/ Motoring

What’s stopping you from driving an electric car?

It’s just been announced that a fleet of super-fast charging points for electric vehicles will be installed along the UK’s main motorways. Which? Conversation community member Ian asks if this will be enough to encourage you to make the electric shift…

The new network of charging points will be set up by the National Grid. It has been busy mapping the country’s motorways and transmissions networks to identify 50 sites to ensure that 90% of drivers can drive in any direction from any location, and be within 50 miles of a charging point.

The super-fast charging points for electric vehicles will provide up to 350kW of power, meaning that drivers can charge their cars in 5 to 12 minutes – a comparable time to filling a car up with petrol or diesel.

National Grid says that ‘range anxiety’ is the top reason for drivers not buying an electric car, and it hopes this new network will offer drivers reassurance – but will it be enough for you?

Is cost a concern?

While charging points become more readily available, I think cost may still be stopping many from getting behind the wheel of an electric car. But Stanford University lecturer Tony Seba, who has extensively researched this subject, believes this will soon be a thing of the past:

‘Energy storage costs – for lithium-ion batteries for example – continue to drop at about 16% a year, driving a replacement of power plants on the grid by energy storage and plunging prices for electric vehicles.’

This sounds like good news for drivers – and Seba thinks it will drive a fundamental shift in driving trends in the coming decade:

‘Within just 10 years conventional energy production and transport will have been rendered obsolete by the revolution taking place in batteries, solar power and electric cars.’

More reasons to make the electric switch

And, when dropping battery costs meet the increasing trend towards autonomous vehicles, Seba takes his prediction one step further. He believes that not only will all new cars shortly become electric only, but that people will stop wanting to own their own car, instead preferring to use autonomous vehicle-sharing schemes.

He points out that sheer economics will force the switch: EVs (Electric vehicles) need 100 times fewer moving parts than conventional vehicles, so maintenance costs could be lower.

Additionally, I’ve read that the best EVs can out-accelerate some petrol cars. And with the average car spending 96% of its time parked, a big disruption to the market seems more than likely.

This is a guest contribution by community member Ian. All views expressed here are Ian’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.

Will you be joining the electric revolution?

What do you think? Is it far-fetched to expect all drivers to be wooed over to electric in the next 10 years, or is this a future you’d like to be part of? Will the new charging network and lower costs encourage you to buy – or hire – an electric car?

Brian Gray says:
5 October 2019

Will the new Renault Zoe make you go electric?

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/10/will-the-new-renault-zoe-make-you-go-electric/ – Which?

In this article it is said that the average price paid by readers buying a new car is About £25k or 17k depending on the size. I find this strange as the most popular cars are usually said to be the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, and you can find a new top of the range Corsa SE Nav advertised for under £13k. Perhaps this only says Which members are not typical but seems to upset the arguments put forward in the quoted article.

Your right about the Ford Fiesta being the most popular in the UK Brian I have a 3 year old ST3 and for over 40 years bought only Fords (cost me £12,000 ) .
Your comment on Which members being not typical is interesting—is it true ?

It is a strange statement. An average price is almost meaningless as it depends upon, for example, what size of car you want to buy. Which? should, I think, have looked at the average price people pay for cars around the Zoe’s size, and compared that with the “complete” Zoe including battery.

DerekP says:
6 October 2019

I think I agree with Brian in as far as the costs of a small car like the Zoe should be compared against other cars of similar size.

As regards the top selling UK cars, I found some nice data here:-https://www.driving.co.uk/news/business/uks-top-10-best-selling-cars-2019-updated/

Then again, simply comparing the initial capital costs – as opposed to the through life total costs is not likely to give a fair reflection of the real costs of EV versus ICE cars.

Right now, it is probably fairly easy to provide a cost comparison for those who change their cars every few years, but harder for those who like to keep a vehicle for 10 years or more.

For the latter, I think there are still some issues around unknowns to do with the service degradation and replacement costs of EV batteries.

YouTube was kind enough yesterday to send me a video scandal report from Australia about those problems in respect of the Nissan Leaf. Apparently the 1st generation Leaf models have suffered from poor design, leading to short battery lives and ludicrous replacement costs.

That said, as time goes by, I expect EV batteries will become longer lasting and more of a known quantity.

I suppose it depends on how they die and what’s left at the end. Obviously the casing is probably reusable, maybe some of the internal structure too. It’s the element that stores the power that fails because some of the components degenerate or change their chemical make up. I wonder how much research has been done to reuse these powerless materials. Presumably they can’t be put back into their original state, and no one knows how to make a gas compound that can accept a charge and, when used up, be replaced by a refill. The nearest thing to that is the hydrogen cell which is not strictly a battery. I suspect that even that has a degenerative cycle within the “motor”. The solid state battery is hovering in the wings, with one manufacturer hoping to use one in the next two years. This will increase capacity and range, but I’m willing to bet it also has a shelf life. How long will it be before we are scrabbling for raw materials to keep us on the move?

Here is a recent open source academic article about recycling EV batteries, published in the journal Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1682-5

My concern is that high charging rates generally shorten the life of rechargeable batteries and if we do want EV batteries to have a long life then it might be best to avoid very high charge rates when possible.

That makes fascinating reading. The complexity of recycling is difficult to comprehend. Stage after stage of extraction, purification, separation, heating and washing, and even then, much of the process is still to be perfected, particularly as battery technology (as with so many other things) is not standardised, and improvements make further demands on the recycling. I was impressed at the detail here. Thoughts about how robots could work with toxic materials and gasses and how they might be trained, provided the disassembly could be automated reliably. Semi automated disassembly with human input, and, of course, the human cost of contamination and poor working conditions in less scrupulous countries.
This article throws up more challenges than it provides solutions for and, clearly, there is a lot more research and development to be done, even between first and second usage of the battery before it becomes totally useless. There is the problem of raw materials coming from politically unstable countries and the eventual shortage of raw materials as production increases. We need to find ways to avoid land fills full of dead batteries, but the recycle, reuse processes will be expensive and perhaps should be factored into the manufacturing costs. Electric cars are considerably more expensive to buy than their fossil fuel alternatives and if end of life costs are included, motoring could be an expensive luxury instead of a car in every garage or driveway. That in turn dictates a totally different life style which impinges on the prosperity of the country and how it is governed.
Interesting times ahead for all of us. The youth are crying out for a cleaner world and blaming us for contaminating it before we die off and leave the wreckage behind. Their cleaner world will bring changes that may nor be so welcome when they look back on the freedoms we had that are no longer possible.

Yes it’s complex. We will gain a better understanding of the challenges as time goes on. I agree that standardisation would be a great help but at this stage it might restrict development of better products, so the best option could be to mark batteries so that they can be separated into the different types for processing.

I believe that the best way forward with all products is to include the cost of recycling in the purchase price, which could help steer us in the direction of buying products that are less damaging to the environment. At present, garages do pass on some of the cost of disposal of tyres and waste oil, though this may be concealed and may not cover the full cost.

With some cities exceeding the legal pollution levels, I think there is a good case for allowing only electric vehicles to use these areas.

Bristol are going to do this in two years’ time and unless they get the infrastructure right they could bankrupt the city in their desire to reduce pollution.

They got a £2 million grant from HMG in 2018 Vynor but you are right they have “upped the anti ” in installing EV charging points .

Bristol is one of the cities where air pollution is so bad that it is classed as illegal: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/05/bristol-becomes-first-uk-city-ban-diesel-cars

Here is an Atlantic Council (US anti Russian propaganda and advisory organisation who promote “Energy Security ” ). Interesting reading if you are looking at it from a US first view –