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James May: Cars have to go electric, whether you like it or not

"I'm convinced that cars ought by right to be driven by electric motors"

WHILE JEREMY Clarkson has gone on record to say he will never, ever buy an electric car, his colleagues on The Grand Tour appear to be more open-minded about motoring minus petrol or diesel.

James May in particular has started to stand out as an especially big fan of zero emission vehicles. As well as owning an assortment of them, including Tesla Model S and leasing a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car (which is also powered by an electric motor), and testing a new electric superbike, he has gone on the record to say that today’s crop of EVs are “already as exciting as petrol-powered cars“.

In fact, writing in today’s Sunday Times, May goes as far to suggest cars will be considerably better once the motoring industry finally decides to ditch fossil fuels for good.

He writes: “We’ve known since we have had the word “car” that the electric motor (which, by the way, predates the internal combustion engine) makes more sense. It’s light, compact, smooth-running, famously reliable, has excellent power and torque characteristics, is easy to produce and is virtually maintenance-free. It’s a bit of a 19th-century no-brainer.”

If those comments weren’t enough for dyed-in-the-wool petrolheads to get rubbed up the wrong way, May adds that he’s convinced cars “ought by right to be driven by electric motors”.

Despite his optimism for electric vehicles, May does admit battery-powered cars do have some drawbacks; chief among which being the charging times for the battery packs. While he says charging his cars using a home wallbox can be done overnight while he sleeps (which effectively means he’s not waiting for it to recharge at all), the writer and TV presenter also points out that if you have to resort to topping up through a 13 amp domestic power socket while away from home, recharging does become “a bit of an exercise in forward planning”, as it can take a couple of days. Even the ultra-rapid Tesla Superchargers he for his Model S are still a bit too slow for the man dubbed “Captain Slow”, by his co-presenters when they hosted Top Gear.

May isn’t too sure whether plug-in battery-electric cars represent the future of motoring, or whether they’ll be made obsolete in the not too distance future by the hydrogen fuel cell. May says he’s also leasing the Toyota Mirai mainly to see what it’s like to live with one, and finding it much less convenient than the Tesla.

“Finding out the right way to go requires a massive experiment”, May explains, “and I felt I should take part. I’m a car enthusiast, I’m interested in the future of my hobby and I’m in the fortunate position of being able to do a tiny bit of the research. I sort of feel obliged to, to be honest.”

He adds: “The Mirai refuels from a pump, like any other car, in a few minutes, and has a range similar to that of the Tesla. But there is only a tiny handful of hydrogen stations in the whole country, and if you run out, you’re well and truly shafted. So driving the Mirai is an exercise in trepidation and pure brinkmanship.”

Whatever technology eventually prevails in this arms race for the future of automotive propulsion, James May says he won’t lament the day it eventually makes the internal combustion engine a relic of the past.

“I can either embrace the experiment or dig a foxhole and man an archaic weapon, under the flag emblazoned with a Jaguar straight six. The future is uncertain, but I’m pretty sure I know how that would end.”

Read his article in full at The Times and Sunday Times website.

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