A few years ago I spent a day driving in central London in a Ford Think, which was Uncle Henry’s attempt to create an all-electric car for the urban market.
It was one of the most horrible experiences of my motoring life. For all the millions that Ford had ploughed into the creation of the two-seat Think City, it felt horribly out of its depth when asked to deal with the capital’s traffic. The unassisted steering was heavy, rear visibility was terrible and the chassis crashed its way through every pothole as a couple of hundred kilos of batteries made their presence felt.
The worst bit was the fact that, after making less than 10 miles of very slow progress across London, the battery gauge reported that it had less than half charge remaining, meaning that getting back required the use of an AA transporter.
Ford’s accountants subsequently worked out that the project wouldn’t be economically viable even if the Think wore a £15,000 price tag and – to nobody’s surprise – the whole project was wound down a few months later.
The contrast with the day I recently spent in the equally electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV filming our video couldn’t be greater. Only seven years separates the Mitsubishi from the Think, but in evolutionary terms it’s a higher primate to the Think’s single-cell organism. In the urban environment it’s designed for, the i-MIEV is completely painless. It’s rapid, easy to drive and equipped with power steering, air-con and a decent sound system. Apart from the pleasing whine of the traction motor, it might as well be any other city car.
But other than a thirst for 240V AC, I can only think of two things that the i-MIEV shares with the Think, although sadly both are significant problems.
The first is the range anxiety that quickly comes over the pilot of any electric vehicle – with the possible exception of the Tesla Roadster. It takes seven hours to recharge the battery pack from a domestic socket, meaning that the i-MIEV’s battery meter is by far the most important of its instruments. Miscalculate any journey’s duration and that’s a long wait by the side of the road – especially as you won’t even have juice to run the hazard lights.
The second similarity is price. The i-MIEV is an almost infinitely superior car to the Think, but it’s still going to struggle to make a case for itself costing anything up to 100 per cent more than a petrol-powered equivalent. Mitsubishi still hasn’t decided whether the production i-MIEV will be coming to the UK, but realistically it’s going to require a fat government subsidy to make it a viable proposition.