Another of my electric vehicle (EV) experiments is over, so I thought I’d tell you all you need to know about the realities of using an EV everyday.
I’ll start with the positives. There is no power delivery system quite like an electric motor. That instant shove-in-the-back when you need it, and the irresistibly smooth power delivery when you’d rather take things a little more easily. Electric cars are so easy and effortless to drive that it’s easy to wonder why people still bother with those fuel-munching motors still found in most cars.
Sure, some modern cars are wonderful and quiet on the move, but you still won’t find many family cars that offer quite as much refinement. Diesels sound especially horrid these days, and are fast attracting a reputation for pumping out some really nasty pollutants.
That means they’re weighed down with loads of anti-emission kit, and stuff like dual mass flywheels to try and make them smoother. There’s an awful lot waiting to go wrong on a modern diesel. I really would rather go electric. Petrol engines have fewer issues, but they tend to lack bottom end torque, which means they’re not always relaxing to drive. Ford’s remarkable Ecoboost engines (also found in Peugeots and Citroens these days) go against the grain, but will they prove reliable in the long-term? 124bhp per litre is pretty strong stuff.
I think I’d rather still go electric, as the fundamentals are so simple. There are so few moving parts.
I’m not sure whether to claim environmental reasons as a good reason to go EV. Certainly, if you do a lot of city driving, you’re moving the vehicle emissions away from the city centre by choosing EV – as the power is generated elsewhere. That’s good. Some of that power comes from renewable sources too. My gut feel is that electric is, overall, better for the environment, especially when you take into consideration the impact of drilling for oil, fracking and then also having to mine stuff like platinum for the exhaust catalytic converter. Mind you, the lithium used in EV batteries isn’t exactly pleasant stuff either. Suffice it to say that I don’t think the environmental message stands up on its own.
Range is still an issue too. While I discovered last week that it’s pretty easy to travel 300 miles in one day in an electric vehicle, I did spend pretty much the whole time anxiously keeping an eye on predicted range vs predicted mileage to destination. You just can’t turn off, and while that does great things for economy – because you tend to do your utmost to keep power use as low as possible – it’s not necessarily how most of us are accustomed to driving. There’s still that “fuel light on, running on dregs” feeling, and longer journeys need serious planning, though both of these concerns will be reduced as the charging infrastructure is improved.
There’s another easy solution to this. Don’t use an EV for long journeys! Many households have more than one car, or you could consider hiring a car for a long-distance trip. I spent two days of e-Golf custodianship using it how it should be used. I nipped to the shops in it. I visited local friends. I drove a short distance so we could have a walk by the sea. I didn’t charge the car for two days, because it wasn’t necessary. This is where the magic of electric really shines. For those short, local trips, it’s absolutely ideal. Especially when travelling a few miles from one village to another. The sort of journeys where combustion engines are barely warming up, and so are woefully inefficient – this study found that cold engines consume 13.5% more fuel when cold. That’s more emissions for less movement.
I must concede that a great amount of my driving is less than 30 miles a day. For a week, the e-Golf entirely replaced my own vehicles, and no hardship was created because of this. Yes, I work from home, but the same would have been true even if I had needed to commute up to 50 miles a day (which is the most I’ve ever wanted to).
But let’s look at benefits again, because combustion cars still require servicing. So do EVs, but there’s much less to do! No filters, no filthy engine oil to dispose of, no clutch to wear out, no exhaust to rot away. EVs even tend to be kinder to their brakes, so pads need replacing less often (due to regeneration effect where the motor generates electricity, thereby slowing the vehicle). That also means that your front wheels won’t get so dirty through pad wear build up!
Battery life is still the elephant in the room, and yes, that’s still a bit unknown in the long term. A taxi company in Cornwall has a Nissan LEAF with over 100,000 miles on the clock, and the battery is still pretty much fine – despite or perhaps because of being rapid charged several times a day. The success of that car seems to have even surprised Nissan, who previously were a bit wary of recommending frequent rapid charging.
I’m pretty convinced that for an awful lot of people, electric power now makes a lot of sense. It still depends on your access to electricity (a fast charger at home/work or access to the rapid charger network) but with prices for really very decent electric cars dropping as little as £6000-7000 now, the EV solution looks ever more appealing.