People from a certain generation (okay, mine) grew up with a particular vision of the future: robot housemaids, food in pill form and flying cars that make a zippy, whistling noise. Perhaps our bar was set too high but the motoring community has not celebrated the first generation of the flying car. Not the Terrafugia which, when you boil down the bhaji, is an aeroplane you can drive on the public roads. I mean the one that makes a zippy, whistling noise but at this time, still functions with tyres on asphalt – the electric vehicle (EV). Indeed, many in the gearhead fraternity would prefer a poke in the eye than test drive a Prius. Indeed such antiquarian notions must be put aside eventually because unless the Second Coming happens first, we’ll all be going electric. It’s only a matter of time.
Automobile manufacturers have taken some steps to make the transition more bearable, with newly improved models of EV’s and hybrids. Even luxury brands like Porsche and Infiniti look to pounce on the ecologically minded customer base with their hybrid models. Recently, I saw the Fisker Karma on display beside a Maserati at the Celebration Exotic Car Festival. Supercar fans like myself, looked at it with curiosity but upon closer inspection were forced to utter, “Oh well, guess it’s not too bad.” To date, performance has been a bigger issue with this ambitious sports car than its sleek curves. You may wonder why my interest has been peaked in these types of vehicles. After all, I’m a chick who gets misty at the sound of a throaty V8.
Recently, Men’s Health magazine endeavoured to accomplish a very difficult, if nearly impossible task. They were going to drive from New York City to Los Angeles in a Ford Focus Electric. Not a hybrid, which would have been a far more sensible choice for these manly men and lovely ladies. I started following their progress out of curiosity, but then found myself quite taken up with their trek. This has never been done before and if so, not in a publicised fashion. Unlike other cross-country races, getting there on time was actually secondary to getting there at all. Indeed, EV’s are not designed for this kind of pressure. For one thing, they require a two to four hour recharge, every eighty-eight miles or so. The entire length of this journey was nearly three thousand miles! Also, the drivers had to maintain a certain speed in order to conserve power. With two professional race car drivers among the crew, I was curious to see how they fared. Car companies are very savvy about their markets. They make sporty cars for lead foots. Big vehicles with seating for eight, endless pockets and cupholders are for families. Pick-up trucks are workhorses; and motorcycles are for daredevils. EV’s are for relatively short trips and metropolitan traffic jams. You won’t see advertisements anytime soon for a little EV camping out in the woods or driving on some lonely highway, in the middle of nowhere or Utah.
There were so many odds against them, and indeed the trip wasn’t without drama but they succeeded! Not only did they complete the journey but achieved their goal and ended the trip at Santa Monica on Earth Day. Blogs about their daily adventures on the road were posted on Men’s Health Magazine’s Man & Machine by Eric Adams and Girl Next Door by Naomi Piercey. Martin Plowman, one of the two race car drivers on the trip, wrote about his experiences here. In addition, the participants sent updates via Twitter using #ElectrifyUS. However, it wasn’t all about a new record or a promotion for the Ford Focus Electric. Along with the group was Coleman Ruiz, the executive director of Carry The Load, a worthy organisation if there ever was one. Another plus of this journey across the US was to learn about his group and their efforts for families of fallen military personnel. The Men’s Health Electric Car Challenge showed us that in a future of automobiles that make a zippy, whistling noise, the great American road trip is not only possible but enjoyable. In fact, the slower pace is a throwback to simpler times and an opportunity to have extremely rewarding experiences. I wouldn’t mind giving it a whirl myself; but with no offense to Ford, the BMW Active E is more my style. The only questions that remain are: who’s with me and when do we go?