Sales of all-electric, battery powered cars have got off to a disappointingly slow start, not just in the UK but globally. Perhaps the whimsical and rather brilliant television advertisement which Renault is now running for its new range of ZE (zero emission) electric vehicles will change things. It is clever and funny enough to deserve to.
The advertisement devised by global communications giant Publicis creates a fantasy retro-world in which everyday electric devices – shavers, hair driers, vending machines, computers, photocopiers – are actually powered by internal combustion engines. So they make chugging noises, vibrate and have large exhaust pipes attached which emit clouds of smoke.
We see a woman who wants to whisk a cake mix cranking up her electric mixer by heaving on a length of string. We see a waiter fetching the credit card reader to a diner who wants to pay, but the chip and pin machine grinds to a halt. The waiter pulls a tiny red fuel cannister out of his top pocket to refuel and restart it.
“You’ve already switched to electricity for many things, so why not for travelling,” says a soothing female voice at the end.
Well, because the batteries will go flat after I’ve driven only 100 miles. Because I don’t know where I can find a recharging point. And because electric cars are considerably more expensive than their conventional counterparts, even after taking the government’s £5,000 per vehicle “plug in car grant” into account.
Renault’s advert gently shoves these worries aside. Change your outlook, it says. Petrol and diesel-fuelled internal combustion engines are clunky, dirty, inconvenient, outmoded…now is time to get a car which you fill using a plug and socket.
We will have to wait and see if it works. This year Renault plans to launch three electric car models in the UK, following on from the electric van it launched in December last year. In March the strange, two seater Twizy arrives (actually classified as a quadricycle, not a car) followed by the Fluence family saloon in May and then the Zoe super mini in the autumn.
The latter will have an unrivalled range for a battery powered car, claims Renault – although it won’t yet reveal how far a fully charged Zoe can go.
One important innovation is that Renault will not sell you the batteries for the car – instead you have to rent them, making monthly payments. This means drivers will have no worries about having to pay a large bill when batteries expire or go wrong; they will be replaced. Renault says this arrangement also brings the price of its electric car models down to the same level as their diesel powered equivalent vehicle once the plug in car grant has been factored in.
If I had a spare £14,000 and needed a new car, this advert would make me look at Renault’s range first. But the three-year-old diesel Vauxhall Corsa with its ingenious, built in cycle rack, is going to have to last us a few years yet.
In the meantime, it would be good to see similarly perception-shifting advertisements created for the other green technologies which need to enter the mass market in the coming decade if we are to make big carbon cuts. Such as solid wall insulation, LED lighting, air and ground source heat pumps, even nuclear power stations.
Going green isn’t easy – indeed, it feels like it is getting harder – but perhaps the advertising industry’s use of humour, whimsy and fantasy can help us on our way.