Wanting to see how the latest electrics compare to the EV1, I ambled over to one of Ford's new City electric cars. Assembled in Norway by Ford's Th!nk division, the cars are clad in plastic bodies that seem to have been sourced from Fisher-Price. And at just under $20,000 each, they are expensive, though perhaps still within the range of what some concerned citizen might actually venture on an experimental vehicle.
I slip into the City's seat, turn the key and creep into traffic. Then, as soon as I see a long stretch of clear road in front of me, I floor it. The high-pitched whine rises, slightly. The car picks up speed, all the way to 47 mph, where it stays. The thing about the electric motor, I learn in a brief chat with a Ford engineer, is that it can be electronically set to mimic a rocket, or a golf cart. And the thing about car companies, it seems, is that at least for now they want to view electric vehicles more as 47-mph golf carts than as roadsters.
I park the City and jump back on the electric bus. In the three years since the EV1 was pulled from the market, carmakers seem to have trimmed a good deal of performance and speed from the pure electric car. So my quest to track down the future of the electric vehicle has produced mixed results. On one hand, mass-produced highway vehicles, for whatever reason, are clearly destined to run on gasoline for many years to come. The good news, however, is that the car - as a fundamental concept - is changing. The electric drive has arrived, and one day in the not-so-distant future, as I merge onto some freeway somewhere, I will again be able to accelerate in whining style.