Mini has just completed a six month trial with consumers in the Oxford area – and, boy, they are a happy bunch.
We were allowed to speak privately to the drivers of each car (no PR minders to be seen anywhere) and their only regret is that they have to give the cars back at all.
We wanted to know if the users would be too scared of running out of electricity to drive the Mini close to its maximum safe range of 100 miles.
It seemed that early anxiety wore off as the drivers got more used to the cars, with most reporting they were happy to go up to 85 miles between charges. One driver, Richard Corby, did three trips back to the Mini factory (not because of technical faults, we should say), a trip of 80 miles from his home.
He said that the range was not a problem, although the electronic range indicator on the dashboard could be a worry. Unlike petrol cars, battery cars are actually less efficient on a motorway because batteries waste a lot of electricity through resistance when a car is driving fast and drawing a lot of current. Hence, he would come off the A34 dual carriageway with the range indicator showing a scary 5 miles to empty. However a few minutes driving around town pushed the indicator back to 15 miles, which was a bit more reassuring.
With sharp acceleration at low and medium speeds and a lower centre of gravity than a normal car, they were amazed at how much fun the Mini E was to drive. They also liked the fact that it is effectively a one-pedal car: once you come off the throttle, the motor goes into reverse to slow the car down, so you hardly ever have to hit the brakes.
So, the $64 million question – would they buy one? The consensus amongst the drivers was that the Mini E was a fabulous concept that was a big step forward from normal cars. Most felt that it was suitable only as a second car however (because of the range issue), although one of the drivers, David Douglas, was keen to buy an electric car for his main car and use trains and planes for long journeys.
They were concerned with the issue of price and also depreciation (if the batteries died after five years and had to be thrown away, you might as well throw away the whole car). They felt that an electric Mini with four seats and a boot (unlike these two-seat prototypes) would be a good buy at around £18,000 if the issue of battery life was sorted.
When told about Renault's pricing plan, which is £19,000 for the 2011 Fluence electric saloon plus £85 per month for leasing a battery pack for the life of the vehicle, they felt that was a tempting proposition.
On the evidence of the Mini E trial, future electric cars will not need a lot of advertising. It seems that the early adopters will be stopping people in the street to tell them how wonderful their cars are.