Electric Warrior

Ride a White Swan Elephant

I’ve fallen in love again. Not just a passing flutter of the heart but real, head over heels, giggling like a schoolboy, love. There’s real electricity between us. It could have been the exquisite anticipation; nine months of admiring from afar, waiting for the moment when I finally got to breath that exotic musky newness. I was intoxicated. I’d imagined things we could do together; I was ready to be taken to places I’d never been before. My planet-saving Jaguar iPace had finally arrived. And I had fallen in love.

I love that when you put your foot down it kicks you in the back, rearranging your spine like a mechanical osteopath, and fires you from standstill to sixty in around four seamless seconds. I love that everyone I’ve taken in it has been unable to suppress their grin as we are launched towards the horizon. I love that the two tons of batteries strapped under the floor give it the centre of gravity and handling characteristics of a go-kart. I think I like how it looks; I’m not sure, but I can certainly live with it.

Alas, all has not been perfect. Our love affair started to show signs of serious strain after a couple of weeks. I had to go down to London; not too much of a challenge for a car that in theory has a range of 298 miles – a suspiciously precise figure. In practice, I have yet to get in the car with the range indicator showing even 200 miles. Not that the range indicator is much use – it they’re ever looking to replace ERNIE, I reckon it’s a shoo-in as a random number generator. The plan was to park at Walthamstow station, charge for free while I took the tube to Borough High Street, returning a couple or so hours later with enough juice to get me home. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out that Walthamstow station is being redeveloped and the car park, until recently home to the charging points, now resembles downtown Aleppo only with more white helmets. Luckily, I have a Plan B. Even with Jaguar’s fanciful range estimates I reckon I’ll get back as far as Birchanger Services where there’s a couple of rapid chargers.

Fast-forward four hours and I’m standing in a raging gale at Birchanger trying to get the charger to work. After forty minutes of futile struggling and speaking to the Ecotricity help desk (a misnomer if ever there was one…) all I’ve achieved is to get soaked through to my underpants.

I don’t like gambling, but I can see that for those that do, this could be the ideal car. I now have a choice. I have 20 miles on the range indicator – which could mean anything from 500 yards – and the next nearest rapid charger is at a pub seven miles away. Even if I get there, if the charger doesn’t work (which, after just two weeks, I realise would not be unusual) I’ll not have enough to get to the next nearest alternative. Some would find this a thrilling dilemma – I didn’t. I rolled the dice and went for it.

This is not how it was supposed to be. The electric car is touted as the future of motoring. I had thought claims that they would reduce congestion were based on the vision that in a couple of years we would simply tap an app to hail one of the vast fleet of driverless Ubers silently patrolling our streets looking for their next fare. Indeed, a UN study in Lisbon suggested urban car numbers could be reduced by an impressive 90% by using automomous point-to-point shared cars. However, I am starting to conclude that reduction is more likely to come as a result of concentrating congestion around charging points, leaving the roads free of the fools who thought owing an electric car was a good idea. With electric car ownership forecast to soar, this should have an appreciable affect on our overburdened roads.

Of course, it could be it’s not the car or the infrastructure that’s at fault; rather, it’s my expectations. We’ve all grown used to the convenience of frictionless travel. Until a month ago, if I had to get somewhere I’d simply jump in the car and go. I might have to stop for five minutes en route to refuel but otherwise, I was pretty sure I’d get there. Ah – happy days. Perhaps we should be careful what we wish for. The march towards ever more convenient and frictionless travel has resulted in almost permanent gridlock in many of our cities, which themselves have been sacrificed to the cult of the car. Our drive for freedom and efficiency for the individual has simply resulted in frustration and irreversible damage to the planet.

I feel increasingly Luddite, railing against progress, or, at least, questioning the benefits of apparent efficiency. I find myself longing for a slower pace of life. This isn’t just because I’m getting older. I believe one of the more important responsibilities of an adviser is to nudge people away from making snap judgements; to get them to stand back and look at the bigger picture; to consider other options. This isn’t easy. As I’ve discussed before, our impulsive System One brain will try to force decisions on us long before our more sensible System Two has had the chance to weigh things up properly. System One tells me the quickest way to get to the shops is to jump into my car and as we drive in System Two starts to point out that we have been sat in traffic for twenty minutes and, if only I’d waited, it would have told me to take my bike, or at least the Park and Ride.

When you think about it, the whole idea of a car is ridiculous. I weigh a little over 100kg. Why do I need a vehicle weighing 20 times as much to take me to buy a new shirt?

Back in Essex, we arrived at the Cricketers with a few miles to spare. I spent a happy forty minutes steaming gently (I hadn’t dare turn on the car heater) over a pot of tea while the rocket machine took its fill. Through the mist that had gathered around me I couldn’t help but notice an awful lot of Jamie Oliver merchandise. It turns out the pub is run by Jamie Oliver’s parents and is where he learned his trade, which I thought was moderately interesting.

So, after a month it is probably fair to say that living with an electric car is not without its challenges. The first flush of infatuation has certainly died away, but I remain very fond of my new mode of transport. I feel we are entering a new, more mature phase of our relationship; one where we accept our faults and we are prepared to compromise. While I’m not confident I will ever fully overcome range anxiety, I think I could get to enjoy driving at 55mph and breaking longer journeys for half an hour or so.

Who knows, I may even get to keep my licence.

Richard Ross April 2019

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