Roger Ratcliffe confesses
to being a boy racer

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I owned not one but two electric vehicles when I was a kid. They never broke down, had amazing acceleration and seemed to run forever on battery power.

I’m talking about toys, of course. At the age of ten I received as a Christmas present a Scalextric set, a racetrack with two vehicles scaled down to a ratio of 1:32. Countless hours of excitement followed as I pitted my favourite car – a Jaguar – against an Aston Martin controlled by my dad, my brother or a friend.

It never occurred to me that one day I might own an actual electric vehicle (EV). But everyone who shops for a new car in eight or so years’ time won’t have
a choice. With not much fanfare, the date for the mandatory purchase of EVs has been brought forward from 2035 to 1 January 2030, and as the motor industry tools up production lines that date may well creep forward yet again.

I confidently predict mine won’t be a Jag. Less clear to me is the point at which the government will summon the nerve to consign all carbon-emitting vehicles to the scrapheap. That’s the political car crash awaiting one party further down the road. As the pressure to meet carbon-zero targets gets greater, there will be huge resistance if motorists are forced to choose between going electric or going absolutely nowhere in their old petrol and diesel cars. One day it will surely happen, possibly with an exempted range of vintage and classic cars for limited rallies, and we will live in a green utopia of roads no longer enshrouded by clouds of exhaust fumes, where every vehicle is effectively powered by a wind farm in the North Sea.

The take-up of EVs is already accelerating. While the RAC estimates that just 250,000 of the UK’s 39 million vehicles are battery-driven, more than 100,000 of these were registered in the past year as prices steadily come down.

But ending our love affair with the internal combustion engine hasn’t been smooth. A recent article I read on a motoring website called for less EV hype and highlighted the shortage of charging points. Certainly, in some places EVs are still pretty niche. One day last week, next to the old Harry Ramsden’s chippy in Leeds, I saw that both charging bays at an Aldi car park were empty while at a nearby filling station cars and vans were queuing up to use 12 fuel pumps.

To find out the pros and cons of EVs I turned to a friend, Suzanne Lake, who works as an out-of-hours district nurse in Bradford and went electric a year ago.
On the plus side, she says, she averages a £20-a-week saving on fuel. But there is significant battery run-down if the heater or aircon are used, while the car’s whisper-quietness means she has to be on the alert for pedestrians who can’t hear her coming. Also, living in a terraced house means she is prohibited from running a charging cable over the pedestrian footway outside, leaving her reliant on public chargers.

Her final verdict? “Drive one and enjoy a feeling of smugness like you have never felt before,” she told me.

Sooner or later, I will. All motorists are destined to feel smug.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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