Electric cars have been lauded as successors to petrol-fueled vehicles for decades, but they’re still very much a niche product on our roads. Why, despite the investment from manufacturers such as Audi, Honda, Nissan are they still such a rarity?
If you’ve seen electric cars on the road the first thing you’ll have noticed is their size – they’re very small compared to their petrol cousins. They need to be as light as possible, as the heavier a car is, the more energy is required to move it. Even with the best battery technology, electric cars have nowhere near the range of a petrol equivalent, so they need to be small to save weight and eke as much distance as possible. And it’s this battery technology which is the main obstacle to electric car acceptance. Current battery technology limits the car to long recharge times, restricted travel distance, and low speed.
Batteries need to be recharged for 8 hours. With a petrol car, it takes two minutes to fill the tank and you’re good for another 400 miles. With a battery vehicle it’s eight hours overnight and you might get 100 miles if you’re lucky.
There’s also the issue of where you can recharge. Ideally you want dedicated charging points, and plenty of them. Running out juice on a highway miles from the nearest electric socket is not a good advert for the technology.
Research amongst consumers has shown that a significant number would use electric cars if the barriers of charge time and lack of charge points can be addressed. The economics certainly make sense. In the UK, a driver who averages 9000 miles a year would pay in the region of £300 ($500) in electricity – compare that to your current annual petrol bill.
Help is on the way however, and Europe is leading the way. In the UK, a number of energy companies have plans to install specialist charging points (with a 4 hour, as opposed to 8 hour charge time) in customers’ homes, hoping this will boost demand for their electricity. The electricity would be supplied on a cheap overnight tariff and would be generated by wind power.
And in London, which has designs on being the electric car capital of Europe, plans have been announced to install 1,300 charging points by 2013. Amsterdam, a city famous for its green credentials has plans to install 150 charging points and Germany is also keen to embrace the technology.
The issues of distance and performance are also being addressed, and distances of 200 miles are now achievable. Electric cars are starting to look less like DIY kit cars and more like ‘normal’ production vehicles. And as the majority of drivers use their cars for short distance trips (school runs, supermarket runs) the distance issue is becoming less important. With more and more electric vehicles starting to come on to the market it looks like battery-operated cars are finally starting to gain acceptance. -MARK LEE