Britain is in the throes of a fuel crisis. There is plenty of fuel to go around, but there aren’t enough drivers to get it to gas stations so the drivers can refuel. And panic buying has only made the situation worse, leaving many people who really need to use their car or van to work stranded as many gas stations are closed.
I’m fine though, thank you. My squeaky old Honda CR-V might be stuck, but the 2021 Ford Kuga PHEV it shares the driveway space with purrs pretty well on electricity. Unsurprisingly, car dealers in the UK are reporting a surge in inquiries about electric cars.
Rewind 21 years to the last major fuel crisis in Britain, and electric vehicles were virtually non-existent. But dealers were probably experiencing the same increase in demand for diesel cars thanks to their ability to go 50% farther than gasoline models on a full tank.
There was no shortage of tanker drivers in September 2000, but anger over rising fuel prices led farmers and truck drivers to block a series of oil refineries, strangling supplies to gas stations. Then the trucks started blocking the highways with slowdowns as activists called on the government to cut fuel taxes.
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Britain came to a halt as gas stations were drying up, and those who still had fuel are all too aware of the value of their stock. According to The Guardian, an independent retailer was selling fuel at £ 2.42 per liter, the equivalent of £ 4.20 today, or $ 22 per US gallon.
Short wheelbase, long legs
But by sheer luck, I had just landed a job as an automotive reviewer for my local newspaper during my senior year in college, and my first newspaper car had arrived. And it was only the most economical car on sale nationwide at that time.
The car was a Volkswagen Lupo SDI, a shortened Polo powered by a naturally aspirated 1.7-liter four-cylinder diesel. The horsepower and torque figures look laughable by modern turbocharged standards. It was only making 59 horsepower and 84 lb-ft, and it certainly wasn’t fast. Zero to 62 mph took 16.8 seconds, although its huge torque dispersion (no turbo lag, remember) meant it was a relaxing ride.
But what really made it relaxing was its ability to cover up to 64 miles of each UK sized gallon (and the fact that VW had kindly overflowed it before throwing the keys to me). Okay, so it wasn’t as frugal as the incredible lightweight 3L Lupo (94 mpg UK; 78 US), but even mated with a tiny 34 liter (9 US gal) tank it had a range of almost 500 miles, which means I didn’t have to worry about all those “sorry, no fuel” signs hanging at every gas station I passed.
Different fuel, similar story
Twenty-one years later, electricity gives me the same feeling of self-sufficiency. Well, maybe not so smug. The 35 mile WLTP electric range of my Ford Kuga PHEV (37 miles EPA for the equivalent Ford Escape) is long by PHEV standards and it’s a bliss to be able to fill it up in my driveway every night this week while every information station is full of stories of stranded motorists.
But it went well because I didn’t have to leave my city this week. I’m afraid to think how long it would take me to load-drive-load the 200 miles from my house to Heathrow Airport in London.