If you’re a regular visitor to http://www.aminorjourney.com you’ll know that I’ve ran stories on the Electric Car Corporation and their line of converted Citroen C1s, which they call the C1 “Ev’ie”. It all started back in April, when the Citroen Ev’ie jumped onto the market. The team behind the advertising campaign had used a sign-written petrol-powered car for photo shoots and had omitted to change the number plate. It lead to me speculating if the vehicle even existed. Later on, a test-drive from What Car? appeared, in which the team reviewing it had some issues with acceleration and a battery overheating on the drive. You can watch the video at their website. I’m not the sort of person to give a company a hard time unnecessarily, and felt that perhaps my initial story was a bit hard on ECCPlc, the makers of the Citroen C1 Ev’ie. So, I arranged a trip down to London to test the Ev’ie for myself.
I really wanted the car to blow me away. I so badly wanted the Ev’ie to make me feel all kinds of guilt for being nasty about it in the past without even having driven it. I wanted it to make me love it. But as I quickly found, my relationship with the Ev’ie that wasn’t going to be a plain-sailing one.
The ECC plc have a showroom just by the entrance to the Park Lane car park in Central London. To reach it you have to enter the off-ramp from Park Lane. I’d driven into London and tried in vain to find a vacant elektrobay to recharge my PHEV without success I ended up parking in the hell-hole of underground parking which is Park Lane car park – leaving me in an ideal position for the ECC’s showroom/office. I met up with Robert Llewlleyn, Confirmed wet liberal and EV advocate amongst other things. He was as interested as I was to have a trip in this smart-looking car and we spent some time glancing over it before going for a ride. Our initial plan was to shoot some video of the ride (more on that later) but first we had a good old nose and a look at what the car had to offer.
The battery pack, a full 16kWh of Thundersky Lithium Ion batteries, is split between the front of the car and the area in the back where the fuel tank would be. It’s a clever arrangement and means that there’s no compromising on the car’s luggage space. While the C1 isn’t a big car, that does mean that the Ev’ie has the same 139 litre boot space as it’s internal combustion cousin. Manufacturing of the Ev’ie is still quite small scale. While the ECC have Citroen’s blessing, they buy the car directly from Citroen UK as a fully manufactured petrol car (the model we tested was based on the Citroen C1 VTR) and then rip out the Internal Combustion Engine, replacing it with the electric drivetrain and batteries. It’s a process which is rather labor intensive and did surprise us a little. Obviously, it’s easier for Citroen to supply fully working cars rather than gliders as they don’t have to change any elements of the production line and can also make sure the usual quality control measures can be put into place before the vehicles leave the factory. However, in the past some electric car conversion companies have worked alongside manufacturers to provide a line of ‘gliders’ at a discounted price to the conversion company. These gliders were without all of the accoutrement of a combustion engined vehicle, meaning empty engine bays, no petrol tanks or radiator systems to remove and no wastage. It also meant that the conversion company didn’t waste energy, time and money removing brand new engines from their donor vehicles.
Stranger still, the C1 is based on a vehicle platform jointly developed between Toyota, Citroen and Peugeot, so there is some question as to why the ECC have chosen the C1 as the platform rather than the Toyota Aygo or Peugeot 107 when the vehicle is, trim aside, the same. But then, given Toyota’s current stance toward electric vehicles perhaps it’s not surprising the ECC chose to link with Citroen. Obviously, the guys at the ECC have got the whole engine removal thing down to a fine art. It probably doesn’t take more than a few hours to remove all traces of the Toyota-engineered petrol heritage of the C1 Ev’ie before the process of electrification begins. But in the dark times of a rescission every penny counts. And time is money. Back to the test-drive.
Internally, the Ev’ie looks very much like the regular Citroen C1. As with any C1, the trim doesn’t feel of a particularly high quality but is perfectly in line with any other car of it’s class. In fact, trim is streets ahead of some of the C1’s rivals, such as the VW Fox and VW Polo. Think of the trim level a the Smart Car and you get the idea; Stylish and functional, well finished and is pleasing to the eye. Standard new car features such as electric windows are present too, as are all the features offered on a regular C1. Unlike the G-Wiz, the Ev’ie feels like a real car. It’s the clean lines and little finishing touches inside which remind you that no compromise has been made in the comfort of the passengers and this is a car powered by electricity, not a quadricycle. Rather than get all the camera gear out, we decided to test-drive the Ev’ie first, to get an idea of how the car performed and to concentrate on the experience of driving this new kid on the block. On pulling out from the parking spot things started to rapidly go south. The little C1 Ev’ie’s battery meter (a Curtis Instrument battery gauge placed in the pod once occupied by the rev counter) told me quite confidently that I had close to 100% full charge. Great. Lots of power and the promise of up to 65 miles of range. Not quite.
The gear box, which is the original Citroen one that came with the car, is locked on the Ev’ie into a single gear ratio, negating the need for the horribly touchy and high-bite point clutch the petrol C1 has. To be frank I was initially very glad that the ECC team have decided to do away with the clutch and lock the gear ration down – but as I soon discovered, this particular Ev’ie was struggling to put power down to the road. Almost instantly I became aware of a very sluggish start. The Ev’ie did not respond immediately to the demands of my right foot and climbing out of the inclined parking garage entrance I found that the Ev’ie required me to plant the accelerator flat to the floor to make any progress at all. Even then, we struggled to climb the incline at anything above 10 mph. Granted, there were three people on board but the Ev’ie is classed as four-seat car. That means, in my limited understanding, that it should be able to carry at least three people, since three is one less than four. Richard Turnbull, our ECC accompanist on the trip, mentioned that the slope was rather steep, but having seen Gwizes and MEGA city NiceCars climb up the slope I wasn’t particularly impressed. Merging with the traffic at the top of the ramp onto a (thankfully) clear Park Lane enabled me to accelerate up to a moderate 25 mph before hitting the Marble Arch junction. Negotiating buses and taxis the Ev’ie still seemed a bit sluggish and I made comment that perhaps the acceleration parameters of the car needed changing to allow for a speedier start in busy city traffic.
Our route took us north of Hyde Park, towards the A40 Westway. The Ev’ie during this time kept up with the traffic, although every stoplight preceded an increasingly painful pull-away. I’m told by those in the know that the Ev’ie has a specified 0-30 time of under two seconds, but in my experience this figure was closer to ten or maybe even eleven. I started to stay left, nervous about using the faster lane. Pulling onto the A40 Westway, the road slope helped the Ev’ie to creep up to 40 mph. Spurred on by Richard and with Robert egging me on too, I pushed the Ev’ie’s speedo up to 50mph and started to relax. At these speeds the Ev’ie felt secure and stable. Steering was responsive and the regenerative coasting was subtle, allowing me to pulse and glide the accelerator as we overtook a series of vehicles before pulling off the A40 to turn back towards Mayfair. And that’s when it happened. The roundabout at the bottom of the A40 just before White City had a set of red lights. Pulling away from them to loop back up the eastbound carriageway, we all noticed the car seemed markedly slower. Robert even inquired if I had my foot to the floor, to which he received an annoyed “Yes!”. The car was truly “giving me all she’s got, Captain”.
By this point, we’d started to wonder if the car was overheating. Richard confidently informed me that he’s never seen anything like that happen before, but as we pulled back onto the eastbound carriageway the car’s acceleration started to slow down and flat out, we were struggling to reach 30 mph. By this point the test drive had ceased to be fun and was starting to become worrying. We were on one of London’s busiest roads in an electric car which was threatening to give up the ghost. It was truly unwell. Pulling off the Westway we tried to nurse the car back to the Park Lane garage but progress started to become glacial. Taxicabs and annoyed commuters started to beep in fury and we pulled into a convenient parking lot. The Ev’ie stopped. Stone dead. “It’s probably overheated” Richard said, hopefully. “I’ve never seen this happen before”. We decided by chorus, to wait a few minutes for the car to cool down, although we had no way of telling if the car had in fact overheated as there was no visual indication that the car was ill from the inside. The dash confidently informed us we had at least 95% charge remaining. That should have got us at least 50 more miles. Hah.
I volunteered RobertRobert Volunteered to have a go at driving, since he’d been teasing me about having a heavy right foot. But when he turned the key and pressed the foot to the floor it became apparent that my driving style wasn’t the cause of the problem. Limping back under what I would anticipate to be about half-speed, we made painful progress a hundred yards or so up the road. And then the Ev’ie died again. On a busy intersection. Getting out, Richard and I pushed Robert to a safe place at the side of the road. The beeping of frustrated taxi-cabs becoming shockingly frequent. It was almost like being in New York for a moment. With another break, this time for a full five minutes, we stood at the side of the road and cogitated on the design of the Ev’ie. It’s a nice looking vehicle, but by that point we were starting to wonder if it was ready for the market. Sure, it had style and about twice the space of a GWiz in a diminutive frame, but if driving it meant fearing you’d break down all the time then something wasn’t right. Getting back in, Richard embarrassingly and apologetically coaxed the Ev’ie back to the top of Marble Arch. Perhaps Robert and I were missing the zen-like qualities the car obviously needed in it’s drivers. And then the car stopped. With about as much will reluctance as a cat being bathed, the Ev’ie stopped. Right there, in the right-hand lane of the Marble Arch roundabout. We were going no-where. Richard had managed to persuade the car to sit on the hatched area between lanes, but the car wouldn’t budge. Something, somewhere, was not happy. Robert and I agreed to get out and enjoyed a pleasant walk back to the ECC center, Park Lane car park and my Prius.
As we pulled out of the carpark and onto Park Lane in my Prius’ EV mode, we both commented that the acceleration the Prius exibited was more in the oh-so-restricted Toyota EV mode than the Ev’ie had shown in the entire eventful seven mile trip. So, is the Ev’ie any good? In my test drive, NO. The idea is sound, the company seems genuinely focused on the electric vehicle’s cause and certainly talks the talk. But if yesterday’s little outing is anything to go by then the company needs to spend some serious time looking at reliability issues before it goes any further demonstrating the vehicles to the public. I was told by Richard that it was an event he’d never experienced before, but when I got home I checked online. What Car? seem to have had a similar experience to us – all be it with a prototype of the Ev’ie. We certainly didn’t drive the same car as the What Car? team (ours was blue) but it certainly seems like our two experiences are scarily similar, pointing perhaps to a design flaw?
It should be said, however, that the Birmingham Post took an Ev’ie for a spin around Birmingham and had no issues – driving it for many many miles and reaching motorway speeds. I only wish that our experience had been half the fun that Ed Stephens, the motoring correspondent for the Birmingham Post had. But it wasn’t.
With two bad test-drives now under it’s belt the ECC needs to pull it’s finger out. I got an email later on that day from Richard, letting me know that as yet, they hadn’t found any issues with the car and had completed a 20 mile trip after Robert and I had left in the same car we’d been having so much trouble with. He did tell me that the car was going to be taken back to their workshop for further troubleshooting but that at the moment it did look as if
“…the initial outcome is that potentially the car was driven too aggressively and over heated…”
If that’s true, then I can safely say, hand on heart, that I don’t think we were at all aggressive with the car (the problems started with the drive out of the car park) because we didn’t even have a chance to be aggressive with it. If the Ev’ie can overheat and stop functioning on a Sunny London day, with three occupants and an outside temperature of around 25 degrees Celsius then there’s something seriously wrong with the vehicles. The verdict? At the moment the Ev’ie looks great, but (based on my experiences) doesn’t have the meat and two veg it needs to survive as a commuter car or a small family car. In fact, in the configuration I experienced it was a vehicle bordering on the dangerous. A vehicle which perpetuates the negativity the mainstream media has towards electric vehicles. As an EV advocate I desperately want the Ev’ie to succeed – but unless the events of yesterday’s test drive are a freak incident I have little faith in the company. Because I’m an EV nut and desperately want to give the Ev’ie a shining review (I’m still hopeful that I’m going to get a more positive drive to remember out of this cute vehicle) I’ve agreed to return to London at some point in the future and do another test drive which hopefully will be recorded. I really hope I’m not disappointed. Watch this space. And cross your fingers.