Why are all electric cars rubbish?

Put down that plug: the future of motoring is hybrid, not electric

Plug-in hybrids like the Land Rover Range e are more flexible than all-electric cars.
Plug-in hybrids like the Land Rover Range e are more flexible than all-electric cars.

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If you can judge technology by the public face it presents, then we’re all careering headlong in to a disastrous, tasteless and bland motoring future. Just look at the eclectic range of electric cars currently available for eco-minded motorists. No, really. Just look at them.

They’re all rubbish. From Mitsubishi’s frustratingly-named iMiEV to the Lotus Elise based Tesla Roadster; they all lack the ultimate practicality and convenience of proper day to day vehicles. And that’s even before you catch a glimpse of yourself, framed by a shop window, and realise just how much of a prat you look behind the wheel.

The truth is, eco is not cool. Eco means cutting back. Whittling down. Doing without. And, in the same way that a guilt-free, free range, coddled-from-a-seed and lovingly-nudged-into-creation salad will cost you far more than the price of a bog-standard made-in-a-factory one, you also get the added bonus of paying through the nose for the privilege of paring back and ‘saving the planet’. This is simply misguided logic in an age where people are genuinely puzzled as to why you would bother to repair a toaster rather than replace it, or where you can double the size of your lardburger meal for just 50fils.

Take the Tesla for example. It’s a tremendous car to drive: lots of torque available from zero rpm, and Elise-like handling. Its electric gubbins makes it exceptionally heavy, but the car’s power delivery is more than capable of soaking up the extra weight. Until it runs out of juice. At around 395kms; which is actually really rather good.

But here’s the real rub. The Tesla Roadster costs at least three times the price of the Elise it’s based on. Hold on - that's not even the worst part.

While the car may cost just a handful of dollars to ‘fill up’ with electricity (if you’ve got 16 hours to spare), and you'll enjoy several years of smug motoring, smiling at others who are forced to endure price increases at the pump, there's a sting in the tail for Tesla owners. The battery pack will, at some point, need to be replaced - and that's likely to cost around $36,000 every seven years, or 160,000km. factor in that, and the cost per kilometre soars through the roof. Just replacing the battery pack alone will set you back $0.22 (or 1 dirham) every kilometre.

Electric car proponents will point to the success of the Nissan Leaf, saying that the car has plenty of power and practicality for most drivers. That may be true. Nissan may have cracked the magic formula and produced a car that will fit most drivers needs, certainly for short, around town trips. But the Leaf retails for around $35,200 in the US, which is more than double that of the petrol-powered model it’s based on. For that kind of cash, buyers could opt for the far sportier 370Z coupé, the comfy Murano SUV or the Pathfinder offroader - and still have change.

In fact, you’d have to be a hardcore tree hugger to opt for the Leaf over anything else Nissan produces. Given the choice between a heavy mid-range hatchback that requires constant nourishment from the national grid, and upgrading to a 230bhp BMW 328 sedan that sips its fuel and saves over $1,000 in the process, I know which way I’d swing.

For the Middle East, electric cars make little sense. Think of the implications of plugging only 10% of Sharjah’s traffic into its already struggling power network at the height of summer. If the system struggles now, how will it cope with hundreds of high-drain devices all switching on after hours? Sharjah is not alone. KSA faces a massive rise in the demand for energy over the next decade, and so too do its GCC neighbours. Again, those who support the electric car will say that most charging is done overnight, and that actually helps power companies smooth out power delivery. I’m not sure that’s the case. Limited range and human nature dictates that a lot of charging will still take place during the day, which adds to the pressure on existing power infrastructure.

Even if the Middle East was blessed with a limitless power supply, the prospect of running out of juice in the middle of the desert is frightening. Think it won’t happen? Ask yourself how many times you’ve failed to charge your mobile overnight, or run the amber-light gauntlet as you frantically search for a fuel station as the car begins to splutter. And, if you’ve managed to chance upon a socket to charge your ailing four-door milk cart, being forced to wait the best part of a day before it can be driven again.

Electric cars may ultimately provide the answer to our motoring future but there is a long way to go before I could trust my motoring future to the vagaries of lithium ion laptop battery power.

The true alternative lies in refining and developing the plug-in hybrid. While this only reduces the demand on fossil fuels, rather that replace it entirely, it’s the only viable solution for the short to medium term. A small petrol or diesel engine powering a bank of batteries that in turn powers electric motors is the perfect blend of both ideas, and is already employed on a number of cars on the market. One such vehicle is the 193km/h Land Rover Range –e concept, a diesel-V6 and electric hybrid that has a range of 1,110kms:  five times further than the Tesla which, even at the UK’s extravagant fuel prices, makes it one of the most cost effective and fuel efficient vehicles on the planet. It’s also a damn sight more practical.

The system doesn’t require vast sums of cash to install new national infrastructure, and it doesn’t rely on fossil-fuelled power stations to keep it running. More importantly, topping up with fuel in the desert is a lot easier than finding a power socket within range of your dead car.
 

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PMV Middle East - September 2018

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