Even though I don’t now own an electric car, I still have positive memories of my eighteen months with a Nissan Leaf. In almost all respects I actually enjoy the experience of driving an electric car more than in internal-combustion-engined vehicle. It’s just so smooth and effortless; and even the Leaf gave the impression of vivid acceleration and effortless performance. I can only imagine the experience of piloting a Tesla or one of the forthcoming Porsche electric cars.
The big conundrum, though — as I wrote last July — is recharging the batteries and, of course, battery technology itself. The 2015 Leaf’s 85-mile range was derisory, and even the 150-mile range of more modern designs is still inadequate for most purposes. Unless you resign yourself to owning an electric car just for zipping around town, it’s more sensible to buy a petrol or diesel vehicle so you can tackle longer distances, even on occasion. Even if the call for longer distances is seldom, it is frustrating to know that a 200-mile journey in an electric car is fraught with ifs and buts.
Sure, most cars — including the Leaf — can be rapid charged to 80% of capacity within around 30 minutes. All things being well, this works; but the danger of not being able to find a charging station that is working and vacant is a constant worry. And the range advertised on the tin is never the real range. There always has to be a reserve. In the Leaf I was never happy travelling more than 30 or 35 miles from home unless there was a sure-fire charging opportunity at the other end of the journey. After 50 miles there is a constant nagging worry that it might not be possible to find a charging station before the juice runs out at 80 or 85 miles.
Recently there are signs of potential developments in battery technology. Mercedes is already dabbling with super-fast charging, investing in an Israeli start-up called StoreDot which is developing FlashBattery, a replacement for lithium Ion technology that could offer up to 300 miles on one charge. This is in direct contrast to the unsuccessful B-Class Mercedes Electric Drive car.
When I was in the market for a new car some six months ago I was offered a new B-Class EV at a ridiculously (and suspiciously low) price — by a Mercedes main dealer. The snag was that it didn’t offer even the sort of fast 30-minute charge of the humble Leaf. No, it would have been necessary to spend four hours over a leisurely Whopper and shake at every service station before continuing the journey. That, I thought, was a dealbreaker and I went out and bought a petrol-engined car instead.
However, with a more respectable range of, say, 250 miles and rapid charging in around ten minutes, the potential for electric traction would soon be fulfilled. This has to happen if governments around the world are able to ban the IC engine by 2030 or 2040. I am sure it will happen, but even then there are imponderables.
How do we charge the millions of cars that are parked by the roadside in front of their owners’ houses? Cables across the pavement or slung from upstairs windows and balconies aren’t the answer — see the accompanying photograph from Paris. It seems to me that the only solution is induction charging embedded in road surfaces or the installation of millions of charging pods along every urban street.
Whatever the solution, the infrastructure cost is potentially crippling. And, despite the current economy of driving an electric car, we will soon be paying through the nose. Once EVs become the norm, governments will need to tax them to the hilt in order to achieve the same income as they now gain from IC fuels, not to mention the need to recover infrastructure costs. In the end, the consumer pays.