The Availability and Affordability of Electric Cars
Are Electric Cars Sales About to Take Off?
So what is happening with Electric Cars? Have we reached the Tipping Point for this technology? Are they about to become the next big thing or is the electric car destined for the scrap heap along with optical disc players, videophones and Betamax video players?
The argument comes down to new technology and the right time to adopt. The landline video phone never really caught on although most of us are now used to using video mobile phones or a web camera for 2 way dialogue on our PC via broadband. 3D TV and movies are finally coming of age. But what about the electric car?
In the UK milk was delivered to the doorstep by electric milk floats for years but this was the only area where independent electric power gained a foothold on our roads.
Electric Milk Floats and Better Batteries
Milk floats were incredibly slow in terms of both velocity and acceleration (due to huge, heavy lead acid batteries) and have largely disappeared from British roads because today most of us buy our milk from the supermarket.
So what has changed? Well, the cost of fossil fuels is rising as demand exceeds supply. Also battery technology has improved significantly.
Today’s batteries are much lighter and have
a greater capacity to store electrical energy.
This means the range the car can travel on a full charge is much
greater. Battery technology is shifting away from lead acid to newer technologies such as Lithium ion (Li-ion for short) .
Capital Costs of Electric Propulsion
Arguably the modern electric car is also more female friendly than the traditional petrol/diesel versions. After all they are quiet, clean and compact – ideal for short journeys to the shops or picking the kids up from school.
They are also ideal for commuting in congested cities being small, quiet and cheap to run. Technological progress is reducing the cost of electric cars and there is massive political pressure to introduce electric cars onto the roads in order to reduce carbon emissions and pollution.
So what is holding back progress? The biggest issue is probably the initial capital cost of the car. An electric car is typically as much as 80% more expensive than a conventional car if you include the purchase of the battery. However there are schemes being proposed where you can lease the battery and this includes battery swapping so no recharging is required. This also avoids the high capital outlay for replacement batteries (typically every 5 years).
Subsidy for Electric Car Purchase
Some governments are also helping with subsidised electric car purchase. For example, in the UK a subsidy of £5000 is available and the new coalition government have promised not to scrap this as part of their spending cuts.
Other incentives include no road tax or London congestion charge for electric vehicles as well as no duty or tax on electricity for cars.
Another reason people are reluctant to buy now is as demand increases and electric cars are mass produced, the price of new electric cars will fall making the depreciation on the early cars much greater. This is the penalty that all early adopters of new technology face. Think buyers of the first model of the Apple iPhone or iPad.
Refuelling Electric cars
The next issue is one of refuelling. Currently there is as much money in the refuelling industry (service stations and fuel delivery) as in car manufacturing.
Even if a network of charging points is established, where does than leave the traditional filling station and the network of traditional fuel deliveries?
With the relatively short range of these vehicles many people will choose to recharge their car in their own garage at home overnight using cheap-rate off-peak electricity rather than waiting for their battery to be fast charged at a service station.
One alternative is the battery swap. With this business model you don’t own the battery and the filling station swaps your empty battery for a full one. It is claimed this could be done in one minute, eliminating the recharge time.
One of the major problems with the issue of public recharging of batteries or battery swapping is compatibility. Is it possible to have standard batteries for all makes of car as well as standardised hookups for recharging? Bear in mind that the mobile phone industry is still grappling with the charger compatibility problem!
Competitive Technologies for the All Electric Car
So what technologies compete with the all electric car?
The oil companies and distributors of traditional fossil fuels, petrol (gasoline) and diesel, are experimenting with bio-fuels. These would fit in much better with their current business model than all electric cars.
Hybrid cars, that combine a traditional combustion engine with local electricity generation also provide competition for the all electric car. These cars generate electricity during normal use and use the accumulated energy to power the car so reducing the use of conventional fuel.
However, once the issues of refuelling, battery cost and range are solved then the all electric car provides a much more radical solution to congested roads, pollution and availability of suitable fuel.
The most exciting new technology that might prove a show stopper is the fuel cell. Unlike a battery, that simple stores electric energy, the fuel cell generates electricity. This offers the potential of an all electric car that only rarely needs to be refuelled and would have a huge range. Potential fuels include hydrogen.
Electric Cars available in 2012
So what production all electrical cars are either available now or will be available during 2012?
The following are full sized cars already in production:
- Tesla Roadster, USA, EU and Asia, li-ion powered sports car by Tesla Motors with 245 miles (394 km) range, 125 mph (201 km/h) top speed and 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in 3.7 seconds acceleration.
- Th!nk City, Europe, with a 180 kilometres (110 miles) range, and a top speed of 110 kilometres per hour (70 mph).
- Mitsubishi i MiEV, Japan and Hong Kong, lithium-ion battery pack with 130 kilometres (80 miles) range, and a top speed of 130 kilometres per hour (80 mph).
Cars available this year include:
- Mass-EVis developing in Reading, UK by Turbo Electric Ltd. This car is targeted to be on sale 2011 at a price of £7,000 to the public and charges directly from the UK socket. Roughly the size of a Ford Focus C-Max, will do in excess of 100 miles and motorway speeds. With trailer generator will do in excess of 500 miles on one tank of petrol.
- Mini E from BMW, with more than 500 cars leased for field testing in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and France. BMW plans to follow in mid 2011 with a similar trial with the BMW Active E all-electric vehicle which will accommodate seats for four adults and cargo.
- Nissan Leaf with sales scheduled to begin in the United States, Japan, the Netherlands, and Portugal in December 2010, and the U.K. and Ireland in February 2011, with global market availability planned for 2012.
So Will You be an Early Adopter?
Are you going to consider being a pathfinder and buy a new electric car next year?
The initial outlay in purchasing an all electric car will at least 50% more than an equivalent car powered by a combustion engine.
However, the fuel and running costs for the electric car will be far lower compared to petrol (gas) or diesel and the running costs will seem even better in a few years time, with the rising cost of fossil fuels, when compared to the cost of running a conventional car.
Renault Twizy Electric Car, Paris Motor Show
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