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The Availability and Affordability of Electric Cars

Updated on November 17, 2013

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.

All Electric BMW Mini Car
All Electric BMW Mini Car

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) .

Traditional British Battery-Powered Milk Float
Traditional British Battery-Powered Milk Float

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).

Renault Twizy All Electric Car
Renault Twizy All Electric Car

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 the All Electric BMW Mini
Refuelling the All Electric BMW Mini

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.

Nissan Leaf All Electric Car
Nissan Leaf All Electric Car

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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    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting.

      Recently I noticed an electric car plug-in station at a parking garage here in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

      Can electricity be made in sufficient quantity without burning fossil fuels or using nuclear power? What will be a feasible power source for generating electricity? Wind? Solar power? Hydro? Hydrogen? Other?

    • lime light power profile image

      lime light power 

      9 years ago from NY NY

      Top notch hub and good research. I recently wrote a good complimentary hub on charging times and thought I might share here.


    • Doc Snow profile image

      Doc Snow 

      9 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Yes, there are, Rik! These may not be easy times, but they are interesting ones.

    • Rik Ravado profile imageAUTHOR

      Rik Ravado 

      9 years ago from England

      Thanks for this Doc. There are certainly lots of new designs in the pipeline!

    • Doc Snow profile image

      Doc Snow 

      9 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Good Hub, Rik--thanks!

      An electric that looks like a lot of fun--it actually comes in both straight electric and hybrid versions--is the Aptera. It came close, but didn't win, the automotive X-prize competition just concluded, but is unquestionably the most market-ready of the competitors. It's currently available for sale, but unfortunately only in California, as that is the only place that has appropriately trained technicians to maintain it! They hope to expand throughout the US in the relatively near future.

    • Rik Ravado profile imageAUTHOR

      Rik Ravado 

      9 years ago from England

      funride - thanks for sharing your thoughts. In the UK we are slowly generating more renewable electricity and beginning to seriously look at wave and wind power. As you say, both of our nations are fortunate to have lots of access to wave power.

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 

      9 years ago from Portugal

      Well, my opinion it´s much influenced by the fact that I´m Portuguese and Portugal doesn´t have oil... so I really believe we must change our energy politics. I own hybrid cars since day one here in Portugal and if I could make a bigger change I would make sure every petrol as well as diesel cars here were converted to electrical. For a country which doesn´t have oil it doesn´t make any sense to keep insisting on using non-renewable energies, specially because we get sun all year around as well as lots of wind. And if this sources were not enough we still have rivers and ocean waves capable of producing enormous quantities of energy... unfortunately the Portuguese government are not clever enough to see this.

      I´m optimistic and sure that in future there will be better energies than oil... oil has already done enough harm to human kind and to the planet :(

    • Rik Ravado profile imageAUTHOR

      Rik Ravado 

      9 years ago from England

      Good point dahoglund, it will reduce noise and pollution. As for the electricity, it depends where it comes from. If wind or nuclear generated then it would be carbon neutral. The fuel cell would also be good as that just uses a substance like hydrogen for fuel.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Will it really cut down on the need for fossil fuels.The electricity has to be produced from something.

    • Rik Ravado profile imageAUTHOR

      Rik Ravado 

      9 years ago from England

      Trinsick - Thanks for your input!

    • Trinsick profile image


      9 years ago from Cali

      I still think we're a ways out of the electric car to be viable.


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