2010 iMiEV and a 1969 Morris Minor

Staff Car Report: Bitten By The Electric Car Bug, The Hunt For A Budget Electric Car Is On

Back when Transport Evolved’s illustrious editor convinced this author to sit in a banana yellow City-El, she never really thought that she’d end up an electric vehicle advocate. EVs had inadequate range, charged slowly and at the time biofuels were clearly the future. And gasoline engines were fun, despite the fact that there was always a bit of a concern that the 4-cycle engine isn’t really a very efficient design, she stuck with the concept. “Biofuels”, I proclaimed, “I can run my Minor on ’em”.

The CityEl and the C5 -- Two vehicles, made by different companies in different parts of Europe at about the same time. It's like peas in a pod. And yes, that's Nikki at the wheel of the El. Let's not talk about it... (Photo © John Honniball)

The CityEl and the C5 — Two vehicles, made by different companies in different parts of Europe at about the same time. It’s like peas in a pod. And yes, that’s your editor at the wheel of the City El. Her City El. Let’s not talk about it… (Photo © John Honniball)

Yes, yes. I was wrong. Very wrong.

By the time that a sad yellow G-Wiz briefly graced (or tainted) the driveway of our then 1930’s terraced house in Slough, just outside of London, the die was cast. As regular readers no doubt know, we have frequented the lower reaches of the second hand EV market, with a succession of each-one-less-terrible EVs. The Enfield 8000 which was flooded out and ended up becoming the Flux Capacitor was a superbly insane vehicle, and quite – quite fun to drive. Albeit that it only got driven once before being engulfed in flood waters.

The Enfield 8000 Electric was slow, but could do 55 miles on a charge, and it is really cute.

The Enfield 8000 Electric was slow, but could do 55 miles on a charge, and it is really cute.

Eventually it was followed by perhaps its spiritual successor, the Mitsubishi iMiEV. Simple, small, fun – it’s a much missed part of the household.

And as the Electric Minor Project (another idea we can blame the editor on as she intended to build one herself at one point) has sat on hold awaiting a cash injection. Either that or saving up more money, whichever happens first.

And that means my 1965 Morris Minor has been been driven on dinosaur juice. Despite her rather good fuel economy (better than modern cars by a long stretch thanks to her lightweight design, the call of the electric car is too strong to ignore. 

Indeed, a pressing requirement for something more environmentally friendly has become increasingly apparent. While 40mpg isn’t bad for a 50 year old car, it’s also quite uncomfortable — particularly for an EV journalist — to fill the teeny gas tank several times a month.

So we have, as Transport Evolved’s Twitter followers will know, been scrabbling around the lower reaches of the used electric car market for something that’s cheap, functional, and meets a fairly strict set of criteria. Because the Honda insight is a two-seater we decided that the other car really has to have four seats. Four adult-capable seats. And while it doesn’t need to manage great distances 4-up, we need to potentially fit at least one 6ft human in the car, along with 3 other 5-ft-and-various-bit humans.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re not alone. “A second hand LEAF!,” you proclaim. Ah, yes, but…it also has to cover at least 75 miles on a single charge, because I have a work commute of 67 miles return, with no charging at the work end. 

It also really needs to be very cheap. Like under $10,000 cheap. Ideally, under $8k. Given our hybrid came in at $4.5k, it should be possible…right?

Let’s say we sacrifice DC Rapid charging to the pyre of “if it has enough range we’ll live without”, that should help. 

Autopilot as a try-before-you-buy feature? Now that's smart.

Since the Model 3’s a bit more pricey than we can afford, we’re hoping trickledown economics will mean that we can find a cheap EV at the right moment.

Given that, and how everyone’s been saying EVs are for everyone now, this should be easy. Easy peasy, right? 

Not so much.

So far, much time has been spent trawling craigslist, cars.com, autotrader, various enthusiasts forums, and some older websites that maintain lists of EVs for sale. Pretty much daily searches of the entire west coast of the US. It’s been hi-la-rious.

The closest car to fit our needs has been the Toyota RAV4 EV, similar to the one donated to Transport Evolved earlier this year. Unlike Sparkie though, we’ll need one in working condition.

There’ve been several such cars that came in under budget but that got missed. Three first generation RAV4 EVs sold that have been within budget but did so just as the search commenced and before we’d really committed to it as an option.

So we looked elsewhere, namely the Think City (or to give it its real name, the Th!nk City). With a range of 100 miles, and the definite existence of a rear seat kit, it seemed a possibility. But after hanging around on the Th!nk forums a while we weren’t so convinced.

Existing owners? They seem nice enough. But they’re very, very lovely people with cars that cause the terms “bargepole” and “wouldn’t touch with” to leap, unbidden, to mind.

Because from what we can tell, the Think City has some pretty strange design flaws and weak systems that make it less reliable than we’d like in a daily driver. At least, that’s the impression you get browsing various forums. There are tales of failures if you leave the aircon on when turning off the car, of blown charging resistors, and of random not-working-anymore, all of which seem rather too much of a risk for a car with really limited after sales support.

Which is a shame, because there was a nice blue one going for under $5k.

The Ford Ranger EV - period EV charm. Photo (c) Ford Motor Company.

The Ford Ranger EV – period EV charm. Photo (c) Ford Motor Company.

Then there was an original EV Ford Ranger. It glistens in its photos, but it’s just too original to mess with. A piece of history like that probably ought to be kept as it is, rather than modified to have more seats. And we’d only ever hit 3 seats. On top of which, the maximum mileage they got and the known faults combination make that a slightly unnerving combination where we’d be running a little close to the wind..

And so, of course, the question arises: Should the funding be increased for this little EV adventure?

Possibly. But optimism remains that another one of these slightly-tatty-well-used Rav4 EVs-with-a-decent-pack, which is pretty much the only thing that seems to hit all the criteria, will pop up. Failing that it may have to be a suck it up scenario, spending $18-22k on either a 2012-2014 Toyota Rav 4 EV (very nice!) or a used Kia Soul EV (they finally seem to have come down a little tiny bit in price). Sadly, both are way more than is within budget but would mean that we could put another reduction in the middle-class angst caused by buying gasoline, especially after this year’s environmental news.

So if you spot a functional EV that hits the mark (or have one for sale), let us know in the Comments below (or tell us how unrealistic we are).

[Edit: Since writing this post, a potential car has appeared. But what did we choose and why? Find out in our next Staff Car Report.]


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