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ELECTRIC VEHICLES: Living with a plug-in vehicle

Date: 21 May 2013

On paper they offer negligible emissions and fuel economy into three figures, but what are the Vauxhall Ampera and Toyota Prius Plug-in like to live with in the real world? Paul Barker reports.

Having recently had our electric vehicle charging point installed by British Gas, it seemed appropriate to spend some time finding out what can really be expected from range-extender and plug-in hybrid EVs, as well as pure electric models (see 'Pure rather than plug-in hybrid').

Vauxhall's Ampera and the Toyota Prius Plug-in are among those bridging the gap between petrol or diesel and the EV technology that currently has too many concerns over vehicle range to be used by most fleets. BusinessCar spent a few weeks in each model to see how they work in the real world, and how actual economy compared with the official 235.4mpg for the Ampera and 134.5mpg for the Prius Plug-in. Those figures are almost irrelevant because the technology is so dependent on what percentage of time a user drives on electric power, so we set out to see what can be achieved in regular usage across three very different types of journey.

My commute is 35 miles of urban, A-road and motorway driving, while BusinessCar's news and features editor Jack Carfrae lives 70 mainly dual-carriageway and motorway miles away from the office. Meanwhile, James Dallas, deputy editor of sister title What Van?, took the cars on his 12-mile commute across south London. I'm the only one with the set-up to charge from home (a standard three-pin plug on its own circuit) so Jack's journey illustrates what mpg can be expected with minimal electric running, while James's tests how the cars cope with low-mileage urban trips.

We're aware this isn't a highly scientific experiment, but hopefully gives some insight into the sort of results different usage patterns return on this fledgling technology.