Opinion: OK, Laura – make sure the new Skoda Octavia is good

New Skoda Octavia design sketch

Skoda’s new ‘Laura’ digital assistant has mastered six languages, is comfortable with natural voice and doesn’t mind being interrupted. OK, Laura, I have one request: please make sure the new Skoda Octavia is up to scratch.

The design sketches look positive, although talk of a ‘coupe-like roofline’ could rob the Octavia of its enviable USP: practicality.

Whether in hatchback or estate form, thanks to its cavernous boot, the Skoda Octavia has always delivered. Why buy a Golf when you can buy a Golf-based hatchback with a 590-litre boot? That’s more than the BMW 3 Series Touring, Audi A4 Avant or Volvo V60.

Opt for the Octavia estate and you have access to 610 litres with the rear seats up and 1,740 litres with them folded away.

All creatures great and small

Skoda Octavia paramedic

Little wonder the wagon has become de rigueur for those who put common sense above fashion. Paramedics, rural vets, the St John Ambulance, police forces and fire and rescue services are just some of the groups and organisations that have come to rely on the Octavia.

Only last week, we had to call the vet to deal with an animal emergency at home. He arrived at 1am, in a previous-generation Octavia estate plastered in mud and loaded to the rafters with veterinary equipment. The car just gets on with it – no fuss, no glamour, no bother.

That’s the Octavia way. Even the performance vRS has understated and under-the-radar appeal. Before the arrival of my first child, when it was time to ditch the Vauxhall VX220 in favour of something with more seats, I chose a nearly-new Mk1 Octavia vRS. My son was driven home from the hospital in it – I’ve never driven with more care and attention.

It was a terrific car, with the 1.8-litre turbocharged engine providing plenty of poke, plus boot able to cope with all the paraphernalia that comes with parenthood. I can’t remember why I sold it, but it was almost certainly for something less practical and less sensible.

The Octavia is one of those rare cars I’m happy to recommend to friends and family. It’s a dangerous game – giving advice is a risky business. What if your recommendation leads to an expensive mistake? You’d be better off giving a tip for the 2:45 at Kempton Park.

But I know of two people who have taken a gamble on an Octavia on the ‘strength’ of my opinion. Fortunately, they’ve lived happily ever after.

All things wise and wonderful

Skoda Octavia Scout

Savvy motorists know a good thing when they see it, which is why the Octavia Scout seems to attract a premium on the used car market. There’s something ‘old money’ about the Scout: a soft-road wagon for those who are confident in their own skin. The thinking person’s Audi Allroad. The less ostentatious Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain. The only rural wagon you’ll ever need.

Check this out: a 2019 Skoda Octavia Scout for £24,000. That’s nearly £10,000 less than the price of a Karoq Scout. The Octavia is more practical, better to drive and will look better parked outside the farm shop. There’s no contest.

I guess there’s a wider point to this post, and it concerns the diminishing appeal of the Skoda brand. Granted, it’s a personal opinion, but I believe it’s worth sharing.

Like all volume brands, Skoda has thrown its might behind a range of SUVs. The Kodiaq was followed by the Karoq, with the Kamiq the latest crossover to hit showrooms. All worthy, all a match for their immediate rivals, all bang on trend.

But there’s a danger that Skoda is losing sight of what made the brand so appealing to free-thinkers and those not swayed by fashion or trends. The SUVs are great and are what the market demands, but Skoda needs to maintain a gap between it and the Volkswagen mothership. Some clear space to leave room for individuality.

It’s this space that gave us the Felicia Fun, the Fabia vRS diesel, the Roomster and the Yeti. Much as I adore the Superb, especially in 272hp 2.0-litre petrol guise, I miss the cars that made Skoda feel like Volkswagen’s quirky Czech mate.

Let’s hope the new Octavia continues to major on practicality, with a keen price and an acknowledgment of what has made the first three generations so successful. The alternative is more people migrating to Skoda SUVs, and that’s a future we can all do without. 

Opinion: Your village NEEDS an electric charging point

Rural electric charging point

Around 400 village shops close every year, while nearly 40 pubs close their doors for good every month.

Admittedly, not all of these pubs will be found in rural locations, but a boarded-up boozer in the countryside is a depressingly common sight. Time, ladies and gentlemen, last orders at the bar.

Soon, the only people left in the village will be Escape to the Country presenters, commercial property agents armed with ‘TO LET’ boards and Waze disciples on an alternative route home.

How can we inject new life into our rural villages? No, not a ‘guess the weight of a marrow‘ competition or a Strictly Come Maypole Dancing event. What every village in the country needs is an electric car charging point.

The government is dishing out grants for electric vehicle charging points like a car magazine gives out awards, so for parish councils it needn’t mean a choice between a dog poo bin for the village green or a charging point.

Under the Workplace Charging Scheme, public sector organisations can apply for up to £500 per socket at 75 percent of the total cost of installation, up to a maximum of 20 sockets.

Most urban dwellers are too busy staring into their smartphone in Costa to visit your village fete or tombola, but offer them an electric charging point and they’ll be pulling up outside the derelict Crown Inn faster than you can say: “Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, peanut-free and soya-free cappuccino to go, please.”

Village pub closure

A Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee document published last year missed the point of the charging network’s role in reshaping village life. It said: “Rural areas are expected to be critical to the alleviation of so-called ‘range anxiety’, since they are home to the majority of motorway service areas, where rapid charge points would provide drivers with a means to refuel and complete long journeys.”

With all due respect, or whatever it is people say in parliament when they’re about to disagree with something, there’s more to rural regions than motorway service areas.

It wouldn’t take a lot to tempt EV drivers away from a motorway services. Instead of tasteless fried food and coffees that cost a small mortgage payment, they could be enjoying the warm embrace of country folk.

With a steady influx of range-poor and time-rich EV drivers, you can tear down the Heras fencing that surrounds the pub and turn it into a community shop. Electric car drivers are accustomed to spending inflated prices for food and drink, so you’ll be earning cash faster than the Pimm’s tent at last summer’s village fete.

Village fete

In next to no time you’ll have enough spare money to remove the Japanese knotweed from the duck pond, replace the roof on the parish church and send your parish councillors to that obscure village you’re twinned with in Normandy.

Admittedly, you’ll need to find a way to disguise the charging unit. Most are as aesthetically pleasing as pebbledash on a Georgian townhouse, so maybe one could sit in the disused telephone box.

It’s a win-win situation. The electric car driver gets access to a greater number of charging points, the village welcomes more visitors since the time the National Express coach took a wrong turning off the bypass, and the government gets a glimmer of hope that it might achieve its emissions targets.

Parish councillors, stick the erection of electric charging points on your next agenda. It’ll make a change from discussing late bin collections, dog waste in the sports field and who should clean the public toilets.

Opinion: This Mini is half the price, but not half the fun

Mini One Classic opinion

Whichever way you look at it, £34,995 for a new Mini is a lot of money. I’m not going to venture down the ‘Mini car, Maxi price’ alley, but £35k for a supermini? Ouch.

Sure, it comes with a Nurburgring lap time, but I’ve seen coaches, campervans and even Chrysler PT Cruisers lapping the big toll road in the trees, so that’s no big deal.

To be honest, I wouldn’t care if the Henry Cooper Works Doctor came with a dinner date with Keeley Hawes and a lifetime supply of Hobnobs, because it still seems expensive. Actually, thinking about it, the Hawes and Hobnobs thing could tip the balance in favour of the hot hatch.

Naked attraction

I digress. My biggest problem the hardcore Mini isn’t the price, it’s the fact that maximum Mini thrills are available at a more affordable price. Like, less than half the price.

The Mini three-door Hatch One Classic is a rather awkward name for a quite brilliant car. This is the modern Mini in a state of undress – laid bare for a warts and all examination of the car’s famed ‘go-kart’ handling.

It costs £16,195, which is just £200 more than an entry-level Ford Fiesta. For that you get LED lights galore, air conditioning, multi-function steering wheel, a 6.5-inch display, vegan-friendly seats, Bluetooth, DAB digital radio and 15-inch steel wheels.

Mini One Classic on steel wheels

Yes, steel wheels. Forget what you might have read in What Glamour? magazine, because owning a small car with steel wheels is a rite of passage. It’s like the transition from the nursery slopes to the black run – first you must prove your mettle with a set of steelies.

The Mini One Classic is powered by one of the best three-pots in the business. In this form, the BMW 1.5-litre twin-turbo produces 102hp, which isn’t going to set any ‘Ring records, but is more than enough to raise a smile on the inner ring road.

At 44.8mpg to 47.9mpg, it’s also the most frugal Mini Hatch, short of putting your name down and waiting in line for the electric version. But unlike the leccy one, the Mini One offers enough range for a Londoner to take a day trip to Crich Tramway Village near Matlock without breaking into a sweat.

Other tramway museums are available. Probably.

Just say no

Clearly, Mini has made a mint out of a business model that encourages dealers to encourage punters into upgrading to a more expensive model. Mini would rather you didn’t buy a three-door Hatch One Classic, not when there are countless trim levels, engines, packs, options and accessories to choose from.

Anyone who leaves a Mini showroom with a £16,195 Mini has either mastered the art of saying “no” or is a former cast member of Grange Hill.

I’m fully aware that the list price is largely irrelevant, so the fact that the Mini One Classic is available on PCP or PCH for £199 a month will be music to the ears of Generation Rent. Granted, the rear seats are best reserved for child contortionists, and the ride is a little on the firm side, but if your heart is set on a Mini, I doubt you’ll care.

It’s also fair to say that the Fiesta offers better value for money and greater practicality, so the rational money would be on the Ford. But that’s missing the point of this pointless opinion piece.

Personally, I think Mini could go further by targeting its entry-level model at the under 25s, offering free telematics-based insurance and other incentives to get them behind the wheel. In a few years, they might want to ‘upgrade’ to a Sport, Cooper or JCW, but I suspect they’ll be having too much fun in the One Classic to even notice.

Still want that Nurburgring special, etc, etc?

Audi A1 Citycarver: where is the urban jungle exactly?

Audi A1 Citycarver urban jungle

Audi says the A1 Citycarver is a car ‘for the urban jungle’. Not knowing where the urban jungle is, I Googled it, only to discover that it’s a garden centre and cafe near Norwich. And you thought the Honda Jazz was the choice of transport for garden centre enthusiasts.

I’m not entirely sure a jacked-up supermini dressed up to look like Baymax in armour is required for a trip along the A11, but Audi has a habit of discovering niches and filling them.

I jest. The Audi A1 Citycarver is actually a Rover Streetwise for people too young to remember the Rover Streetwise. You weren’t aware that you needed an Audi Streetwise, but the marketing commandos will be deployed to ensure you spend every waking hour wondering how you coped without one.

Citycarver? Depending on your age, you’re either thinking of a detective chief inspector from The Bill, or a media mogul from Tomorrow Never Dies. Or maybe you’re thinking it sounds like the name given to an unsavoury character on Crimewatch.

But don’t have nightmares, because the A1 Citycarver is little more than a city-friendly Audi A1 with 4cm of additional ground clearance, body cladding to make it look like an A1 Allroad, and front-wheel-drive to ensure that it’s not.

Audi A1 Citycarver

It costs from £22,040, which isn’t a lot for an Audi, but by the time you’ve added a few choice options and accessories, you’ll be knocking on the door of £30,000, which is a lot for a supermini. Even one with an Audi badge.

All of which is beginning to sound like the Audi A1 Citycarver gives me an irrational desire to throw a hot cake at the wall and mutter something about the days before Audi became as popular as a Kylie Jenner Instagram post.

But I’m feeling quite calm about the Jim Carver. I have a feeling it could steal sales from the Audi Q2, which could be the best thing to happen to our roads since the Romans brought a 12-inch ruler to these shores.

Carvery menu

Some people spend close to £40,000 on a Q2, which is a staggering amount of cash for a compact crossover. Let that sink in for a moment – £40k on a small crossover. There’s just something so unimaginative about buying a Q2. Why not spend £18,000 on the marginally less attractive Ford Ecosport and treat the kids to a good holiday?

An Elliot Carver costs £680 less than the Q2 and is only slightly smaller. You have to sacrifice 70 litres of boot space, but that seems like a small penalty when you consider the level of standard equipment.

Audi A1 Citycarver interior

LED headlights, LED rear lights , dynamic rear indicators, a 10.25 digital cockpit and 17-inch alloy wheels are must-have toys for the Audi driver, and they’re all fitted as standard.

The basic Q2 has to make do with halogen headlights, which, to your image-obsessed colleagues, will be a signal that you’ve given up on life. If you want LED lights and dynamic indicators, you’ll need to spend at least £26,370 on the Q2 S line.

If you’re after 17-inch alloys and the digital cockpit, you’ll require the Q2 Sport (£24,120), plus the optional Tech Pack (£1,495).

Audi says the A1 Citycarver is available with two engines, but its UK website is showing one. It’s a 30 TFSI, which sounds exciting, but you’ll need access to an Enigma machine to work out what it is.

What is clear is that the Citycarver will sell like pumpkins at Halloween. You may not want one, but I bet you know of at least a dozen people who would. A Honda Jazz remains a superior car for a trip to the Urban Jungle garden centre cafe, mind. Anyone for a slice of carrot cake?

60 years of our love-hate relationship with the motorway

60 years of the M1 motorway

“Take it easy, motorist,” was the advice given to drivers by Ernest Marples as he officially opened the M1 motorway on this day in 1959.

“If in doubt, don’t,” he warned, as if to pre-empt the behaviour of motorists as they took to the motorway for the first time. In those days, of course, the speed limit wasn’t governed by legislation, simply by what a car could manage.

Perhaps more importantly, the top speed was limited by the courage and talent of the motorist. Accidents were commonplace, as drivers realised they lacked the skills of Messrs Hawthorn, Hill and Clark.

Less than five years later, Jack Sears hit 185mph in an AC Cobra Coupe GT on the M1, using the motorway to do a test run ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours. As Sears said in an Autocar article, “many teams were using the motorway for test runs”, including Rootes Group, Jaguar and Aston Martin.

A 70mph speed limit was introduced in July 1967, although the legislation doesn’t appear to have been influenced by the antics of Sears in 1964.

Oh that motorway, ain’t it a thrill to be so free

Congestion on the M1 motorway

To mark the 60th anniversary of Britain’s first city to city motorway, the Guardian has published an article from October 1959, which is best read with the style of a Pathé newsreader in your head.

The 72 miles from London to Birmingham increased the length of Britain’s motorway network to 80 miles. Today, that figure is around 2,300 miles – less than 1 percent of the entire road network.

But the importance of the motorway network cannot be underestimated. Last year, motorways carried 69 billion vehicle miles of traffic – up 10.9 percent on the same period in 2008.

The Ministry of Transport estimated that an average of 14,000 vehicles a day would use the M1 between London and Birmingham in 1960, reducing casualties by 500 and saving 2.7 million hours of driving.

We’ve developed a kind of love-hate relationship with the motorway network, relying on it to reach our destination quickly, efficiently and without fuss. When the network delivers on its promise, we don’t give it a second thought.

But when something goes wrong – accidents, Bank Holiday traffic and congestion – we moan that the network is creaking at the seams and not fit for purpose. Visiting a motorway service area tends to give us something to moan about, too. Still, it makes a change from the weather.

Back in the 1960s, motorways were destinations in themselves. People would visit the three-lane ribbons of adventure that could move cars like a conveyor belt of shopping in a supermarket. Restaurants would cater for the motorway tourists, who’d watch the traffic go by behind huge expanses of glass. Those days are gone.

Riding down the motorway, cats eyes, cold meat pies

M1 motorway Redbourn

Today, the motorway is facing a period of change. Smart motorways are arguably the most controversial thing to hit the network since the 70mph speed limit, while a future of autonomous cars could change the way we use the roads forever.

Reading old newspaper reports makes for fascinating reading. In a separate Guardian article, the editorial slams the ‘slow progress’ of the construction programme and draws a comparison with Victorian railway promoters.

‘No one can say when the M1 will be finished,’ it grumbles, before highlighting the proposed expansion of the network, including, quite interestingly, the M3 stretching all the way to Exeter.

‘In an age of serious contemplation of travel to the moon it seems senseless that no British Government has yet devised means of enabling traffic to move more freely on the ground at home,’ it concludes.

We’ve since been to the moon and back – and have sent a car into space – but moving freely on the motorway seems out of reach to the beleaguered commuters on the M25, M1 and M6. Take it easy out there.

Opinion: The days of parking kindness could be over

Pay and display parking sign

Nobody likes paying for parking. Discovering somewhere to park for free is one of life’s little pleasures, like finding an old fiver in your jeans pocket or when your mate finally decides it’s his round.

I rarely pay for parking in my local towns: I know where I can park for nothing, in bays that will give me enough time to have a haircut, consume a couple of overpriced coffees or browse the charity shops for second-hand car books. What else is there to do in town?

However, last Friday, when the weather was particularly British, I decided to park in the centre of town. Having dusted the cobwebs off my wallet, I found £2 for a two-hour stay – who said the days of highway robbery were over – and wandered over to the pay and display machine.

Before purchasing the ticket, I was told to enter my registration number, which proved to be rather tricky, as the keypad was at a height designed for Lilliputians. I headed back to the car in need of a physio and contemplating the beginning of the end for a common random act of kindness.

Put up a parking lot

Pay and display sign

Most of us have returned to a car to find unspent time on a ticket. With an hour or two left, not only does passing the ticket to somebody else feel like a nice thing to do, it also feels like the right thing to do.

Sure, the ticket says ‘non transferable’, but who’s to know? Saving a fellow motorist a few quid is a good deed for the day and, admittedly, an opportunity to get one over on the establishment.

But those days are drawing to a close. The rise of number plate-controlled pay and display machines and the ‘pay by mobile’ car parks will bring an end to this opportunity to deliver a gesture of goodwill. It’s the end of an era. Soon, letting people out of junctions and allowing room for cyclists and motorcyclists will be all we have left to share the love on the road.

No big deal in the great scheme of things, but I for one will miss the rare example of motoring fellowship.

2020 new Honda Jazz

Opinion: I’m in love with the new Honda Jazz

2020 new Honda Jazz

Confession: I think I may have fallen for the new Honda Jazz. In a week when the great and the good of the motoring world have tripped over their travel bags and squabbled over frozen party food to bring us the latest news from Wolfsburg, I’ve been pondering the simple beauty of the Jazz.

It’s beautifully simple. Honda hasn’t lost sight of what makes the Jazz so appealing. Like it or not, this is the car you’d want your parents to drive when they retire. It’s as familiar as The Archers theme tune, as dependable as a Golden Retriever, and as practical as a Cub Scout leader.

We don’t want the Honda Jazz to be quick (unless we’re stuck behind one on a B-road). We don’t want the Honda Jazz to be snazzy. We don’t want the Honda Jazz to be exciting. Which is why Honda appears to have nailed the fourth-generation model.

What’s up, Doc?

2020 new Honda Jazz

Take the styling, which is almost exactly how you’d want the Mk4 Jazz to look. The front end is a bit goofy, with a hint of Bugs Bunny, but overall, it puts right the wrongs of the outgoing Jazz.

The Jazz has always felt like a supermini XL – like a pair of beige slacks with an elasticated waist. Honda is promising ‘class-leading’ levels of interior space, thanks to the position of the fuel tank below the front seats and the hybrid tech in the engine bay.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the new Jazz is powered by a two-motor hybrid system? Honda hasn’t released any figures, but has promised ‘impressive fuel economy’. Needless to say, Jazz drivers won’t be making regular trips to the petrol station, so that plastic loyalty card can be recycled.

2020 new Honda Jazz

The Magic Seats are retained, because removing them would be akin to chasing away the ravens from the Tower of London. The flexibility afforded by the rear seats is one of the joys of Honda Jazz ownership.

Yes, I just used the word ‘joy’ in the context of the Honda Jazz.

Which brings me on to the dashboard. I suspect the press photos show a top-spec interior with all the bells and whistles, but notice how all the switches and buttons are positioned in a neat and driver-focused manner.

Volkswagen reckons the world is ready for a Golf with virtually no physical buttons. I beg to differ. Such an approach would see Jazz loyalists voting to leave for the sanctuary of the Yaris, leaving the remainers to wonder what on earth just happened.

2020 new Honda Jazz

Note the two USB ports, the deep cupholder in front of the air vent, the positioning of the LCD touchscreen and the two-spoke steering wheel. Jazz, if I’m honest, you had me at the two-spoke steering wheel. 

There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for when the grandchildren come to visit, wireless smartphone charging, and even a wifi hotspot. Now, Jazz owners can browse the online version of the Daily Express as they enjoy tea from a Thermos on the East Sussex coast.

The unfortunately named Crosstar is a faux crossover I could do without, but no doubt Honda has done its homework. To be fair, the Jazz wears the two-tone paint job rather well. It’s like ‘man at C&A’ has wandered into H&M by mistake.

2020 new Honda Jazz

I’m fully aware that this declaration of love for the new Honda Jazz merely cements my reputation as the odd uncle who is always left off the guest list. The one who’s estranged from the extended family. I’m not concerned.

The world doesn’t need another compact SUV, million-dollar hypercar or ‘Ringmeister. What it needs is an efficient, sensible and clever supermini that’s easy to park, cheap to run and is unlikely to let you down. Jazz hands to that.

2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport

Opinion: Don’t be too sad about missing out on the VW Atlas Cross Sport

2020 VW Atlas Cross SportSUVs with coupe styling are growing trend and Volkswagen has just revealed a brand-new high-riding model with a sportier profile.

The upside is that, unlike many contemporary SUV coupes, the new Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport manages to look like a good piece of design.

However, the bad news for some is that only customers in North America will be able to buy it from early next year.

Made in America, for Americans

2020 VW Atlas Cross SportVolkswagen has been building the regular large seven-seater Atlas SUV in Chattanooga, Tennessee for almost three years. Designed to cater for American tastes, and to fit on generous U.S. roads, the normal Atlas is longer and wider than an Audi Q7.

The new Cross Sport version is shorter by only 58 mm, and also keeps the same width and wheelbase. Imagine Audi’s sizeable Q8 crossover for the closest representation of scale and styling. Big haunched wheel arches and a tapered rear windscreen do channel elements of the Q8, although the bluff front end and rear chrome detailing are pure American SUV.  

Perhaps exposure to the growing numbers of SUV coupes has dulled the shock of them, but the Atlas Cross Sport manages to look fairly well resolved. 

More metal for your money

2020 VW Atlas Cross SportWhilst there might not be a big V8 engine powering the Atlas Cross Sport, the engine options are still suitably American-flavoured. There is a choice of a naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 with 276 hp, or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with 235 hp. Forget any ideas of diesel power.

An eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard, as is Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Choose the right options package and the V6 Cross Sport can tow over 2,200 kg.

Volkswagen will also offer a range of luxury options, including wireless smartphone charging, a 12-speaker audio system, and the Digital Cockpit instrument display for the dashboard. 

Although Volkswagen has not yet confirmed prices for the Cross Sport, but the regular Atlas begins at $30,895 – equivalent to £24,500 in the UK. For comparison, here in the UK an entry-level Tiguan costs from £25,350.

Freedom to choose

2020 VW Atlas Cross SportWhether UK buyers would plump for the Cross Sport is debatable. We may still be in love with SUVs, but the Cross Sport is perhaps too American in flavour to find broad appeal this side of the Atlantic. 

More significant is how the Volkswagen Group has finally embraced the trend for SUVs. A decade ago, the collection of brands offered just 6 SUV models for sale. Today, that has swelled to more than 20, with even more new releases set to come in the near future. 

From the Seat Arona, through to the Bentley Bentayga, there is now an SUV or crossover option for seemingly everyone in the Volkswagen family. It means we don’t need to be too downhearted about this Atlas Cross Sport passing us by.  

Green number plates opinion

Green number plates: the answer to a question nobody asked?

Green number plates opinion

Green number plates: the answer to a question that was never asked or another step on the way to the normalisation of electric cars?

By 2030, the government wants between 50 and 70 percent of new cars sold to be ultra low emission. There’s a long way to go: year to date, battery electric vehicle sales account for a 1.3 percent market share, albeit up 122.1 percent on the same period in 2018.

The will is there, with a growing number of consumers expecting to buy or lease an electric car within the next five years. But barriers remain.

Limited driving range, an inadequate charging network and high list prices are common complaints and reasons not to adopt. These won’t be obstacles forever.

Next-generation EVs can offer 300 miles of range, the supply of rapid chargers is up 43 percent, and the likes of the Vauxhall Corsa-e, Peugeot e-208 and MG ZS EV have the potential to bring a new breed of mainstream customers to the EV party.

‘Do as I do’

Green number plate on electric car

So how do green number plates support the mass adoption of electric vehicles?

The government says they offer a “very visible way of distinguishing such vehicles and raising their profile”, arguing that they will “help inform road-users and normalise the idea of clean vehicles”.

Around half of all respondents in a recent survey said the visibility of electric cars on the road is a key factor in the normalisation of the technology. Electric versions of the 208 and Corsa could look too similar to the conventional versions to stand out. Right now, the EV sector needs vehicles to act like mobile billboards – a kind of ‘do as I do’ or ‘follow my leader’ approach.

In this context, the proposed green number plates don’t go far enough. Rather than replacing the traditional yellow and white plates with a green background, the government’s preferred option is for a green flash on the left hand side of the plate.

A green background is unlikely to work, it says, because to make it suitable for ANPR, it would need to be a shade that is less visible to the human eye, reducing the awareness benefits. It would also be slower to implement.

Without the awareness, what’s the point? The government says cars with green number plates could enjoy access to bus lanes or low emission vehicle lanes, reduced rate parking and entry to electric charging bays. But aren’t these enforceable by ANPR cameras?

Enter a bus lane or low emission zone in a non-compliant diesel and you can look forward to a PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) gracing your door mat within a few days. Slapping a green sticker on your diesel car’s number plate isn’t going to stop that.

On the subject of bus lanes, isn’t the plan to grant access to electric cars missing the point? As the adoption of electric cars increases, won’t this cause congestion, reducing the benefit of using public transport? In the short term, it’s likely to raise the blood pressure of commuters queuing to get into town while a bus lane sits empty alongside them.

One thing that isn’t immediately obvious in much of the online coverage is that the government is unlikely to make green plates compulsory. Instead, it would prefer a non-mandatory but opt out approach, where the plates are encouraged but not essential.

Green, black and white

electric cars in London ULEV

This has the potential to cause confusion, especially when it comes to local authorities offering free parking or access to certain roads to electric vehicles. Would a zero emission car without a green number plate be fined for using a free parking space? If EVs are exempt anyway, what’s the use of the green plates, aside from building awareness?

One obvious benefit is that it should be easier to identify cars that shouldn’t be parked in an electric charging bay. This might shame some drivers into parking elsewhere, although, once again, if the green plates aren’t mandatory, who’s to say that the driver hasn’t opted out?

As for awareness, the government will need to launch a campaign to support the rollout of the green number plates. If a consumer isn’t informed or bothered about the increasing number of electric cars, a thin green band on the side of a number plate isn’t going to catch their eye.

Maybe the government would be better served investing in a campaign that promotes and raises awareness of the growing electric charging network, while further incentivising the adoption of electric vehicles. Seeing friends and family switching to EVs will do more for the industry than a green number plate.

Green number plates might be the answer to a question nobody asked, but finding the solution is far from black and white. You have until 14 January to share your views.

Opinion: the Copen GR Sport is the sports car we need

Daihatsu Copen GR Sport

Life is full of disappointments. Like discovering an absence of Chomp bars in a Heroes variety pack. Or arriving at a pub with locked doors after a 12-mile walk. Or realising that there’s little chance of buying a Copen GR Sport.

Toyota Gazoo Racing – a company most famous for making the Yaris appealing – has turned its attention to the tiny Daihatsu Copen.

The opening paragraph atop the press release is wonderfully Japanese: “A new lightweight feel sports car combining the joy of the open air with the Toyota Gazoo Racing delight of handling at will.“

In other words, Gazoo Racing’s wizards have focused on body rigidity and suspension tuning by adding a front brace, changing the shape of the centre brace and tweaking the spring rate.

Further upgrades include tuned electric power steering, aerodynamic tweaks, BBS alloys and Recaro seats. Basically, the kind of things you’d demand from a lightweight sports car.

The intercooled, turbocharged 660cc engine is unchanged, and you have a choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed CVT with paddle-shifter.

Sounds perfect, especially when you consider that it costs the equivalent of £17,500 – about the same as a mid-range Ford Fiesta. At least it would be perfect if we could buy the blimmin‘ thing.

‘Handling at will’

Copen GR Sport

But you can’t, because the Copen GR Sport is reserved for the Japanese domestic market. Boo, hiss, etc. No “handling at will” delights for you, Minasama.

Still, at least we’ve got a plentiful supply of affordable, lightweight sports cars to choose from. Only we haven’t. Not today.

Fiat’s Mazda MX-5-based MX-5 rival has bitten the dust, leaving the Mazda MX-5 as the sole flag-bearer for affordable roofless fun. These days you need to keep your top on to enjoy maximum thrills, although the Alpine A110 – the current king of the lightweights – costs upwards of £48,000.

Even the Lotus Elise – the former benchmark for cheap(ish) thrills – will set you back at least £42,000 in its rawest form. A lightweight gem for a heavyweight price.

Cast your mind back 20 years to the summer of 1999. You were spoilt for choice: Alfa Romeo Spider, BMW Z3, Caterham 21, Fiat Barchetta, Honda S2000, Lotus Elise, Mazda MX-5, MGF and Porsche Boxster were just some of the sports cars bugging you for your pre-millennium pound.

An unlikely Hethel-built Vauxhall sports car was also waiting in the wings, making this a golden period for wind-in-your-hair joy. Meanwhile, the Ford Puma was acting like an appetiser for the main course – serving up front-wheel-drive delights to prepare drivers for the joy of rear-wheel-drive heaven.

How many Ford Puma owners spent time on the nursery slopes before tackling the black runs offered by the preeminent sports car manufacturers?

Million-dollar paperweights

Copen GR Sport interior

Where are the affordable sports cars of 2019? Hardly a week goes by without a carmaker unveiling another unattainable and inaccessible hypercar that you can’t afford, can’t buy and can’t drive. Million-dollar paperweights destined for air-conditioned basements and the auction catalogues of 2029.

We’ve allowed this to happen. By falling at the heels of crossovers and SUVs, we’ve sent sports cars spiralling into oblivion, rendering them uneconomically unviable for many manufacturers. Christ knows how lucky we are that Renault had the balls to launch the Alpine A110, but where’s the Copen GR Sport equivalent for the UK market?

Don’t hold your breath. Even Mazda MX-5 sales are down nine percent in Europe over the first half of 2019, so it would take a brave marketing department to propose the launch of a sub £20,000 sports car in the UK. 

Saying you can have fun in a small SUV is like saying you can enjoy telephone hold music. Both are there to serve a purpose, but you wouldn’t want to spend longer than you have to enduring them. The Copen GR Sport looks like fun even when it’s standing still.

“Toyota Gazoo Racing will continue to make efforts to create attractive cars for car fans through dialogues with customers, utilising the voices of many car enthusiasts to ‘create ever-better cars‘,” says Toyota.

Open a dialogue with UK buyers, Toyota. We’re ready for your ‘ever-better cars‘.