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I’m a big fan of what GreenFleet are doing. Their annual events break down the anxieties of electric and hybrid powertrain skeptics by allowing fleet managers and the general public to get up close and hands on with these vehicles, helping to encourage uptake in a fleet sector that put 1.38 million vehicles on UK roads in 2016.
For those who didn’t see last year’s piece, GreenFleet are an organization devoted to increasing the uptake of electric and hybrid powertrain vehicles, mostly focusing on the fleet market.
In an effort to increase awareness of green technology in the wider population, they run their GreenFleet EVOLUTION events annually, traveling up and down the country to spread electric fever.
Previous years, I’ve headed to GreenFleet’s Scottish event at Ingliston on the Saturday, when all and sundry can come along and see for themselves the leaps and bounds progressive powertrain technology has made in the past few years. This year, I was invited on the Friday – normally reserved for fleet vehicle suppliers – giving me greater access to the vehicles on Ingliston’s short test track.
That’s right – at this motor show you not only get to see and sit in the cars, you get to drive them. If you’ve got a license, you can rock up and receive a wristband that gives you access to the keys of virtually all the cars on display.
The most efficient offering from the likes of Kia, Hyundai, BMW, Toyota and Lexus line up alongside the Royal Highland Centre, glinting in the morning sun, with the various key fobs and dongles waiting for drivers to take their pick, before taking the helm of some of the most advanced vehicles on the market.
The most noticeable difference between this years’ show and previous years was the sheer ordinariness of the vehicles on display – previously, all had felt very futuristic, but at the same time some felt almost gimmicky; Renault Twizy case in point.
|Toyota's new C-HR - the most unconventional thing at first glance is the rear door handle|
I mean there was a share of wacky stuff – Edinburgh College had brought along a teeny electric go kart designed by some of their students, Mini displayed a pre-release model Countryman with their enormous E-badging on the side to indicate its electricalness, and Toyota’s Hydrogen-powered Mirai concept sat motionless once again, looking like a Prius on steroids in a wrap which displayed its veiney innards to the crowds.
|The Toyota Mirai "SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT" (yes, I have been watching Rick & Morty)|
For the most part, the cars were notable in that they seemed normal. Perhaps it’s partly down to exposure – I used to turn my head and utter a knowing “hmmm” at the sight of every Leaf, Zoe and, eventually, Model S I saw on the road.
Nowadays, manufacturers have started to hide their green tech in more run-of-the-mill models. Half the time at the lights there’s no inkling a car’s a hybrid or electric version of itself until it sets off with that smug whisper that says “0-30 in virtually £0”.
|Less practicality, more pace for Edinburgh College's electric kart|
But ordinariness doesn’t burn a hole in the public psyche. It doesn’t sit deep down, occasionally giving the heartstrings a little tug to remind you how much you want, nay need a particular thing in your life.
|With hybrid powertrains in particular making an effort to blend in with the established norm, much of the day was spent looking out for badges like the Kia's (above) or charging socket covers like the BMW's (below)|
Increasingly, electric car manufacturers are turning to motorsport to showcase their wares. We’re currently seeing the rise and rise of Formula E, boosted by big manufacturers like Jaguar and Renault announcing their participation, as well as the popularity of features like FanBoost, where Tweets are turned into torque for the most popular drivers, making the audience potential kingmakers in a wheel-to-wheel bout.
Tesla have also entered the motorsport fray, pledging a one-make Model S P100D GT race series, which is sure to prove a thrilling spectacle, if one that’s easier to nap off that Sunday hangover in front of with the lack of engine roar.
|E-Rally's Renault Zoe - rallying, but quieter... (and with more torque)|
On a more local level, I spoke to Jean Hay, part of the team at E-Rally, who are contesting several junior rally series in a stripped-out Renault Zoe. If rallying isn’t a thorough test of all of a car’s components, as well as requiring nimble handling and resilient range (none of which are the traditional preserve of electric cars) then I’d like to see what is.
What we’re seeing now is not just a showcase of manufacturer’s products in the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mentality of old. We’re seeing what once was the case in motorsport days of yore – cars on track developing useful technology that’s then trickled back through to road cars.
Think about it; manufacturers are forced to hone their battery technology to take on higher loads and provide longer range, as well as making them as light as possible, in order that they don’t run out of electric puff on the racetrack, showing their brand up against their rivals.
This adds to the desireability of progressive powertrains, with halo projects like BMW’s i8 and the recent raft of electric hypercars from Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren helping to turn the public’s view of electrification from milk float to mega machines.
It’s a proven approach – after all, it’s part of what helped the masses get excited about owning a car in the first place, and I for one am excited to see what the next step for electrification offers – particularly if it means high performance without the fuel bills. I’m looking at you, Renault – hurry up with you Zoe e-sport concept!
GreenFleet’s next event takes place at Elland Road Stadium, Leeds on the 13th July, followed by their next Scottish Event in Dundee on 17th August – get yourself along and behind the wheel of the latest in electric and hybrid tech.