Chelsea Sexton Slams Bias On Both Sides Over Electric-Car Range (Guest Post)

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BBC Correspondent complains about MINI E

BBC Correspondent complains about MINI E

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by Chelsea Sexton

Slanted, anti-EV reporting is hardly a new thing, and I suspect we're in for a lot more of it in 2011 as plug-in vehicles hit showrooms. But the recent BBC "Mini Adventure," a 484-mile journey from London to Edinburgh in a Mini E, has caught fire like nothing I've seen in a while.

Helen Keller could have predicted the outcome of the trip itself:. Cold weather affected both comfort and range, and combined with lack of abundant infrastructure, created a less than optimal experience for the BBC's Brian Milligan, who finally made it to the end of his journey after four days and at an average speed of 6 mph (factoring in charging time).

Calling the BBC's bluff

He whined about the electric car's shortcomings every step of the way, prompting EV proponents to cry foul over the fact that he chose a "prototype" Mini E, and not a true production car. On Day 3, David Peilow, a Tesla "superfan", called shenanigans and borrowed a new Roadster 2.5 from the London store. He drove it to Edinburgh in one day, beating Milligan handily even while stopping twice to recharge. 

Chelsea Sexton

Chelsea Sexton

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While a conversion, the Mini E has roughly the same 100-mile optimum range as other "mainstream" production EVs like the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus, so the "not representative of a production car" complaint is a little anemic.

Back and forth

A couple of the forthcoming EVs use a more robust thermal management system, which would have helped keep the range from dropping to the 70-80 miles the BBC experienced, but the extra 20 miles per charge would hardly have made a meaningful difference in the overall trip.

Neither, in this case, would four seats instead of the Mini E's two. For its part, the BBC countered that using the most expensive (if longest-range) production EV to make the trip is hardly playing fair either. As each side has hurled stones, the catfight has gotten more coverage than the cars, and an average reader could hardly be faulted for deciding that electric cars are more trouble than they're worth. 

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.

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Electric-car fans: part of the problem

Frustratingly, EV proponents are part of the problem on this front. In general, I’m a cheerleader for most grassroots efforts to promote electric cars. They are often inspiring and entertaining, and re-affirm that there is indeed a very human movement behind this technology.

But some mash-up of rabid enthusiasm, scarce resources, and hereditary passion for the open road has started to take a misguided path to a seemingly inevitable conclusion that is the EV road trip.

I don’t mean the trips that people take for the personal novelty of it, or even the challenge of it, or because they’ve a fun story to tell. My issue is with the trips that attempt to prove something about the convenience and practicality of a pure electric car by driving it hundreds or thousands of miles.

Racing Green Endurance electric car, Imperial College, London, June 2010

Racing Green Endurance electric car, Imperial College, London, June 2010

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Distance runs just keep coming

And yet, EV proponents- both consumers and those within automakers- have been doing that long before the BBC used the same mechanism to make the opposite point. 

These trips are often a function of limited resources, financial and otherwise. Someone without much money or a large team can still strike out on his own in a car and hope to catch some attention along the way.

Unfortunately, this same lack of resources usually results in something of a kamikaze approach, without nearly enough planning, support, technical resources, or- should things really go south, a “Plan B”. Anything that does go wrong is magnified

Triumph of hope over experience

Even if all goes well, they’ve unwittingly fed the monster, artificially emphasizing both limited range and more infrastructure than is truly needed for typical use of these vehicles.  From that perspective, we’ve been fortunate that these adventures rarely draw the press the participants are hoping for.

But in a triumph of hope over example each new group thinks their trip will be different, and in the last few years the trips have become more frequent and more ambitious


 
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