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PHOTO CAPTION: The four Smart electric cars used int he CENEX trials.

UK Drivers 'Switched On' to Driving Electric

UK Centre for Excellent reports on results of six month-long electric car trials in the northeast of England.

Published: 18-May-2010

The first trial of electric vehicles in North East England has been a major success, leaving hundreds of drivers ready to make the switch to low carbon transport.

See also EV World Insider's comments, Anxiety, Bias, and Battery Cars

Cenex, the UK's Centre of Excellence for low carbon and fuel cell technologies, in conjunction with Regional Development Agency One North East, deployed four electric two-seater Smart ForTwo cars over six months in the region from September 2009. These were placed into ten different vehicle fleets, featured at three public events and in total were driven by 264 different people.

Key findings from this trial include:

Following the three public test drive events in Gateshead, 72% of the people who took part said they would use an electric vehicle as their regular car, compared with just 47% before the test drive, and 82% said they would consider owning an electric vehicle. During test drives the car exceeded the general public’s expectations on all monitored performance aspects, with the largest change in attitude concerning the top speed performance. Test drivers and fleet users in the 20-30 age group experienced the highest opinion shift in favour of electric vehicle ownership.

The trials showed that vehicle fleets could provide a successful early market for electric vehicles, having left 58% of fleet users feeling more positive about electric vehicles and 88% of fleet managers feeling more positive about incorporating electric vehicles into their fleets. Because of the return–to-base operation of their vehicles, fleet managers also said that the number of public charging points was not a barrier to integrating electric vehicles into their organisations.

One of the most significant findings of the trial was that so-called ‘range anxiety’ meant drivers were over-cautious when planning journeys. The maximum journey length was 17.8km, just 25% of the average range of the vehicles, which was 72.4km. This range anxiety also meant that 93% of journeys were begun with the battery charged above 50%, and people also begin to modify their driving style when the battery’s state of charge approached 50%. Manufacturers are already fitting more sophisticated range-prediction aids to electric vehicles to address this issue.

The electric Smart cars emitted an average of 81.4g CO2/km when recharged with UK average grid mix electricity. This represents almost half the average emissions from new cars in the UK, which last year was 149.5g CO2/km. If charged with alternative sources of electricity, the electric vehicles could achieve average emissions of 45g CO2/km from Combined Heat and Power (CHP) sources, and 0g CO2/km from renewable electricity.

There was a variation in vehicle range and CO2 performance between the journeys recorded, which appears to have been a result of changes to payload, driving style, terrain, rates of acceleration and deceleration and overall journey speed.

Other findings showed that the low noise level and the environmental ‘feel good factor’ of the EV were judged more positively than other performance criteria, and that fleet users found that charging the vehicle was easy, safe and reliable. The positive attitude towards charging shows that the drivers accepted the electric vehicle charging requirements, and did not draw comparison to refilling a conventional vehicle with fuel.

The 11 organisations which used the vehicles in their fleets were: ComeSys Europe Ltd, Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Hartlepool Borough Council, John N Dunn Group, Newcastle City Council, Newcastle University, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, South Tyneside Council, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council and Sunderland City Council. The Smart cars were fitted with remote data monitoring equipment supplied by ComeSys Europe Ltd, which continuously monitored their performance and transmitted data via a wireless link to Newcastle University’s Transport Operations and Research Group for analysis. Future Transport Systems (FTS) provided trial management support and regional contacts.

Robert Evans, CEO at Cenex, said: “The Smart Move trial has done a great deal to change perceptions of electric vehicles among the fleet managers and drivers who took part. There is clearly a need for better understanding of the advances that electric vehicle technologies have made in recent years, and we will be working with partners across the country to spread this message.”

Chris Pywell, Head of Strategic Economic Change at One North East, said: “This trial has shown that there is real enthusiasm in North East England for electric vehicles, and that charging the car was not seen as a problem by drivers who used them. It has however highlighted that range anxiety remains a major issue, and we will be seeking to address this through educational programmes and by making quick progress on the 1,300 charging points that we are installing in our region. This will help inform other parts of the UK as the national network is installed.”

The information gained in this study will be disseminated by Cenex to allow organisations to gain an understanding of the capability and performance of electric vehicles in fleets nationwide. Cenex and One North East will soon be in the next phase of electric vehicle trials in North East England, which is also part of a national demonstrator project, part-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, which will see new electric passenger vehicles developed in the North East.

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