Llewellyn Plugs In: A car for the 1%

The super rich, super cars and the trickle down effect

By Robert Llewellyn on June 22, 2012 12:39 PM

Back in the proper olden days, even before I was born, when cars first emerged into the world, let us hazard a guess as to who were the first customers.

The man who sold apples and pears in the market? Doubtful. The bloke who delivered milk from a horse drawn cart? Never. The woman who worked 90 hours a week in a Lancashire cotton mill? Sorry love, no chance, keep walking or get the tram.

No, it was the super rich who bought cars first, the one per cent who owned the mills, banks and businesses. In 1908, even a Ford Model T cost the equivalent of three years wages for the average American worker.

So now there is a new generation of passenger vehicle emerging and guess what, they are more expensive to buy than the normal cars we’re used to. There are plenty of people about who think this is a scam; an Al Gore-inspired rip off and proof that burning fossils and using early 20th century technology is the only choice we have.

I hear from these people every day, and if I ever mention something like the Lightning GT electric supercar they point and say, “There you go, only for the super rich.”

Precisely. The Lightning GT is made for very rich people, and thankfully it seems a few are actually planning on buying one. Iain Sanderson, the man behind the project has spent the last three years developing the car with an amazing team of engineers. Following TheChargingPoint.com colleague Gavin Conway’s experience of the prototype in 2011, I had a ride in the latest iteration last week.

It’s certainly a very impressive machine. Big, low, wide, smooth, fast, cool-looking, incredibly confortable to ride in, easy to get in and out of (unlike some sports cars – I once had to be helped out of one by strong and agile young people after a long drive), and has handling and performance to match any supercar on the road.

The Lightning GT has twin 150kW motors driving the rear wheels that can kick out 402 brake horsepower and 3,300 Newton meters of torque. This results in a sub-five second 0-60mph time and a top speed governed at 120mph. It has either a 22 or 44kWh lithium titanate battery, giving it a potential range of between 100 and 150 miles on a charge.

It’s been designed and developed in Britain, and uses as many components as possible made in the UK. It is without doubt an iconic, eye catching and very impressive car.

It also costs around £180,000.

What?! That’s ridiculous; who can afford that? These electric cars just aren’t realistic!

Well, sadly there are plenty of people who can afford £180,000. I’d like to point out that, even with my A-list international superstar status, I’m not one of them. But there are many cars on the road that cost this much and more, and they all burn through oil like there’s no tomorrow. Annoyingly, history has taught us there probably is a tomorrow and it’s almost here today.

"There are plenty of people who can afford £180,000... even with my A-list international superstar status, I’m not one of them."

Over the last couple of years I have thought long and hard about how electric cars can become mainstream; how this would affect our economy and society; how there may be new ways of using cars which suit electric vehicles; how we can reduce of our dependence on importing ship loads of oil from dodgy regimes… it’s not going to be easy, but it is possible.

Meanwhile, we are obsessed with the rich and famous, fed by the torrent of wealth porn magazines like ‘Hello’ and ‘Okay’ depicting rich people and their beautiful lifestyles and wonderful marriages. But with such distractions, many of us don’t even know electric cars exist; far less if they are a valid alternative.

So, just fantasise with me for a moment: if some of these hyper-beings were to become early adopters of things like the Lightning GT, if they were seen arriving at red carpet events in £180,000 electric sports cars and posing with them in front of their McMansions, which obviously also sport impressive solar panel arrays and geothermal heated swimming pools, we might start to aspire to more than just an embarrassing spray tan.

Young people might start saying something other than “I want to be famous” when asked about their career ambitions. They might consider actually working in science and engineering. I know, I told you it was a fantasy, but stick with me here. If the very rich bought very expensive electric cars that are pushing the technology to its limits, we might actually see a genuine manifestation of the mythical ‘trickle down effect’ so keenly suggested by generations of shady politicians.

The man delivering milk on a horse drawn cart back in 1908 (this was what my grandfather did), who saw some toff chug past in an early Rolls Royce, would think to himself, “That horseless carriage is not for the likes of me.” And he would have been correct. However, because those rich toffs bought the cars, the market and manufacturing systems developed that resulted in cheaper cars, which, even in my grandfathers lifetime, he could eventually afford to buy.

Fantasy ends.

About Robert Llewellyn

Columnist Robert Llewellyn is a comedian, actor, presenter and writer. He’s perhaps best known for his role as Kryten in hit BBC comedy Red Dwarf and as co-presenter of Channel 4’s Scrapheap Challenge, but since creating the Carpool series he has been invited to test drive all kinds of cars, from the pure electric Tesla Roadster sports car to the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell car. As a result Robert has become an expert on alternatively-fuelled vehicles, in particular electric cars, launching EV web series Fully Charged in 2010.

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