lead­ing ELEC­TRIC CARS: the charge

Right now the en­tire hu­man race has car trou­ble. There are about a bil­lion of them, they are pol­lut­ing our at­mos­phere, and they are run­ning out of af­ford­able fuel.

Element - - Transport - By Andy Ken­wor­thy

Most se­ri­ous com­men­ta­tors now agree that Peak Oil has ei­ther al­ready hap­pened or will hap­pen in the next few years. This means oil will be­come in­creas­ingly costly and risky to ex­tract, and the price of a tank of petrol or diesel is on a long-term up­ward spi­ral, mak­ing the elec­tric al­ter­na­tive in­creas­ingly at­trac­tive.

We may have got used to see­ing the oc­ca­sional hy­brid glid­ing along our roads, but there are cur­rently only a hand­ful of all-elec­tric pri­vate ve­hi­cles cruis­ing New Zealand’s streets. The newly formed As­so­ci­a­tion for the Pro­mo­tion of Elec­tric Ve­hi­cles (APEV) of New Zealand is hop­ing to change that. Kick-started with cash from the chair­man of APEV in Ja­pan, the as­so­ci­a­tion is be­ing hosted in the NZ Clean En­ergy Cen­tre in Taupo.

Freshly ap­pointed APEV ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Rob McEwen said: “The ben­e­fits of elec­tric ve­hi­cles are nu­mer­ous, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing the al­most $8 bil­lion a year we send over­seas to oil com­pa­nies, re­duc­ing green­house gasses that con­trib­ute to global warm­ing and in­creas­ing our en­ergy se­cu­rity through the use of lo­cal re­new­able elec­tric­ity.”

Nis­san, Mit­subishi and Gen­eral Mo­tors all have mass-pro­duced elec­tric cars on the mar­ket, and all the other ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers look set to fol­low suit within the next five years, in­clud­ing pres­tige names like BMW, Mercedes and Audi. APEV is work­ing with the pro­duc­ers, as well as trade as­so­ci­a­tions, parts man­u­fac­tur­ers and sup­pli­ers. But they are also look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties for kiwi com­pa­nies to get in­volved in this grow­ing global mar­ket.

Cur­rently the main thing stop­ping mo­torists from switch­ing to elec­tric is the cost. The Mit­subishi iMiEV four-door hatch­back is cur­rently priced at $60,000, more than dou­ble the price of its 1.5 litre petrol equiv­a­lent, and the same price as a new two-litre BMW.

McEwen says: “Pre­lim­i­nary stud­ies show that the ma­jor­ity would be happy to drive an elec­tric ve­hi­cle if we could make the num­bers work. All other things be­ing equal, if the iMiEV was the same price as its petrol brother, they would be fly­ing off the shelves.” The ma­jor play­ers are ob­vi­ously aware of this, and are work­ing to bring the price down. This in­cludes pro­pos­als to lease the ve­hi­cle bat­tery packs rather than sell­ing them, both to re­duce the ini­tial spend and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for fu­ture up­grades.

As well as new cars, there is also a grow­ing in­ter­est in con­vert­ing con­ven­tional cars to elec­tric power. Con­ver­sion guide­lines are now in place, and cer­ti­fiers are be­ing trained to in­spect work to en­sure it meets an ac­cept­able stan­dard. The aim is to get con­ver­sion prices for ex­ist­ing cars to about $20,000, or about $10,000 if the bat­tery sys­tem is leased.

In the past an­other hur­dle was whether an elec­tric car would be fast enough, but with a grow­ing num­ber of elec­tric rac­ing cars out there, and the mass-pro­duced Tesla Road­ster Sport clock­ing up 0 – 100 kph in 3.7 sec­onds those doubts have all but dis­ap­peared. In­stead peo­ple fear run­ning out of bat­ter­ies be­fore their drive is done.

But McEwen points out that about 90% of New Zealand’s cars in are driven less than 85km per day, which is well within the range of to­day’s elec­tric ve­hi­cles. And with so many homes in New Zealand al­ready equipped with pow­ered up garages suit­able for charg­ing, he be­lieves there is lit­tle now stand­ing in the way of a mo­tor­ing rev­o­lu­tion.

Nis­san, Mit­subishi and Gen­eral Mo­tors all have mass-pro­duced elec­tric cars on the mar­ket, and all the other ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers look set to fol­low suit within the next five years.

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