Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Video: Can the Nissan Leaf give an electric experience?

With a growing number of curious electric charge points popping up across Northern Ireland, John Mulgrew takes a test drive in a modern electric car.

It's a typically biting chilly day in Belfast and I’m staring at what for all intents and purposes appears to be a traditional compact family five-door runaround.

But the clean, modern lines of this sky blue machine belie the litany of green and eco-friendly technology under the bonnet — forgoing the rumbling internal combustion engine and opting instead for batteries over petrol.

Evidently marketed at the tech-minded driver, the Nissan Leaf — one of several vehicles on show at Titanic Belfast as part of a three-day government led ‘e-car’ conference — features an array of glowing blue LEDs, smart technology and a sizeable touchscreen interface.

As a late-to-learn motorist still finding my way around the roads, the experience of the modern electric car is both exciting and jarring at the same. There’s no turn of the key or checking which gear you’re in, just a press of the ‘on’ button followed by an eerie silence.

Without the low-rev rumble of a traditional engine you’re reliant on the illuminated dashboard display letting you know it’s all up-and-running and ready to go — a small gesture on the ‘gear stick’ is all that’s required.

Showing me the ropes during the test drive was Eddie Murray of Donnelly Group — a company which is putting a lot of time and effort into flogging this brave new world of motors.

Setting off in the compact current powered car is a breeze, with acceleration nippy thanks to the Leaf’s on-demand electrical power reserves.

Handling like a traditional petrol driven hatchback, the ride is smooth, the vehicle operating almost totally devoid of sound, aside from a hint of road noise and a subtle background murmur — the driving experience is all very low-key.

With a proposed range of over 100 miles, an increasing number of charge points being installed and cheap running costs, the prospect of spending around £24,000 on an electric car could be tempting for the ‘eco-friendly’ punter with sufficiently deep pockets.

But with only a few dozen vehicles on the roads and prices still above similar petrol models, it could be a hard sell for many traditionalists in Northern Ireland.

A survey from the Department for Regional Development last month showed that more than nine out of 10 people said they were “not at all likely” to buy an electric vehicle. But with dozens of schoolchildren turning up yesterday for their chance to pilot what many foresee as the future of the motoring industry, Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he wanted to educate the younger generation of drivers ahead of a fuel-free future. “Should we all be eventually driving eco-cars? Yes, we should.

“Just as I have a vision of zero deaths on our roads, we should work to the point where we have green, friendly cars,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“We should aim for that. The fact that there are 60 purchases of private domestic cars is indicative of progress.”

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