In early 2004, a tiny new car appeared on the streets of London.
It confused, surprised and confounded everyone who saw it. It was more compact than a Smart ForTwo, it had cheeky, quirky styling that demanded attention, it could turn around in the width of a narrow street, it squeezed into the tiniest parking space, and it traveled in silence.
The little car attracted attention wherever it went. What was it? Who made it? Why is it so quiet? Was it electric? Suddenly, the media were falling over each other to report on a new vehicle: the G-Wiz electric car.
In a short period of time the little G-Wiz went from being a complete unknown to a media sensation. Hollywood stars, TV celebrities, politicians and captains of industry queued up to buy them. Fashion designers created special edition models. Suddenly, the G-Wiz became cool.
Hundreds of people flocked to buy the G-Wiz. Some were attracted by the cheap running costs, exemption from London's Congestion Charge, and free parking permits. Others were attracted by its environmental credentials. Lots were bought by SUV owners, wanting a smaller car to use in the city.
Local government and private businesses responded by installing charging points and offering free parking in many parts of London. Enthusiastic owners went on to form their own club - the G-Wiz Owners Club - now one of the largest electric car owners clubs in the world. They also set up the EV Network, the world's first National Charging Network for electric cars across the United Kingdom.
Other car manufacturers and the automotive press couldn't understand it: the G-Wiz was slow, cramped and not particularly well built. Why were people buying the G-Wiz instead of a "proper" car? Why was there a five month waiting list for the G-Wiz?
Few cars divided opinion or created as much debate as the G-Wiz. And few cars are likely ever to do so again.
The car's success was the first indication that the general public was eager to buy electric cars. It wasn't long before Honda, Renault and Peugeot showed electric concept cars of similar dimensions to the G-Wiz. Norbert Reithofer, CEO at BMW started openly talking about BMW building "a G-Wiz competitor," explaining that this would be an important future market for BMW.
Today, six years after Londoners saw their first G-Wiz, the car remains popular. Build quality, safety, performance and handling have been improved in successive models and the car still sells in reasonable numbers. Visit a car park in the City of London or City of Westminster and you'll see more examples of the G-Wiz than any other single model of car. Many Londoners view the car with pride - they see it as "their" car, created for "their" city.
The true value of the G-Wiz is not in the car itself, but what it has achieved. Each day, the G-Wiz demonstrates to millions of Londoners that electric cars are practical. It is the first time any electric car has managed to achieve that in 100 years of motoring. In doing so, it has become a milestone in the uptake of electric cars.
A recent Frost and Sullivan survey into electric vehicles noted that when people find out about electric cars, their interest in buying one doubles. I carried out a survey with city car users as research for a book I am writing; in cities where the G-Wiz is common, people are twice as likely to consider buying an electric car in the future.
It's a legacy that will live on for a very long time.
[Note: the author Mike Boxwell is head of the G-Wiz Owners Club in the U.K. The G-Wiz is actually an Indian-made Reva rebadged for the U.K. market, and all information pertains to the U.K. version only.]