What’s it take to fall in love with electric? Edgy tech? Sharp brand status? Happening haptics? Meh. They’re all a given. Nope, the mountain EVs need to conquer is all about music. To outline the extent of this challenge, let’s do a mini pop quiz – with just one question: name me a rocking hit about our love of cars.
All the obvious answers spring to mind: from Chuck Berry to Madness, via The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac and Queen, the sentiment I’m in love with my car, got a feel for my automobile, is never too hard to find. But they’re all about ICE. Granted, if we were playing the quiz in the spirit of BBC1’s Pointless, you might just scrape up some electric offering that isn’t as desperate as Benny Hill’s 1971 hit Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West, a song about a 4mph milk float. Otherwise, what have you got?
Indeed, while ICE-powered limos garnish a million rap videos, plug-in machinery is still far from being readily associated with chart success. There are offerings out there, if you’ve got time. Take the quirky track Electric Car by US folk-rockers There Might be Giants. On roads so dark/ to change the end/ rewrite the start/ electric car/ so good, so far/ electric car/ on verdant green/ invent a turn/ invent a dream/ electric car/ the new machine. What, you don’t know it? Funny that.
And that’s just the problem: the EV is yet to be fired up as a (literal) vehicle of rebellion, excitement and, dare one mention it, sexual desire. Wind back to the well-known petrol-soaked classics. Suggs’ passion waggon had bald tyres, he bumped another vehicle without stopping, he got pulled by the police. Chuck Berry couldn’t get his wicked way with his girlfriend because her seatbelt was stuck; Paul McCartney, the scoundrel, promised a girl she could drive his wheels when he didn’t even have any.
Much of the challenge EVs face lies in the issue of syncopation. Diesel and petrol models (average number of moving parts, 2,000) have it in their bones. And hence the musical inspiration: the opening bars of Driving In My Car are virtually the soundtrack of a banger’s attempts to cough into life; the entire refrain of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is pure automotive onomatopoeia. Will there one day be a musical about a magical electric car? Alas, with just 20 moving parts on average, they literally don’t have a lot to shout about, let alone give inspiration to the songwriters.
Indeed, as any of us who have driven EVs will testify, a road test of the most potent models can lead to a curiously ethereal, detached driving experience. Whereas a classic Ferrari assaults the senses like Motorhead, a Tesla Model S P100D soothes like a Moby lift classic. For pulse and palpitation, electric vehicles just cannot take you there.
So is there hope, or will our fast-approaching future be one of dispassionate transport? To answer that, research and development gurus might rewind almost a decade for an answer. In 2012, the University of Antwerp published the paper Emotions as determinants of electric car usage intention. Dull title, but an interesting read.
The findings, from more than 2,000 Belgian buyers, involved a series of complex calculations, but the gist skewers the problem: “In general,” the report concludes, “people in segments that are more inclined to use the electric car are less driven by emotions towards the electric car and more by reflective emotions towards car driving.”
Between these lines, an enduring sense of self-sacrifice in EV purchase is inescapable; the transaction being less about the individual’s relationship with what he or she has bought than their implied offer to the planet. Buying electric is a display of consideration for others, a mitigation for the impact we create every time we commute. Virtue signalling, cynics might say.
So mood music to reinforce this is needed. Music that reflects our high-minded hopes for a greener future, for driving that doesn’t hurt the planet, for the end of eco-war and a journey to ecological peace. I can’t see Chris Rea crooning such lyrics, let alone Suggs, but once our songwriters tune into the aspirations and desires of the EV traveller, the tunes will surely follow.
Only then, perhaps, will lovers of the electric vehicle really have something to sing about.