THE increase in fuel tax has sparked predictable radio chatter this week about the cost of motoring. Apart from ordinary families facing another belt in the budget, experts from all points of the compass talked about the future of fossil fuel and the hybrid and plug-in electric cars already on the road.
One spoke of fuel cell cars that generate on-board electricity (but not of the hydrogen stations needed to keep them going).
The reality is that electric cars, despite big talk by everyone up to global head of Nissan-Renault Carlos Ghosn, are struggling for traction across the world.
So far this year, only 200 Australians have bought a battery car. We don’t know how many are with ordinary motorists or government departments and councils.
The big problems for battery cars are obvious: cost and “range anxiety”. The price problem will never go away until governments are prepared to provide the sort of subsidies that have boosted sales in Europe and the US going back to the original Toyota Prius. The Australian list price for a Leaf is $39,990 — it’s similar in size to the Pulsar you can buy for less than $20,000. The Volt is $59,990.
Range anxiety is the fear of running short of charge, even though Australians typically commute less than 100km daily.
Both challenges came into sharp relief this week as I slid into the latest electric contender, the BMW i3. It’s a brilliant car, despite four safety stars, trendy, efficient and drives well.
BMW has an optional range-extender engine that lifts the distance between charges to 300km but there is still the problem of price — are people prepared to pay at least $63,900 for a future car that’s here and now?