THERE was an unnerving silence inside the Nissan Leaf, despite there being four of us inside it.
It was silent, not because we’d had a falling out, but because there was no engine noise. And we were creeping backwards, out of the parking bays in Glyn Square in Wolverton and heading towards the grid roads.
The electric car is one of three to be introduced to the Wolverton area as part of the country’s first E-Car Club – a car rental scheme using only electric cars.
Marketing and Community Engagement Manager for the E-Car Club, Charlie Quigley, said: “It’s the UK’s first entirely electric car rental club. It provides flexibility for our customers to gain access to the car when they need it without owning one. You can book it for an hour, up to a couple of days.
“The reason we chose Milton Keynes is because of how it was set up – designed on car ownership. We chose Wolverton in particular because of the poor public transport system there. Wolverton and Milton Keynes both showed high demand for it.”
With a one-off payment of £50, you become a member of the E-Car Club. After that, you don’t pay a penny until you use the car, and that comes in at around £6.50 per hour.
Charlie said: “It is ideal for people who only use a car occasionally, for students who go away to university and then come home and need a way of getting about for a few hours.
“It’s not really intended for people to use it on long journies because of the range the car has.
“If you have an aggressive style and like putting your foot down, the mileage will obviously decrease, as will using the heating or air conditioning.
“The range on it is around 75-80 miles before it requires a full charge.”
And that can take up to eight hours – so don’t expect to rent it for a trip to East Midlands airport for a pick-up unless you intend on spending the night.
But what it does mean is that there’s a cheap, environmentally-friendly option of getting around, without the hassle of car maintenance.
While the cockpit may have looked like it came out of a Blade Runner props room, the car was surprisingly easy to understand – certainly no more difficult than when you step into any car for the first time.
The whole process of taking the car out for a spin feels a bit like a step forward into the future.
First of all, you need to book in advance, be it online or on your smart phone, to take the car out. ‘In advance’ can be as long as a few months or as little as two minutes depending on the car’s availability.
There are no keys as such. You take your membership card and simply wave it over the reader behind the windscreen – a satisfying ‘beep’ unlocks the doors.
If the last kind customer has done their bit for the club, they’ll have plugged the car in at one of the three E-Car charge points in Wolverton and Milton Keynes. Wave your card over the charger, and it will release the cable.
Then, you open the glove box, pick up the familiar looking Chip & Pin machine, punch in your number and you collect the fob. It’s a key-less start, so, with your foot on the brake, you press the start button, select the gear, release the handbrake and you’re away.
After that, well, it’s a car. It goes like a 1.8 litre when you put your foot down, but the strange silence is still deafening with just the sound of the tyres on the road underneath you. If you try hard, you can hear a faint electrical hum.
“No one really has an idea what an electric car should feel like,” Charlie added. “You might see them around and see them as a bit of a toy car, but whenever people get up close, they are very normal and look the same as a normal car. It’s fun to drive too.
“The one thing that stands out is the noise. You turn it on and you wonder whether it is actually turned on at all.
“You can’t hear anything from the engine. The great thing about the car club is that anyone thinking of buying an electric car can try it out and have a go to see if they like them. I’d certainly think about buying one.”
The official launch of the E-Car Club happens this Saturday in Wolverton. For more information, visit www.e-carclub.org