April 09 2010
I recently went to the launch of the Suzuki Burgman hydrogen-powered electric scooter at City Hall, London, where the deputy mayor introduced the Japanese machine to the massed great, green and good. The Suzuki has a 220-mile range on a £3 tank of hydrogen. It’s near-silent, emits only water vapour and is expected to make it onto British streets at about £3,500 by, possibly, 2015.
Hydrogen fuel is trendy. Governments love describing the “hydrogen highways” of the future, when hydrogen vehicles of all sorts will be able to fill up and drive around emission-less.
The Suzuki is, as you would expect, a sleek motorcycle and everyone was very excited, not least because its fuel cell is from a Leicestershire company, Intelligent Energy. Why then, did I find myself feeling like the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes?
Four drawbacks occurred to me. First, you can’t buy it. Second, there are currently no hydrogen filling stations in all London. Third, only five or six stations are expected in the foreseeable future. And lastly, what’s touted as a benefit – that you can refuel in “less than five minutes” – seems to me a massive obstacle. Five minutes? What about when there’s a line of cars and vans at a rare filling station? You’ll be there for hours.
The thing is, I know about electric scooters. I consulted in 2008 on the UK launch of the first mass-market Chinese model. In China, some 100m of these Vespa-like machines, powered by ordinary car batteries, whirr about. They are dead cheap; the one I was involved with retailed here (and still does sporadically) at under £1,000, and offers free, green motoring – plug in overnight to charge, no tax, no parking charge, no maintenance. The problem was the charging bit. It was just too much trouble. What the public wanted was a scooter where you could slip the battery out and recharge it at home or in the office while you’re doing other things. And the lithium technology for that wasn’t available.
Enter James South, a professional poker player who has spent several years and much sweat developing the Econogo Yogo, the first detachable lithium-battery-powered electric scooter. Even though it has no reassuring Japanese brand name and no interest from government so far, I propose this is the future. It’s well made and finished, drives smoothly and silently, looks beautiful and with two batteries (you can opt for just one) delivers around 45 miles’ driving at up to 27mph in one version, 38mph in the other. The batteries are 11kg each but the average commuter will normally only need to lug one indoors at a time for a two-hour charge. The company, which is selling online only, can also customise your Yogo in a variety of ways.
I’m incredibly excited about the Yogo. I really hope, for their sake and the environment’s, that people get behind South’s dogged pursuit of a sustainable commuter scooter that you can actually buy.