Bridgestone Eco-Rally 2011
Environmentally-friendly transport isn’t all sackcloth and sandals as we discovered on the 2011 Eco-Rally behind the wheel of a Ford Transit Connect, converted to battery power by Azure Dynamics.
Now in its fifth year the Bridgestone Eco-Rally is a celebration of alternatively powered transport of all shapes and sizes. Ford entered two Transit Connect Electrics and asked VansA2Z to take care of getting one of them from the kick-off in Oxford to the finish 75 miles away at the Start exhibition, the UK’s largest sustainable transport exhibition, on The Mall in London. ecoVansA2Z’s stand featured our current Eco Van of the Year, the Nicholson McLaren Citroën Nemo Electric.
The rally comprised more than 30 of the latest low and zero emission vehicles including cars, motorbikes, vans, trucks, coaches and even a fuel cell-powered Black Cab. As well as the odd journo, the convoy included a few celebrity drivers such as the unlikely pairing of Sam Fox and Kim Woodburn — they told us they had become firm friends since appearing on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! — and all-round good egg Robert Llewellyn.
Having left Oxford our editor Neil McIntee, accompanied by Tim Nicklin, electric vehicles product manager for Ford of Britain, headed for the M40 for the first leg of the trip.
Motorways are not the natural habitant of EVs and even driving at a conservative 40mph, much to the annoyance of many a truck driver, it was an energy-sapping experience. A lunch-stop at the Building Research Establishment in Watford was a welcome break and a chance to top-up the Connect’s lithium-ion battery pack.
Developed in conjunction with its electric vehicle partner, Azure Dynamics, the Connect Electric is the first of five full-electric and hybrid models Ford will be introducing in Europe by 2013 as part of its global electrification strategy. Following in the footsteps of the Connect will be the next generation Ford Focus Electric in 2012, hybrid and plug-in hybrid derivatives of the all-new C-MAX and another hybrid-electric model in 2013.
“Ford is developing a portfolio of electric vehicles that offer customers affordable, environmentally friendly technologies in vehicles they want and value,” said Nicklin. “The Bridgestone Eco-Rally is a great opportunity to showcase the first of these vehicles to go on sale.”
Suitably refreshed the Connect and its crew left Watford and headed south down the M1 towards the capital; much more the natural habitat of a battery-powered van. The sat nav took us around the north circular to Hanger Lane — rather than straight down the A5 to Marble Arch — through Ealing and then picked up the A4 at Chiswick. A rather circuitous route we thought, but the Connect Electric was now much happier tackling the stop-start driving of London’s congested roads, rather than motorways.
Like all EVs the Connect Electric is a doddle to drive. Because of the complete lack of noise and vibration emanating from under the bonnet it’s also vey relaxing, leaving the driver and passenger feeling fresh as a daisy; the early start to the day was a distant memory.
Much to our surprise we were one of the first to arrive at the staging point in Birdcage Walk, despite being one of the last to leave the mid-way pit stop. The sat nav was correct, after all.
Once everyone had arrived it was just a short run to the finish, led by Prince Charles’ alternatively-fuelled Aston Martin. The Connects crossed the line in tandem and still with over a quarter of their charge remaining despite just a short top-up in Watford.
Unlike the RAC Future Car Challenge, the Bridgestone Eco-Rally has no competitive element. It’s simply a celebration of what might lie ahead for the future of transportation and as always Ford is at the vanguard. The Transit Connect Electric is not a pipe dream, however; it’s a reality.
Full interview with Tim Nicklin, electric vehicles product manager for Ford of Britain.