06 Dec 2019
7 min read
If you're looking for a fun day out for FREE (not including travel, though £14.90 return from London Euston to Milton Keynes off-peak isn't too bad) you could do a lot worse than the Electric Vehicle Experience Centre in sunny Milton Keynes.
Funded by the local council (Milton Keynes is a recipient of the government's Go Ultra Low grant encouraging people to switch to electric), the Centre is run by BP Chargemaster runs the location and several partnering car brands have electric cars available on-site. The Centre is a brand-neutral (well, kinda) education hub which offers 20-minute test drives of a range of electric cars – currently the Renault Zoe, the VW e-Up!, the VW e-Golf and the BMW i3 (all fully electric) as well as the plug-in hybrid MINI. It’s the first showroom of its kind in the UK and it's packed with friendly, passionate and knowledgeable staff.
If you just show up at EVEC (it's situated in the MK shopping centre, a fifteen minute walk from the station and open seven days a week) you can test drive as many of the cars on offer as you like (in the company of an electric car guru), charge the vehicles yourself and find out everything you've ever wanted to know about electric cars while you're at it. You'll need your driving licence and National Insurance number (for insurance) and if you're coming from out of town you're advised to call in advance just in case the centre is hosting a conference or corporate day. Four- and seven-day test drives of all five models at the centre are also available from £50.00.
If you were to start your journey at Euston station you might see over 25 taxis waiting in line, all idling their diesel engines, immediately become depressed (is this really still going on after all the publicity about air quality?) and take a photo like this one.
On entering the station concourse, you might then hear buskers singing Can't Help Falling in Love, instantly cheer up and wonder if this is your theme for the day.
Back in the spirit of a Fun Day Out you might succumb to the temptation to indulge in a giant chocolate croissant and latte, find out it costs over £5.00, decide to buy it anyway and wonder if you can expense it.
Getting off the train at Milton Keynes you might notice that the air is ten times better than in London and think again about those wretched taxis. Cracking on.
While driving, charging and chatting with Rachel, my guru at the Electric Vehicle Centre, I find out that:
Low emission zones
More and more of the visitors to the EVEC are being motivated by the low emission zones already in operation in London or being planned for other cities around the country (including Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh).
Cost of electric cars
Electric cars can be much cheaper than you might think. A brand new Citroen C-Zero retails at £17,020 and the Skoda CITIGO will shortly be on the market at £19,000, for example.. (These are On The Road prices which include VAT and the UK's Plug-In Car Grant (PICG).
A lot of customers are worried about range but reassured when
a. they realise their daily commute (there and back) is well within the range of any electric car
b. they find out how far-ranging new electric cars can be. The Skoda CITIGO has a range of 85 to 190 miles, the new Renault Zoe, 135 to 295 miles and the Tesla model 3 Long Range, 210 to 425 miles. Moreover, a rapid charger can charge a battery to 80% in about thirty minutes (depending on the car) - the time it takes to use the facilities and have something to eat at a service station. (In all cases the actual range will depend on real life driving conditions).
Cost of charging
Many visitors are astonished when they discover that the cost of charging an average electric car from empty to full is between £2 and £5 (less than what you might spend on a giant chocolate croissant and latte, for example). A rough way to calculate costs is 2p per mile (depending on your energy provider) for an electric car compared with 16p per mile for a car with an internal combustion engine. (For the mathematically challenged, that's eight times cheaper!)
Finding your nearest charger
The satnav in your car which helps you find your nearest charger is not brand-neutral (so it will only show you chargers run by companies with whom your manufacturer has a relationship) BUT an app on your phone will show you all available chargers close to you regardless of network provider.
Most rapid chargers have three different cables attached (CCS, CHAdeMO or Type 2) so that drivers can use the connector that fits their car.
Cool (or warm) EV tech
Because electric cars are powered by electricity they can do fun (and very useful) techy things that traditional cars can't. You can 'precondition' a car, for example, to be at the right temperature for you by a specific time. Most electric cars also have a charging schedule button so that you can tell the car to start charging only when the electricity is cheaper overnight.
A different world
Visitors are often impressed when asked to imagine the opposite choice from the one facing them now. You have a car which produces zero emissions, can be fuelled from home, costs far less to charge and is safer than your current car. Would you exchange it for a car that emits toxins and CO2, costs a lot more to fuel, park and tax and can only be topped up at a petrol station?
On to the test drives:
First up was the current Renault Zoe which makes use of recycled seatbelts and other plastic in its cabin. Also impressive is the fact that Renault provide all their customers with a free home charger (three times faster than twice as fast as a three-pin plug). It felt like an ordinary car to drive although the absence of a traditional engine meant there was no engine noise (you can flick a switch and hear a fake engine sound as an option) and there was a certain feeling of flying or floating as you drive. The 40 kW battery provided plenty of acceleration and the brakes were sensitive. I enjoyed the lovely warm seat on a cold November day.
Click here for more on the new Zoe.
Next was Volkswagen's current e-Up!, a small but heavier-bottomed car which made me feel a little safer than when driving the Zoe. There's no option on the fake engine sound (which you can't turn off) but there is a choice of braking options. Regenerative braking (at different levels of sensitivity) will help to charge the car. The heated seats (again) were much appreciated. 3158
Click here for more information on the latest e-Up!
The Volkswagen e-Golf is a larger, more luxurious car than the e-Up! It had the same heavy-bottomed, safe feel and gave an extremely smooth ride. The fake engine noise was adjustable but essentially soft.
Click here for more information on the VW e-Golf.
Designed as an electric car from the bottom up and made in a factory which runs entirely on wind-power, the BMW impresses immediately with its sporty style (the front and back doors open away from each other like the double doors on a gate) and its ultra-modern interior. The exterior and interior both use over 25% recycled or renewable materials in their design and there's lots of bamboo in the cabin which looks and feels very different. For me the car felt a little high off the road (a little bit like being inside an SUV) and it was scarily powerful. Its sporty suspension meant it didn't offer as smooth a ride as the other three models but I can see it appealing very much to younger men. (The electric seats heated up extremely quickly!)
Click here for more information on the BMW i3.
I noticed a sense of peace while driving electric cars. No emissions and no chance of idling meant no constant stress or guilt about pollution. You can't stall the cars either and as they're all automatic there's no need to think about changing gears. All of this was strange, different and weirdly nice.
Back at London Euston it's dark, the air is bad and there are still 25 taxis standing in a row running their engines.
I reflected that Milton Keynes is aiming for an electric car population of 23% by 2022 (its electric car-friendly infrastructure has led to a figure of 8-9% at the moment compared with 1-2% nationwide) and hope very, very much that other cities will follow suit.
Click here to find out more about the Electric Vehicle Experience Centre.