Ed’s let­ter

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - ALEX INWOOD

I’D LIKE YOU TO HON­ESTLY AN­SWER A SIM­PLE QUES­TION: HOW FAR DO YOU DRIVE EACH DAY? I’M NOT TALK­ING ABOUT YOUR WEEK­END AD­VEN­TURES, THE SUN­DAY JOYRIDES OR THE EARLY MORN­ING STRAFES ALONG DE­SERTED, SIN­U­OUS MOUN­TAIN PASSES, BE­CAUSE, HON­ESTLY, HOW OF­TEN DO WE AC­TU­ALLY DO THOSE?

No, I’m talk­ing about the type of driv­ing we all try to for­get. The te­dious, in­fu­ri­at­ing, mind-numb­ing grind of traf­fic, speed cam­eras and tail­gaters that, truth­fully, makes up 95 per­cent of our time at the wheel. Un­less you’re a truckie, a cab­bie, or you own a Camry, and are there­fore an Uber driver, sta­tis­tics sug­gest that your daily com­mute is 16km, one way. That’s the Aus­tralian av­er­age. So around 32km a day; 160km trav­elled in a work­ing week. Even ac­count­ing for am­bi­tious week­end ad­ven­tures, it’s likely you won’t drive more than 300km in a week – a dis­tance well within the reach of most modern EVS.

Now ask your­self this: will your next car pur­chase be an elec­tric one? Again, the data shows your first men­tal re­sponse will be “nope”.

There are a num­ber of glitches to po­ten­tial EV own­er­ship, but none is larger than the is­sue of range. It was, for a while, an om­nipresent thought, an un­pleas­ant smell that clung to any elec­tric car. Aus­tralians in par­tic­u­lar seemed to rel­ish rub­bish­ing EVS, our minds firmly on this brown land’s vast dis­tances and lack of charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture as we sagely shook our heads and said “Nah mate, they won’t work out here.”

But then the talk of range anx­i­ety faulted. It was slow at first, a slip­ping into the back­ground that oc­curred so nat­u­rally we barely no­ticed. You can thank Tesla for that. Say what you like about those Kool-aid chug­ging, tech-al­tar wor­ship­ping dis­ruptors from Cal­i­for­nia, but they changed the game. Talk of ranges leapt from a few hun­dred kays to 400 plus, and slowly but surely, fast charg­ers were drilled into the ground on key ar­te­ri­als. Now we have ‘su­per­charge high­ways’, a crest­ing wave of cut­ting-edge elec­tric SUVS from com­pa­nies as dis­parate as Jaguar and Hyundai that claim 450km ranges, and enough charg­ing points on the east coast to fea­si­bly drive from Mel­bourne to Cairns.

I’ll ad­mit that for a brief pe­riod I gen­uinely thought range anx­i­ety was dead. That it was an un­pleas­ant hic­cup of a new tech­nol­ogy, which thanks to progress, had been qui­etly taken out the back and shot. But, as hap­pens from time to time, I was wrong. Wheels has driven more elec­tric cars in the past two months than it has in the last decade and the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence has been fraught. It’s true we drove them much fur­ther than 32km a day, but the is­sues have been nu­mer­ous. Cars have thrown up cat­a­strophic sys­tem er­rors and re­fused to move, soft­ware glitches have drained bat­ter­ies at fear­some rates, charg­ing sta­tions have been non-re­spon­sive or equipped with the wrong type of plugs, cars have ar­rived with no charg­ing ca­bles at all, and the over­ar­ch­ing ex­pe­ri­ence has been one of real-world driv­ing see­ing most fall dis­ap­point­ingly short of their claimed ranges.

This mag­a­zine’s EV megatest (p72), which as far as we can tell is the first of its kind in Aus­tralia, was es­pe­cially am­bi­tious and chal­leng­ing. It did, how­ever, ce­ment one ir­refutable fact: ‘range anx­i­ety’ is a truly ap­pro­pri­ate la­bel. Mul­ti­ply the above prob­lems across six cars over four days and it’s lit­tle won­der that deputy ed­i­tor En­right re­turned to the of­fice a bro­ken man, his face painted with the strange, grim ex­pres­sion of some­one who has spent the last four hours in the left-hand lane on the Hume, his speed dropped be­low 90km/h, his nose tucked in be­hind a truck, his eyes glanc­ing furtively at the bat­tery gauge.

These prob­lems will, of course, even­tu­ally be ironed out. Few in­dus­tries move as quickly as the tech world, in­fra­struc­ture will con­tinue to de­velop, and for most own­ers, fit­ting a wall box at home will al­le­vi­ate, if not to­tally re­move, the anx­i­ety of day-to-day driv­ing. And the fu­ture is bright. Wheels reg­u­larly cham­pi­ons the ben­e­fits of elec­tric cars and it will con­tinue to so, but for now, there’s still a way to go be­fore Aus­tralia feels prop­erly ‘EV ready’.

I gen­uinely thought range anx­i­ety was dead. But, as hap­pens from time to time, I was wrong

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