Catalyst I like driving in my (electric) car

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Mitsuoka Like Electric Cars

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I like driving in my (electric) car

by Bernie Hobbs

In the last three weeks, I’ve driven over 600 km and haven’t produced a single kilo of CO 2 . Go me! Although some of the credit should go to my new fully electric car, the … beast.

After waiting for all those cars of the future that always seemed to be just over the horizon, when my old car got the shakes, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and go fully electric.

It took six months to get here but my 37 kW bundle of joy is a little ripper.

Fully charged, it’s got a range of about 100 km, and it’ll do 110km/hr no problem. Just not for very long. A road trip car it’s not – it’s strictly a commuter.

It s a converted hatchback – everything petrol-based (engine, fuel tank, exhaust, radiator) was removed and replaced with an electric drive system and 56 rechargeable lithium ion batteries. And it goes like a golf cart on ‘roids.

Charging is hilarious.

Close up of three prong connection under petrol cap.

10 hours on regular 10Amp household power takes you from fully flat to fully charged — and a 30m extension cord in the boot is the ideal psychological umbilicus for those 50km-plus trips. The batteries don’t have memory, and actually last longer if you recharge regularly. (The batteries should survive at least 1000 full charge cycles – which gives 100,000 km of driving, much more if you top up regularly).

Apart from the non-standard petrol cap contents, there are a couple of stand out differences between driving this and a petrol car.

First up, the much remarked upon quietness when you turn it on. If it wasn’t for the fans that keep the batteries cool you wouldn’t know it was going. A toggle on the dash lets you choose forwards or backwards, and once the motor kicks in there’s a nice futuristic electric whir.

But reverse still gives me a start – this thing beeps at a pitch and volume that wouldn’t be out of place on a road train. Safety first, I guess.

Interior with the fwd/reverse/start toggle.

Mitsuoka Like Electric Cars

Regenerative braking helps top up the batteries, and it’s the other thing that takes a bit of getting used to. As soon as you stop accelerating the power is diverted to the batteries – it’s like someone forgot to explain the concept of momentum to the car. (Making the brake lights come on when you stop accelerating was an early, wise modification).

For all the differences, after a while you forget you’re not driving a regular car. It’s got four gears – T, H (town and highway – too cute!) and two overdrives. Disengaging regen to shift gears isn’t much different from using a clutch.


And a white hatchback isn’t a standout – although the cheesy clip-art style logo has turned the odd head. (Gotta say I’m starting to love the dagginess of that logo).

I sound like a total revhead, but I’m just really rapt to be investing in a form of transport that is headed in the direction I want to see us go. And when I say investing, I mean it. It s the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought that doesn’t have a kitchen and built-in robes.

The great thing is with an electric motor there’s very little in the way of maintenance, so over five years a hybrid winds up costing more.

But the real beauty of the electric beast is that I charge it with 100 per cent green power. It costs me about $3.70 for 100 km worth of charge, and my contribution to climate change from that is the lowest on the road. (If I went with regular coal-fired electricity the CO 2 emissions would be about the same as for a petrol hatch, so green power is essential for making this idea work).

With organisations working on infrastructure plans for electric vehicle charge stations, one day I might even be able to take Mum for a road trip to Singleton, where her Dad grew up. The electric car visits the site of Great Grandad’s coal mine – there’s a lovely synergy in that.

Listen as Bernie takes James Valentine, from 702 ABC Sydney , for a spin in Frank, her little electric zappa.

ABC Inside Business has also covered the race for clean, green driving machines.

Mitsuoka Like Electric Cars

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