From The Internal Combustion Blues To EV Bliss

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Originally published on EVObsession.

30 Year Wait For an EV

I had been interested in the idea of having an electric vehicle (EV) for about 30 years, but before the existence of relatively lightweight lithium-ion batteries — when heavy lead-acid batteries were all that existed — an EV was largely slow, impractical, and for me, somewhat expensive. The information at the time was that diesels were the thing to buy to be environmentally conscious, as they produced less CO2 than their petrol counterparts. As they were more economical to run, too, that was the choice I made. Ignorance is bliss.

Fiat Qubo

The vehicle before the one I currently own was a Fiat Qubo, which is a small van but fitted with five seats and windows, and a slightly more luxurious interior than the plain van version. The roof was high enough to accommodate my 6’2” frame, and the car was very versatile, with sufficient room for myself and up to 4 passengers and their luggage, where for more practical purposes, with the seats folded down, it had most of the room of a Qubo van. It gave me 50 miles to the gallon, was very reliable, and so was relatively cheap for me to run.

Waiting Over

It was with a mixture of anxiety and excitement that I realized, about three years ago, that used EVs were now available to buy at an affordable price, and which would serve my purposes. At the time, I was not totally sure that an EV would really suit me and be practical, so I was reticent to spend much money in buying one. I considered that the more I spent, the more I would lose if I have to sell it soon after.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

I identified the Mitsubishi i-MiEV as being the most suitable car for me as it was relatively cheap to buy, but unlike a Renault Twizy, was a proper car, and according to reports had plenty of headroom for someone my size. I always regret now that I did not buy a Nissan Leaf, which I could have got for only £1000 more, and is a better car in most respects, except for the absence of a battery temperature management system, something I was blissfully unaware of at the time. In any case, I ended up with the Peugeot version of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the iOn.

90 Miles of Range?

The advertised range for the iOn is 90 miles, and I was naive enough at the time to believe that statement to have some semblance of connection with the real world in which I live, rather than some parallel universe where everything is free and a vehicle will run for 100 miles on a teaspoonful of water. The real range is more like 70 miles with careful driving. This is fine for 95% of all the driving I do, but slightly less convenient for any longer distances.

Or Was That 50 Miles?

Another thing I learned after buying the car and using it was the fast chargers on the motorway only charge to 80%, and although one can force them to provide 100%, the last 20% takes about half an hour to achieve, compared with 20 minutes for the 80%. This means that on long drives, the 70 miles becomes 56 miles, on only 80% charge and needing to keep a little in reserve, it becomes 50 miles.

That range of 50 miles is better than it seems, as on a journey of 150 miles and starting off with 100% charge, I can make my first charging stop at around 60 miles, charge up to 80%, drive 50 miles, charge up to 80% again, and have only 40 miles left to drive. So, that is only 2 charging stops for the 150 mile journey. If I had a vehicle which would actually do 90 miles, I might just about make 150 miles with only one stop, which would make quite a difference.

EV Bliss

In the three years that I have been driving it, I have been very happy with my little EV. There is no engine to start, with potential difficulties on cold damp mornings, and no engine to stall by any impatient operation of the clutch pedal. There is no five-speed gearbox to wrestle with while trying to get up to speed or in selecting the right gear on slowing down. All I have to do to drive is to steer and just move my foot up and down on the accelerator pedal. Forward motion is not by a series of jerks, from starting up and working through each gear in the gearbox, but a smooth, brisk, uninterrupted and progressive acceleration without a clutch or gear in sight.

Regenerative Braking

When slowing down, just easing my foot off the accelerator pedal brings the regenerative braking into play, so that I can slow down considerably, without even having to use the brake pedal. When I do need a little more braking, the first few millimeters of brake pedal movement just provide extra regenerative braking without using the friction brakes. So not only am I putting power back into my battery, but I am not wearing out my brakes or brake pads by wastefully converting my forward motion into heat. This gives me the pleasure of not only extending my range, but also saving a considerable amount of money on replacing brake pads and brake discs.

The Bliss of Savings

That introduces another reason to be pleased with my EV; saving my money. Where I used to spend at least £80 a month on fuel for my diesel vehicle, my EV costs only about £1 for 50 miles when I have to pay for the electricity, and I quite often get rapid charging for free. My diesel vehicle probably cost me about £20 a month on servicing and maintenance of various kinds, but my EV has so far cost me about £100 for the entire three years that I’ve had it, where £80 of that has been on compulsory annual safety tests. The only actual maintenance costs have been replacing the windscreen wiper blades at the front and back, which cost about £20, and topping up the windscreen washer bottle, which is something that has to be done in any car.

Diesel Delights

My neighbor across the road is a Land Rover enthusiast, and seems to love it so much that he spends half his life lying underneath it or with his head poking down into the engine compartment, surrounded by tools and oily parts. This is probably not any indication of the reliability of Land Rovers, in general, but he does drive it a lot and just seems to enjoy that kind of thing.

I, on the other hand, although I started to learn how to strip down engines at the tender age of 14, have found that the novelty has long since worn off, and I am very pleased and happy that all I have to do with my EV is to drive it wherever I want to go. I have no anxiety about its breaking down, as there is really nothing that can break down. An EV is one of the simplest machines one can own. There is just a battery, controller, an electric motor, and a step-down gear. It is about as complicated as an electric drill, and therefore just as reliable. I still have an electric drill that I acquired as a used item about 50 years ago, so it might be almost as old as I am, and both of us are still going strong.

The Letter

In late December 2017, I received a letter from Peugeot saying that my vehicle was subject to a recall. Apparently, the passenger airbag might have a fault in the triggering mechanism, and so needed to be replaced. I approached my nearest Peugeot dealer to get the job done, only to be told that they weren’t able to deal with electric vehicles, and that I would have to go to Birmingham to get it done. When I approached the dealer in Birmingham, they said that because it was the airbag, and not part of the vehicle electrics, any dealer could do the job. Going back and forth between them for a while, I got nowhere with either of them. This is how one is treated, I suppose, for daring to go against the mainstream by driving an electric car.

I tell this first part of the story only to explain why it took such a long time, and why it was only about a week ago, in early May, 2018, that I finally had my appointment.

Adventures in Nottingham

My appointment was with a Peugeot dealer in Nottingham, which is only about 25 miles away. I set off in my little EV, faithfully following my satellite navigation system, which, I hoped, had some idea of where the dealer in Nottingham, was to be found.

This part of my adventure was relatively pleasant. My journey went smoothly, and was relatively straight forward, driving north up the M1, the very first motorway built in the UK, which goes from London in the South to Leeds in the North. It was a good day for driving, and my little EV zipped along, accompanied by my favorite music on the sound system. Then came arterial roads leading into Nottingham, and then the usual urban entanglement of traffic lights and roundabouts (rotaries), but still relaxing in my little EV, it being so easy to drive.

Around 45 minutes after setting out from home I parked on the forecourt of the Peugeot dealer in Nottingham. When I arrived at the desk they were very pleasant and efficient, and having given them the keys to my iOn, I was shown to the car that they were kind enough to lend to me while my vehicle was being worked on. It was a Peugeot 108, with a small petrol engine, and was a similar size to my Peugeot iOn. It was no great challenge to drive, though I did wonder how I would get on with the clutch and gears that I had not used for a number of years.

New Experiences and Old Memories

I had my first introduction to keyless entry, which was intriguing. If you have the remote control in your pocket, the car picks up a signal and allows you to open it just by pressing a button on the door handle. When you get into the car you indicate your desire to start it by depressing the clutch and brake pedals with your feet. Then, to actually start it, you simply press a little button on the dash. Apart from all of the complex electronics involved, this gave me the feeling of stepping backwards in time, as the very first car I ever owned, built in 1939, had a similar button for starting.

Internal Combustion Blues

Now came the introduction to the hard work of driving an internal-combustion-engined car. The car was parked on a bit of a hill between two other cars, and to get out, I had to drive forward, up hill, turning immediately to the right. With some trepidation, I put the car into first gear and used a little bit of accelerator to try to avoid stalling the engine. I then had to try to find the balancing point of the clutch, where it started to bite.

Having not done this for quite a while, at least half of my attention was on trying to get the car moving forward slowly without stalling the engine and without racing it either, while the other half was left to the job of steering into the tight right turn to get out without damaging either the car I was driving or any of those surrounding it. It took me back to my learner-driver days when there seemed to be far too many things to do all at once for one person to ever be able to manage. I did a lot better than I expected, and managed to get out of the car park without doing any damage to the car or to my reputation as a good and careful driver.

The dealership was on a very wide and straight main road, so I was somewhat anxious about launching out into the traffic in a strange car with, what was now, a strange means of propulsion. I had visions of stalling the car in the middle of the road, with traffic bearing down on me from all directions. Again, I did better than I expected, mainly because there was a big gap in the traffic so that my rather hesitant launch into the road did not cause any major traffic incidents. So far so good.

A Change of Gear

In my electric car I would now be whizzing along, accelerating up to 30 mph just by putting my foot on the accelerator. In this car, I was reminded by the screaming noise coming out of the engine that I had to change into second gear, and then similarly into third, which was quite enough to be going on with. After several traffic lights, roundabouts, left turns, and right turns, I had gained considerable practice in both starting off in first gear and changing up through the gears, and even managed to change down while braking at the same time.

A Stressful Job

I was certainly becoming more proficient and confident that I could manage this, but it did not stop it being a labor of Hercules. My left knee was beginning to ache from popping up and down on the clutch, and my left arm was constantly stirring the gear-lever like a spoon in a cauldron of goo. In my electric car, I would just be sitting back and relaxing while steering through the traffic, but in this car, it felt as if I had become part of the mechanism itself, constantly required to attend to its needs.

I felt like a ship’s engineer, constantly coaxing the ancient machinery to continue in service to the next port of call. My duty required me to constantly listen to the engine and keep an eye on the rev counter to ensure it was neither over-revving, nor straining or juddering at too low a revolution. Constantly I had to think about what gear it is in and what gear does it need to be in? Driving had changed from a relaxing pleasure to a somewhat stressful, full-time occupation.

Going for a Cruise

Once out on the arterial roads, things did become easier. Having got up to 4th gear, I was able to cruise along at the speed limit of 40 mph, and even managed to get to 5th gear when finally free of the speed limit. This was certainly less demanding and a bit more like driving my electric car, apart from being a bit more noisy, with the engine doing between 3000 and 4000 revs per minute.

The only thing it took time to get used to was that taking my foot off the accelerator had no effect at all. I am so used to one-pedal driving with the EV, where to slow down considerably, all I have to do is take my foot off the accelerator. With this car, every time I wanted to slow down, I had to use the brakes, converting my forward motion into waste heat rather than a valuable charging current for my battery. It is no wonder that the discs and brake pads do not last very long in internal combustion engined cars..

Hot Luxury

To be fair, there was one aspect of the loan car that was better than my electric. An internal combustion engine uses less than 40% of the heat generated from burning fuel to actually drive the car, so there is plenty of waste heat left over for warming up cold drivers and passengers. Using the heater on my EV has a considerable impact on the range, so most of the time I make do with a heated seat and driving gloves, rather than using the heater. So my drive home from Nottingham in the loan car was at least warm and comfortable on what was otherwise a fairly cold day.

This feel-good factor was somewhat tempered by having to pay out nearly £10 at the fuel pump to cover the cost of the fuel I had used when it came to returning the loan car. So, my cozy heating came at a cost. The same amount of driving by my EV would have cost less than £2.

A Return to EV Bliss

The next day I returned my loan car to Nottingham, and so was able to return to the relative bliss of electric driving after my brief reintroduction to the trials and tribulations associated with the internal combustion engine. If only people knew the joy of electric driving, they would have no hesitation in ditching their cumbersome internal combustion engined vehicles for the clean, quiet, and sprightly driving of an economical EV.

It was also nice to return to the clean feeling that comes from driving a vehicle with zero emissions. Whenever I am on the road, it seems quite bizarre that every one of the hundreds of vehicles I see has a pipe poking out of the back pumping out pollution and CO2 constantly. Do people not think about where all of that is going? I saw a news item this morning about the £millions it is costing the water companies to free the sewers from blockages caused by massive fatbergs and conglomerations of baby-wipes, cotton buds, and other inappropriate items, cast carelessly away down the drains, so probably no, they do not think about it.

Reprinted with permission.

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Andy Miles

As a child, I had the unrealistic expectation that I would learn about, and understand, absolutely everything during the course of growing up. Now, at the other end of life, I am fully aware of how much I have not learnt and do not understand, and yet, I remain interested in everything. My education, starting with an arts degree and going on to postgraduate studies in everything from computer science to hypnotism reflected my broad interests. For 20 years, I worked in local government. I am now retired, living in North Leicestershire in the UK, with plenty of time for doing whatever I like. I have always had a keen interest in everything alternative, which includes renewable energy and energy efficiency and, of course, electric vehicles. So, naturally, I have taken ownership of an EV, now that they are affordable and practical forms of transport. Writing is also one of my great pleasures, so writing about EVs and environmental issues is a natural evolution for me. You can find my work on EV Obsession, and CleanTechnica, and you can also follow me on twitter.

Andy Miles has 49 posts and counting. See all posts by Andy Miles