Top Gear vs the Nissan Leaf: a new electric controversy
Top Gear does not like electric cars. Once that point has sunk in, both sides of the electric car debate can stop descending into hysteria every time images are shown of an electric model being pushed along are beamed out from the increasingly stale programme.
Just a couple of months after a seemingly publicity-hungry Tesla sued Top Gear, sparking a war of words with the BBC programme over allegations it misrepresented the car, Nissan is the latest in line to express its displeasure at Clarkson and co.
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On Sunday, Top Gear showed a segment in which the Nissan Leaf and Peugeot i0n were driven to Lincolnshire – an area with very few charging points. Unsurprisingly, the cars then ran out of charge and had to be pushed to the nearest charging station.
Nissan responded quickly, saying their telematics in the car showed Top Gear had purposefully run down the battery to around 40 per cent charged before setting off and Clarkson had refused to put it into eco mode.
Top Gear then responded with a strongly worded blog stating it never mentioned that the cars were fully charged in the first place, and in any case, Nissan was at fault for not highlighting the damage to batteries that can be done when a car is fast-charged regularly.
Andy Wilman, executive producer of Top Gear, said: “We never, at any point in the film, said that we were testing the range claims of the vehicles, nor did we say that the vehicles wouldn’t achieve their claimed range. We also never said at any time that we were hoping to get to our destination on one charge."
He also added: “Nissan’s own website for the Leaf devotes a fair amount of space to extolling the virtues of fast charging, but nowhere does it warn potential customers that constant fast charging can severely shorten the life of the battery."
Ok, I’ll leave it there. The whole issue is slightly bizarre. Nissan announced before the programme it was difficult to turn down a show of Top Gear’s size; when Bentley refused to supply a car Top Gear simply used a Yugo instead and reviewed it as if it was a Bentley.
While Nissan PR man Tom Barnard ‘hid behind the sofa’ according to his Twitter account, Top Gear did a predictable job highlighting some of the inconsistencies with electric car travel.
And – if we ignore the hype, the obvious bias from both sides of the argument and the editing job designed to mislead people about the uses and practicality of an electric car – the segment still raised several valid points.
First, electric cars are designed for a specific use such as daily commutes. Of course, in a city such as London, they are also congestion charge-free.
They are also only really useful for people with a garage or path to store the car, otherwise the issue of trailing a charger across the street becomes a problem.
However, there are charging points in several areas across the UK. Lincolnshire is one of, if not the, worst and this should be taken into consideration when watching the programme. In fact, in the next few years, there are plans for 4,000 extra charging points up and down the country, covering 100 new towns and cities.
As for battery issues, some manufacturers such as Renault will lease the battery, taking the high cost of replacement out of the hands of the driver but adding an extra monthly cost to the price.
Nissan, meanwhile, insists the battery has a sell-on value as storage units for the energy industry, and any problems with individuals cells in the 48-strong battery pack can be fixed (or replaced) one-by-one.
The latest debate tells us nothing new. The first generation of serious electric cars may look more like ‘normal’ cars than ever, but they remain a niche product, ideal for only a small number of people in specific situations.
They also remain expensive. While the Nissan Leaf costs £25,000 with the government grant, the huge cost of the smaller, less practical and lower-range Peugeot i0n tops £30,000 – and it would take a particularly vehement environmental apologist to shell that kind of cash out given the other options available.
The conclusion viewers should take from all this? Electric cars – waste of time or saviour of the industry?
Well, neither. They are simply another solution for a certain person in a certain situation, and while most will not be tempted by an electric car now, in future a larger charging infrastructure and clarifications over the technology could expand their reach in the UK.
Until then we’ll just have to sit back and deal with two extreme views trying to place the electric car in two ends of a spectrum that really does not exist in the first place.