John-Paul Flintoff

G-Wiz driver meets his nemesis

Some years ago, I bought myself an electric car. The G-Wiz moved no faster than 40mph, not even downhill, and if I crossed London in it I would have to charge the batteries for six hours before attempting a return trip. But I was saving the planet, so I didn’t mind that people laughed at the G-Wiz every week on Top Gear.

Dale Vince, the zillionaire founder of the green energy utility, Ecotricity, took a different approach. He hired four Formula One engineers to build him an electric supercar that does nought to 100mph in 8.5 seconds, 170mph on the flat and 150 miles on a single charge of the batteries.

On Saturday he gave the Nemesis its first public outing in the RAC’s inaugural Brighton to London Future Car Challenge, which took place ahead of yesterday’s veteran rally.

“We wanted this to be the antidote to the G-Wiz,” Vince tells me brutally, “to the idea that electric cars are the kind of thing Noddy might turn up in.”

His car did have a certain dash, but my G-Wiz cost considerably less than the £750,000 he has spent. What’s more, the G-Wiz has more headroom, I boast.

“Well, I can take the roof off,” Vince says without missing a beat. As for the money, if he were to make another Nemesis it would cost less than a tenth as much as this prototype, which was built, he says, to encourage others.

He has no plans to build more cars, but does hope to try for a land-speed record in this one, and to drive it from John o’Groats to Land’s End in 24 hours, charging only at his company’s wind turbines.

Vince more closely resembles a rock star than a utility company plutocrat: he has long hair, ripped jeans and a big silver earring. But as sole owner of a company that generates wind energy, he stands to increase his £100 million fortune if we all switch to electric cars.

That’s not what, er, drives him. He’s a school failure who dropped out to spend ten years as a travelling hippy before dropping back in to build wind turbines and reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

He welded much of his first turbine himself, and has considerable mechanical skill, acquired from his haulier father and honed on the mobile homes in which he travelled as a hippy. But in other respects he seems the last person who should like fast cars. He’s a vegan, for heaven’s sake. The suede on the dashboard of the Nemesis isn’t suede at all but a synthetic alternative.

“How can a vegan like a car like this?” he asks, repeating my question. “Well, no animals died in the making of it, and I’ll try to make sure that no animals die when I drive it. I’m a treehugger, and a petrolhead.”

“If that’s a puzzle,” he continues, proudly patting the car, “then this is the answer.”

497 words. First published 8 November 2010. © Times Newspapers Ltd.

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