Would you buy an electric car? The past couple of weeks have seen a number of stories in the media on the likely future of electric vehicles. With the launch of the Nissan Leaf, and the news that it is to be built in the UK there has been a resurgence in interest in electric vehicles (EV). But, the public still seem lukewarm to the idea, with only one driver registering for a London-based EV scheme.
The technology to power electric motors in cars has existed for over 100 years – doing in an efficient and effective manner is only now becoming possible. But making the shift to EV is about much more than technology – consumer behaviour, economics and sustainability questions are all being re-examined. Are we ready to change enough to make EV’s work?
Last week came the perhaps not unsurprising news that people will only buy electric vehicles if they are no more expensive than comparable petrol/diesel models. Environmental responsibility only goes so far – especially in a recession. Purchase price is also only one factor, will they cost more to maintain, and what will be the re-sale value? Government subsidies, although quite generous do not close the gap, and may be withdrawn. Indeed, it has been argued by some that the money would be better spent on research into more effective combustion engines.
There is also concern about the range of EVs, with many consumers understandably concerned about becoming stranded when the batteries run out after about 100 miles. Some manufacturers are adding ‘range extender’ petrol tanks to alleviate this fear –which does kind of detract from the point of the EV. However, as reported in the FT – in trials conducted by BMW, its eMini was not only found to be quite a decent car to drive but users reported that the 100 mile range was not generally a problem. Charging at home overnight, or during the day at the office was sufficient for their regular commute. Not only does this reduce the pressure build an expensive infrastructure of public charging points, often seen as one of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption, but it suggests that with a limited range people change their driving behaviour and drive fewer miles.
The final piece of good news was reported in The Engineer. One of the persistent nagging doubts is whether EV’s are actually that environmentally friendly. The electricity that powers them needs to be generated somewhere. Research by The Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment shows that the way the power is generated makes a big impact on the overall carbon saving of an EV. In the UK, where much of our electricity is generated through burning coal the reduction in CO2 created per mile driven is a worthwhile 49%, but in France with higher rates of nuclear and wind power using an EV saves 90% of the CO2 compared to a similar combustion-engined car.
So, it seems that the technologies are all there –what’s needed is consistent pressure to apply them at all points along the power generation, distribution and consumption chain. It also highlights the need for innovative business models that make it easy to access (although not necessarily own) and run EVs, as well as honest, well argued and persuasive marketing to convince people to change their behaviours to make best use of them.