Elec­tric ve­hi­cles Will we ever see them in any great num­bers on our roads?

New Zealand Classic Car - - Price On -

I’d have to say that my own at­tempts to con­vert my Zephyr to run on elec­tric­ity alone proved to be a dis­mal fail­ure — for a num­ber of rea­sons. Find­ing a pow­er­ful-enough elec­tric mo­tor was the first chal­lenge. Even fit­ting a 0.2kw (ex wash­ing ma­chine) to each wheel didn’t pro­vide the power nec­es­sary to do the all-im­por­tant wheel­ies (read: ‘sus­tained loss of trac­tion’) at boy-racer events. An­other prob­lem was find­ing an elec­tri­cal re­tailer that could sup­ply sev­eral kilo­me­tres of three-core flex for the ex­ten­sion cord, not to men­tion the school kids walk­ing past my gate and trip­ping over the cord and thereby pulling the plug out of the socket in my garage. As well, with the con­ti­nen­tal kit on the back of the con­vert­ible prevent­ing the fit­ting of a tow bar for the trailer (to hold the huge coil of ca­ble), the ca­ble roll went onto the back seat, which caused the seat back to catch fire, thanks to the fric­tion as it un­rav­elled.

Bat­ter­ies were the fi­nal straw. It was ob­vi­ous that some 600 of the 1.5-volt torch bat­ter­ies were never go­ing to be a suc­cess­ful power source, hence the tri­als with ex­ten­sion cords, so I aban­doned the ex­er­cise in the de­vel­op­ment stages.

I’m jest­ing of course! In any event, a clas­sic car pow­ered by an elec­tric mo­tor of any kind will never sound as good as a petrol mo­tor with a de­cent ex­haust sys­tem. How­ever, I’m fol­low­ing the progress of elec­tric cars with some in­ter­est, and, as some read­ers will re­call, I have writ­ten about them pre­vi­ously. Here’s an up­date.

Tak­ing off

Se­ri­ously, and con­trary to my pre­vi­ous pre­dic­tions, elec­tric cars do seem to be tak­ing off (fig­u­ra­tively speak­ing), with Tesla (US) seem­ingly the lead­ing man­u­fac­turer, and, to be hon­est, its pro­mo­tional mod­els look quite good. How­ever, it would ap­pear that its sales pre­dic­tions have fallen rather short of what they need to be to en­sure prof­itabil­ity.

Tesla re­port­edly con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate when it comes to long-range elec­tric ve­hi­cles (EVS). But that may not be the case for long. A slew of au­tomak­ers have plans to roll out EVS with a range of 320km or more by 2020, and many of these up­com­ing ve­hi­cles are high-end lux­ury cars, mak­ing them di­rect com­peti­tors with Tesla’s Model S.

By way of ex­am­ple, Porsche’s fully elec­tric car will be on the road be­fore the end of the decade. Porsche con­firmed, in De­cem­ber 2015, that it would in­vest some $1.09 bil­lion in new fa­cil­i­ties to be­gin pro­duc­tion of its first all-elec­tric car. It will be based on a con­cept Porsche re­vealed last Septem­ber, dubbed the ‘Mis­sion E’.

Like the con­cept car, the pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cle is ex­pected to have a range of about 500km per charge and will be ca­pa­ble of charg­ing to about 80 per cent in just 15 min­utes. How­ever, it’s worth not­ing that the range is prob­a­bly based on Euro­pean test­ing and not EPA stan­dards, so it might be closer to around 390km. In ad­di­tion to the long range and quick charg­ing time, the car will be ca­pa­ble of go­ing from zero to 96.5kph in just 3.5 sec­onds.

Audi will be­gin pro­duc­tion of its fully elec­tric SUV by 2018. It con­firmed, in Jan­uary 2016, that it plans to be­gin pro­duc­tion of its first all-elec­tric SUV at its Brus­sels plant in 2018. The new ve­hi­cle will be heav­ily in­spired by the com­pany’s e-tron Quat­tro con­cept, which the com­pany orig­i­nally un­veiled at the In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Show in Frank­furt in Septem­ber 2015. Its new SUV will have three mo­tors, a range of 500km on a sin­gle charge, and quick-charg­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the com­pany also con­firmed in Jan­uary. The name of the new car has not been of­fi­cially an­nounced, but it is ru­moured to be called the ‘Q6’.

Volvo’s first fully elec­tric car will ar­rive in 2019. Volvo aims to sell 1 mil­lion elec­tri­fied ve­hi­cles by 2025 and plans to bring its first fully elec­tric car to mar­ket by 2019. The com­pany has not yet shared range de­tails for its EV, and it hasn’t said which of its ve­hi­cles will be the first to go fully elec­tric.

Bud­get con­scious

The ma­jor prob­lem that I see is the cost of a new elec­tric car. For ex­am­ple, Telsa’s Model X has a ten­ta­tive price of $150K–$200K! I can’t en­vis­age a great take-up of these for, for in­stance, gov­ern­ment-depart­ment fleet ve­hi­cles. At to­day’s prices, a for­ward-think­ing em­ployer could buy three Ford Mus­tangs (yeah!) with the same amount of money — and they’d sound heaps bet­ter go­ing past! For the more bud­get con­scious, Nis­san’s Leaf model has sold out in New Zealand and wannabe pur­chasers will need to im­port theirs at an ap­prox­i­mate cost of $20K–$45K.

An­other im­por­tant is­sue is where the bat­tery can be charged. With pro­jected driv­ing ranges be­tween 100km and ap­prox­i­mately 400km, go­ing for a cruise in the more lim­it­e­drange EVS will be much like when I had a Har­ley-david­son with what was known as a ‘peanut’ tank. With a range of just 80km be­fore hav­ing to switch to re­serve, and then around no more than 18km left be­fore splut­ter­ing to a halt, cruises were lim­ited to those be­tween petrol sta­tions! And that was en­sur­ing that you set off on the cruise with a full tank.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures I have ob­tained (and as­sum­ing that the in­ter­net site is ac­cu­rate), there are ap­prox­i­mately 500 or so plug-in elec­tric cars in New Zealand as at April 2016, although an­other site claims that, at the end of 2015, there were some 695. Maybe some of them have short-cir­cuited?

Trends

Z En­ergy (for­merly Shell) main­tains that over­seas trends show that most EV own­ers want to be able quickly top up their bat­tery’s charge at any op­por­tu­nity. The first pub­lic rapid-charg­ing sta­tion in New Zealand opened in Whangarei in 2014. Ap­par­ently, as of July 2016, Z En­ergy and charge.net.nz are in­stalling Tri­tium Veefil rapid-charg­ing sta­tions at sites in Auck­land, Wellington, and Christchurch. These rapid charg­ers de­liver up to 50kw of DC power di­rectly into an EV’S bat­tery and can top up an en­try-level EV, like a Nis­san Leaf, in the time it takes to buy and drink a cup of cof­fee. If your EV is run­ning on empty, a fill-up will only cost be­tween $5 and $10 and will give you an­other 120km of range (the dis­tance you can drive be­fore you’ll need to top up). Given the av­er­age Kiwi com­mute in ur­ban cen­tres only clocks in at 22km per day, this more than cov­ers most needs. Which means that ‘off-road­ing’ in an EV is not an op­tion at this time, and head­ing into the wilds of Cen­tral Otago is off the ta­ble as well — which will be good news for Search and Res­cue, I reckon!

On the up­side, ap­par­ently there was a thought that, at least in Auck­land, EVS would be al­lowed to use the bus lanes — pre­sum­ably as some sort of in­cen­tive to make you want to own one. But then, given that some of the EVS don’t look too dis­sim­i­lar to your av­er­age Toy­otas, Nis­sans, and Maz­das of the same era, any fool can glue an EV badge on the back of their petrol or diesel car and prob­a­bly get away with it. In fact, I’m go­ing to make some EV badges for the Ze­phyrs, just in case!

So, will we see a sig­nif­i­cant rise in the num­ber of EVS on the road? Un­til ev­ery petrol sta­tion has a top­ping-up charg­ing fa­cil­ity, and hav­ing re­gards to the prices of the half-de­cent mod­els, prob­a­bly not in the fore­see­able fu­ture — un­less you only in­tend to drive close to home.

In the mean­time, drive safely out there — and try not to have any ‘shock­ing’ ex­pe­ri­ences!

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