Electric Vehicles - Oui
I'm still shaking from something of a life-changing event. Today is Father's Day, so I feel putting pen to paper may be therapeutic. For the last 30 years my father has been the devoted owner of a Citroen. Not the same one, obviously, but a succession of Citroens which have given him unrivalled driving pleasure.
Pleasure that is, until a recent driving holiday in France, when an unexplained red warning light on day 2 accompanied by the instruction to "procéder à un revendeur immédiatement" - which wouldn't go away throughout the trip - took the shine off an otherwise unblemished relationship between man and vehicle.
In fact, I can remember the last car he purchased before his Gallic conversion. It was a brand new sunburst yellow Morris Marina, and as he drove it proudly off the forecourt, pleased to be 'buying British', 2 hubcaps fell off and rolled away down the street. A sign of things to come, as it turned out.
Anyway, sitting on my father's driveway now is one of the new Toyota hybrid vehicles, made in Toyota's factory in the Midlands.
The benefits of a hybrid car are well known - low emissions, zero road tax, and good fuel economy.
No-one can argue with zero road tax and fuel economy, although of course the low emissions point cannot be viewed in isolation from the initial carbon footprint associated with the manufacturing process for the lithium batteries.
But compared with the totally electric models, the big selling point of a hybrid vehicle must surely be zero range-anxiety. All the benefits of spending less time and money at the pumps, combined with the peace of mind which goes with knowing that a trip to the seaside at Weston Super-Mare need not involve a painstaking search for a network of convenient charging points on the way.
Finding a cure for range anxiety is the big challenge if 'proper' electric vehicles are to truly take off in popularity, and that means charging infrastructure.
Currently, anyone wanting to take an electric vehicle for a day trip to the seaside from Brum would have to take in charging points in Bristol, to ensure arriving in Weston with a fully charged vehicle. According to the latest data, London has more than 150 charging points and the rest of the UK has new charging points springing up every day, but Weston remains barren.
It is widely accepted that the UK will require one charging point for every five electric cars, excluding a charge point at home or at work - that's potentially a requirement for 1,000,000 charging points across the UK by 2020, including Weston.
Surprisingly perhaps, given the heritage of our region for all things combustion engine powered, the Midlands leads the way in developing the next generation of electric vehicles and charging systems.
Commuters into or between Coventry and Birmingham are well catered for thanks to the Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Vehicle Demonstrators (CABLED) project. This ground-breaking trial of a fleet of 110 electric vehicles is designed to ascertain their potential in real-world conditions, driven by members of the public, not test-drivers.
CABLED is the largest of eight public trials in the UK and has already discovered that as confidence grows, drivers are travelling further and more frequently. Data shows average charging time is about two hours, typically costing between 40p and £1 depending on the tariff; delivering enough energy charge for a journey of 20 to 40 miles.
Already, we are seeing giant leaps in technology that will make it easier for the public to contemplate switching to electric vehicles. The trial has recently added two vehicles fitted with inductive power transfer technology, which promises simple on-street charging for any battery-powered vehicles, without any cables to plug in. Drivers simply park their vehicle, aligning the undercar receptor with the charging plate, set into the ground, which allows a powerful electromagnetic field to transfer energy between the two plates, to re-charge the vehicles onboard batteries.
Interestingly the two vehicles in question are Citroens; I can already hear my father scuttling off to his study to dig out his French phrasebook from retirement.
But finding a cure for range anxiety is only part of the solution.
Electric vehicles don't disguise the underlying need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel for electricity generation. An electric vehicle cannot be said to have zero emissions - even ignoring the carbon footprint associated with its manufacture - when it is charged from an energy grid, still largely reliant on fossil fuels for its production.
Furthermore, the prospect of hundreds of thousands of commuters coming home in the evening and plugging in their electric vehicles for an evening charge is not without its problems - that's a peak time for demand across the system and not the cheapest moment to be consuming electricity.
So whilst we should rejoice at the giant strides being made in the development of electric vehicles and the related infrastructure to make them consumer friendly, ultimately the way we generate the electricity for them to consume must be our more immediate focus.