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Electric and eclectic at the London Motor Show 2016

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Last weekend it was the first London Motor Show to be held in six years. We might all shout “London doesn’t need any more cars”, and of course we’d be right. This was made explicitly clear from the traffic jams on the way to the show, delaying the ‘shuttle car service’ from Sloane Square tube station, in Battersea Gardens. But no matter, I easily walked there, south across the river in under 20 minutes. And this show did at least feature a range of low-carbon, low-emission vehicles, which might just be useful in helping improve London.

On arrival at the show gate, I was intrigued to see smart young hipsters zipping about on electric mono ‘Uniwheels’. The ‘Uniwheel’ would have provided a much faster, more fun shuttle service across Chelsea bridge. But unfortunately we weren’t allowed to try the Uniwheel there and then, presumably due to health and safety concerns on site. However, I can say they looked like great fun when ridden by the well-practiced promoters.

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My attention was soon drawn from the sublime to the ridiculous. From the cute urban mobility of the Unwheel, to a JET ENGINE ON WHEELS, no less. The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) was exhibiting the Bloodhound Land Speed Record Project vehicle, a global engineering adventure using a 1000mph record attempt to inspire the next generation of engineers. As the ambassador for the project pointed out to me, at least it only runs for 2 minutes. And the fact is, for a greener future, we really need future engineers to be inspired.

Inside the show’s marquees, most of the exhibitors are local or national dealerships, rather than the big car companies (Original Equipment Manufacturers) that we saw at the Geneva International Motor Show. This is a much more local event than Geneva. And so the presentation is much less ‘showbiz’ too (we might simply say ‘lower budget’). Press events feature real people speaking to journalists in close proximity, rather than the highly-polished multimedia presentation ‘shows’ that dominated Geneva.            

That said, Tesla were exhibiting directly, in keeping with their aim to sell cars directly. And it showed. They were probably the slickest looking booth at the London show, whereas in Geneva they appeared much more restrained, compared with the pomp and ceremony of the established car companies.   


Other electric cars on show included the rather fun Morgan EV3 along with the more functional and familiar Nissan Leaf.


A couple of low-carbon vehicle concept cars were also on display, seeking investors to fund production.  The Lightening EV1 is a classically-styled pure electric sports car. The Rasa, from Riversimple, is something else entirely.

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The Rasa is an ultralight and agile hydrogen run-about for two (with lots of boot space), that can cover 300 miles in a single tank. Its business model is particularly interesting; mobility as a leased service, selling miles driven, rather than the car itself. Riversimple proudly claim to be ‘the only car company in the world that doesn’t want to sell a car’. Some car materials, such as platinum, are actually going up in value. So leasing rather than buying can lead to real savings. In effect, the car is designed around a circular business model, maximising affordability.             

My personal highlight of this years show was an announcement warning attendees (mostly press on press day of course) that illegally-parked vehicles were being removed by the local council. Cue major rush out of the show tents, as journalists ran to rescue their cars.

And this gets to the heart of the matter, in my opinion. It’s great to see some innovative clean technologies at this show. But why do people drive to a motor show in gridlocked, polluted London? Why might they park illegally in significant numbers? What does that tell us about the choices we make? As consumers? As media workers? As members of the local community, and of our broader societies? What cultural changes are required in our daily lives before we start treating our local and global environments with more respect?