RAC

6.0 The future of motoring

Fifty pence coinUntil recently electric powered cars were typically the preserve of small fringe manufacturers, but now, volume car manufacturers such as Nissan, Peugeot and Volkswagen Group are all developing their own version of the electric vehicle. To make these alternative powered cars a credible option, they must have a lower carbon footprint when taking into account manufacture and end-of-life disposal of the vehicle, the generation of the electricity used to power them and the day-to-day running of the vehicles. Manufacturers have a long way to go to convince motorists to buy such vehicles - with one in seven motorists claiming that nothing would make them do so. Concerns include the range of a single charge, lack of power points and the cost of buying and running the vehicles themselves. But the journey is not impossible with six in 10 motorists seeing them as a viable alternative. So can electric vehicles become mainstream?

Future stat 1 - electric cars

6.1 The Issues

  • Eighty-seven per cent of motorists have heard of electric vehicles, and their biggest concern is the distance they can travel on a single charge.
  • Almost a quarter want them to travel 200 miles on a single charge - comparable to a tank of petrol or diesel. Eighteen per cent would be happy with a 100 mile range and 12% 150 miles per charge.
  • Two in five are also concerned about the availability of charging points.
  • A third needs the price to fall before they will consider them.
  • Almost a quarter need convincing they are cheaper to run than conventional cars. According to EV Network UK, charging a car with 10kWh costs about 50 pence using a night time rate and can provide around 40 miles of driving.

Future - electric charge point

The Regional Development Agency One North East conducted public trials of four electric vehicles for six months from September 2009. The results included:

  • Post test-drive, 72% of people said they would use an electric vehicle as their regular car.
  • The car exceeded the public's expectations on all monitored performance aspects.
  • Drivers found charging the vehicle easy, safe and reliable.
  • Drivers were over-cautious about the car's battery life when planning journeys - they suffered 'range-anxiety' with the maximum journey length being only 11.06 miles, well short of the 44.99 mile range of the vehicles.
  • People began modifying their driving behaviour when the charge approached 50% in order to conserve electricity.
  • The cars emitted an average of 53.1g CO2/mile when recharged with UK average grid mix electricity. This represents almost half the average emissions from new cars in the UK, which last year was 92.89g CO2/mile.

Concerns over the range of electric vehicles highlight the misconceptions motorist can have. The average journey is currently well below 50 miles. The most up-to-date statistic from the Department for Transport reveals the average journey length in 2006 was just 6.9 miles . But the lack of power points is a very real issue and for electric cars to become mainstream the numbers available - including ones for use at home - need to increase considerably. While the new Government has said that it 'will mandate a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles', there are currently only some 200 charging points in the whole of the UK.

6.2 Choice of Vehicles

According to the Green Car Site there are currently 15 electric vehicle models and eight hybrid electric models available in the UK. Proposals from the last Government would have given motorists buying an electric car an up to £5,000 Plug-In car grant from January 2011, but it remains to be seen whether this commitment will be honoured by the new Government. Electric vehicles pay no road tax or the London Congestion Charge.

Electric Vehicles: These are powered by an electric motor which draws its power from an on-board battery pack. Batteries are charged by simply connecting the vehicle to a mains power supply, and they are usually charged overnight for a full charge.

Hybrid Vehicles: These use a combination of two power sources - a conventional combustion engine and an electric motor. Batteries power the electric motor, which is typically in use when the vehicle is travelling at low speed or in traffic. The petrol or diesel engine then powers the car when more power is needed such as at higher speeds, allowing it to operate at its more optimum efficient speeds. The combustion engine is used to recharge the battery, therefore hybrid cars do not need to be plugged into an external power supply. The latest generation of hybrids, known as plug-in hybrids can plug into the mains to charge the batteries in a similar manner to fully electric vehicles.

7.0 The impact of an ageing population

5.0 The environment and the motorist