We speak to Ecotricity founder Dale Vince on how breaking the land speed record is only an early milestone on the journey to getting electric cars onto Britain’s roads.
The journey started with me trying to reconcile the petrolhead and the treehugger within me. I wanted a fast, fun car but with no emissions. At the time – this is going back four or five years now – there was nothing around that fit the bill.
So I decided the best thing was to try and make one. The idea was not just about having a car for myself, but also to demonstrate the latest technology in electric cars and batteries. I wanted to provide a thought stimulator – to get people talking and thinking about how we’ll all be getting around in the next few decades as oil starts to run out.
“We wanted to win hearts and minds. To do that, we knew we needed to build a supercar.”
Dale Vince, Ecotricity founder
At the same time we wanted to smash the stereotype of electric cars being ‘noddy cars’, so the design brief was to make something that’s beautiful to look at, is fast and which handles incredibly well. It had to be able to go more than 100mph, do 0-60mph in four seconds and have a range of 100-150 miles, just to be taken seriously. We could have built a city car, but we wanted to win hearts and minds. To do that, we knew we needed to build a supercar.
The donor car was a Lotus Exige. It’s a fast and nimble car with a good reputation. Our aim was to build a better version – and we did it. It has almost twice as much power, eight times as much torque – it’s far faster in a straight line, it’s actually able to accelerate faster than a Ferrari v12. It’s better looking and crucially we changed the handling of the car – lengthened it, lowered the centre of gravity so it goes round corners better, even though it’s got 200kg of batteries on-board. It is a no compromise statement saying ‘look how fantastic electric vehicles can be’. Cracking the land speed record for electric cars at 151mph this September got that message out to a national audience.
Building the car was just the beginning of a journey. Our next stunt in the car will tackle the issue of range anxiety, challenging the misconception that electric cars take hours to recharge and aren’t practical over long distances. We’re going to go from Lands End to John o’Groats and try and do it in less than 12 hours, using the new fast charge technologies in our Electric Highway – a network of motorway charging points, all powered by Ecotricity’s windmills and free to use.
We began installing it in July 2011. At the time we were using standard three-pin socket chargers – not ideal but a good enough starting point. In October 20 minute fast chargers became available to us and we’re installing them into the network now.
There’s this chicken and egg problem – nobody was building charging points as people weren’t buying electric cars, and nobody was buying cars because the was nowhere to charge them. So we said we’ll break the impasse – we’ll install the network, we’ll make it free to start with and we’ll see how it goes.
We did this with green electricity, back in 1995 when I formed Ecotricity. Anybody I spoke to said: ‘green electricity – what is it, who wants it and how are you ever going to deliver it competitively?’ I knew that if we made it available people would want it – and they have. Energy was first, now we’ve dived into transport. We’ve built the car to demonstrate what’s possible and have put the infrastructure in place – everything that’s needed to kick-start Britain’s electric car revolution.
Dale Vince left school at 15 and spent a decade travelling around Britain and Europe searching for an alternative way to live, before ‘dropping back-in’ and founding Ecotricity in 1996. The world’s first green energy company, Ecotricity continues to be one of the most successful, with a portfolio of renewable energy projects nationwide and nearly 70,000 customers. As well as electric cars and bikes, Dale has set his sights on green sport, teaming up with former England footballer Gary Neville to create the Sustainability in Sport foundation. He’s also chairman of Stroud’s Forest Green Rovers football club and plans to make it the most sustainable football club in Britain.
interview by WILL FERGUSSON
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