December 19, 2012

Electric car versus horse and carriage

More than 100 years ago, the chief means of transport was by horse and carriage – a way of travel that today we regard as charming but impractical.

Today, electric cars are promoted as a cutting edge means of getting from A to B, and this week’s Autocar magazine investigates just how far these high-tech vehicles have really brought us in the passing of a century.

The idea of pitching these two seemingly dissimilar modes of transport together was the brainchild of Autocar contributor Colin Goodwin, when he learned that a horse and carriage used to cover the 220-mile trip to Liverpool in 24 hours in the 1880s. With stops for charging, an electric car with a 75-mile range would take almost as long today.

"100 years ago the rich travelled long distances in horse-drawn stagecoaches – and they either had to take long breaks to recharge their horses or swap to fresh and fully loaded new ones," says Goodwin. "That rang a bell, because owners of electric cars would have to do the same today. As a result, I decided to investigate just how similar the two modes of transport are."

Goodwin concluded there are a number of similarities between the horse power of Lambert and Butler – the two trusty steeds used for the test – and the Nissan LEAF, Britain’s best-selling electric car.

Both are refuelled at the front end (oats and carrots versus a cable from the bonnet to a domestic socket or special charging point), both can require you to wear a big coat to keep warm on your journey (because an electric car has a greater range without air-conditioning on and you have to sit outside with the carriage), and both modes of transport require meticulous planning to top up power along the route.

Colin Goodwin concluded, however, that the lack of progress between the 1800s and 21st century shouldn’t be regarded as a bad thing. "Driving long distances in an electric car could put the adventure and romance back into travel – things that the motorway, the modern car and even the airliner have taken away. A trip to Cornwall, stopping off to recharge at inns, whilst chatting up serving wenches and downing pies and mash ... perhaps there is something in that."

| Autocar