Blog Post Wednesday 26 July 2017
Several decades ago, the idea of electric cars brought to mind flying vehicles with futuristic features. Today we know electric cars save you petrol, help lower your carbon footprint, and reduce direct pollution, but there are still misconceptions about electric cars. Rather than the underpowered, stodgy stereotype, the electric vehicles (EV) of today are powerful, luxurious vehicles exceeding expectations.
The first EVs can be traced back to the early 1900s. They enjoyed popular appeal in the early 20th century, when 34,000 EVs – matching the hybrid/electric production numbers of 2002 – were manufactured in the US alone. The streets of New York City once had more EVs than petroleum cars. EVs were overtaken by petroleum-powered cars soon after with the arrival in 1908 of Henry Ford's Model T, which turned the gasoline-powered car into an affordable mass-market product.
The recent hybrid electric resurgence may have its roots in oil prices and environmental concerns, but Toyota might have played a key role in boosting interest. The car giant’s gas-electric Prius model, probably the best known hybrid vehicle, was launched in 1997 with great success. 18,000 vehicles were sold in the Japanese market in the first year.
Fast forward a few years and Tesla, led by paypal’s Elon Musk, has become a major player in the EV market. The company offers free supercharging stations to have your Tesla vehicle half charged in 20 minutes. If you’re charging your Tesla at home in a standard electrical outlet, the battery can be nearly fully charged overnight.
Formula E is the number one racing event for EVs. CEO Alejandro Agag was inspired by the idea of demonstrating sustainable mobility and set out to establish a worldwide brand for EV racing. The first Formula E event was held in 2014 in Beijing with 20 all-electric vehicles competing and 190 million people watching in more than 100 countries.
The EV market is becoming mainstream and this is clear from the variety of options available. You can start with a base model such as the Toyota Prius C, starting at $22,990. In the medium price point is the (still-luxurious) BMW i3 for $63,900, and at the top end of the market is the Tesla Model S, starting at $114,100.
Contradicting early stereotypes of under-powered EVs, Tesla designed their Model S with a Ludicrous mode. It takes 2.3 seconds for the car to accelerate from 0 to 95km/ph, making it the fastest accelerating production car in the world. Tesla’s EVs have other fascinating features: Summon, a feature in the Model S enabling you to bring your car to the door using your phone; and the biohazard feature in the Model X, designed to provide occupants with medical-grade air no matter what the air is like outside.
While 400 kms on a single charge sounds generous, scientists are already studying alternative technologies to enhance EV batteries. These new “breathing batteries” or lithium-air batteries could eventually allow EVs to store as much as 10 times more power than the standard lithium-ion batteries in use.
The battery is a major cost, and sometimes the biggest cost, of EVs. Declining battery costs in the last five years are good news for EVs as the cars can be more competitively priced. In 2010, the average cost of an EV battery was $1,000 per kilowatt hour, and five years later it had fallen to $350 per kilowatt hour. Cheaper batteries allow manufacturers to pass on the reduced cost of production to consumers in the form of lower purchase prices, and eventually this will allow EVs to compete with the petrol and diesel vehicles currently dominating the market.
Following the 2011 tsunami in Japan, stories emerged about people who used their hybrid and electric cars to power the bare necessities that helped them survive. Automakers were quick to promote the versatility of electric cars, including the ability to plug your home into your car. Nissan developed an electrical distribution unit that will send power from the Nissan Leaf to the home. A fully charged Leaf has 24kWh of energy on tap - enough to power the average Japanese home for about two days.
The humble EV has come a long way since its invention in the late 19th century. With ambitious manufacturers like Tesla and BMW leading the way, the time when EVs take over the mainstream looks close at hand.