any special way, I love the French styling, the interior was just a nice place to spend some time. The hum? That was an annoying whir from the pedestrian warning system at low speed. It needed a pair of wire-cutters to update it.

Back to the salesman, the product knowledge was not great. Apparently, I can charge it at home in 30 minutes (wrong), The charge port door was ‘jammed’ (locked) and when asked to list the best features, the ‘Hum’ was at the top. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

As they had cars in both the showroom and in the car park, ‘Two Stars out of Five’.


Next stop was Nissan.

As we pulled into the car park they definitely have Leaf’s as we saw two, gosh it’s all so exciting and a good sign so far.

Mini Leaf
We walked into the dealer and we were greeted within the first 30 seconds by our salesman Ian. We asked if they had any Leaf’s that we could look at and were told yes. While the salesperson located the keys to the Leaf we looked at the slightly smaller version they had in the showroom. We then sat down with Ian and listened to him telling us about the Leaf and charging. He didn’t try to sell us a petrol car instead, quite the opposite – he praised the Leaf and thought they were great (he doesn’t actually drive one, but two of his colleagues do). He did a really good job of trying to sell one to us and laid out everything from charging to accessories available for the Leaf. His product knowledge was good but for some confusion over battery capacity loss. Each lozenge on the battery meter represents one cell in the battery (wrong) and they can be replaced to restore the battery to new (nope, sadly). Long distance driving is possible and getting easier but, you have to plan your route (yay) otherwise, for day to day driving it’s perfect. You have to get the 6.6kW charger to be able to use the fast charger (not quite right) but it’s worth it, (tick)

It was quite difficult to sit there and pretend we didn’t know much about Electric Cars but it was interesting to hear what people have to say.

He was keen to take us on a test drive to really experience what was great about electric cars. I have to say that his keenness was impressive. We didn’t drive one as my side kick has already driven one before and we were keen to check out the e-up! Oh, and no you cannot have my phone number – Ian seemed bothered that he wouldn’t be able to call us and bother us!!

For enthusiasm and for generally being ‘Go Electric!’ ‘Four Stars out of Five’.


Next on the trail – The 2014 VW e-up!

2014 VW e-up!
Like the Renault Zöe, it is a Europe only car, there’s no US equivalent – that’s a shame. The salesman, Richard, met us enthusiastically and showed us around the car. His product knowledge was fair but he was the first to admit that he wasn’t an expert on the e-up! Notable errors were not knowing that the e-up! does, in fact, support DC Fast charging and that it does have regen. To be fair he did apologise for not knowing these things. What he lacked in product knowledge he made up for in genuine enthusiasm for the electric idea, even to the point of saying that after a day at work he would like to drive an e-up! home.

Over to my side-kick who is in the drivers seat:

The e-up! is a small car. For my American chums, I have to stress that you _must_not_ prejudice the e-up! based on its size! Of all the small cars I’ve ever driven, the e-up! does ‘big car’ ride and feel the best. It was surreal how much the car felt like an executive sports car – solid, chunky, giving that ‘hewn-from-granite’ feel. Think, ‘best ever Golf GTI’.
The performance was peppy if not GTI like but, the driving dynamics were superb, zero-regen in ‘D’, loads of regen in ‘B’ and a surprise motor powered hill-assist at the lights. Frankly, I’d love one.

For enthusiasm and for generally being ‘Go Electric!’ ‘Four Stars out of Five’.


Last but not least on the route – BMW and the i3.

Stratstone BMW
I often wonder just how much BMW cares about electric cars. I know that they talk a good talk and insist that the ‘i’ brand is all about electric, even though they have more plug-in-hybrids in the range than true EVs. However, today they changed my perception completely. BMW is definitely standing behind its ‘i’ brand. How do I know? Simple – product knowledge.

We were greeted as we walked through the door and met by product specialist Sam Lancaster by the i3 and i8 on display. It was like talking to a fellow EV enthusiast, every detail understood, all the numbers plus, all the important stuff like how great they are to drive, how quick they are and even where the parts are sourced so, I’ve no fear of having my friends think my car is anything but as ecologically sound as it could be. Nothing was overblown like the range, or the pluses and minuses of the REx, just explained. He even covered the BMW loaner program and how that worked.

The score: ‘Six Stars out of Five’ for making me miss my i3 back in NJ.

How do the dealers in England compare to New Jersey, USA?

The most obvious difference is that they support and care about electric cars. Not one tried to persuade me to look at other cars, even when I hinted that I might not be sure that an electric car was for me. The other big difference was that everyone was happy to let me walk out with nothing more than information. It was all a ‘soft-sell’. Only BMW in New Jersey matched the experience 100%, right down to the ambience of the showroom and the knowledgeable sales person.

The only tricky thing left is, how to persuade BMW to lend me an i3 for a few days so I can drive all around North Yorkshire showing my friends and family how great these cars really are? After reading my blog on how I ended up with an i3 they’d love to see the real thing. Excuse me while I make a quick phone call…

BMW i3 Ready for pickup
I miss my i3

Right back again and ready to let you know what we got up to next.

My next mission took us to the lovely City of York in North Yorkshire where we met with Derek McCreadie from the City Of York to chat about the cities Electric Car Charging network and experience, first hand, their new Electric Bus Program.

A quick background on York. A city founded by the Romans in 71 AD, York is a walled city with its 50 acre heart surrounded by a fortress wall built shortly afterwards. In 1080, construction began on what is now the famous York Minster. In recent times, the population has grown to nearly 200,000 and York has become a very busy place.

On an average day, the city is bustling with thousands of cars, buses and lorries all making their way through the narrow streets, lined with 16th -18th century stone buildings. The impact of that traffic is all too apparent. In the UK, diesel is the king of fuels and poor regulations mean that the air literally tastes of diesel fumes and the buildings are coated with diesel and other soot. Oh my poor lungs!

Let me say here that I don’t do public transport. Actually, I don’t do any transport particularly well but, in the name of science I decided to give the Park-&-Ride electric bus scheme a go…

Three head DC Fast Charger at the York Park and Ride
We arrived at the Park-&-Ride on the outskirts of the City of York. Normally, the extra few miles into the city would be a fairly painless journey ending in a lot of circling to find the best parking followed by an anxious hour or two wondering if either a: We’d put enough money on the pay-&-display ticket (3hrs = £6.20, $10.00) or b: We’d even parked in a legal spot! Today, at the Park-&-Ride we paid £5.40, $8.64 for two return tickets into town and unlimited parking. We only had to wait about 5 minutes for the next bus, they run every 10 minutes. The bus pulled in, stopped, and as I walked forward to get on I looked behind to make sure my side kick was following. But alas no, he was some distance away eagerly snapping photos of the bus behind at the charging station. I gave him ‘that look’, which sent him sprinting towards the bus so as not to miss it! Well, I didn’t feel like waiting another 10 minutes! I suppose I could have left him but I had the money!!!

Bus plugged in at the York Park and Ride
One thing that was very different to what I expected was the way the buses charged. I expected huge fat cables or overhead rails but no, the buses are charged from a CHAdeMO DC fast charger with what Derek described as “Special software that ensures that the buses are charging at the full rate all of the time.” The charger also featured CCS and 3-phase too which, by arrangement is available to the public after hours!

So, as the bus set off I was really not looking forward to the ride into town – buses and I are not good friends. The initial set off was the tell tale sign that the bus was electric, it was quiet and smooth. It’s also so nice to not have that horrible smelly, cronkyness (probably not a word but it fits the need here). Unfortunately, there was no mistaking that it was still a bus – And, unfortunately I had forgotten my sick bag! I just don’t travel well.

On the electric bus at the York Park and Ride
After missing our stop – apparently you have to press the red stop button before your stop to signal to the driver that you would like to disembark – Oops! We ended up almost doing the full circle… Really wish I’d bought that sick bag now!

After finally getting off the bus, we met Derek at one of the City’s parking lots where we found a few level two and another new DC fast charger with CCS, 3-phase and CHAdeMO.

Derek McCreadie is a softly spoken, unimposing man charged with the task of making good on York City Councils goal of cleaning up the air in York City. I think he’s quite a giant of a man who history will remember as the man that preserved York for generations to come.

Derek McCreadie at a DC Faster charger in York
Driven by the City of York Environmental Protection Unit, Derek McCreadie, as Low Emissions Officer has the job of persuading the City’s departments to rethink how they do things. “I’m not sure how it works but, I guess with a little Magic Dust, each department starts to make changes.” His first task two years ago was to study the sources of pollution in the city where he quickly identified the top culprit – Buses. Moreover, it was apparent that certain buses were far more active than others. Derek set about re-making the Park-&-Ride scheme with pure electric propulsion.

Bus charging at the York Park and Ride Close
Electric Bus Charging

We asked Derek about the buses, how they’d come about. “I worked with the platform company Optare and with other cities that have done the same, like Milton Keynes where they’ve used wireless charging. But, we decided that simple, proven and cost effective was best, hence the CHAdeMO charger. Our busses enjoy 95% availability and each bus saves about £20,000 per year in fuel alone.” – that’s over $30,000.

Well, we know there’s that one important question that we had to ask… So, how far can it go? “Well, that depends an awful lot on the drivers. There’s a big difference between the range that different drivers get but, on its 107kWhr battery, it gets about 100 miles at best but, more like 60+ in the hands of the average driver on a typical day. It covers almost a full days work on a single change.” I cringed at the next bit, “So, it does about 0.6 miles/kWhr.” – that’s 4.8 less than I get in my i3!

So, what next? “York should have approx 11% of bus movements running fully electric by Autumn and 80% of bus movements is achievable by 2018 which will have substantial air quality benefits.”

Charging spots in York
We also talked about Yorks’ focus on charging. In association with Kevin Sharpe’s company, Zero Carbon World, York has deployed an extrodinary number of Level 1 charging stations at hotels in the City – Level 1 in the UK is actually twice the power of Level 1 in the US – and four DC fast chargers and, eleven Level 2 around the city. All of which are charged for by the power consumed, at £0.15/kWhr,  $0.24/kWhr with stiff penalties for those that plug-in and leave their cars too long as that price also includes parking. The City allows 1hr for DC, 12hrs for Level 2 but has yet not needed to give out a single ticket for that or even for ICEing EV charging spots. http://www.itravelyork.info/driving/electric-vehicles/electric-vehicle-recharging-network

What I find most impressive is that all of this change has happened in less than two years. Perhaps being an early adopter is not the most efficient path?

Our ride back to the park-&-ride station was quick and uneventful. But, the big question is, would I use it again? Yes, I would as it makes life easier but I’d definitely remember my sick bag next time!

Would you like to see this kind of scheme in your town?

Lastly – Just a short thought on the difference between US and UK politics.

Rainy day
The view from the window on on our last day in the UK

Leaving England, I’m always sad to leave my family behind and I’m especially sad this time as, the UK seems to have undergone a transformation in my little part of the country. The revelation in York and a growing number of Electrics being spotted around town gives me great hope that the UK is on a roll. Perhaps those people at Top Gear were a bit premature in putting down adoption of Electric Cars in England.

But will it continue to grow?

In the UK, I think so. Projects like GoUltraLow, sponsored by the auto industry and hosted by the UK Governments “Office for low emission vehicles” promote the benefits of electric cars in a “look, see, they can work” kind of a way which I like. Check out the site and compare that to the messages that we see in the US. From GoUltraLow:

“Once you’ve got the vehicle, it’s incredibly cheap to run.”

Nick Clegg MP, Deputy Prime Minister

Maybe it’s because I’m more familiar with US Electric Car politics these days or maybe the UK is more open to change or, just less resistant to being told what to do but, it does seem that the UK is more about change whereas the US seems to be mired in debate about whether it’s constitutionally acceptable to suggest making changes before any change can even be considered. Is that a fair assessment?

I’m certainly not saying that the US doesn’t promote the use of electric vehicles just that there’s a subtle difference in the language – the Barak Obama “Calls for change“, Nick Clegg says that there nice to own. Which is best?

Anyway, as I headed out… evidence that some things are the same the world over… Yes, that little blue EVSE is well and truly ICEd…

BMW Dealer car park



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