March 17, 2011

What Do the Stars’ Drive?

From Hollywood actors to Boris Johnson, a host of well-known figures have been raising the profile of electric vehicles. So why are these cars fast becoming the latest celebrity ‘must have’?

At last month’s Academy Awards ceremony in the US, a number of actors chose to arrive at the red carpet in electric vehicles rather than the traditional stretched limousine, continuing a trend that began a few years ago when the environmental organisation Global Green USA launched its Red Carpet/Green Cars campaign. Now, many Hollywood actors, such as George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, are regularly seen driving electric cars.

So why are electric vehicles the latest celebrity must-have? According to Henry Mason, head of research and analysis at, it’s all part of the diversification of the “statusphere” taking place in mature consumer societies. “Status isn’t just about having the biggest, fastest or most expensive, it can be about generosity or social connections or, as here, eco-credentials,” says Mason. “In other words, celebrities are making the ultimate statement: yes, they can afford the shiny sportscar, but choosing to drive an electric car displays their eco-awareness, their intelligence and empathy – things that can’t just be bought.”

Such high-profile backing should provide the industry with a much-needed boon at a time when many models are coming on to the market.

So, which other high-profile figures have been bitten by the electric bug?

Quentin Willson, motoring expert and former Top Gear presenter

Recently I drove a Mitsubishi i-MiEV for a year on trial but had to give it back once it was over – now there’s a large hole in my life where an electric car used to be.

The children loved it too. Every morning on the school run the three of them would say, “Daddy, take the electric car!” My six year old used to show it to her friends and say, “this is the car that helps the grass grow”.

The silence is a new sensation – and the speed. I like listening to the whistling of the wheels and air, just savouring the silence.

I could do about 100 miles for £1.20, with no queuing at petrol stations or worrying about the cost of fuel. You can charge it in your garage overnight and then you’re free to go. At the end of the day you charge your laptop, mobile phone and electric car – it just becomes part of your charging routine.

But the greatest thing is the promise of an oil-free future. If we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels without compromising the cost of living or horrendous interest rates, that will be amazing.

Ben Collins, Top Gear’s The Stig

I’ve test-driven quite a few of the new electric road cars such as the Tesla Roadster, which is in the super-car category of electric vehicle. Taking them round a racetrack is what I love doing most, because you’re able to test the performance to the absolute maximum.

Electric cars are a new technology and they’re developing very fast in areas such as battery capacity. The acceleration is really something because the torque of the electric motor means you get instant power from any speed; the initial acceleration is very potent.

The biggest advancements in the technology will come from motor racing. When I drove the Tesla for the second time, a year after they’d first brought it out, there were huge advances. The battery is very heavy but they’ve adjusted the car to improve the dynamic handling and the way the chassis supports that weight; the improvement in the space of a year was very impressive.

Development never occurs faster than when the advances are happening in racing because the competition demands quick advances. You’ve got things like the EV cup and Formula One with kinetic recovery [a form of hybrid technology]. The industry is really at the beginning and it needs as much support as it can get.

Lisa Rogers, broadcaster

I first came across electric vehicles on Scrapheap Challenge. To start with they were just seen as comedy value, something for Top Gear presenters to laugh at. But now they’re a serious alternative.

I borrowed a Tesla sports car last summer when it was really hot. Just driving it with the top down in London through Regent’s park and Primrose Hill was amazing.

I’ve driven virtually every car you can think of in the various car programmes I’ve done, and nothing can turn heads like the Tesla.

I could not live where I live without a car – there is no public transport, I live on the side of a bloody Welsh hill! I’m going to put up a wind turbine and then run an electric car off it – not a sports car though; something that can fit two children and a dog in the back.

Boris Johnson, mayor of London

My own conversion to electric cars came several years ago when I took out the Californian-made Tesla sports car. I found to my delight that it has same acceleration as a Porsche 911. But, the real marvel was that this car was producing no more noxious vapours than a dandelion in an alpine meadow.

We are staring the age of mainstream electric car use full the face. As we speak, a wider choice of, dare I say, desirable electric vehicles are silently manoeuvring into the forecourts of enlightened salesrooms across the UK.

In London we are gearing up to ensure they can be driven with ease, simplicity and convenience. From April we are launching Source London, to provide a network of easy-to-access charge points – 1,300 due in place by 2013. As the number of these exhaust-pipe-free vehicles accelerates, so we can deliver significant reductions in fumes.

While the upfront costs of the current crop of electric cars remains high, the lucky owner niftily avoids the cost of the staggeringly overpriced lagoon of fossil fuel required to drive a traditional model. And with a 100% discount on the congestion charge to boot, the reasons why London is becoming the electric car capital of Europe are clear.

Kele Baker, Strictly Come Dancing choreographer

I got my electric car six years ago. I commute in London and I work late into the evening so I want to be able to drive home at night.

I had a Nissan Micra, but wanted something smaller and more environmental. One day I saw a G Wiz parked on a road and I thought – that’s what I’ve been waiting for.

First and foremost I like the fact that it’s non-polluting. That’s most important to me. I can also drive without paying congestion charge, and Westminster council waives my parking fee, but those are just additional benefits. I like the fact that I can look after my needs – because of my job I need a car to carry equipment – but I can do it guilt-free.

My car has two forward settings, economy and full – I call them “go” and “turbo”. My little car puts a smile on my face. It’s cute and fun. I try to drive it as much as possible on economy because you get a longer battery charge. But sometimes I go on turbo and pretend it’s my little Porsche.

It draws a lot of smiles and curiosity from people. That’s something that I value because it shows people that the technology is available now, it’s not a pipe dream.

Kevin McCloud, Grand Designs presenter

Sitting in an electric car, you feel like you’re sitting in the 22nd century surrounded by gas-guzzling monsters. Other cars all seem so primitive in comparison.

We must move towards de-carbonisation and these cars offer us an opportunity to go in that direction – they give us an amazing chance to be effectively “off grid” and move towards a zero-carbon life.

My most memorable journey in an electric car was driving a TH!NK City on the Brighton to London eco rally – and I won!

I burnt up an Alpha Romeo at the lights in south London in this tiny, beautiful little lightweight car. It’s because it has fantastic torque and acceleration.

It looks like it should have an 800cc engine, it’s that small. It goes round the corner like a dream and has a really low centre of gravity. You can have more fun in a small electric car than you can in a higher priced sports car.

The car that interests me most at the moment is one that’s going to be launched at the Geneva Motor show – the Volvo hybrid electric car which does 136 miles to the gallon. I think a big part of the future is electric.

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