At the Kicker, we’ve given a lot of attention to AV’s (Autonomous Vehicles) and touched upon EV’s (Electronic Vehicles) a little in passing because the two types of car are closely aligned in our minds.
Perhaps its time to dig into EV’s a bit deeper by themselves. Let’s start with a little clarification. In the mind of most consumers EV’s and Hybrids sort of run together, but there’s a difference and it matters.
Hybrids use a gas engine to assist an electronic engine. This gives a sort of best of both worlds experience. When an electric engine would be adequate, ie the around town stuff, then you have that. On long trips, the gas engine kicks in to top off the batteries. The gas engine also assists when power is needed, not because you can’t get good power from an electric engine but because you don’t really need a big electric engine just for a few occasions when it’s needed and the gas engine is just sitting there.
EV’s don’t carry a way to generate power unless you count regenerative braking systems (which turn forward velocity back into power to slow the car and recapture electricity). EV’s rely on batteries to store power from a source.
EV’s comes with some advantages and some disadvantages. One potential advantage is that electric power can be generated by multiple fuel sources, which in theory allows each area to use the most cost-effective source to power your car. It’s certainly true that most electricity is created locally, unlike oil which is bought as crude, often from nations that don’t align perfectly with US ideology. However, the fact remains that some source of power is required and you can’t really find a generation source that’s truly free of controversy.
Another advantage to EV’s is that without gallons of flammable, even combustible, fuel on board, the risk of fire and explosion is cut way down. Making them safer to operate and cheaper to insure.
Another controversy is the batteries themselves which are hazardous to dispose of and rely on material that’s mined in places that don’t really align with US ideology.
For whatever reason, consumers haven’t taken to EV’s as enthusiastically as manufacturers and environmentalists had hoped. Laws are coming soon to force the issue, essentially banning new car sales of petroleum powered vehicles. This would include hybrids depending on which version of which countries bill you’re referring to.
This article by DriveTribe identifies potential sources of consumer resistance:
Range Anxiety – EV’s top out at or below 300 miles, which wouldn’t be a big deal if you could charge them as quickly as you can fill up at a gas station.
Investment Anxiety – As with any new technology we’ve yet to see if EV’s are more or less reliable mechanically, but we’re pretty sure they will cost more to fix. We do know how long we can use a cell phone before we need to trade it in or buy a new battery…about a year…and most of us don’t want to get caught up in that racket with something a pricey as a car.
Just Not A Proper Vehicle – Which doesn’t seem quite rational because anything that gets you around is a vehicle. If we stop to think about it, nuclear subs are pretty cool and they don’t run on gas. But as we’ve mentioned many times at the Kicker, there is a certain romance around cars, which is fading, but not as quickly as many folks expected.
Side Note about the fading romance with cars: For much of the car’s existence it represented freedom. Cars expanded our range the way horses let the Tartars build a vast empire. A teenager couldn’t wait to get a vehicle because it uncoupled him/her from their parents. However, clogged freeways, mass transit, online shopping, social media and cheap rideshare companies have eroded our desire to sit many hours a day in a car.
So what would overcome these concerns, and the others too numerous to list here?
Well, not all disadvantages are created equal. One key is going to be infrastructure. We will need enough charging stations to meet our anxiety level and we’ll need them to charge in about the same time frame we can refuel. This isn’t too far away, at least in the U.K. where shell and the National Grid have invested in creating dozens of charge stations capable of fast charging your car in as little as ten minutes.
Cost is another huge factor. The reality for most Americans is that we lack the money to invest. Assuming an EV’s low of fuel costs are enough to make them overall cheaper to operate than fuel engines, then you’re exchanging a higher upfront cost in the hopes of making it up over the lifetime you own the vehicle. This may not be a reality until we start seeing more EV’s on the used car market.
The final ingredient that might nudge the American consumer sentiment towards EV’s is to conquer the range issue. A range over 400 miles would be more needed in a place like America than it is in the UK or Europe due simply to the amount to road and sprawl we have and the lack of an alternative transportation in the 400-mile to 800-mile range. Unless you get a smoke’n deal from an airline it’s cheaper and easier to drive your personal vehicle to the in-laws (and the train is just as expensive but the slowest option of all).
One hopes that a market solution is used to push consumers toward EV’s, if in fact, they are cheaper, safer, and more environmentally friendly. The laws banning new combustion engine sales prior to fixing the issues listed above seems like the kind of laws that work some places and not others.