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About the controversial take of Top Gear on electric vehicles
5:00pm - 15/08/2011
Clarkson in his Leaf, enjoying a push in Lincoln

The latest episode of BBC's Top Gear saw Jeremy Clarkson and James May embark on a journey in Lincolnshire in two electric vehicles: the Peugeot Ion and the Nissan Leaf. In the feature, the duo set off from an unclear location towards the seaside resort of Cleethorpes, in Lincolnshire. Of course, the timeline and the background of the video broadcasted is not clearly communicated and the speed by which they ran out of charge has sparked significant controversy in the media, among experts and car enthusiasts alike.

Avoiding taking sides and attempting to remain objective within this framework is not easy. Nonetheless, it should be noted that there are some obvious factors which exaggerated the weaknesses of electric-powered vehicles:

There's no clue where they started from and how much charge was already in the batteries.
Deliberately or not, they ended up in a county with no charging infrastructure at all.
The driving style, predominantly of Jeremy Clarkson, playing with the inertia and unnecessary high acceleration/deceleration could easily have an impact.

Now, on the other hand, the video clearly displayed the major weakness of such vehicles:

... novelty! Yes, you read quite right. The problem is not the limited range compared to an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle.  In the past, many thirsty ICE vehicles had comparable range performance and petrol stations were not as abundant as they are nowadays. People had to plan their fuel-stops during a long journey. The problem is that over the years of driving experience with various vehicles, people have developed expectancies of what the vehicle and infrastructure offers and where and what they should pay attention on. Of course, the problem never lies with people. Human nature is what it is and the whole point is how to accommodate and maximise performance.

Thus, the key to success for electric vehicles lies on Driver-Vehicle Communication. How the vehicle communicates to the driver effectively what his/her pre, during and post-trip tasks are? Surely the specification of IVIS (In-Vehicle Information Systems), as the main pathway of vehicle information and feedback to the driver, plays an important role here. What information is communicated to the driver and when? How much time is available for response and action on his/her behalf? How is the dark side of IVIS, distraction, managed? Fundamental questions every IVIS designer must answer convincingly before any system goes anywhere near the market. The Top Gear feature might have been a bit over the line, however its underlining of those failures (or sometimes negligence) in the design of IVIS can hardly be sought as an artefact for the sake of TV entertainment.

It's a shame that the controversial electric-car road test overshadowed the feature on the army rally team, a team consisting of soldiers who have various upper and/or lower limb impairments. The lads have not only managed to form a competitive team for the national rally raid championship, but also prepare for the greatest challenge in motorsport: the Dakar Rally. I hope Autonomics finds a way to support their cause  
Comment by gickaria : 15/08/2011 17:03
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