Electric car owners regard the Lake District as a ‘blackhole’ for charging up their vehicles – leading to ‘battery anxiety’ for tourists. But as the Gazette revealed recently, 100 new charge points are being installed across Cumbria before 2014. They're certainly needed as we test-drive a Nissan Leaf, a 100 per cent electric family car.
FULLY-charged, the Nissan Leaf can do around 110 miles before the battery dies but when it is handed over to me, just 42 miles are left.
Dominic Forlizzi, the middleman between this newspaper and Barrow-based car dealer, Barton Townley, hands over the fob. There’s no keys for this attractive five-door family car.
Or handbrake, gearstick or clutch.
“You turn it on like a computer,” Dominic says, pressing the power button.
“It’s like driving an automatic.”
After a short chat, I discard the inch-thick owner’s manual and reverse at speed.
“Don’t worry – you’re fully comp!” Dominic shouts as I disappear.
Three hours later, I’m half way up Kirkstone Pass and parked in a lay-by. I have 11 miles of electricity left but am 15 miles from home.
Foolishly, I’d decided to take this Car Of The Year 2011 up The Struggle – almost 1,500ft of the highest road in the South Lakes.
The car handled the hill with easy but battery anxiety had been my constant companion.
I decide to abort mission and hope I have enough 'juice' to get back home.
That said, there is something self-satisfying about gliding through the National Park in a noiseless, engineless car while around you blackened gas guzzlers cough like a 40-a-day smoker.
This is a great car for doing short runabout journeys - running about towns or even day-tripping in the Lakes - providing you have time to charge them up.
But long spontaneous runs are off the menu. Its good points cannot compensate for the helplessness you feel as you watch your mile range diminish with no knowledge of where the nearest public charge point is.
It is not a failure of the car but a shortcoming of the area. (And perhaps my own lack of preparation.)
Pity the ignorant tourist who comes here in an e-car from a big city and does not do their homework.
Dominic tells me later that the nearest power supply is actually the nearest domestic plug socket – although the manual cautions against this.
And who wants to knock on strange doors when a home charge takes seven hours?
One of the clever features of the Nissan Leaf is you can claw back battery by driving ‘smart’.
This means driving at about 27mph, which then helps extend your range (but annoys every motorist behind you.) Especially when I crawl through Ings speed cameras at a steady 7mph.
On Kirkstone, I had 11 miles left but by the time I reached the bottom of the pass it was up to 13. By the time I passed The Samling opposite Windermere it read 15.
The Nissan Leaf can make mincemeat out of Lindale Hill or the Kendal Bypass, which is okay if there are public charge points at your journey’s end.
But we need more of them and roadside promotion of their existence for it to truly work.
An in-car touch-screen allows you to locate the nearest chargepoint, though I tried it at Staveley and it returned a blank.
With four miles of electricity left, I found the nearest public charge point was 4.9 miles away near Sizergh Castle.
I nervously headed for home but an exclamation mark appeared on the dashboard and a dialogue box warned of ‘very low battery’.
Two hundred yards from home, the battery flatlined completely.
Luckily, there was enough to pull up on to the drive and hook it up to the mains for seven hours. Rapid charges of 30 minutes are available, but not everywhere.
Suzanne Burgess, director of Solway Renewable Energy Limited, is leading the campaign to get more charge points around Cumbria.
She said: “We’ve just been to a large caravan park who are keen to install to make sure they don’t miss out. “Tourism businesses have to pay for their units, although they can get them almost half price for the next few weeks. B&B’s who aren’t VAT registered get their installations free.”
n Barton Townley Electric Vehicles – 0844 692 2861 n Solway Renewable Energy Limited – 016973 52405