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PHOTO CAPTION: Former British PM, Gordon Brown with BMW Mini-E electric car outside No. 10 Downing Street.

Electric Cars and Range Anxiety in Britain

On paper the range of the Mini-E is 155 miles, but in less than ideal conditions, this drops to 100 miles.

Published: 10-Jun-2010

ELECTRIC cars are going to take some getting used to. A spell behind the wheel of a MINI E confirms that. Like other electric cars, it offers nippy performance, thanks to the ability of electric motors to deliver a huge amount of torque, even from a standstill. The MINI E's 150kW motor can accelerate the car from zero to 100kph (0-62mph) in 8.5 seconds and the car has a top speed (controlled by a limiter) of 152kph. But drivers will need to learn to cope with "range anxiety" and adopt a different style of driving.

The electric MINI is still something of a prototype, which is why its back seats are taken up by a battery (in the production version, it will be better hidden away). Just over 500 MINI Es have been made by MINI’s owner, BMW, for a big field trial to explore how people will live with electric cars. The electric MINIs are being leased to participants in America, Germany and Britain, along with high-voltage charging equipment for use at home. This is necessary because with a standard American 110-volt supply it would take all day to recharge the MINI E's lithium-ion battery pack. With a standard British 240-volt supply it can be done in 4.4 hours, and it takes just 2.9 hours with a beefed-up 240-volt/48-amp home charging station.

The problem is, until there are more high-voltage charging stations at other peoples’ houses and in public places, range anxiety means you will not want to stray too far from home—especially on dark, cold, wet nights, because switching on demisters, heaters, wipers and headlights will all use up more juice. On paper, the MINI E's capabilities look reasonably impressive with a range of 249km (155 miles). But that is under "ideal conditions". It drops to about 160km under more normal road use, and some drivers have found that the range falls to just 64km in a chilly British winter. Nevertheless, even that could still be enough for the average commute of many people—and perks like avoiding congestion charges for driving a green vehicle could help allay some of the anxiety.

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