Renewable Journal

Top Gear meets electric cars – Renewable Journal for 9/1/2014

I’m not a fan of Top Gear to start with, but at least Top Gear America gave electrics some respect in 2013, unlike the unrepentant snarkfest that was Top Gear BBC’s 2011 electric car episode.

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Both the original (UK) and American versions of Top Gear have spent some time with the Nissan Leaf, and neither was tremendously impressed with it. In one way that’s OK – as I’ve said before, electric isn’t for everyone right now. It’ll get there, though, as the range of relatively inexpensive electrics like the Leaf and as the price of cars with long range (like Telsa’s cars) comes down. But in another way, both series treated the electrics they drove (Leaf and Peugeot IOn on the UK version, Leaf and Fiat 500E and Ford Fusion electric for the American version) rather unfairly.

Top Gear (the UK original) tackled the Leaf and IOn in 2011, only a year after the first Leafs had hit the market. And they panned both vehicles pretty hard for their lack of range and range predictability, as well as charging time. They like the feel of the vehicles, how quiet they are, but concluded that electrics were not ready for prime time. One of the guys went so far as to suggest that the only way electrics would ever take off was if roads became electrified somehow, because range problems would prevent mass adoption.

Since 2011, however, websites like ZapMap have become available that show where in the UK there are various types of chargers and various private and public providers have come on-line with networks you buy into (I have a ChargePoint account myself for my Leaf here in Colorado). As a result, it’s become much easier to a) find a charger, b) get a fast(er) charge, and c) plan your trip so you don’t run out of charge in a charger-free area.

In other words, Top Gear’s main problems with the IOn and the Leaf from 2011 have already stopped mattering. And in about three years.

As for Top Gear America, they reviewed more recent versions of electric cars and again, concerns about range ruled. The problem with their snarky Xanex comment is that, as more and more electrics are purchased, more and more charging stations will pop up. I can already get a 480V quick charge (empty to full in ~30 minutes) for free at any Nissan dealer, my employer has a 240V fast charger (empty to full in ~8 hours), and I can do a slow charge (empty to full in ~20 hours) off nearly any standard wall plug. I’ve driven all around the Denver metro area in my Leaf and only had to do a fast charge once.

The more chargers there are, the less range issues matter. And the more EV technology improves, the farther EVs will be able to go and the less there will be range issues. Both are happening, and both will continue to happen.

I found one difference between the 2011 Top Gear and the 2013 Top Gear America to be very telling. In 2011, Top Gear pretty much crapped all over both the Leaf and the IOn. In 2013, just two years later, Top Gear USA gave the Leaf, Fusion, and 500E some respect. And they concluded after driving and riding in a Tesla Model S that yes, electrics were going to provide serious competition for internal combustion engines in the near future.

As for the BBC crew, after watching a few Top Gear episodes, I have a hard time imagining any of them ever admitting they were unfair in 2011. That’s OK. I won’t waste my time watching any more Top Gear (I didn’t enjoy them before the Leaf episode, after all) and the rest of the world will go on making EVs that slowly make their love of internal combustion engines less and less relevant.