June 28, 2011. The Green Piece Column.
For every blog and article written hyping the virtues of electric cars as the transportation method of the future, there are just as many belittling their credentials – and with Tesla announcing the end of production for its Roadster (see article) last week and electric car maker Think driving straight into bankruptcy (see article) it appears critics have had more emission-emitting fuel poured on to their fire.
So are electric cars all hype and no hope? Here we address the three keyquestions often posed by the naysayers to determine their future.
Question one: Are electric cars really better for the environment?
Electric cars are often promoted as “zero emission” vehicles – which critics jump on as false advertising, because while they produce no harmful emissions at the exhaust pipe, the clean air benefits are limited based on how the electricity is sourced.
According to estimates from the MIT Electric Vehicle team, an electric vehicle charged from the existing US grid emits about 115g/km of carbon dioxide (CO2) on a well-to-wheel analysis, compared to a conventional US-market petrol car that averages 250g/km. However, in Europe, where many of the most efficient cars have emissions below 115g/km, the advantages are much more limited.
Perhaps the crucial element that critics overlook is that the goal is to produce electricity from renewable sources – for example, in France, which has a clean energy grid, well-to-wheel CO2 emissions from an electric car would be just 12g/km. Only in a worst case scenario would incremental electricity demand be met by coal – in reality, it is much more likely that the electricity we use will continue to get cleaner and so the environmental advantages of electric cars will only expand further.
Question two: Will electric cars savedrivers money?
As much as many of us might like to think we are environmentally motivated, in these tough economic times it’s hard not to think about our budgets and so it’s no surprise that many potential drivers are put off by the high price tags associated with electric cars.
It’s true that electric cars are generally more expensive than petrol cars primarily because of the high cost of batteries. This is a major stumbling block with a survey undertaken by Nielsen for the Financial Times showing that 65 per cent of Americans and 76 per cent of Brits are not willing to pay more for an electric car than for a petrol car. However, there are signs that electric car prices could come down – the Renault Fluence ZE, for example, will be priced at less than $20,000.
However, perhaps the most important consideration is long term costs. Nissan estimates that the five-year operating cost of the LEAF electric vehicle, for example, would be $1,800 – this compares to around $6,000 for a comparable petrol car.
Question three: Will electric cars run out of charge before I reach my destination?
Ah, range anxiety. Surely this is the biggest stumbling block towards the progression of electric cars – and who will ever forget that infamous, and controversial, image of the Tesla Roadster running out of power on the Top Geartest track?
Cars with internal combustion engines can of course be considered to have an indefinite range because they can be refuelled so easily and quickly. By contrast, many electric cars have been targeted on the statistic that the average American drives fewer than 40miles each day and so they have been developed for urban driving. However, there are a number of electric cars with a far more substantial range. The Tesla Roadster, for example, can travel 245miles per charge.
The key of course, is the development of electric car infrastructure. DC Fast Charging Stations are being implemented across the US and it is hoped that by 2013 they will cover the entire country. There are similar developments elsewhere too, with Australia recently placing itself at the forefront of the electric car race thanks to an agreement with battery swap station supplier Better Place (seearticle).
Our verdict – Electric cars have the answers
The image of electric cars is slowly changing and with it, the doubts surrounding their future appear to be disappearing.
The questions raised are certainly justified. Electric cars with limited range and high price tags will struggle to appease consumers; but these issues are being addressed because as more vehicles come to market prices will fall, and ranges are already expanding even with so little infrastructure so far in place.
Of course electric cars would defeat their own object if they were more harmful to the environment than the petrol cars they replace – but most analyses suggest that they are already ahead of their counterparts and that the electricity they use should only get greener as time goes on.
So perhaps it’s time to stop asking questions and start embracing the future – and for governments to take the steps that are necessary to make electric cars the norm and no longer just a niche alternative.
Tuesday 4 January 2011. The Green Piece Column. Original Piece.
So what is your New Year’s resolution – to join a gym, to quit a bad habit, or maybe even to go green?
If you’re thinking of doing your bit for the environment in 2011 then getting behind the wheel of a green car is a great option and over the next 12months you’ll have more choices available than ever before. However, 2011 is also a year when we’ll see more exciting concepts make their debut. Here is a preview of some of the green car highlights you can expect in the year ahead.
Audi to debut hybrid A6
The next generation Audi A6 will be available from early 2011 in Europe and later this year in North America. The car is expected to grow marginally in size with the wheelbase increasing by around three inches and the width by 0.7inches; however, a range of new engines should make the A6 more fuel efficient than ever. These will include three diesel engines – a two-litre four cylinder engine and two 3.0litre turbocharged engines; as well as a hybrid variant featuring a two-litre TFSI 211hp engine with a 45kW electric motor.
Chevrolet brings Aveo to North America
Its indicative of General Motors’ revised approach to the North American market that the Chevrolet Aveo will finally make its US and Canadian debut this year (seearticle). The vehicle will be known there as the Chevrolet Sonic and is said to indicate a new era for the small car segment.
Hyundai lines up fuel cell car
The Geneva Motor Show may not take place until March, but that hasn’t stopped several car manufacturers from announcing new concepts for the show ahead of time. Among them is a fuel cell vehicle from Hyundai (see article), to be known as the Tucson iX FCEV. The third generation model has a full tank range of 404 miles, representing a 76 per cent improvement on the previous generation; and has petrol-equivalent fuel efficiency of 73mpg.
Opel to bring plug-in hybrid to Geneva
Another reason to keep your eyes locked on our coverage of the Geneva Motor Show in March is the debut of the Opel Flextreme. The car was first introduced as a Saturn model back in January 2008, but will now make its first appearance in Europe as a diesel plug-in hybrid concept car believed to achieve around 153mpg and CO2 emissions of 40g/km.
Nissan LEAF heads to europe
The all-electric Nissan LEAF is scheduled to begin its roll-out in Europe at the beginning of the year. In March, the vehicle will reach the UK at a price of £23,990 after taking into account the Plug-in Car Grant of £5,000 from the UK government and the new 20 per cent VAT rate. Unfortunately, this still makes the vehicle around £4,000 more expensive than the Toyota Prius and with recharging infrastructure relatively limited it could take a while for the Nissan LEAF to enjoy real sales success.
Renault to debut four electric cars
There is no car manufacturer set to be more active in 2011 than Renault, which will bring four of its eagerly-anticipated zero emission models to life. The Renault Fluence (see article) is a family car with a resemblance to the Megane that will include three battery charge options: standard, rapid and a quick drop battery exchange; the Renault Kangoo ZE (see article), an all-electric version of the company’s popular van; the Renault Twizy (see article), an all-electric vehicle designed for city dwellers with a top speed of 47mph; and the Renault Zoe (seearticle), a four-seat super-mini with a 100mile range.
Think begins US production of electric vehicle
Norwegian electric car maker THINK will break new ground in 2011 when it produces around 2,500 of its THINK City electric vehicles for the US market (seearticle). The car can maintain speeds of 70mph and can travel up to 100miles on a single charge.
Toyota to unveil Prius MPV
The North American International Auto Show in January will mark a new era for what many see as the ultimate green car – the Toyota Prius. The hatchback will gain an extra row of seats and achieve fuel economy in the region of 70mpg, but there are said to be no plans at present to bring the MPV version of the Prius to life outside North America.
Volt to make European debut as Ampera
The Chevrolet Volt finally made its debut in the US at the end of 2010, but European-based green car enthusiasts have had to wait a little longer for their version of the model. However, the wait is nearly over with the Opel Ampera due to debut this year with its electric-only range in the region of 50miles and an extended range of around 360miles to remove “range anxiety” fears. UK readers will have to wait until 2012 for the Vauxhall-badged model of the car to officially be made available – the vehicle will debut here in January next year at £28,995 if the Plug-in Car Grant is still available (see article).
Of course this is just scratching the surface of what’s to come in 2011. Automakers are also keeping a tight lid on several new concepts expected to debut this year as well as updated versions of exciting designs such as the Audi A1 E-Tron, the BMW Concept ActiveE, the Citroen DS High Rider, the Peugeot SR1, the Porsche 918 Spyder Plug-In Hybrid and the Tata Nano EV. As the motoring industry in general steers itself in a new direction you can expect plenty more green cars to whet your appetite over the next 12months and beyond.
Enter the strong silent type – Irish Times LINK
In a market filled with tantalising promises of wonders ‘to come’, here is a viable electric car that you can drive away right here, right now
EVERY MANUFACTURER turns out to motor shows with a whole fleet of electric cars that we should be able to drive “soon”. Soon hasn’t really come soon enough: bar a handful of limited production cars and the Nissan Leaf, we’re largely stuck with hybrid power and promises of what we’ll have “tomorrow”. Yet, alongside Leaf, there is a firm in Britain called Liberty Electric Car Company that has an electric Range Rover you can buy right now.
It might seem a flight of fancy, particularly given its price tag of £160,000, but it’s a grown-up luxury car that can handle the weekly commute, which is what an alternative fuel car is all about.
After all, the only way the world will feel a tangible difference from the electric car is when rush hour traffic in the world’s biggest cities and beyond runs on the lightning rod and we have real cars with zero emissions.
Electric cars, even the groundbreaking Tesla, have notoriously short ranges. This inevitably leads to nervous glances at the power gauge, or a night by the side of the snow covered road.
Liberty’s Barry Shrier and Ian Hobday are already thinking beyond simply selling a car. They have targeted whole cities with plans for taxi fleets charging up on plates mounted in the rank and buses charging as they traverse the route. They already have an order from China for the buses.
But we’re here to test their new Range Rover, which Shrier claims can manage 300km on a single charge, more than enough for the average daily grind and enough to banish range anxiety to Room 101. It should also be enough to tempt fleet business, early adopters and perhaps even the odd Hollywood star to take the plunge. And the Range Rover image might better suit some of these starlets than either the Leaf or the Mitsubishi i-Miev supermini.
For now the firm is targeting company fleet business worldwide, as major savings could be made on company car taxes with this zero emissions machine.
The potential market is huge. In Norway, for instance, this car costs exactly the same as a standard Range Rover, thanks to luxury car taxes, and savings are made the moment someone places an order. It does carry a hefty price tag, but there are still people out there with the money for such an SUV and the desire for a clearer conscience.
It drives, more or less, like a standard Range Rover. The gearbox works in forward and reverse only, but all the torque comes from an electric motor anyway so the car scoots off the line. It’s as fast as the base car at lower speeds and, while the petrol-powered Range Rover takes over as they head towards triple figures, does that really matter on the weekly commute?
It’s a little eerie getting used to the silence in such a big SUV as it moves towards 100km/h in seven seconds with the help of 1,000Nm of torque – more than almost any sportscar you could mention. The electric powertrain will take time to fully get our head around, but with far fewer losses in the actual drivetrain itself, electric is way more efficient and has the potential to be faster. You can’t really ask for more than the top speed of 180km/h either, unless you want to sacrifice your car entirely and spend a few months on the bus.
There’s a muffled electrical whine and the noise of the tyres on the road, even the suspension rattles, breach the peace. But that all happens in the standard car – it’s normally drowned out by engine noise – and turning the stereo up would cover it.
The storage space isn’t taken up with ill-fitting batteries. Liberty E-Range has buried them in the floorpan to keep the handling sharp and to ensure the car keeps its passenger and boot space. It’s a big car that an executive should feel at home in. The standard interior, with no discernible impact from the batteries, offers little room for improvement.
The batteries are made of 96 cells, rather than the hundreds many others have adopted, which allows for a lightweight battery pack that weighs in at less than 500kg and powers separate electric motors in each wheel. It sounds a lot – it is a lot – but the whole base drivetrain is gone and some of the other components have been lightened too, to scavenge back some of the weight.
Regenerative braking comes courtesy of a capacitor and the car can be tailored to your own style: snappy and aggressive or like the gentle coasting of a car in gear if you don’t like the resistance that can occur in other cars.
The battery is developed from military and medical applications, and Hobday maintains it should last 10 to 12 years. The hope is that, by that time, a system will be in place to use these packs – and those from other electric cars – as storage devices for alternative fuel sources such as wind energy.
Of course, in coming years batteries will get lighter, last longer and charge faster. The rapid speed of development is something Liberty thinks counts in its favour. Manufacturers have long turnaround times, and they feel this gives them the edge to hone the product and to offer an ever-improving fleet option to companies, cities and even governments.
But that lies in a indeterminate future. Here is an electric Range Rover that works, that you can buy right now. It is a viable choice for the well-heeled who need a little more practicality than sports cars offer but don’t want a small electric saloon.
The Irish Times – Wednesday, January 5, 2011