Bright Spark

Bright Spark

The world of cars is going electric in a big way. Almost every leading manufacturer now has a forward model programme stuffed with hybrids and plug-ins. As far as the motor industry is concerned, electrification is increasingly looking like a permanent shift rather than a passing fad.


That shift is taking place because electric cars are becoming easier to operate and cheaper to run, as well as being smoother, quieter and greener than their petrol or diesel equivalents ñ and these are all powerful advantages that are increasingly being exploited in other industries that rely heavily on fossil fuels as well.


At the most basic level, if you find your regular cycle ride to the shops is getting a bit too much, a battery-assisted e-bike can take some of the effort out of the task. If you want to stay on two wheels but go a lot faster, there is also quite a choice of fully-fledged electric motorcycles. Harley-Davidson may have built its reputation on a century of making bikes with V-twin engines, but next year it will put tradition aside and start selling electric models alongside them. They will go up against a host of battery-powered two-wheelers from new entrants such as Zero.


Taxis are going electric as well. LEVC has already put around 500 of its electric black cabs onto the streets of London, and these will soon be joined by Frazer-Nashís electric Metrocabs, although thatís almost nothing compared with the thousands of e6 taxis made by BYD in China and exported around the world.


China also has hundreds of thousands of electric buses, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Europe is a long way behind, but London plans to have 240 electric buses running by next year, with a view to having an emissions-free fleet by 2037.


The distribution industry is another obvious candidate for electrification ñ after all weíve had electric milk floats for decades. Deutsche Post, the German postal service, has developed an interesting sideline making its own Street Scooter electric delivery vans, and is gearing up to make 20,000 vehicles a year as it starts offering them to outside customers as well. Meanwhile, our own Royal Mail is using electric Peugeot Partners and larger vehicles from Arrival as builds its electric delivery fleet. 


And itís not just vans ñ long distance trucks are going electric as well. Tesla has won orders from big US companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi and Walmart for its forthcoming Semi truck, while Daimler is already trialling smaller electric trucks from its Japanese Fuso brand in the UK with DPD, Wincanton and Hovis.


There are even electric bin lorries. Dennis Eagle has announced the eCollect, which is just one of many planned electric refuse trucks from a wide variety of manufacturers. Meanwhile, the French company Mecalec has developed an electric digger with an enormous battery pack thatís claimed to be good for eight hours of operation.


And Formula E, with its eerily quiet form of action, is helping to establish a new type of electric traction in the world of motorsport.


Electric is making inroads far outside the automotive industry as well. Marine diesels are particularly polluting, but there are already several hybrid ferries, including one coming into service on the Isle of Wight link. Large all-electric ships have been introduced by HH Ferries on a short route between Sweden and Denmark.


Even electric planes are no longer pie in the sky. Small battery-powered aircraft are already a reality, and EasyJet is working with Wright Electric on an electric airliner, while Norway, already a leader in electric cars, wants to turn all of its short-haul flights electric by 2040.


Perhaps it will soon be time for a remake of the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles ñ after all, electrification throws up a whole series of possibilities for new comedic plot-lines revolving around range anxiety or people forgetting to plug cars in.


Or at least it might, if it werenít for a curious exception to the electrification wave. At least in the UK, the electrification of the railways has stalled, with schemes such as the completion of the wiring of the Midland Main Line to Sheffield having been cancelled after cost-over-runs and delays on existing projects. So rail, which was the first part of the transport industry to achieve significant electrification, may just end up being the last to finish the job.


David Wilkins 

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