Electric shock Write on Motoring

15 Июн 2014 | Author: | Комментарии к записи Electric shock Write on Motoring отключены
REVAi Electric Cars

Electric shock

Is the government’s £5,000 electric car grant enough of a discount on electric cars to offset the perceived drawbacks?

The term ‘Electric vehicle’ conjures up all sorts of imagery… milk floats, electric wheel chairs, fork lift trucks and childrens radio control toy cars. But a serious replacement to an everyday petrol or diesel car – sure not? And that’s part of the problem facing the government’s current incentive to kick-start the uptake of electric vehicles in the UK.

Electric cars are not a new phenomenon. As far back as the mid 19 th century car makers were experimenting with electricity, where it was found to be one of the preferred methods for propulsion due to its reliability and smoothness. Gradually however, developments in internal combustion engine design meant that electric vehicles were relegated to secondary ancillary applications by the early twentieth Century, although electric vehicles were to enjoy various revivals in the later part of it.

The energy crisis of the 1970s and 80s triggered desperate hope that electric power offered an escape from the closing net of the increasingly expensive and volatile oil market. Yet the resulting designs were way off the mark in providing a viable transport alternative… remember  the Sinclair C5! Admittedly better designs emerged in the 1990s – especially in America, which saw the Honda EV Plus Hatchback and Toyota RAV4 EV.

In 2003 GoingGreen launched the G-Wiz electric quadricycle which became the world s best selling EV. However because of its classification as a quadricyle, it didn’t have to pass safety legislation and perhaps this is just as well given its diminutive size and limited speed of 40 mph.

It has only been much more recently that full blown electric cars have come to market that offer a more serious alternative to combustion power. The Mitsubishi I MiEV was launched for sale in 2010 and since then other electric cars have also come onto market. These include the Think City, REVAi, Buddy, Citroen C1 Evie, Tata Indica Vista EV and Smart ForTwo and Tata Indica

Vista EV.

But what has influenced the electric revival? The combination of rising fuel prices and environmental concerns means new cars have to be more efficient than ever. Recent European commission figures revealed average emissions from new cars fell by 5% in 2009, while data from the UK s car industry revealed that in January the market share for cars with CO2 emissions under 100g/km rose more than 65%.

Of the nine cars that have qualified for the plug-in car grant, five – the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Peugeot iOn, Citroën C-Zero and Smart fortwo electric drive – are either available for sale or lease now, or will be on forecourts in the next few months. The Tata Vista will follow later in the year and three plug-in hybrids – the Vauxhall Ampera, Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius – are scheduled to launch early next year.

Perhaps the electric vehicle making the biggest entrance was Nissan’s electric ‘Leaf’, which went on sale in the UK in March of this year, although at a price of £30,990 (£25,990 with the government plug-in-car-grant) it’s not exactly affordable for a family car and this brings us to examine a number of hurdles affecting electric vehicles.

High Purchase Cost

According to green motoring website,‘The Next Green Car’, high price of batteries means that electric cars are pretty much double the price of their petrol or diesel counterparts and for most individual consumers, that’s just far too expensive. Although the government is in effect offering customers a £5,000 discount, the first nine cars to qualify for the scheme all cost more than £20,000 in the first place – hardly an affordable option.

People who are more likely to use this financial incentive to purchase electric vehicles are fleet buyers of commercial vehicles. Councils and regional governments have an incentive to meet Co2 targets from enforced legislation. They can also manage fleets of cars better, with less concern on initial purchase prices and subsequent residual values.

For example, small bus fleets or local delivery services that operate from a hub and travel relatively short distances will benefit from vehicles that are cleaner, more economical and well within the batteries range. For this type of user there is a stronger case for switching over to electric vehicles.

Lack of existing infrastructure

But another problem for private electric car users is the limited number of available charging points. Although 13,500 extra points have been promised by the government, it’s still a long way to go before manyareas have coverage.

Auto Express reported back in February (Issue 1153) that many of the electric charging points within London are not free as might be expected. Instead the use of many charging points require registration both with the relevant local authority and the issuing electric provider. This will alienate many prospective buyers by adding extra inconvenience and cost.

Although it is expected that the majority of people would charge their electric cars at home, for many living in flats and houses without car parks or garages this would prove impossible – not helped by the fact that standard household extension leads are not suitable for handling the current needed to charge an electric car.

The last few years has seen research studies into the use of electric cars. ‘Cabled’ (Coventry and Birmingham low Emission Demonstrators) is the largest of eight public trials taking place in the UK as part of the Technology Strategy Board’s £25m Ultra Low Carbon demonstrator programme. The study has shown that the low numbers of existing charging points hasn’t proven to be an issue. Professor Brian Price from Aston University explains:

“The majority of people on the study charged their electric car when at work or at home, as it is simply more convenient then. Obviously if an electric car user didn’t have this facility then access to a public charging point would become more crucial.”

One of the Electric charging points on the CABLED scheme

Range anxiety

Up until now one of the biggest put offs of electric vehicles is ‘range anxiety’ – the fear of running out of power before the destination is reached.

Although battery technology and efficiency is set to improve with manufacturers already working on electric cars with ranges of more than 200 miles; the claimed range of most current technology electric cars is a more modest100 miles. Yet Auto Express found that even these quoted figures are rather optimistic, when three of their reporters tested out the Mitsubishi  i-MiEV on their daily commutes. Acting News and Feature Editor Nick Gibb’s journey to and from home totaled 22.8 miles, but left the battery half drained. On his journey the real range was calculated to be 52 miles.

Jamie Fretwelll’s 20 mile commute took an even bigger dent out of the iMiEV’s batteries, leaving only 43 percent charge remaining. Here the real range was a mere 36 miles.

Yet results from the ‘Cabled’ trial were more positive. Brian Price added:

“We were expecting people to have range anxiety and limiting their journeys – although people on the trial were using the I-MiEV’s as a second car. We also know from other data that people with second cars tend to go on relatively short trips, with the national average journey length in a day being about 22-23 miles– and that’s exactly what we’re seeing on the ‘Cabled’ trial. However we are also seeing some examples of the cars being used for much longer journeys.

To sum up we are seeing extreme users at both ends of the scale – with some travelling very short daily distances and others travelling beyond the range of the electric vehicles. However when you average them all out in the population of 100 electric vehicles – they replicate very closely with normal petrol

and diesel vehicles.”

“So although the type of electric vehicles used on the study (I-MiEV, Tata Indica Vista  and SmartForTwo) wouldn’t be suitable for every driver and every journey – they have proved to be able to cover over 95% of most  peoples’ journey needs. This tells us that there’s a niche for these kind of cars – even though we wouldn’t profess for them to be a solution for every situation.”

Short Battery life and high cost

Although the latest generation of rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-Ion) and lithium-polymer (Li-Poly) batteries offer a big improvement on the old lead-acid versions, they still have a relatively short life. According to ‘Nextgreencar.com’, the life of these batteries is estimated to be around seven years, although this depends on different factors, such as how the car is driven, the climate and terrain where the car is used, and what type of recharging system the battery is subject to.

Seven years is a short lifespan, especially when taking into consideration that replacement batteries for these vehicles can cost between £7,000 to £10,000, a high additional expense of electric car ownership that is likely to deter many potential buyers.

Although the batteries will most likely continue to retain 80% of original capacity, the reduced range will mean that many owners would wish to replace after this period, which raises issues over safe battery disposal.

Despite continued improvements/developments, uncertainty remains over exactly how best to exploit battery technology for use in electric cars, whilst minimizing the environmental impact of production and disposal.

Lack of awareness of the different electric and hybrid vehicles

Currently there are a number of different electric and hybrid technology vehicles currently available – yet there doesn’t seem to be enough awareness about their best suited applications. More recently we have seen ‘extended range electric vehicles’ appear on the market, as seen in the new Chevrolet Volt. The Volt employs the use of both a battery pack and electric motor, together with a small petrol engine which (via a generator) can directly power the Volt’s electric motors, once the battery pack is flat.

Extended Range electric vehicles do seem to offer a good real world compromise, the only major downsides being the high initial purchase cost, and extra weight and complexity of having both an engine, fuel tank and electric motor and battery pack.

Perhaps the most well known hybrid technology is the Hybrid Synergy Drive, pioneered by Toyota back in 1997 and first found in the Prius. Here a small Nickel metal hydride battery works with the engine to supplement power, reducing C0 2 output and improving mpg, but giving a short EV only range of 2 miles and limited 20mph top speed. Since then new technologies have come onto market.


Toyota’s new 2012 ‘Plug-in’ Prius still uses ‘Hybrid Synergy Drive’ technology, incorporating a petrol combustion engine, but now with a much larger capacity ‘Lithium-ion’ battery. Here the petrol and electric power plants still work hand-in-hand, but the combination of much larger battery capacity and more powerful electric motor enables ‘all electric’ city operation for significant periods of time. The Toyota Plug-In Hybrid uses this technology and promises an appealing compromise of fuel efficiency (claimed combined cycle of 108.6 mpg) and performance, low emissions (59g/km CO 2 ) and most significantly, no ‘range anxiety’. This is all achieved by the use of a powertrain which combines an electric motor, a lithium-ion battery and a petrol engine. It will allow drivers to cover 12.5 miles at speeds up to 62mph emissions free, using solely electric power, after which the vehicle will switch to power from its full hybrid system, thereby utilising the 1.8-litre petrol engine.

REVAi Electric Cars

The Lithium-ion battery can then be charged in 90 minutes by connecting to either a roadside charting point or from a standard 230V domestic power supply.

Brian Price is of the opinion that we will see people buying specific types of car for specific applications. “ People who do the school run or go shopping locally or those that only commute 10 or 15 miles a day will tend to buy an all electric vehicle. Then other drivers who do longer commutes will tend to buy hybrids or extended range electric vehicle, depending on the type and length of their journeys.”

Given the following of the first, second and third generation Prius’s thus far, it’s likely this new Plug-In model will help increase awareness and potential of all these different variants.

Toyota s new Plug-In Hybrid will go on sale in 2012

Although launching next year, prototypes of the Plug-In Prius have been in operation on London’s street since the summer of 2010. As one of eight projects in the Technology Strategy Board’s national Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme, twenty Prius Plug-in Hybrid prototypes have been put into use in fleets operated by public organisations and businesses in the capital. The aim being to learn how users adapt to plug-in hybrid vehicle technology and so help facilitate rapid take up and commercialisation of the technology .

Prototype Plug-In-Prius on London Lease Demonstration Programme

An electric future?

Schemes such as Cabled and EDF London Lease Demonstration are a starting point and although clarification of the different electric models available will go some way towards clarifying the available technology for prospective buyers, it remains uncertain as to whether this will be enough to encourage people away from conventional petrol and diesel cars.

According to Price, the main missing ingredient is the confidence in the use of electric vehicles.

“I think the public need the confidence of knowing that an infrastructure exists to support the use of electric cars, more than anything else. Because as it stands, we have to realise that in spite of these electric trials currently running, the number of charging points presently available in the UK falls far short of serving any realistic demand. It maybe the case that 9 times out of 10 electric vehicle users wouldn’t actually need it and would be able to complete most of their journeys without having public charging facilities, but they want the knowledge that should they need a charge they are able to plug in somewhere. The answer to this is to have more charging points at places of work and public car parks and to also have ‘fast chargers’ – capable of replenishing 80% of battery charge in 20-30 mins – on motorways.”

Government needs to lead by example

Many are of the belief that the government needs to lead by example.

“If there was an increased electric commercial vehicle presence (buses, vans, taxis), then public awareness and confidence of the viability of electric vehicles would be increased”, says Price.

And it is city’s that could be the test bed for developing this confidence.What will really kick-start the uptake of electric vehicles will be when city centres ban internal combustion engine vehicles. Currently not much progress has been made. Even in London where they have significantly reduced the level of traffic with an effective public transport system, the number of Low Carbon Vehicles sold – although higher than anywhere else in the country – still make up less than 5% of vehicles going into the congestion charging zone.

Another benefit of an increased use of commercial electric vehicles would be cleaner city air. Electric vehicles result in no air pollution – a significant benefit given NHS research suggesting poor air quality contributes to 29,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.

For this to all be achieved would require the cooperation of manufacturer’s, and local, regional and national government. These combined efforts would surely have more an impact than simply providing grants on expensive electric cars.

So far there has been considerable resistance amongst the public to take up the use of electric cars, even with the government’s £5,000 electric vehicle scheme. The Nissan Leaf sold well initially, but failed to meet expected demand with sales stalling at around 800 units this year.

The recent announcement that the European automobile manufacturers have defined a comprehensive set of recommendations to standardise the charging of electric vehicles was seen as progress, although some feel that this is too little too late. According to Calvey Taylor-Haw, Managing Director of Brighton based EV charging point manufacturer Elektromotive: “While consensus from car manufacturers is both necessary and very welcome, the proposed time-scales for implementation need to be much shorter. We have a range of EVs on the market right now, and many more are due next year. In order to give people across Europe sufficient confidence in the EV market so that they will actually buy these vehicles, we need widespread agreement on standards – right now.”

It would certainly appear that a number of obstacles lie in the way of the mainstream success of electric cars, both in terms of the implementation of the technology, the supporting infrastructure and the high initial purchase prices. All these things need to be addressed in order for electric cars to have mass market appeal.

There is still too much competition from hybrids and clean diesels for electric-only cars to take off on a big scale. When Zero emissions zones appear in cities, the case for them may be more justified, but even then both battery range and life needs to improve.

Currently – even with a £5,000 government subsidy – the charge for electric cars is just too high.

REVAi Electric Cars
REVAi Electric Cars
REVAi Electric Cars
REVAi Electric Cars

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