The late, great Terry Wogan was famous, among other things, for the phrase, “Is it me?” This was a frustrated lament about one of a number of the idiocies of modern life that troubled him and, in that sense, perhaps it’s good that he’s no longer here to get involved in the debate about electric cars.
I know two people with electric cars – one bought his two years ago for around £23k and it is now worth less than a quarter of that with batteries that, even when fully charged, can now hold around 60% of the capacity they had when new. The other paid almost £70k for his which gives supercar performance but ran out of power on his way home from a family day out which took around five hours to return from a journey that lasted just two on the way there. His car obligingly told him that it would need recharging soon but, on the way home the first recharging point featured a different charging adaptor, the second had two cars already waiting to use the single charging point and the third was in a garage that had already closed because of the late hour, a situation caused by a bad accident en route. The emergency services were able to save the driver but this further delayed my electric friend.
In essence, we all know that we will need to adopt the technology at some stage, such as electric cars, but many, or should I say most, of us are putting off the investment until the infrastructure is radically different. In a classic chicken and egg situation, motor manufacturers are racing to adopt a technology and to sell its progeny to a population that cannot see how to rearrange its lifestyle to fit in. Nevertheless our government, among many, is racing ahead to meet its emission targets and will require us all to adopt the technology so that we can save the planet. Terry would be rapidly revolving here if he only knew.
My lifestyle uses a car to get to work, to take the dogs to a longer walk, to do the shopping and to facilitate whatever social life is possible once all those other things are done. Work for me necessitates a round trip to a station or airport of around 50 miles and once or twice a week to undertake a business trip on average of around 300 miles. The former part would be easy enough to undertake with electric cars, but the latter part would only be possible in new all electric cars in the summer and in the longer hours of daylight, certainly not in the dark, the cold, the rain or with any holdup longer than a few minutes. Once I’d had the car for a year or so, the attrition of battery capacity wouldn’t permit anything of such a range even in good conditions. Not only would we be fighting each other to get to the very few battery recharging points ahead of the competition but a recharging point which only worked with other types of battery would render me Basil Fawlty-like to berate my car with a nearby branch.
As I understand it, there is no standardization of battery type, fitment or location across the ranges of different manufacturers and, because electric vehicles use such high electrical currents, the casual swapping of batteries would represent a danger to the inexperienced, even if there were. The lack of standardisation of manufacturers’ routing of these high voltage cables is considered a problem by the emergency services who have had to be trained on each individual model’s variation for their own safety if they need to cut into the bodywork of an EV to liberate a trapped passenger. Moreover, there aren’t enough charging points and, it would appear, the national grid will need some modification if the nation would suddenly take electric vehicles to its heart, an investment that is not yet being made available.
My point here is not to rant about the shortcomings of the whole situation but to question the disconnect that is pushing us towards such a cliff-edge of disappointment. In essence, this is a form of hugely expensive Beta testing for a genre of technology that needs to be adopted on a global scale if we are to save the planet from damaging emissions. Let’s simply accept that premise and not veer off into questions about the relative damage done by cars, aeroplanes or Friesian cows, although most people would say that they simply don’t know how to access the proper data to make any informed decision.
Those of us old enough to remember will be familiar with the jokes, born out of anger and frustration, about computer operating systems that routinely crashed, software that ate up your work or hid it cunningly behind another folder and hardware that had a life expectancy shorter than a hamster. In each case we knowingly, or otherwise, invested our hard earned in the product and provided large scale beta testing for the manufacturers while they refined their products. That was then and this is now with most hardware and software at last being, if not bulletproof, routinely reliable. What is different now is that public trust has significantly eroded in the ethics and antics of politicians and manufacturers alike and one only has to look at the diesel debacle to see how resigned and resentful many people are about all parties concerned.
If, as I believe, public trust has become the primary casualty in today’s ephemeral society there is a very real issue that every aspect of the IT industry must face, whether it is involved in information access or data storage. There is a real opportunity for the industry, as a whole, to avoid hyperbole and extravagant claims but most importantly, for agencies and manufacturers to be client conscious in all aspects of their consumer interface. We cannot live without data, whether we’re using it or storing it but few of us will want to invest heavily in any new IT technology unless we can have trust in our potential partners.
I have a garage that I trust to look after my car and a small, independent IT consultancy that sorts out my computer glitches. I’ll hang on to my diesel car as long as I can and am minded to do the same with all aspects of my IT until I find a better replacement, an electric car perhaps, that does what I need it to without having to learn a new system or compromise the way I like to use it. Like most consumers, I suppose I am lazy, suspicious and becoming progressively more cynical about global brands.
Is it me?
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Ross Tiffin, Social Observer
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