Electric cars are the future. At least, that’s what manufacturers are leading us to believe with cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. But are there better options, like hydrogen, that should be explored more?
There have been two fundamental reasons for me to pose these questions this week.
Firstly, a report released by a US automotive industry research firm, J.D Power, and secondly an insightful email from Which? reader Allan Parsons.
What’s turning us off electric cars?
The report, Drive Green 2020: More hope than reality, highlighted three key issues the public has with electric vehicles (EVs):
- 17% of those surveyed said they’d be interest in an electric car, but this plummeted to just 5% when they were told they’d have to pay a $15k premium for one.
- Consumers were put off by higher ownership costs of electric cars, with EVs expected to depreciate faster.
- Although they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint, helping save the environment carried a relatively low weight for consumers when buying a new car.
So money is a key factor in people’s decisions to buy electric. But the key aspect of electric cars which turns my nose up is the impractical range and charge figures the manufacturers appear to be promoting.
For example, the Nissan Leaf will do just 100 miles on a full charge. And although you can do a ‘fast charge’ in 15 minutes at an EV charge point, which will give you 80% capacity and ultimately another 80 miles, first you have to find one. If you want to fully charge the batteries, you have to have the car plugged into a mains socket for a full eight hours!
I’m not sure how happy I’d be about reducing my carbon footprint by buying a Leaf for the same price as a Lotus Elise, and then having to walk the final third of my 150-mile round trip to work every day because of the limited range.
Is hydrogen the future?
And it looks like I’m not the only one who is slightly sceptical about the immediate future of electric cars. Allan Parsons, a retired scientist and lifetime subscriber to Which?, also shared many of the concerns I’m having and wrote to Which? Convo about them.
He underlined the scientific and economic benefits of hydrogen as the prime future fuel, and this extract from his email summed up his argument most poignantly for me:
‘If you take into consideration that it is quite easy and cheap to convert all current petrol/diesel fuelled cars to directly burn hydrogen (in the same sort of way that they can be modified to burn LPG), it should be apparent that overall this is a much more carbon-neutral scenario. This is because it does not require the whole of the world’s current petrol/diesel car stock to be junked and replaced with brand new, very expensive, electric cars.’
But am I just being too narrow-minded about EVs? Maybe electric cars should be treated with completely different expectations to those we have from a lifetime of combustion engine vehicles? I guess I’d have more time to ponder these thoughts on the 50-mile walk home on my daily commute if I did buy a Leaf.