Team British Gas tackle the Future Car Challenge

Nissan Leaf setting off on the Future Car ChallengeThe annual Veterans Run from Brighton to London is a fairly well known event. Vintage cars meet in the seaside town and then all head up to London. What’s slightly less well known, perhaps because it’s a newer event, is the RAC Future Car Challenge.

The idea of the FCC is to take a bunch of electric, hybrid, and energy efficient vehicles from Brighton to London and see which makes the trip using the least amount of energy. This year, British Gas entered six vehicles in the challenge and invited me down to watch the start in Brighton, and interview some of the drivers in London’s Regent Street after the finish.

Why are British Gas entering cars in an event like the FCC? Well, British gas are highlighting the fact that they are the preferred charging solution provider for a number of the UK’s EV producers, including Nissan, Renault, Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, Vauxhall and Toyota UK. So, when you buy your shiny new EV, the dealer will most likely try and point you in the direction of a British Gas installation.

We’ll get to what British Gas offer owners of EVs in a minute, but let me tell you about the day because, if you’re in the area next year, it’s well worth popping along. First up was the start of the Future Car Challenge in Brighton. The cars were on display in the paddock area on Madeira Drive at 7am, and then left at 30 second intervals from the start point. It’s a nice opportunity to see these vehicles up close, and any celebrities who happen to be taking part. The strange thing is just how quiet EVs are, or even hybrids. Everyone set off at a sedate pace (they were trying to do this on as little energy as possible, after all), and it was all very quiet. There weren’t very many people around but it was still a good way to start the day.

The big event, though, is the finish of the challenge. The cars all head off, and finish at the Technical Finish at Imperial College London. At this point their energy usage is measured, and they head to the Ceremonial Finish at the Regent Street Motor Show where, once again, the cars are parked up for the public to have a look around, and the drivers mingle with the crowds as they themselves take in the sights of the show.

There’s plenty to see here, from the ultra-modern EVs and Hybrids, including a retrofitted Morgan, to the classics of yesteryear including Model T Fords and even a car built by the Renault brothers in their mother’s back garden. It was particularly nice to see an Ariel Atom up close. I’m still no closer to my aim of actually trying one of these things, but at least I’ve seen one in person now!

The RAC were on hand with an economic driving simulator and the chance to win a Scalextric for the person who completed the simulated course with the lowest fuel consumption.

Add in live music, celebrity interviews, and some very impressive handlebar moustaches on the veteran drivers’ faces, and the day we well worth it. Not only that, but the Regent Street Motor Show is entirely free… you just wander down the street and you get to see the whole thing.

Right, now back to why British Gas are the preferred charging solution provider for all the companies I mentioned above. British Gas offer a range of services for EV drivers as part of their campaign to “change people’s relationship with the energy they consume”. The major offer they were highlighting at the event is free home installation of EV charging points (in selected areas of the country, currently London, East of England, Midlands and Milton Keynes). That offer also includes free access to the POLAR network of street charging posts until the end of 2013, after which you get to keep your home charging solution but need to pay a subscription for the POLAR network.  Still, given that the installation cost for the charging point alone is usually £799, if you can get the deal it represents a significant saving.

If you’re not in the mood for paying £799 for a charging station, you can have a dedicated electrical circuit installed from £375. It’s still not cheap, so hardly a throwaway investment, but it’s less than having a charging station. What you get with this solution is a separate fuse board that powers one outlet for charging an EV. This is apparently the minimum recommendation for charging a car as it avoids putting heavy load on the house’s normal fusebox.

British Gas have also created a special electricity tariff that has you on off-peak charges from 8pm to 4pm, the idea being that you can charge your car at night or during the working day. That’s not going to work for everyone, as many households make heavy use of electricity from 4pm to 8pm, but if your usage fits, it’s worth considering.

Finally, there’s microgeneration – solar PV (photovoltaic) panels particularly – to allow people to generate and use their own electricity. British Gas had a case study on display at the Regent Street Motor Show that showed how Robert Llewellyn, also known as Kryten from Red Dwarf, had used solar panels to keep his Nissan Leaf charged, resulting in a “fuel” cost of £17 per 1,000 miles.

Now, all this was very interesting and it’s actually given me quite a lot to think about in terms of how I use and, perhaps one day, generate the energy we use at home, but there’s something else I was very excited about: those interviews with some of Team British Gas’ drivers… namely Ben Collins (previously Top Gear’s Stig) and Robert Llewellyn. I’m not going to bore you with an extremely long post, though, so check back tomorrow for Ben’s interview [now online here], and I’ll post Robert’s [now online here] on Wednesday.

Until then, I’m curious to hear from you. Were you at the Future Car Challenge start, or the Regent Street Motor Show? If so, what did you think? What are your thoughts on electric vehicles, and the services on offer from British Gas? I know EVs can be an emotive subject for some, so I’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments.

My photos of the day can be found on Flickr, by clicking here.

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