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EV trial shows users surprised at ease of use but over-cautious of range

A six-month trial of electric vehicles in north-east England has ended as a success.

Four electric-powered Smart Fortwo cars were deployed in the region last September to be used by ten different vehicle fleets and featured at three public events. In total the cars were driven by 264 people.

The trial, headed by Cenex (the UK’s centre of excellence for low carbon technology) and the regional development agency, found that after the test-drive 82% said they would consider owning an EV and 72% said they would use an EV as their regular car.

Drivers found charging it was easy and safe, and performance exceeded their expectations. However users were over-cautious about the car’s battery life 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.

Emissions barely better than Smart diesel

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.

However the Smart ForTwo diesel already has tailpipe emissions of just 86g/km CO2.

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.

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.

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 conomic 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 the 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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