A new charge that could transform city motoring

Millionaires don't usually drive electric runabouts. But, as Archie Norman tells Henry Biggs, it's the only way to travel
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Archie Norman is the Member of Parliament for Tunbridge Wells, a former chief executive of the Conservative Party, a former chairman of Asda and a millionaire. He is, perhaps, one of the last people one would expect to see arriving at the House of Commons in a minuscule, battery-powered, cheap hatchback made in India.

Archie Norman is the Member of Parliament for Tunbridge Wells, a former chief executive of the Conservative Party, a former chairman of Asda and a millionaire. He is, perhaps, one of the last people one would expect to see arriving at the House of Commons in a minuscule, battery-powered, cheap hatchback made in India.

As it turns out, however, Norman is somewhat of a zealot where electric cars, and his Reva G-Wiz AEV (Automatic Electric Vehicle) in particular, are concerned. "I believe this is the future," claims Norman. "People today see it as a gimmick, but in 10 years time there will be a lot of electric cars around."

The G-Wiz is imported by GoinGreen; a Leeds-based company founded by Steven Cain, whom Norman appointed as managing director of Asda during his time as chairman. Cain was travelling in India with his family when he encountered Reva, the manufacturers of the G-Wiz, and immediately decided it had great potential as a cheap, environmentally friendly, city runaround.

A G-Wiz should certainly prove thrifty, particularly in London where it is exempt from the congestion charge. The car costs just £5,599, doesn't attract road tax and GoinGreen estimates total running costs of just £1.62 a day. A full charge will take it about 40 miles, enough for five average commutes.

Norman has been driving his G-Wiz for over 18 months and believes he was the first London customer. He is clearly enamoured with the car: "There are zero emissions, it is totally silent and it takes up so little road space. It is also very, very easy to drive. It has two gears, forward and reverse, and the accelerator is basically a switch."

The G-Wiz is tiny at just two-and-a- half metres long. The interior is basic, with sliding windows, a body-coloured dash and four high seats. The two rear seats are tiny, but can be folded down to increase boot space.

As Norman points out, the G-Wiz is very well suited to MPs, most of whom commute a very short distance to Parliament. He adds: "Night and morning, I see my colleagues queuing for taxis or waiting for their cars. It seems pointless to have a whacking great car in London."

Norman claims he hates being chauffeured, preferring to control his own environment, and says he has never employed a driver. He is scathing of those that do: "I am very opposed to the association of big cars with success in business. That sort of status symbol causes divisions and creates the worst sort of grandeur and pomposity among businessmen."

He admits the car looks different and raises a few eyebrows: "My colleagues probably think I am slightly eccentric."

I discover this for myself on a couple of laps of Parliament Square. Other motorists allow it plenty of room, children wave at me and tourists momentarily turn their cameras away from Big Ben to snap pictures of the bright purple car.

The car is simplicity itself, one twist of the key and it is running but there is no noise, the only sign of life being a red light blinking on the dashboard. Twist a dial to the right of the dashboard to 'F' for forward, release the umbrella style handbrake and press the accelerator for smooth, silent progress. A top speed of 40 miles an hour just about allows it to keep up with urban traffic.

Norman is adamant that electric cars are the future of personal transport: "Battery technology is moving very fast," he says. "I think it reasonable to expect that, whereas today the batteries last 50 miles, in 10 years time they will probably do 400 or 500 miles and they will be much lighter. Smaller, lighter batteries will allow you to build bigger electric cars."

Once tipped as the Tory candidate for London Mayor, Norman is a fan of the Congestion Charge but thinks we need a viable public transport alternative: "The sheer capacity problems of the Tube are putting a lot of people off using it," he says. "We need to think harder about how to get people to switch to buses or bicycles. Simply painting white lines on the road to create a bus or cycle lane doesn't work."

Norman regularly uses public transport. ("I suffer on South West Trains, along with my constituents.") But would the sticker in the back of his little city car read, "My other car's a Ferrari"? No. Outside London, Norman's transport is a Volkswagen Golf.

And would he swap his city car for two Jaguars? "Oh no. To me, they are big fat cars and not my style, but I am sure they make some people happy."

You can contact Goingreen by calling 0113 247 0044, or by logging on to www.goingreen.co.uk

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