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Plug-in a turn-off

Renault is bringing its plug-in Zoe in 2014.

But do we really care more about volts and hertz than kiloWatts and Newton-metres? And would you really put a green dream ahead of a showroom sticker or the boot in the back? Let's not get started on the range between charges, or the cost of a lithium-ion battery pack, because that's just plain draining.

European carmakers are chasing their green dream and have convinced a healthy chunk of the world's motoring media to drink the cordial, but real-world car buyers are not remotely interested in a plug-in reality in 2013. As for the Japanese, which have been hitting us hard with hybrids, Nissan is buying into the European experience because of its owners at Renault and Mitsubishi is dancing around the edges with the remarkably unremarkable - and over-priced - iMiEV.

Sales of cars like the iMiEV and Nissan Leaf, and even the electrically-powered Holden Volt hybrid, are absolutely tiny and showing no sign of lifting in Australia. Renault is bringing its plug-in Zoe in 2014 and, even though it looks good, it's not going to be The Answer.
Yet car companies continue to answer barrages of questions about electric motoring with big promises and talk about the electrification of motoring.

Push them on the detail, and mention Australia, and the reception gets a bit fuzzy. Remind them that Better Place, which planned an Australia-wide network of battery-swap stations and wall-to-wall plug-in points but failed on all fronts, and there is a complete breakdown.

A plug-in car might look good in Europe, and particularly Germany where wind and solar power are big, but Australia is vast and most of our electricity comes from burning coal. And that's not remotely green.

We've driven the BMW i3 and it's very good, and we've also had fun in a battery-powered Smart ForTwo, but things just don't add up. Yet the Frankfurt motor show is filled with electric dreams and plug-in promises, and some of them look pretty nice.

The Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive is even faster than the regular petrol-powered gullwing supercar, but don't ask about the range if you have your foot down on the floor.

But the Carsguide crew is more focussed on cars like Ford's EcoBoost family, which use tiny turbocharged engines to hit the green bullseye, and the move by other brands including Volkswagen into miserly three-cylinder motors. They are the realistic future, based on the reality behind the spin doctors' work at Frankfurt.

Even Nissan-Renault boss Carlos Ghosn, who is leading the electric charge, admits that a major shift is needed before plug-in power is accepted by real-world shoppers. He predicts the change will come when China goes online with large-scale production, and use, of electric cars.

As for Australia, electric motoring is not going to spark any time soon despite the hopes and dreams of a new generation. Right now, they are far more likely to be making the pragmatic decision and putting a deposit against a Mazda3 or a Toyota Corolla or even a Holden Commodore. They might be going for the eco-friendly engine, but there is no compelling need for plug-in power while you can still pump unleaded or diesel into the tank.

So, do you know someone who drives an electric car? No? I thought not.

This reporter is on Twitter: @paulwardgover
 

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