Electric cars are as exciting as petrol powered ones, says James May

How times change

PETROLHEADS need to get over their anti-electric car preconceptions, according to James May.

Asked whether electric cars will ever be as exciting as petrol power in a new video from DriveTribe, the online community for motoring enthusiasts, The Grand Tour presenter says they already are as exciting.

May goes on to point out other advantages, too, including that they’re fast, quiet, easy to drive, cheaper to maintain and have instant [accelerator] response.

“I can’t see what there isn’t to like,” he concludes.

James May and co-host Richard Hammond have both been fairly upbeat about electric cars in the latest series of The Grand Tour, the Amazon Prime Video motoring show, with Jeremy Clarkson the only one of the trio still not entirely sold on the idea.

How times have changed. For a Top Gear episode in 2011, former presenters May and Clarkson took two electric cars — a Peugeot iOn and Nissan Leaf respectively — to the seaside. They both agreed that the cars were very normal to drive but were an absolute disaster in other respects.

First, May brought up the fact that his Peugeot wasn’t exactly lightning quick.

“One problem I have with electric cars is that they’re just not very heroic,” he said.

May also described the £33,000 Peugeot as poor value for money and pointed out that it wasn’t very well equipped.

And then the two presenters got on to how far you can drive between charges. While en route, with less than 20 miles indicated remaining in their batteries, they decided to find somewhere to recharge.

With no public chargers in the area, the pair pulled into Lincolnshire council office and asked if it would be possible to plug in. It wasn’t.

They then tried a restaurant, without any luck, before Clarkson ran out of electricity on the road and the pair pushed the Leaf to a boat park, where they found the charging cable too short to reach a socket.

Eventually, with some help, the pair pushed their cars to Lincoln University to plug in, where they found they had to wait 13 hours for a charge.

Clarkson and May then spent their time doing touristy things and discussing how long an electric car battery would last before needing to be replaced, with Clarkson saying it would be “Maximum 10 years, possibly five.” And that was if you looked after it and always plugged in at around half capacity, rather than letting it get flat each time, he said.

May said another problem is that you have to drive them as if you’re “constantly on an economy run”. He even called batteries “rubbish”.

And yet, today it seems that James May is an electric car fan. His apparent volt-face [sic] in the video above is surely due in part to the rapid advances in both electric car technology and public recharging infrastructure.

In 2011, there were around 1,537 public charging connectors in the UK, of which 34 were rapid (able to recharge a Leaf to 80% in 30 minutes), according to Zap Map. Today there are 20,861 connectors at 7,427 locations, and 4,766 are rapid.

What’s more, the performance and range of electric cars have increased massively since the first generation Leaf and iOn were launched: Tesla Motors set the new standards for performance and range with the Roadster and Model S — cars that are as fast as supercars and capable of around 300 miles between charges.

Today, the new Hyundai Kona Electric, which starts at £23,350 has around 200bhp, has an achievable maximum range of 279 miles.

Battery degradation remains somewhat of a concern for older models, and the following video shows a 2011 Leaf that has lost as much as 51% of its battery capacity since new. However, that appears to be an exception, with owners of early Leafs typically seeing 20-25% battery degradation over seven to eight years, according to the video.

The cost of battery replacement or refurbishment is also reducing over time; a reconditioned Leaf battery costs around £4,300, according to the latest reports, rather than £7,300, as quoted by Clarkson in the Top Gear film.


If you’re an electric car owner, particularly of a model built between 2011 and 2013, we’d love to know how you’re getting on with degradation in the comments below.

May’s change of heart does make us wonder, though… how long will it be before Clarkson is fully behind the electric car revolution? Given that no new cars will be allowed to be powered solely by a petrol or diesel engine in the UK from 2040, and a number of car makers will meet the target within a few years, it’s perhaps only a matter of time.

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