It’s not just rev counters, of course. I hate lots of things but rev counters are a good place to start. Back when I first started to drive, rev counters were rare. They were on racing cars, sports cars, the Ghia versions of big Fords and somewhat inexplicably on my dad’s Lada 1500 estate. Dad taught me to drive in that Lada estate. On my very first lesson, he told me press the clutch, put it into first gear, take the revs up about 2,000rpm and then lift the clutch gently until I felt it engage, give it a little more accelerator then let the clutch out the rest of the way. I did as I was told, moved off without stalling and have barely glanced at the rev counter since.
Rev counters have their place, of course. You need them if you’re lapping Oulton Park or Snetterton. (Other race tracks are available.) I can’t reasonably think of other cirumstances when you might actually need a rev counter and yet they are standard equipment in everything from Toyota Aygos to Bentley Mulsannes. The Bentley driver has so much torque that he needn’t ever exceed 3,000rpm and he will still absolutely fly. The driver of the Aygo is hardly going to kiss the red paint on every gearchange on the way to Pets at Home for more budgie seed even if the rev counter is mounted on a sporty little pod.
It’s that ‘sporty’ word which does it. I don’t want sporty. Sporty has no place in Sainsbury’s car park, the school run or even the outside lane of the A1(M) just north of Baldock. And if you can’t hear when you need to change gear then you don’t deserve a driving licence never mind a car with a manual gearbox. An extra wee dial on the dash or hanging off it on a pod is only the start. You end up with uncomfortable suspension, loud exhausts and Nurburgring lap times. It’s a god-awful, slippery slope.
If you think I’m being an old woman, think about the analogy of sportswear. Imagine a fat bloke in Lycra shorts, his ample belly stretching his form-fitting t-shirt so much that his hairy navel is showing. He’s chain smoking while he drips tomato sauce from his bacon double Whopper onto his trainers. He puts his tab down only long enough to take another pull on his pint. All the sporty gear in the world is not going to make this man into an athlete.
I read this article on the All Cars Electric site this evening. It’s about some of the more embarrassing electric cars seen at the Geneva show last week. Electric cars can be fun. There is no need whatsoever for them to be poorly designed and shoddily built sheds with plugs attached. Okay, there are a couple of reasons. First that the manufacturers are naive and second that they’re venal. I don’t know which are which and I’m not inclined to find out.
The link drawn in the article between the kit car world and the car industry is good but I disagree. EVs are still very much a niche product, just one in which the major manufacturers are beginning to take an interest. Nissan has recently built its millionth Qashqai. It did that in just over four years. It’s going to build only 50,000 Leafs this year. Production will increase when its US and UK plants come on stream but that’s not going to be for some time yet. I don’t think that Volts will outsell Tahoes in Chevrolet dealers or Amperas do more business for Vauxhall than Astras or Insignias any time soon. It’s not because they’re bad cars but because in spite of the money they’ve invested in developing EVs, they and their dealers would rather sell cars they know to customers who just want to buy a car.
EV customers, or at least the early adopters, are going to know more about EVs than the dealers and will care about them more than the people who build and sell them. It’s an odd situation. The time will come when the enthusiasts have all bought their vehicles, assuming that they can afford them. It’s what will happen then which intrigues me.
Nissan in particular has a problem. A Leaf is an expensive piece of kit. It’s the same price in the UK as a 370Z roadster but it’s not going to attract the same customers at all. Nobody is going to wander into its dealers to buy a Micra, Juke or Qashqai and walk out with a Leaf unless the salesperson is an absolute superstar. The Leaf is a stand-alone product and one which has to establish its own infrastructure of customers and fans. Nissan is working hard to do that with an interesting social media marketing campaign but it can’t call on a body of existing customers.
Ford, GM, Toyota and Renault will all bring cars with plugs to market during 2011 and 2012. In a sense, Nissan will find it easier to sell Leafs to the wider public when it has more competitors. The manufacturers will have to sell the idea of cars you can plug into the wall. When there are more of them doing that, the message will be spread to more people more of the time. When that happens, any damage done by the likes of the execrable G-Wiz will be forgotten.