Rite of passage: why our children may never drive a combustion car

Published: 05 November 2021

► Many kids will learn to drive in electric cars
► Peugeot predicts children will skip ICE altogether
► CAR lad and dad team go head-to-head

Will our children ever drive petrol or diesel cars? New research by Peugeot suggests that many will leapfrog internal combustion engines (ICE) altogether, signalling the start of a new era of learning to drive.

The company claims that 40% of parents want their children to dodge fossil fuels for their driving lessons and graduate straight to electric vehicles (EVs). With the UK government committing to banning ICE by 2030, it’s no wonder that a quarter of parents are pestered by their children to make the switch earlier. 

My son’s 14 and we often discuss the future of motoring. Will he ever get to drive a car with a manual gearbox and master the art of clutch control? Will he have to check the oil and understand which pump to use at a petrol forecourt? Or will the binary simplicity of an EV dominate his motoring future?

To find out more, George and I headed to Bedford Autodrome for an entertaining afternoon spent learning to drive in an electric car.

Everything you need to know about electric cars

What’s it like to learn to drive in an EV?

George, who’s a life-long petrolhead but equally interested in the latest glut of electric cars, was given a thorough overview of the Peugeot e-208 and taught the basics of how EVs work and which driving styles would be best suited to driving a battery car.

George Pollard learning how electric cars work

Anyone who’s driven an EV will know they are straightforward to learn: there is no clutch pedal, they are – to all intents and purposes – automatic-only and it’s simply a case of climb in, nudge the gearlever into D and pull away. Over the years we’ve taught George the basics manoeuvring our car around the driveway, but Bedford Autodrome provided a much larger playground in which to hone his skills. 

After some practice laps under the expert eye of instructor Rob Jenkinson, he was soon lapping the short inner circuit, topping 75mph down the straights, swerving around slalom cones in an elk test and learning how to do emergency stops. His huge smile masked a serious point: EVs are fun to drive for any generation, but also much easier to learn in (contradicting Peugeot’s research finding that 28% of parents feared electric cars would be more complicated to learn in).

What’s it like to live with an electric car? We ask EV owners

Who’s more efficient? The acid test…

Just as George sailed past the armco for the umpteenth time, grinning like the Cheshire cat, a Peugeot exec sidled up to me with a surprise curveball. ‘You do know we’re going to test you against your son and see who’s a more efficient driver, don’t you?’ Err, no!

Driving a Peugeot e-208 around the Bedford Autodrome

Time to strap into the e-208, prepare it for volt-miser mode, take a deep breath and try to remember how to drive like I’m on fumes. I mean watt-watch. Over to George to find out how he got on – and who won the contest….

Lad vs dad: the EV showdown, by George Pollard

‘Like father like son, I have always had a passion for cars. When the email landed offering me the chance to drive an EV on track aged 14 I was hyped! I love driving and must have spent hundreds of hours on Forza Horizon 3 and Project Cars 2 on my Xbox, plus I occasionally get behind the wheel on our driveway at home. The Peugeot team gave me a tour of the e-208 and showed me the ropes before I was introduced to instructor Rob, who showed me how to drive it smoothly while protecting the charge.

‘It was great fun whizzing around in the EV on track and I found it easy to drive. Having no engine sound wasn’t that weird when the air-conditioning was blasting cold air, but when it was switched off it was eerily quiet. I couldn’t believe it when Rob told me we had reached 75mph down Bedford’s long straight. It was thrilling! Several laps later I knew the circuit and changed to Sport mode. I couldn’t feel any difference in the steering, but the acceleration felt faster. The freedom I had was unforgettable.

‘What we were really here for was to see who was the more efficient EV driver. The showdown was on and whoever averaged the highest miles per kilowatt hour (kWh) efficiency reading over five laps would be victorious. I put the car in regenerative braking mode and set off, gently accelerating, keeping my speed below 40mph and – most importantly – trying to avoid the brake pedal. I kicked myself afterwards when I realised I’d forgotten to turn off the air-conditioning. 

‘Five laps later and all I could do was nervously watch and wait. Dad was driving smoothly and calmly and looked like he would come out on top. I couldn’t believe it when the results were announced and I’d managed 5.0 miles per kWh, 0.5 ahead of my father. Result! I was surprised I won and left wondering what I could have achieved if I’d flicked the air-con off.  

Lad vs dad: 14-year-old George beat Tim Pollard when it came to conserving energy in a Peugeot e-208 challenge

‘Would I like to drive an EV as my first car? Electric cars are very easy to drive but the answer is no. I want to learn to drive with a manual transmission, so I can drive all types of cars – not just automatics. I feel that with a manual gearbox I would get more out of driving lessons and that a clutch is vital for learner drivers. EVs are so expensive today and I reckon my first car in a few years’ time is more likely to be a cheap petrol supermini. That said, I am very open to EVs and have been a passenger in so many of dad’s test cars. 

‘I reckon that within my lifetime I will certainly drive more EVs. The e-208 was very simple to get to grips with and I think that anyone my age could learn to drive an electric car with ease.’

Further reading on electric cars

The best electric cars and EVs

How much does it cost to charge an EV?

Our pick of the best cheap electric cars

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet