Henrik Moller is a retired sustainability scientist from Dunedin who takes an unbiased look at what’s happening in the world of electric vehicles – EVs. Here’s his first column for
Electric Vehicles (EVs) are on the rise in New Zealand: but are they really better for your purse, people and the planet? Will they revolutionise mobility? Could they even drive many repair, service and parts providers out of business? A group of “citizen scientists” have clubbed together in an organisation called ‘Flip the Fleet’ to pool data from their EVs each month. They pledge to put their cars to objective test and answer some of these more unsettling questions.
Techies recognise a “Gartner Hype Cycle” around new breakthroughs such as EVs. Excitement builds around proud “early adopters”, often leading to unrealistic expectations at first. This inevitably invites disillusionment or mistrust. Product improvement (such as better batteries for EVs) and investment in associated infrastructure (such as more rapid chargers along our highways) brings more sustained uptake of the new tech, with less hype.
Informed choice and adaptation eventually ushers in a new and better world. If EVs deliver even some of their promise, we will all benefit from low cost and more environmentally friendly motoring. They will also need ongoing support of dedicated motor equipment repairs and service providers to keep everyone safe and connected with each other. meaning “EVangelists” will deepen disillusionment. This plays into the hands of vested interests who spout misinformation to block the breakthrough because they are profiting from business as usual.
The absence of reliable information and the newness of the product leave a vacuum for people to believe whatever they want to believe. This makes it more likely that we either miss out on the opportunities, or get burnt by adopting too early. Well informed and open-minded mechanics, service providers and automotive dealers are important experts to guide us through this wave and make sure we get the best choices for New Zealanders as quickly as possible.
Flip the Fleet is dedicated to scientific analysis of locally sourced data from another important group of experts – that’s the early adopters who are already driving EVs. Owners of more than 1,000 EVs have signed up to upload data read from their EV dashboards or scan tools each month. They hooked up to EVs for different reasons, and they don’t like being pigeonholed – one owner told us that the first thing he did when he got his Leaf was to remove the “Zero Emissions” badges because “No-one was going to call me a greenie”!
Flip the Fleet is a voluntary project run by Dima Ivanov, a business benchmarking specialist, statistician Daniel Myall,and me, a sustainability scientist. All three of us love our Nissan Leafs but we are the first to admit that current EVs won’t meet everyone’s needs.
Two of us bought our Leafs to save money, the other mainly to combat climate change. We will explore the benefits and limitations of EVs in New Zealand in MotorEquipmentNews over coming months. We’ll cover battery care and replacement, general repairs and maintenance costs, emission reductions, fuel use, EVs to be avoided, and snippets of social research done alongside EV monitoring to explore how owners feel about their cars – for example, how does charging at home compared to visiting a petrol station fit into their weekly rhythms?
Some of the challenges we explore with EV owners are not much different from those faced by owners of combustion vehicles – but often there is a little twist for those who have switched to electric. For example, last month we asked the Flip the Fleet members how often they check their tyre pressures. Only about a third (36 percent) check them at least once a month (the best practice recommendation), most (48 percent) do it a couple of times a year, and six percent never check them – they rely on their mechanic during servicing or wait for the ‘Tyre Pressure Management System’ to flash a warning on their dash (these trigger at critically low pressure, way below the recommended pressure).
Tyres generally lose 1-2 psi per month, so most EV drivers are compromising their safety and energy efficiency by running on underinflated tyres. If you think that’s bad, what about the conventional vehicle owners?
Many EV owners check their tyres more frequently than when they owned a combustion vehicle, mainly because they want to maximise range on a full battery (part of range anxiety). So combustion vehicles probably have even flatter tyres than EVs. Clearly, we all have a job to do to get all car owners to pump up to keep safe, make their tyres last longer and waste less energy. This is important whether our fuel of choice is petrol, diesel or electricity.
Henrik Moller is a retired sustainability scientist from Dunedin and co-founder of Flip The Fleet. More information on EVs is available on discussion and resources pages of www.flipthefleet.org. Queries can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stakeholders on both sides can make the new tech roller coaster ride worse. Exaggerations by well-