Camden’s offer to drive an electric car sparks green motoring into action

Camden teams up with electric vehicle producers to offer Camden residents an environmental motoring alternative.

As regular car users complain of sky-high fuel prices and looming fuel shortages, four electric vehicle manufacturers have joined forces with Camden Council to offer residents and businesses the opportunity to test-drive their latest petrol-free alternatives.

Electric cars made by Renault, Tata, Nissan and Mitsubishi are available to businesses and organisations to drive for a two-week free trial as part of the council-run scheme that was launched last month and runs until June.

On Friday, a group of drivers hit the road in the electric vehicles and I joined them.

My carriage was the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, a functional hatchback that looks no different to any other on the road, bar the lack of an exhaust pipe.

Turning the ignition key elicited a polite beep from the car, confirming it was ready for the off, which is slightly disconcerting when used to hearing a motor rattle into life.

According to Belsize Park councillor and G-Wiz owner Jonny Bucknell, who was at the event in Regent’s Park, firing up an engine will become a distant memory once electric vehicles take off.

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“G-Wizs have bred faster than foxes,” he said. “When this new generation become mainstream there will be a stampede, and in principle this project is absolutely brilliant.”

The scheme aims to promote the benefits of electric driving, primarily environmental as they help to reduce air pollution.

But with road tax and congestion charge exemptions, tax breaks for businesses and large subsidies available, the government is also making electric motoring as financially attractive as possible.

Less appealing is the hefty �28,990 price tag for the basic version of the i-MiEV, which is marketed as a city-based commuter car.

A similar petrol hatchback, the Mitsubishi Colt, starts at �9,950.

The sale price starts to look more manageable, however, when you consider that fully charging an electric vehicle from a three-pin socket costs �1.09 compared with nearly �70 for a tank of petrol.

Humming through the sunshine, I was taken by how eerily quiet the electric car is and surprised at its unexpected zippiness.

Driving with the pedal to the metal, however, will mean unplugging the kettle more often, as taking advantage of the full 91 miles per charge requires a more economical driving style.

One person who may appreciate the benefits of the electric charging system is the interested resident who had to cancel their test drive because they had run out of petrol that morning.