This morning was a minor landmark in Autocar’s 116-year history. Nissan delivered our long-term test Leaf, probably the first, serious, mass-produced, battery-powered car in the history of the automotive industry.
It’s taken quite a while (we briefly ran a Think EV a decade ago, but that was more of a quadricycle than a real car) for a viable battery-powered car to arrive since the concept was first discussed on the pages of Autocar. Over 114 years, to be exact.
When Autocar was founded in 1895, the self-propelled carriage industry was in its infancy and the ideal mode of motive power was still in flux. Petrol, steam and electricity all had their advocates and there was no real sense of which power source might win out, or whether all three would peacefully co-exist.
Some things, however, never change. By 1989, electrically-powered Taxis has been introduced in New York and the Royal Mail were trying out electric mail vans (note the insignia on the van in the Autocar photo - it’s incredible to think that Queen Victoria was still on the throne when such advanced technology was being trailed).
But even then, electric ‘range-anxiety’ was a hot topic. Looking at a few Autocar issues from 1895, it took no time to find a short article titled ‘The radius of action of electric motor carriages’.
Hiram Percy Maxim asserted that “the objection that is most frequently raised against the electric motor carriage is the difficulty of getting it charged”. ”It has come to be the general conclusion among people even well versed in motor vehicle matters that a carriage propelled by electric storage batteries is unable to run beyond a very limited distance from an electric light station.”
Well, 113 years later, Hiram, not much has changed. According to the ‘Carwings’ app on my iPhone, our new Leaf has a range of 86 miles. So, that’s 12 miles home this evening and a 34-mile or so round trip to Heathrow tomorrow. So I should still have range to spare by Thursday, when British Gas arrives to fit my home charging point. (Yes, British Gas holds the contract for the Nissan electrical installation).
It maybe, as electric car enthusiasts insist, that I will soon stop worrying about the Leaf’s range. And with a charger at home and, eventually, one in the Autocar car park, we’ll be in the lucky position of not having to worry. But there’s one for sure, I won’t be thrashing the Leaf on round trips to, say, Goodwood or Gaydon.
Still, we’re all looking forward to experiencing that rarest of automotive events: a truly novel motoring experience.