What is it like to live with an electric car?

By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Oxford

image captionAn unhappy David Beesley is handing back his electric car

Ever more mainstream carmakers are planning to make electric cars for sale to ordinary drivers, though none of them has done so yet. But there are trial cars out there, and Oxford-based businessman David Beesley has been driving one for six months.

And Mr Beesley is not a happy man. Another week or so and that is it. He has to hand the car back.

"I am livid," the 60-something head of business supplies company B-line says.

For Mr Beesley, the journey began about a year ago, when he first learnt that Mini was building an electric car in its Cowley factory on the edge of Oxford.

At the time, he was in a very different mood.

"I heard about it through my son whose best friend works in the plant," he says, and being the sort of guy who enjoys messing abount in battery-powered boats or racing electric buggies around the garden, Mr Beesley knew he had to get involved.

"If you want something, you'll go for it, don't you?" he grins.

Different experience

Mr Beesley took delivery of his Mini-E in December 2009 as one of the so-called "pioneers" who pay just over £300 per month to take part in BMW Group's electric motoring trial.

And it has not been an entirely smooth experience.

During sub-zero temperatures, the battery capacity dropped to a range of just 40 miles, compared with almost 100 miles during summer, he recalls.

And, well, that's it. Beyond such teething problems, which BMW insists will be overcome before it starts selling electric cars to consumers, he has not had any problems whatsoever.

In short, Mr Beesley says, the experience has given him an insatiable thirst for more. These days, he rarely drives anything other than the Mini E.

"It is a totally different experience to anything I've driven before and probably anything I'll be driving in the future," says Mr Beesley, a petrolhead whose other cars include three large Lexus saloons, a Chrysler Voyager, a Smart car and an enormous Winnebago mobile home.

"Yes, I like big cars," he says. "But I have begun to question whether big cars is the way forward."

Never empty

So Mr Beesley is far from livid about the electric Mini's shortcomings.

Rather, he is furious because he will have to hand it back when the first part of the Mini-E trial comes to an end next week, on 11 June.

As yet, the BMW Group has not got a production model for sale, so Mr Beesley has been driving a prototype.

"I cannot fault the thing, even in its present form," he says.

"People say it does only this many miles or that many miles or that it takes so-and-so long to charge it.

"Meanwhile, I go past the petrol stations and laugh at the silly sods wasting time and money filling up fuel."

The Mini-E is clearly very cheap to use, though Mr Beesley has no idea exactly how much it costs him.

"I'm told it's about £3 for a full charge, but it never is a full charge because the battery is never actually empty," he says.

No problems

The realities of living with an electric car are very different from what most people would expect, Mr Beesley explains.

"I never used to consider how far my journey would be," he says. "I now reckon my average journey is five to 10 miles. I guess people think they drive more miles than they actually do.

"Clearly, if you do 90 miles per day, then this is probably not the car for you, but how often do you drive more than 90 miles in one stretch? And how often do you have sub-zero temperatures in Britain?"

Mr Beesley is even taking issue with the supposed need to roll out public charging points to molify people's range anxiety.

On most journeys, there is no need to top up the batteries to get home, Mr Beesley insists.

"And if I go to see a client in High Wycombe or my auntie in Southampton, it is not a problem if I want to plug into their socket while I'm there. It's just a bit of fun."

BMW says it takes about three hours to charge the battery with a 30-amp fast-charger, which uses the same type of electric cable that electric cookers use, or eight hours when using an ordinary 13-amp socket.

But again, Mr Beesley insists that once you get used to electric motoring, even this seems irrelevant.

"I come home, I get out of the car and I plug it straight in. It takes about two or three seconds and it charges on low tariffs overnight," he says.

"All this stuff about range and charge time amounts to scepticism and objection.

"Why do you want to keep objecting about something that is fantastic?"

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