Up until just a few years ago, EVs were regarded as a peculiar novelty, with too many compromises to even fathom as an alternative to a petrol car. Advances in battery technology and the proliferation of car companies like Tesla creating genuinely desirable electric cars has given the industry a wake-up call and now there are quite a few to choose from, with many on the way.
Right now in Australia you can buy fully electric cars from BMW (i3 and i8), Holden (Volt), Tesla (Model S and Model X), and Nissan (LEAF). Other players including Volkswagen, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo, Jaguar, Porsche and Toyota – to name a few – have confirmed they are going to be offering something soon as well. With such a large percentage of car makers wanting a slice of the action, they must be onto a good thing.
But is an electric car a realistic proposition for you? What's it like to live with an electric car and what do you have to prepare for if you want to live with one? These are questions we set out to answer today.
Why drive an electric car?
Not too long ago electric car ownership was relegated to a fringe of eccentrics who converted a car to run on lead-acid batteries in their own garage. This was motivated out of environmental concern and the end results were often fraught with compromise. The environmental benefit does remain, but the compromises not so much. While there are no tailpipe emissions from an EV on the move, one must remember it is only as clean as the power source it is recharged from. With today's technology, the primary purpose of an EV is to conserve the environment and to reduce the amount of emissions that are filling it.
Driving and charging an EV
To drive an electric vehicle, it is more or less the same as a normal car, in that there are steering wheel, accelerator and brakes where you would normally find them. The instant power delivery and sensation of quiet progress takes some getting used to but most people find this enjoyable.
One tends to watch the remaining charge quite closely, in what is called 'range anxiety'. A bit like watching your phone slowly but surely go flat. All EVs offer different potential ranges, spanning from as little as 150km and up to around 550km. As batteries inevitably become more energy-dense and affordable, this anxiety will all-but disappear in the future.
Charging from home via a normal 240V outlet can take a considerable amount of time (overnight), with many manufacturers recommending that you install a dedicated wall charger for your EV. There is not a universal plug system for all electric cars, so different vehicles do require different charging outlets. Manufacturers liken this to charging your mobile phone. Setting up a special socket in your house usually involves work being done by a technician.
Carmakers such as Tesla offer public high-current fast chargers along the eastern seaboard, where your Tesla EV can get its battery charged in a drastically reduced timeframe. For example, Tesla says 20 minutes will give 50% charge, with 100% coming in just over an hour. These charges stations are free to use for now but Tesla is going to start charging users money, although still a much smaller cost than petrol.
Shopping centres such as Westfield offer fast EV charging at certain locations too. Check compatibility with your desired EV as part of your research. It's also worth researching the total full-charge range of your desired EV to make sure it can take you to where you need to go on a daily basis without going flat.
Compared with a normal, petrol or diesel car, an electric motor has one main moving part compared with hundreds. A petrol or diesel engine requires optimum revs on board to make peak power, while an EV can generate maximum power from an instant. This is quite an experience to the uninitiated and feels surreal when combined with the eerie silence. It's worth noting the world's fastest production sedan is an electric car with a 0-100km/h time of under 3.0 seconds (Tesla Model S).
Some shopping centres have EV only parking now as well, adding some fringe benefit, and of course you never need to visit a petrol station any more. In terms of servicing, there is less to go wrong compared with a normal car, so, theoretically, reliability should be superior.
The battery does have a finite life, being the most expensive serviceable item in the car. This is expecting to become cheaper as time goes on but research the expected battery life of your intended purchase before taking the plunge so you know what to expect. Generally, batteries last at least 5-7 years before needing a replacement, with most EVs coming with a powertrain warranty to cover this. As the network of fast chargers grows, the aforementioned issue of range anxiety will disappear too.
Currently in the Australian market, available EVs include the Tesla Model S and Model X, Nissan LEAF, and BMW i3 and BMW i8. Holden also has the Volt but this will go out of production soon in its current form. There are several 'plug-in' hybrids that combine petrol power with electric motors and batteries to quell range anxiety, such as the Audi A3 e-tron, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and BMW 330e to name a few. These can drive on electric power alone just like an EV, and then start up a petrol motor automatically to recharge the batteries when required. Some also run on a combination of electric and petrol, depending on the user's demands.
If you decide an electric car is right for you, contact one of our experts to see how we can help.
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