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Smart ed Preview

15 posts in this topic

Author Hugo Jobling

Published 22nd Jun 2009

Manufacturer Smart

Despite having suffered a fair amount of ridicule from some circles, Smart has carved itself out quite a niche in the car market over the last few years. The company was founded in the ideology that a huge number of people buy cars that, considering their intended use, are grossly impractical - whether that be their size, cost of ownership, or level of pollution - and the belief that there must be a solution to this problem.

It's a viewpoint that many have come around to, as evidenced not only by the growing sales figures Smart has seen, but also by the level of support Smart is receiving from the EU and various European governments.

Improving and promoting 'Green' credentials is becoming more important to both the current UK government and its rival parties, and Labour has gone so far as to put its money where its mouth is, offering tax breaks for owning low (or zero) emission cars as well as cash incentives for purchasing them in the first place.

There's also a growing level of public desire, too, for environmentally friendly cars. And that's not to mention the other perks of owning a smart car, such as being able to park pretty much anywhere thanks to its tiny size.

With that in mind, when Smart invited me to take a look at - and drive in - its latest electric-powered Smart ed it was impossible to resist.

If you buy into the hype, electric cars are the way of the future. Toyota has made decent headway with its Prius Hybrid and companies such as Tesla have eschewed the fuel-driven elements of their vehicles altogether.

These zero emission cars certainly top trump their rivals when it comes to their day-to-day green credentials. So while the Smart ed itself isn't available to buy, the 100 test cars Smart has dotted around the UK will be used to provide the feedback it needs to optimise a road-going version.

To ensure it really does live up to its zero emission credentials, Smart has only allowed companies agreeing to provide the electricity the ed requires from renewable sources to take part in its trial. Cleverly, the car can be charged from any three-pin socket, thus making the Smart ed that bit more usable.

Externally there's noting to differentiate the ed from any other Smart Fortwo and I would defy anyone to tell an electric and petrol Smart apart other than by the inevitably smug, self-satisfied look the driver of the former will likely be wearing. There's plenty of magic going on inside, however.

Currently the Smart ed uses a 'hot' nickel hydride battery, but production cars will use a 'cold' Lithium-Ion battery, supposedly improving performance and reducing charge times. I was advised a range improvement wasn't likely as a result of the change but that the improvements in other areas are definitely worthwhile. As it happens, Smart is a stakeholder in the company which produces the batteries used in the ed - which also supplies Tesla, among other electric car companies - so it has a doubly vested interest in ensuring their quality.

A full charge, Smart says, should take around eight hours, providing a 72 mile range, the equivalent of approximately 300mpg, sucking away at around £1 worth of electricity. While that's a maximum, it should still be more than enough for the average commuter to get to and from work, especially if there's facility to top-up the car in the office car park. Just don't expect to make it from London to Brighton with high beam headlights on and the radio blaring out at full volume.

The Zyxtel brushless motor used in the Smart ed provides 75bhp and 89lb ft of torque. By dint of being an electric car all of that output is available from standing and as such the car can reach 31mph in 6.5 seconds, continuing on to a limited 60mph. That's not exactly AMG territory, but driving about in fairly heavy London traffic I can't say I ever craved more acceleration.

Sitting inside the Smart ed is a disconcerting experience. Even when you know not to expect any sound, turning a key and hearing only a bleep to tell you the car is indeed turned on is just plain weird. What's even stranger is that, having pressed in the brake pedal to shift the Smart ed into drive, is how, at least driving around Shoreditch, little it felt like I was driving an electric car. Pressing on the throttle, instead of the rumble of a petrol or diesel engine I was subjected to a low pitched whine accompanied buy a not-inconspicuous amount of tyre noise.

The Smart ed is hardly the last word in comfort. Unless I was being particularly unobservant, a radio is the only mod con provided. I can only hope that in production electric cars, Smart can fix it so that accelerating at anything more than a crawl doesn't cause the radio to stutter for a moment. Even when it does remain powered on, it's an almost annoyingly basic affair.

Given the prototype nature of the ed I'm willing to give Smart the benefit of the doubt and assume that production vehicles won't be as sparse, but with power at a premium in an electric vehicle, don't expect anything as exciting as air conditioning or a built-in sat-nav. Not that in a car designed purely for commuting short distanced such extravagances are entirely necessary anyway.

Smart won't talk pricing for the ed yet, which is hardly surprising as it isn't going to be made available to the public for a while yet and Smart doesn't really know what its production costs will be as every Smart ed made so far has been pretty much hand built. Furthermore, Smart is keen to point out that with an electric car you're partly buying your fuel up front - thanks to the added cost of the batteries - so a direct comparison to its fuelled cars isn't really fair.

With the government set to invest £250m into promoting low-carbon transport in 2012, buyers of the Smart ed are hardly likely to be paying a premium for the privilege, with subsidies of up to £3k on a new car suggested. Then there's road tax exemption, likely cheap insurance and, as Smart is always keen to point out, the ability to fit two Fortwos in one 'normal' parking space.

I didn't expect to be impressed by the Smart ed, if I'm entirely honest, but having spent some time with the car I'm pretty much sold. Okay, so I won't buy one myself, but I wouldn't actively dissuade anyone from doing so and that's a first for a Smart car.



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Tuesday 23 June 2009 00.05

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent

UK powers up plans for world's largest electric car trial

UK government's £25m scheme to slash emissions from transport will allow public to take part in long-term trials of a range of electric cars

The UK government will today unveil the world's largest ever coordinated trial of environmentally friendly vehicles. The £25m scheme, which is designed to accelerate the introduction of electric cars to the UK will allow people to take part in long-term trials of everything from electric Minis and Smart city cars to sports cars and electric vans.

From the end of this year, around 340 of the vehicles will be available to qualifying members of the public in eight different locations around the country including Oxford, London, Glasgow, Birmingham and the north-east. Power companies, regional development agencies and universities will also be involved in coordinating the experiments, building infrastructure such as charging points and analysing the way the cars are used.

"Here's an opportunity to position the UK as a world leader in the adoption of this technology by supporting the largest ever trial of such vehicles," said Paul Drayson, the science minister. "That encourages companies working in this field to do their research and development here. That knowledge generated by the trial then gets fed back to the follow-on systems that come through."

Around 22% of the UK's carbon emissions come from transport, with 13% of these from private cars. According to a study for the Department for Transport (DfT), widespread adoption of electric vehicles capable of a range of 50km or more could cut road transport carbon emissions in half.

"We have about 33m cars on the road at the moment and it's going to go up by another 4-5m in the next 10 years," said David Bott of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the government-backed agency that promotes the development of new technologies and is coordinating the national demonstration project. "There's a lot of people buying new cars anyway so the question is how quickly can we get credible alternatives out there?"

Moving the UK's drivers onto cleaner forms of road transport would not be addressed by a single piece of technology, said Bott, and so the demonstration project had been designed to try out different cars in different places. "We get to find out what we can't do and we get a whole bunch of new problems that are real. We get confidence that we're on the right path or the knowledge that we need to change."

One branch of the trial will involve around 40 of BMW's Mini E available to those living in Oxford and south-east England. The 12-month project will evaluate the technical and social aspects of living with an all-electric vehicle and scientists at Oxford Brookes University will keep track of the drivers.

Anyone interested in taking part will need to meet certain criteria. "You'll have to have a garage, for example, and you'll have to have a fairly modern electrical wiring system," said Emma Lowndes of Mini UK. "A conventional cable on a normal socket would take over 10 hours to charge the Mini's battery. We're talking with Scottish and Southern Energy about putting in a 32 amp box into homes which would mean a charging time of just over 4 hours."

The cost of the Mini E has not been finalised but, in a similar scheme in the United States, the company charged customers around $850 (£520) per month to lease the car, a cost that included maintenance and insurance.

In Glasgow, 40 battery-powered cars will be made available by Peugeot, the local council and in partnership with the battery company Axeon. Scottish Power will provide 40 charging points around Glasgow and, during the year-long trial, the cars will be monitored using GPS to record the number and length of individual journeys. That data will be analysed by researchers at Strathclyde University.

Mercedes-Benz will make 100 of its latest electric Smart cars available in the west Midlands and in London."We're asking the public to come forward and apply to be one of the drivers of these vehicles," said Dermot Kelly, managing director of Mercedes-Benz cars.

"What we want is a diverse group who are commuting to work every day, who have the ability to charge their cars at home. The power supply companies will be supplying smart metering to work out when people would charge their cars up and when they would use them."

Kelly said he wanted to know how people used electric cars. "What we're hoping to learn is ... what we need to do to make the car as friendly and adaptable as possible to people's lifestyle."

For those who want their environmentally friendly cars with a bit more power, the EEMS Accelerate consortium — a group of small independent manufacturers — are making 21 electric sports cars available. These will include models from the Lightning car company, Westfield and Delta Motorsport. In addition, wind energy company Ecotricity will build and test an electric sports car that it claims will be the world's first charged only using energy from wind turbines.

Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner Tony Bosworth welcomed the new scheme, but said: "Ministers must boost the UK's flagging renewable energy industry because electric vehicles are only as green as the power they run on. Low-carbon vehicles are certainly needed, but we need broader changes to make the necessary cuts in transport emissions. Urgent action is needed to get people out of their cars by making public transport, cycling and walking more attractive options."

The government's demonstration project will also examine people's attitudes and behaviour around owning electric cars. Some people might hesitate to buy a typical electric car that might only have a range of 100 miles on a full charge, said Bott, but their attitudes might change if they tried the cars in question or realised that 95% of all UK journeys tend to be under 25 miles.

The demonstrations announced today are part of the government's wider £250m electric car strategy, unveiled in April, which includes potential incentives of up to £5,000 for consumers to buy electric cars. London's mayor, Boris Johnson, has also announced his intent to make the city the electric car capital of Europe. He wants to introduce 100,000 electric cars to the capital's streets and build an infrastructure of 25,000 charging points in public streets, car parks and shops.

Electric car top trumps

Mini E

Top speed: 95mph

Range: 150 miles

Charging time: Around 12 hours on a standard household socket

Cost: unknown but around $850 per month in the US

Good points: It's a Mini

Bad points: The back seats are taken up with a whopping battery

Cool factor: 5 out of 5

Smart Electric Drive

Top speed: 60mph

Range: 50-70 miles

Charging time: Full recharge from flat in 8 hours on a standard household socket

Good points: Nippy, perfect for cities

Bad points: Still looks like a toy car

Cool factor: 3 out of 5


Top speed: 130mph

Range: 180 miles

Charging time: 4.5 hours on standard household socket

Good points: sat nav, MP3 player, DAB digital radio and digital engine sound

Bad points: We don't know the cost but it doesn't look as though it'll be cheap

Cool factor: 4 out of 5

Peugeot eExpert Teepee

Top speed: 70mph

Range: up to 100 miles

Charging time: Unknown Good points: carries eight adults

Bad points: It's a box on wheels. Not the most stylish thing

Cool factor: 2 out of 5



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Electric Smart car comes to Britain

New batteries provide improved range and performance for latest version of the two-seater urban car.

By David Williams

Published: 11:54AM BST 25 Jun 2009

The all-electric Smart Fortwo is going into limited production, with 100 cars heading for the UK.

One hundred Smarts have been on trial with corporate customers, including the Metropolitan Police, since December 2007. Smart now wants to tempt private motorists and will lease the electric cars to the public as part of a second trial, before officially putting it on sale.

The new model, badged "ed", which stands for electric drive, will come to the UK from early 2010.

The new model is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which gives a longer range and better performance than the current sodium nickel chloride battery, says Smart. It has all the safety equipment that features on the regular Smart including ESP, ABS, two airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners.

The ed has no gear change and reaches 30mph in 6.5 seconds, with an electronically limited top of 60mph. It can be recharged by plugging it directly into any UK mains three-pin socket.



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''So I high-tailed it to west London to try out the Smart ED. ''

Batteries included: Are eco-friendly cars any good?

Politicians want British drivers to switch over to eco-friendly cars. They're silent and stylish – but are they any good? John Walsh puts pedal to the metal

Monday, 29 June 2009

The first shot of the electrical car revolution was fired on 10 January 1985.

Rather than change the world, it hit a wall of media criticism, ricocheted against several bricks of public abuse and pinged back to strike its originator between the eyes. It was the winter morning when Sir Clive Sinclair, the eccentric, beady-eyed, ginge-bearded inventor of pocket calculators and microcomputers, introduced the Sinclair C5, the world's first electric car.

It was an odd-looking thing, like a pointlessly streamlined invalid carriage, 6ft long, 2ft 6in high, 2ft 6in wide and weighing just 99lb. Instead of petrol, it ran on a 33lb lead acid battery which drove a 250-watt electric motor – identical, journalists noted, to the one that powers your mum's washing machine. Its top speed was a snaily 15mph, and it could travel a whole 20 miles between recharges. Imagine.

How they scoffed, the C5's first spectators, as they watched the shoe-shaped machine slither in the snow. Nobody believed the 20-mile claim. Sceptics noted it used more electricity in cold weather and struggled so much uphill, the driver was obliged to use pedals. Its height made it dangerous for the occupant, who, A: couldn't been seen by lorry- or jeep-drivers, and B: would be choked by car fumes just at the level of his or her nose.

It was a disaster. Nobody wanted the C5, the invention that conferred instant wally status on anyone foolish enough to climb into it. Sir Clive became a figure of ridicule. The price was slashed from £399 to £199 to offload the surplus stock. By October, Sinclair vehicles were in the hands of the receivers, and production of the C5 ceased. Electric cars? Pah, everyone said. They're battery-powered toys, one step up from milk floats. They are slow, anaemic, whining, pathetic and need charging up with flex and socket every few miles. How am I supposed to drive one to the Cairngorms? Don't talk to me about electric cars.

Scoot forward to 2009 and you could be forgiven for thinking our relationship with the things had scarcely improved. The only electric car driven by anyone I know is the GoinGreen G-Wiz and, much as I like the owner, you'd never catch me in one. I recall the nitric scorn heaped on it by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. He abused its cramped conditions, its lethal cornering, its arse-juddering suspension, its sluggish performance: you can't, he pointed out, access the radio or the fan, or have electric windows, or go fast or even stop, "because it'll wear the battery down". He mocked the fact that the EU didn't classify the G-Wiz as a car at all, but a "quadricycle". He raced one against a standard Renault (it lost) and a kitchen table carried by six men (it lost when it ran out of juice). Plus, EU data also revealed that, whatever its manufacturers claimed about a 45mph top speed, the average speed at which it's usually driven is 10mph. Twenty-odd years after the C5, the electric car is still becalmed near the intersection of Toytown and Rubbishville.

Not for much longer. Last week, the Government rolled out a scheme to persuade the population to love, or consider loving, electric cars – sorry, "environmentally-friendly vehicles", because they're not all electric; at least one runs on wind turbine energy. The scheme, fronted by Paul Drayson, the science minister, is costing £25m and will make 340 cars from various manufacturers available, at the end of the year, to members of the public to test, on short-term leases, in eight areas, including London, Glasgow, Birmingham and Oxford.

Universities and regional areas will be encouraged to help by experimenting with finding ways to supply the nervous electric motorist with charging points. The aim is to cut road transport emissions in the UK by half, from 22 per cent to 11 per cent.

The Government's scheme will start with four models: they'll be given the Star Wars-ish title of the Ultra Low-Carbon Vehicle Fleet. They are the Smart Electric Drive, owned by Mercedes; the MiniE from BMW; the Expert Eurobus (formerly the Teepee) from Peugeot, and the Lightning from the combined forces of Westfield and Delta Motorsport. But hardly had the scheme been announced than other makers pitched in. Ford Motors announced its own "global commitment" to developing "Battery Electric Vehicles" or BEVs. They're not saying which makes or models will take part in the scheme, but we shall find out by the end of the year.

Will we like them? I thought I'd go for an early sighting. I am no petrol-head, but I love cars. I practically live in my Alfa Romeo 159. Could I find an electric one that didn't make me feel (and look) a fool or a geek when driving it? Could I turn myself into an amp-head, a watt-brain, an ohm-body?

The cool-looking Lightning, sad to report, isn't currently available, since it's still being built. Ditto the Mini E, which BMW hope will be available to the public by November. So I high-tailed it to west London to try out the Smart ED.

People are in two minds about Smart cars. They look slightly ludicrous, but are becoming less so. They nip in and out of traffic like annoying hornets, but have a certain miniature charm.

At first sighting of the ED, your heart sinks. Climbing into one is like getting into one of those electrically-operated toy vans you see outside supermarkets. It's all front seat, driver's door, then nothing. I was reminded of the moment in the wartime movie Kings Row, when the unfortunate Ronald Reagan, having fallen foul of a vindictive surgeon, wakes up in hospital to find both his legs amputated, and cries: "Where's the rest of me?" Inside, though, it's not half bad. There's plenty of headroom. Even if, like me, you're six-feet-one, there's plenty of legroom. The dashboard is charming. On the left of the speedometer, two little dials poke up like antennae on a robot: one's a clock, the other tells you how much percentage of electricity remains.

I switched it on, nervously. I put it in gear. (There are three gears: neutral, drive and reverse. Electric cars don't need clutches, transmission, spark plugs, engine oil, filters, exhaust, any of that stuff.) I gingerly placed my foot on the accelerator. A strange, mosquito whine filled the air: "Eeeeeeeee." Slowly, painfully, the Smart ED inched forward, as though expressing a whingey reluctance to go anywhere (or anywhere with me). Once I left the car park, the noise resolved into a cute, kittenish mewing, then disappeared. It was damned odd to be driving something so discreetly, mutedly, virginally, monkishly, mortifiedly silent.

As I became used to its teeny size, things became easier. It was still sluggish getting away from traffic lights, but I could feel it trying. It handled very lightly – sometimes I felt I was sitting on a metal tray with windows – but was a little ponderous when taking corners, hardly surprising when you think of the heavy battery pack under the floor. Though my reflection in shop windows looked a little ridiculous (especially with the words "emission zero!" emblazoned just under my nose), it was easy to feel rather cool and zippy.

The makers claim a top speed of 60 mph and I can confirm that, in a burst of enthusiasm, I got it up to 56mph on the M4 before being forced to subside. The main drawback of the Smart ED, though, is that you spend a lot of time watching the dial that tells you how much juice is left. At the start of my drive, the dial said 83 per cent remained. After an hour, the figure had reduced to 60. At times, I thought I could see the needle moving before my eyes while I hummed along. They say you can drive 70 miles before needing to recharge the battery. I'm afraid I'd have one eye on the dial all the way.

It's a simple drive, in a car that feels properly constructed, rather than fashioned from plastic. It doesn't emit carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, unburned hydrocarbons – it doesn't emit anything except a high-pitched whine. And charging it means sticking a blue plug into a six-pin socket and sticking the three-pin plug at the end of a long yellow flex into a household socket, for up to eight hours. Call me a dreamer, but the Smart ED seems to represent the normalisation of the electric car. If only someone could apply the transformation to a family-sized saloon ...

Should you have an unusually large family – very large – you might talk to Peugeot, who are taking part in the Government's trial. For a year from this autumn, they'll supply 40 of their "zero emission vehicles" (ZEVs) for drivers in Glasgow, in partnership with the local battery company, Axeon. During the trial period, Scottish Power will set up 40 electric-charging points around Glasgow. All the data about car journeys will be recorded by satellite and analysed by boffins at Strathclyde University. The only drawback to the plan is that ZEVs aren't your usual family runaround. They are big commercial vans and "multiple passenger vehicles" (or as we say in English, "buses").

I headed for the Peugeot showroom in Chiswick and took out a Peugeot Expert Eurobus. It's a big, roomy, metal box with windows; it will never appeal to the boy racer but, in its electrical incarnation, it's fun to drive. You feel like you're sitting six feet above other motorists, humming along in near-silence. The suspension is so bouncy that driving over speed bumps is like hitting a trampoline – and then there's the gear lever.

Just the sight of it made me laugh out loud. Plonked in the middle of the wide dashboard, sitting on a metallic pad the size of a beer mat, the lever is the size of a toothpick, tapering outwards at the top. It resembles one of those miniscule screwdrivers you get in a Christmas cracker. You flick it forward an inch, and the 3,000kg bus moves forward. Flick it back an inch, and the metal Behemoth obediently reverses. I flicked it back and forth a dozen times, entranced by the power and heft that could be accessed by prodding something the size of a Twiglet.

The Eurobus has a top speed of 70, and a range of 100 miles between rechargings; the makers suggest you treat it like a pet, settling it down after a hard day's driving, for "a good night's charge", so you can assume eight hours is standard.

I was beginning to warm to electric cars – their silent efficiency, their clean energy, their lack of bits that can go wrong. Hard-core petrol-heads will never love them – without all the complex engine parts, no exhaust system, fuel system, gearbox or clutch, they rather resemble a human body with no internal organs, only a robot brain and an On/Off switch – but you can see them catching on, as soon as the problem of recharging availability is solved. Should sockets be available on the forecourt of every petrol service station? Or would the petrol companies consider that helping the enemy?

What I missed about the cars I'd tried was a sense of style. Then I learned that the Tesla company was opening a London outpost. Tesla is a name that raises goose-bumps on some motorists' skin. Rumours have flown for months about the Californian company owned by Elon Munsk, whose electric Roadster is a sports car that can reportedly out-race a Porsche and a Ferrari from a standing start.

The showroom was in Knightsbridge. The four cars on display were jaw-droppingly beautiful - sleek and glistening in red or silver. The makers have adapted the chassis from a Lotus Elise, made it 6in longer and 2in wider, its carbon-fibre skin as smooth as butter. The gear stick is a perfect silver ball like a Ferrari's. The seats are low-lying and buttock-clenching. The leather upholstery is black and red, finished with exposed stitching like a Savile Row suit.

Don Cochrane, who runs the UK office, is a handsome, Wapping-born Londoner with coal-black hair and a boundless optimism about electric cars. He dismissed the idea that Tesla was in competition with the environmentally-friendly cars coming out from BMW, Peugeot, Mercedes and Ford. "We're not making cars in their price bracket. But I'm happy to see more electric cars in the market place. The more people see them, the more they'll say, 'Maybe it's realistic for me to have an electric car for the 20 miles a day that I drive, instead of a combustion-engined vehicle.' " A car lover rather than an environmental zealot, he is nonetheless keen to change people's perspectives: "It makes sense that if things are going to change, you should be part of that change and not have it forced upon you." He used to work for Formula One under Bernie Ecclestone. Could he imagine an electric model ever having the performance level of Formula One cars?

"Certainly. Give it five years. There's so much investment now in battery technology. One positive side-effect of this recession is that governments are bailing out companies but, as part of the bailout, are forcing them to work on more environmental cars. Ford just announced they're going to build two; that's because they're just got $1.5bn of DOE money from the States."

Mr Cochrane can talk at torrential length about battery technology and the 6,831 lithium-ion cells that make up the battery in every Tesla Roadster. He can explain with admirable fluency the "torque curve" of ordinary cars, as they increase their power ratio through the gears, and how electric cars provide 100 per cent torque all the time (but controllably). He explained how the Roadster's top speed is 125 mph and that it can go 200 miles without recharging. I listened politely, but itched to try it. We rolled the doors aside, Cochrane started the engine (silently) and rolled the silver Roadster out into the narrow roadway. He glided into a side-road, then – in a burst of pure showing-off – whizzed in reverse round the corner, fast as a whipcrack. I climbed in (the seats make you virtually horizontal), plied the key, engaged "Drive" and glided away, with no whining, no wheel-grind, no noise at all except the envious cooing of passers-by.

It was a completely new driving experience: touch the accelerator and you rocket forward, the G-force pushing you back in your leather seat as if you're on a fairground ride, although you never feel out of control. The handling is (as with the Smart ED) a touch heavy when cornering, but deliciously smooth on the straight. Though the car lies very close to the road, it bounces over bumps and sleeping policemen as if pillowed in goosedown. And you can't help but feel a boyish glee about the vast coiled spring of power and speed that's detectable under your hands. On Hammersmith flyover, doing 50 with no traffic ahead, I experimentally floored the accelerator to see what would happen. The car leapt forward, in a split-second, to 70mph. Talk about torque. It was scary (and possibly illegal) but tremendously exhilarating.

By the time I returned it, with the greatest reluctance, to Mr Cochrane's tender care, I was determined to buy one. There are 500 lucky Californians driving Roadsters and amazing their friends with their environmental responsibility and their love of speed. It's time I joined them. It'll only take 20 years or so of patient savings to find the £94,000 I'll need.

With their curious little fleet of tiny Smart cars and Minis, and huge utility vehicles from Peugeot, the Government may have an uphill struggle making British people love electrical cars. The shadow of the Sinclair C5 hasn't completely dispersed. I suspect if the sceptics were given five minutes in a Tesla, they'd change their minds. It's becoming obvious that the electrics are where the future of cars must lie. Whoever comes up with the first mid-range, sensible-sized, four-door family model for under £20,000, with a charging-range of at least 100 miles, will be a very lucky winner indeed, in this fascinating off-shoot of the race to environmental purity.

On the circuit: The electric alternatives

Smart Electric Drive 4-2

Top speed: 60mph

Charge time: 4 hours

Distance between charges: 70 miles

Price: Not yet released


Peugeot Expert Eurobus

Top speed: 70mph

Charge time: 7 hours

Distance between charges: 100 miles

Price: £55,000


Tesla Roadster

Top speed: 130mph

Charge time: 3.5 hours

Distance between charges: 220 miles

Price: £94,000



Top speed: 130mph

Charge time: 10 minutes with a special converter (two hours without it)

Distance between charges: 188 miles

Price: £120,000

With good looks and racing car technology, the Lightning is at the forefront of electric car revolution. It can do 0 to 60mph faster than many petrol sports cars but without the maintenance hassle. However, a guilt-free sports car experience doesn't come cheap.


NICE / Fiat Micro-Vett e500 electric

Top speed: 60mph

Charge time: 6-8 hours

Distance between charges: 75miles

Price: £25,000

This Italian-made motor won Europe's Car of the Year and has an advanced electric drive system. Like the Aixam Mega City it also comes with lithium-ion batteries which means higher speeds and a longer range than some other electric cars on the market.


Aixam Mega City

Top speed: 40mph

Charge time: 5-8 hours

Distance between charges: 60 miles.

Price: £14,175

For a two-seater, surprisingly roomy and has a large boot. Like all electric cars it's exempt from road taxand is one of the most popular electric vehicles in Britain with 180 already on the road.


G-Wiz L-ion

Top speed: 51mph

Charge time: 6 hours

Distance between charges: 75 miles

Price: £15,795

A nippier upgrade to the two-seater G-Wiz seen on the streets of London over the last few years. A bit boxy, but it's the world's first mainstream lithium-ion powered electric vehicle.


Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Top speed: 87mph

Charge time: 20 minutes

Distance between charges: 100 miles

Price: £29,300

One of the fastest electric cars but what really sets this Japanese-designed car apart is its remarkable charge time of only 20 minutes, making it super-convenient. The batteries are hidden beneath the floor, leaving room for a surprising amount of space for four people.


Mini E BMW

Top speed: 95mph

Charge time: 2.5 hours with a special converter, 8 hours without)

Distance between charges: 156 miles

Price: Still being trialed

The Mini's electric makeover is truly stylish. Trials will be held across the UK in autumn but apply well in advance through Mini for a test drive. It boasts safe handling for dynamic stability control and the power-assisted steering reacts to driving conditions.

Additional reporting by Kate Proctor

... and the biker's option

Xero's eScooter Classic

Top speed: 30mph

Charge time: 6-8 hours

Distance between charges: 25 miles

Price: £1,499



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Living with an electric Smart Car

The experiment begins with the prompt arrival of the battery-powered car.

By David Millward, Transport Editor

Bang on time, the electric Smart Car was delivered to my front door at 9am. I have decided to be one of the Government's green motoring guinea pigs for a fortnight. So I am a real person, using a real car in real life.

There will be 340 of us driving an assortment of ultra-low carbon vehicles as part of a £25 million technology trial to see if - pardon the pun - this idea has any real mileage.

Motorists in town rarely reach any sort of speed and for much of the time they crawl through cities, spending a disproportionate amount of time stuck at lights or in traffic jams.

So it could be argued that the conventional petrol engine is not only environmentally unfriendly but often pointless as well.

In fact we would be better off driving milk floats which, believe it or not, have used pretty similar technology for decades.

But the Government is hardly going to sell us the idea of clean motoring by invoking the spirit of Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west.

Anyway my electric Smart was still on the trailer when one of my neighbours confessed she was rather excited about the whole idea as a "pretty green sort of person".

However she is looking to move to the country and, I fear, a car with a range of 50 miles on one charge will barely get her to and from the supermarket.


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By David Millward, Transport Editor

Published: 6:31PM BST 15 Jul 2009

Smart Car diary: sparks fly

Finding that somebody had decided to unplug my electric Smart Car was not the best start to the day.

Clearly whoever took exception to the Smart Car either has a grudge against the Government – the sponsor of the trial in which I am participating – or is worried that my carbon footprint has become shamefully insignificant.

In fact there has been some email traffic about the presence of the car. The issue is how much electricity is being consumed and who is paying for it.

My local squabble will probably be repeated elsewhere during the £25 million pilot project and this has highlighted some of the problems that could confront motorists and indeed the Government, should electric cars be produced in their thousands in years to come.

According to both the industry and the Government, charging a car overnight should cost somewhere between 50 pence and £1.

But, at least judging by the response to my car, rather more fanciful figures are being bandied about, with one irate resident putting the cost at £30.

For that sort of money I would expect the electricity company to not only power the car, but valet the vehicle every night as well – and leave a decent bottle of wine on the passenger seat.



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Smart car diary: parking problems

Zero-emissions electric power doesn't exempt you from getting a ticket.

By David Millward, Transport Editor

Published: 12:48PM BST 16 Jul 2009

It was inevitable, I suppose. It has taken only two days for me to receive my first parking ticket.

Westminster Council may have signed up to the Government's green agenda but alas the message has not filtered through to its civil enforcement officers - or at least I think that is what they are called now.

This means that I can park a couple of minutes away from the office. Given that the car is also exempt from London's congestion charge, this is something of a bonus.

However, on leaving work I could see the parking ticket fluttering away underneath the windscreen wiper.

My offence, at least according to the penalty charge notice, was to have parked without availing myself of the pay-by-phone facility offered by Wesminster, which enables motorists to empty their bank accounts for the privilege of leaving their car on the street.

Given the number of wierd little electric cars one sees parked on the streets of Westminster, I would have thought that the message would have filtered through to the council's enforcement officers that we green motorists are supposed to be left alone, although in fairness the fault may have been partly mine because somewhere in the small print of Westminster's concession is the proviso that cars have to be shifted every four hours.

Also the large "Emission Zero" logo on the door should have been a bit of a giveaway.

However the ticket, I am told, will be rescinded.

Given that cars are getting smaller and that there is also a non-electric version of the Smart, perhaps it is unfair to be too harsh on whoever placed the ticket on my windscreen.

But this has highlighted just another small obstacle on the path to low-carbon motoring.



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Smart car diary: odd reaction

Why are drivers of prestige cars intimidated by a battery-powered car?

By David Millward, Transport Editor

Published: 10:59AM BST 21 Jul 2009

The Porsche was left languishing at the traffic lights.

It was a moment of childish satisfaction, but it was fun.

Electric cars to sound like noisy sports cars to protect the blind and cyclistsFor a vehicle built on similar technology to that of a milk float, the electric Smart can shift quite impressively from a standing start.

In fact in town, if I stick my trotter down, the car is easily quick enough to nip into gaps and generally keep me out of trouble.

But that has not stopped other drivers behaving in an interesting way when they see my carbon-free, planet-saving little motor.

They do seem to take umbrage at the sight of a Smart ahead of them and on several occasions I have been forced into evasive action by another driver who decides to overtake on a tight urban street on which it is impossible to drive at more than 20mph.

This does not happen when I drive my normal car, a Nissan Qashqai, at pretty much the same speed. Other motorists just accept that cars should not belt down the road at breakneck speed, because if they do so there is a fair chance that they will run into a bus.

Why a small electric car should cause such offence and make other motorists behave differently is a complete mystery.



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Planet saving eh? Well, where does the UK grid get its power from........

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Smart car diary: on charge

The electric city car continues to impress, though there's a nagging doubt over the car's range.

By David Millward, Transport Editor

Published: 3:29PM BST 22 Jul 2009

Whoever chose to unplug my electric car fortunately did not cause me any serious grief.

I had feared that I could have triggered a spectacular traffic jam by juddering to a halt in the middle of the morning rush hour.

I did have a hint of the problems which could arise on my first ever drive of the car, when it had a sulk in Victoria Street - ironically just in front of one of the Government department which is sponsoring the whole scheme.

I was fine, as was the car - even if mayhem appeared to unfold behind me.

Luckily the battery-powered Smart chugged back into life and, touch wood, there have been no problems since.

The car's biggest test was last week when it not only ventured from Docklands to Islington, but then to our offices in Victoria before being driven to the Barbican and then back to Docklands.

It passed with flying colours.

But there is still a note of caution. I was told that using the air-conditioning or even the radio reduces battery life, which is not desperately encouraging.

The advice is that the car should be charged whenever it is not being driven. This is not always possible in real life, at least in my experience.

Still I am reassured that there is roadside assistance - but I am sure most of us would rather its services were not required.



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Smart car diary: endgame

What's the verdict on the electric Smart after using it for two weeks?

By David Millward, Transport Editor

Published: 5:41PM BST 23 Jul 2009

It was rather a sad farewell to the electric Smart car.

I bade farewell to the machine in Southwark, where it was collected by a tow-truck.

Then there were the odd gestures from a couple of cabbies - but then anyone driving in London gets used to them. It turned out that the car had a puncture - "flat as a pancake" according to one cab driver with a rather strong Welsh lilt.

For all its virtues, the Smart does not carry a spare wheel, so I had to make other arrangements.

This was not quite the end I had been expecting to my brief and increasingly enjoyable experience of 'green' motoring.

I rather enjoyed feeling as self-righteous as cyclists. If they were saving the planet, so was I.

For me, however, the real virtue was that with London devoid of traffic at the start of the summer holidays, the electric car halved my commuting time.

The assorted perks, from not having to pay the £8-per-day congestion charge to free parking near the office, made the car rather an attractive option.

However, I do occasionally venture out of the capital and I did not fancy being stuck in the back of beyond because the battery had run out of charge.

There is probably a fair amount or work ahead to make electric motoring a reality, from giving the cars a longer range to getting the critical charging infrastructure in place.

Also there are some "cultural" issues to sort out, such as dealing with the odd stroppy neighbour who is convinced that charging a car overnight entails running up an electric bill about the size of the Peruvian national debt.

So is this the way forward?

I don't know, but it was fun finding out.



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If you could charge up your electric smart's batteries using a wind generator, then you'd have something!

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smart fortwo ED

7 September 2009 | Cars

Making the world's smallest production car into an electric vehicle seems to make a lot of sense. Right now, true electric cars are pretty thin on the ground, although the near future is thick with promises as nearly all the major manufacturers set out their zero emission strategies. DaimlerChrysler like to think they were there first.

Indeed, when the idea of an ultra compact city car was first mooted, initially in partnership with upstart Swiss watch-makers Swatch, hybrid power was very definitely on the cards. In the event, the Mk1 smart car arrived without a battery option, let alone a hybrid drive. For a start, the technology wasn't nearly advanced enough – back in late 90s the only things able to run on all electric power were golf carts, milk floats and the occasional delivery truck.

The new fortwo ED (electric drive) represents the fulfilment of a long-held promise. Electric smarts have been prowling London's streets since 2007, when the first generation smart EV (electric vehicle) was leased out to interested parties. This was superseded by the smart fortwo ED, with a range expanded to just over 70 miles. We spent an afternoon propelling the sparky little city car around the capital to assess its potential. The standard smart car is an ultra-simple driving experience, if not an especially thrilling one.

Adding an electric motor doesn't dampen the little car's urban zip (although it's certainly not up to highway speeds) and the ultra-simple nature of the electric transmission - it's either on, off or in reverse - means you can concentrate on the view ahead. While the stubby wheelbase makes the smart utterly slottable into the smallest of parking spaces, it doesn't help the ride quality one bit. Throw in a hefty load of batteries and every speed bump is an endurance test as the chassis slams itself down with a most indiscrete bump

Just as MINI are using the lease-only 'E' model to gauge market reaction to pure electric drive, so the first generation EV was essentially a testbed, loaned out to organisations interested in slashing their transport emissions. However, smart hope to beat their competitors to the plug socket with the recent announcement that series production of the ED starts in November 2009, replete with all-new, faster-charging lithium ion battery packs. Built in Hambach, France, the cars will be lease-only until 2012, after which the carmaker promises to open the order to books to all interested parties. For now, your best way into one of the most sorted electric cars on the market is to head for Berlin, where the EV will head up the city's 'e-mobility Berlin', a suite of roadside charging stops that is intended to be the first step to a zero-emission city centre.



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Daimler to deliver electric smart cars by year end

Auto giant selects factory in France to manufacture smart fortwo electric car

James Murray, BusinessGreen, 08 Oct 2009

Two of the leading players in the race to develop a mainstream electric vehicle moved a step closer to production this week.

Daimler will start production of its smart fortwo electric car next month and there are reports that Tesla has secured a battery supply deal for its Model S electric sedan.

In an announcement earlier today, Daimler said it has selected its smart car plant in Hambach, France to manufacture the new model and will produce a trial run of 1,000 units from next month.

The company will then invest more than €10m (£9.19m) in developing a new assembly line with the aim of starting large-scale production from 2012.

Speaking at a special event at the Hambach plant attended by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Daimler chairman Dr Dieter Zetsche said that customers could expect to receive the first electric smart cars by the end of the year.

"The smart fortwo electric drive proves that emission-free driving in an urban environment is already feasible today," he said. "The initial series production will begin now with 1,000 vehicles… [and] as of 2012, the smart fortwo electric drive will then be part of the regular product programme of the smart brand."

President Sarkozy said the development of the plant would be supported through the French government's Prime d'aménagement du territoire (PAT) subsidy initiative, while further incentives would also be offered by local regional authorities. Daimler said that the various subsidies combined would cover 15 per cent of the total investment.

The news comes as reports emerged that US electric car firm Tesla, in which Daimler holds a stake, has signed a deal with electronics giant Panasonic for it to provide lithium-ion batteries for its planned Model S electric sedan.

According to reports at Greentech Media citing sources close to the Japanese battery-maker, the company is close to inking a major supply deal with Tesla as it continues to work towards launching its first mainstream electric car in late 2011.

Tesla is still in the process of selecting a manufacturing site for the Model S after securing a $365m (£227m) development loan from the US Department of Energy.



Source with pictures.

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