Google's self-driving car is the latest electric vehicle. But can this eco revolution please either the aesthete or the car addict? We sent Stephen Bayley and Jeremy Taylor to find out
DESIGN CONSULTANT STEPHEN BAYLEY:
Who does not know that terrible feeling, on a long journey, when the ‘low fuel’ warning light has been glowing in admonition for too many minutes?
An army of anxious little demons is released. Will I make it to the next highway exit? Should I slow to a crawl, and negate the actual purpose of my journey by arriving too late? Will I ever find an open gas station, or will I freeze to death on the side of the road?
I have recently been driving an electric car in central London, and the experience is even more harrowing. Never mind the ecological theology – it’s the nervous exhaustion that debilitates.
During my first journey, I lost 15 miles of range while covering two miles on the ground. Never mind! I can recharge at my destination.
Except that my destination was Westminster, which has only six charging bays for a population of a quarter of a million, so they are always full.
Instead, I will charge the battery at home (if I ever get there). Except that my electric miracle machine comes with a cable about 2.5 meters long, because it was designed by a sleepy provincial who has a garage with a convenient power outlet.
No one in central London has a garage. I need a cable four times as long to stretch from the curb to my nearest house socket.
I have seen the future, and it does not sparkle.
MOTORING CORRESPONDENT JEREMY TAYLOR:
I drove the future seven years ago and still have nightmares. It was the hottest day of the summer and the ‘experiment’ was to negotiate a 27-mile route between London City Airport and Heathrow Airport.
My fiberglass runabout was blue and you couldn’t carry anything larger than a sandwich on the passenger seat. No radio, no air con, no point, or so I thought.
I smelled like a rhinosaurus in heat by the time Big Ben came into view. Acceleration from traffic lights was so depressing that the tiny electric motor underneath was surely borrowed from a hairdryer.
I sweated, people laughed, but the automobile made it, with 1.5 miles still registering on the brilliantly named ‘rangometer’. I had to be helped out of the seat, like a man who had spent too long in an ashtanga yoga session.
I hated that car. But I’ve had an epiphany of late.
The fact is, we shouldn’t just be worried about our cars running out of charge, more that the world’s is running on empty when it comes to fossil-based fuels. Like it or not, one day alternative fuels will be the norm. We’ll all be riding in electric or hydrogen cell machines.
We live in a convenience society and right now, electric cars are still inconvenient. Power points are few and far between, there’s a shortage of models to choose from and right now we can’t travel hundreds of miles between fuel stops and a Starbucks coffee.
But things will change. Who’d have thought that in 2014 we’d have F1 cars with energy recovery systems, diesels winning at Le Mans, and an electric supercar called a Tesla. We will cure our oil addiction at some point, simply because we have to.