The main concern I’ve found people have about electric vehicles is range. The feeling that an electric vehicle or EV can only travel a limited amount of miles before requiring a charge puts people off. It’s a bit like boot space. The number of hatchbacks sold in the UK is higher than most countries, as we want to cover all eventualities, such as moving that large piece of furniture or carrying all our children’s gear as they head off to university. If an EV can work as a taxi (which it can very successfully), then surely it can substitute a petrol or diesel engine car in most situations and certainly the second car in a two car household.
The good news is that there are now more EV charging stations in London than conventional fuel stations. More rapid chargers are coming on line at motorway service stations all the time and there are websites and apps readily available which pinpoint the locations.
As a consequence, range anxiety in the context of a proportion of the car buying market should be of little concern. However this is not the full story and there are more significant arguments that need to be debated and improvements implemented to address range anxiety in the context of different types of user.
Firstly, a better method for communicating expected range should be provided to consumers. Yes the EV manufacturers will say their vehicle has a range of 120 miles, but in practice you will only get 90-100 miles per charge in the summer and perhaps 20% less in the winter. In addition, range is heavily impacted by driver behaviour so perhaps there needs to be a matrix of figures presented to consumers to help inform their choice.
Range anxiety is not a pure EV issue. How often does your conventional petrol engine match the manufacturer’s miles per gallon specification? Recent research suggests that actual performance is on average 30% less than stated on the specification sheets of new vehicles.
Secondly, consumers should get a choice of battery size. As with lots of things EV, Tesla is already leading the way in this with their Model S, which comes with either a 60 kWh battery or a 85 kWh battery depending on how many miles you want your car to be able to travel on one charge. I expect other car manufacturers to follow suit. For example, the iconic design of the VW Golf is already available with a choice of drive train (diesel engine, petrol engine or electric motor) and in future, in a similar way to you choosing the size of your engine, I expect you will be able to choose the size of your EV battery.
Thirdly, the recharging infrastructure has to mature. For most early adopters of electric vehicles, the main recharging point is at the home where a 7 kw charging point, installedwith the help of the Government subsidy, allows you to recharge your vehicle in approximately 4 hours. This has since been enhanced with the increasing number of motorway rapid chargers for the longer journeys plus ‘top up’ chargers available in town in case you forget to charge the car up overnight.
This current situation is appropriate for the EV market of today, just. However, for the EV product to go towards mass market adoption, including commercial fleets, the infrastructure does require substantial enhancement for the following two main reasons:
(1) Not everyone has off street parking for home charging.
(2) Commercial fleets require an enhanced level of security of supply.
The first issue is most apparent in urban centres where the move from car owners to car users may mitigate the problem. These car users are more likely to use car clubs or taxis. For the reducing number of car owners, housing developers are now providing fewer assigned car parking spaces. However these spaces are more likely to have the capacity to charge vehicles overnight as electrical points are mandated for a certain proportion of spaces. In addition some developers are also allocating space for rapid chargers to supply those vehicles parked on street.
The second issue is more pressing as it is the commercial fleets that perhaps offer the best opportunities for EV adoption and their consequential reduction in local air pollution. However without the knowledge that the fleet vehicles can complete their duty cycles and have access to charging infrastructure if and when they need it, then they will not make the switch.
The needs of the commercial fleets need to be fully understood by the local authorities and I expect rapid charging stations (much like today’s petrol stations with café facilities) will be required in city centres. These charging stations will have the capability to charge a multitude of vehicles at any one time and cover all charging methods (like petrol stations offer unleaded and diesel).
This is very different to the current proposals seen in cities such as London where the boroughs plan to install up to five or six rapid chargers in five to six different sites around the borough. This dispersed model may well supplement the top up charging currently available and provide an option for residents without off-street parking, but it will be insufficient to convert commercial fleets to any large extent.
There are so many exciting developments on the horizon and choice and innovation are becoming important drivers for green technologies. To some extent, these technologies and EVs need to co-exist to optimize their benefits which is one of the reasons why I think it is so important to back the uptake of EVs.
Part of the ideas and concepts behind eConnect cars is to prove the case for continued investment in electric vehicles and to demonstrate how they can work effectively. This will encourage further research and development into battery technology, re-charging options (such as wireless dynamic induction charging) and the development of other products and services based around EVs.
This post was written by Alistair Clarke, Managing Director and Owner of eConnect cars. Visit eConnect cars at www.econnectcars.com and follow the conversation on Twitter - @econnectcars. You can also visit them at the Business Travel Show Stand B564 - RTM Pavilion on 25-26 February 2015. Register now for a free pass at www.businesstravelshow.com.