Issue: Nov 2011


Three phases of the Electric driven vehicle - Part III



by Tony Davidson

Phase 3: The Future 

So, where next? What's happening over the next few years in the world of Electric Cars?

The truth is - nobody seems to really know! A LOT OF PEOPLE want the Electric Car to succeed for all sorts of reasons - reduced carbon emissions, we are running out of oil etc.

The problem is - battery technology and overall infrastructure seems to need to come a long way before the Electric Car is seen in any great numbers around the Cities and Country roads.

That much said, there are quite a few plans for All-Electric Vehicles and plug in Hybrids like the Prius which you cannot plug in at the moment) and almost all from mainstream manufacturers.

You know - I really can't see into my crystal ball very clearly! We seem to be in a world of "marketing hype" - stuff made up to sound good and get people all excited over stuff that's not there and may never be made.

They seem to have a future - except we won't really see how it pans out until years have come and gone. My guess is that people who drive Toyota Prius's at the moment will switch to plug-in versions when they come out.

But, in the meantime I think that hopefully Electric Vans for city deliveries and Electric Bicycles will be the majority of what we see around with a growing number of electric cars like the Nissan LEAF or PHEVs.

UNTIL ... Oil starts to REALLY jump back up in price and people stop driving LONG distances. But still need some sort of city transport. Maybe then ... the time of the Electric Car will have really arrived!

Tapping the earth’s greatest free energy source, the sun
The main exciting thing that struck me about solar electric cars is the great races that they have. Solar electric car racing is all over the globe but the two biggest are in Australia and North America

When I heard about these races I knew that there had to be optimism for a solar powered car as the whole point in racing is improving what you have and working long and hard to get an edge over the competition. I think that that’s the kind of thing that leads to breakthroughs, so there’s plenty of hope for the future of solar electric cars!

Can I buy one? 

There aren’t any purely solar powered cars out there to buy commercially at the moment. Heaps are being made but it’s more of a DIY electric car job for enthusiasts.

Venturi has solar panels on their Astrolab and Eclectic cars. The Astrolab is supposed to be a sports car and the eclectic is more of a golf cart than a car but it’s great that you can get it in the first place! They both however aren't available to buy yet.

You can get a solar panel for your Zap Xebra as an extra but that’s only to add a small bit of range and it can’t rely fully on it. They’ll also be available on the new Toyota Prius, but only to power the air conditioning!

Is the range good enough?

At the moment it’s nowhere near where it needs to be. It could be used as an add-on to your electric car to get a bit more range but unless you’re a die-hard solar power fanatic you probably won’t be driving a fully solar powered car anytime soon. One thing I thought was interesting was the idea of having solar panels at home and charging from that.

Are they fast?

The ones designed for racing can travel faster than 60 mph (lets be honest it's not a 120mph electric car that would burn up a track but it's pretty good for solar power) but the solar panels on those cars cost so much you’d probably need to put a second mortgage on your house! Most fully solar vehicles are pretty slow as the amount of energy they get isn’t the greatest at the moment, which is part of the reason that they’re so slick and strange looking so that they can minimise the wind resistance.

Why should I get a solar car?

Well the main reason would be technically free completely clean energy from the sun! You could argue that the manufacture of the solar cells damages the environment but that’s nowhere near as much as what a petrol car does in its lifetime and they are working on improving it too. Even just having a solar panel on your electric car to give it a small boost is one of the great advantages of electric car that will definitely pay you back over time so why not?

I think a great thing for the future from what I’ve researched would be to have solar panels on the roofs of buildings in towns and houses all over the country and have your electric car charge from that energy. This way you won’t have to deal with the weight or air resistance of a solar panel and it can be placed to get the best energy from the sun possible.

Otherwise solar powered cars are still pretty much a DIY job but who knows what breakthroughs are around the corner!

Conclusion: are electric cars the future? 

A view from the UK

It is the next big bet of the motor industry. 

Nissan's commitment to producing an all-electric family car - and from 2013 manufacturing it in Britain - shows that electric is firmly the future of motoring, but only part of the future. 

The Nissan Leaf, initially produced in Japan, is expected to hit British showrooms next March. That is expected to be three months or so later than the first mass-produced electric cars arrive on UK forecourts: the Peugeot iOn and the Citroen C-Zero which are expected to go on sale by December.

What makes the Leaf different - apart from the fact that it will be partly British - is the volume that Nissan expects to produce, and the size of the car. 

The Peugeot and Citroen models - essentially identical cars as they have the same French owner - are very much pitched at being a small runaround for the city. The Leaf is aiming at the small family market. 

And while PSA - Peugeot and Citroen's owner - says it will look at producing around 15,000 vehicles a year initially, Nissan is aiming at many as 60,000 units a year by 2012. 

When Nissan's Sunderland factory starts firing up in three years’ time, 50,000 Leafs a year could be British built. 

But will all-electric be the winning new car technology of the future? 

Enough of the world's major car manufacturers are pouring investment into hybrid technology to suggest an interesting battle during the next ten years. Despite its recent problems, Toyota has proved with the Prius that petrol-electric is a flexible option that may attract far more of the market. 

All electric cars have a range of up to 100 miles. Hybrids can run on electric in town and then get on the motorway to Scotland with a full tank of petrol. General Motors is also going down the hybrid rather than the all-electric route. If green is the issue for many consumers, some manufacturers argue that neither all-electric nor hybrid is actually the answer.

The nirvana for smaller cars is to market them with carbon dioxide emissions of less than 100g/km. Some carmakers argue that there are still so many efficiencies to be found in the production of the combustion engine and the design of cars that conventional diesel or petrol-fed cars could in the future be easily marketed as environmentally-friendly.

And will consumers wear the cost of all-electric? 

Industry estimates suggest that an all-electric car with its expensive lithium-ion battery will cost up £25,000 even after Government incentive subsidies of £5000. The manufacturers say the cars would effectively retail at the equivalent of the customer paying £500 a month - not so different to the running costs of a conventional motor when you factor in the cost of fuel, vehicle taxation and other expenses.
But then there is the problem of how you "fill up" your electric car. Easy if you pop it on the charger in your own garage. But these electric cars will initially be targeted at city dwellers which generally do not have such a luxury.

What will be needed and what is envisaged is electric connection points on the corner of streets, or in car parks or at supermarkets. None of this infrastructure currently exists and it will need the political will and investment to make it happen.
Ultimately, reality dictates that there will need to be a mix of car technologies in the future. 

It is a plain fact that if in 20 years we are all running around in all-electric cars, then we simply will not be able to produce enough electricity to power the cars.
We would have to build many, many more power stations and probably have to start burning more coal in power generators to feed the demand for all this electricity. How green would your green car be then? 

The future of motoring is all-electric. And it is hybrid, and until the world's oil reserves run out some time at the end of the century, it will also be conventional, albeit cleaner, petrol and diesel.

The fun (and the pain) for the motor industry in the coming decade is the question of which particular technologies prove most popular. 

Want to learn more about current and future developments in Electric Vehicles?

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