Electric Vehicles: What Are They Good For?

Electric Vehicles, or EVs, — despite huge hype, state support and billions of dollars of car makers funds — still only represent a tiny proportion of total sales.

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According to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) article just 0.4% of an estimated 85 million cars sold worldwide last year were EVs. Numbers are rising, but at least here in Europe even free charging points, free road tax, free or discounted parking and exemption from road, tunnel and ferry charges has not been enough to boost participation.

In the UK, grants of £5,000 ($7,700) per vehicle have helped bring the initially quite high cost down to more accessible levels. Life cycle costs are almost certainly lower than gasoline cars now, yet the largest selling EV in the UK, the Nissan Leaf only just passed 10,000 units, and the Leaf commands 2/3rds of the UK EV market. Growth in percentage terms looks significant as this graph from the EIU shows, with the EU now overtaking the US as the fastest growing major EV market but it also suggests incentives play a big part in persuading buyers to choose EV.

Source: EIU
Source: EIU

Range anxiety understandably seems the most significant hurdle. Petrol-Hybrid EVs are proving more acceptable where the fall back of a petrol engine can give a respectable range of over 400 miles in some cases and new models are getting better all the time. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been popular this year taking an estimated one-fifth share of the European EV market in the first five months of the year.

It will not go on sale in the US until 2016, the article reports, maybe to give the firm a chance to iron out any bugs before the hit the potentially larger US market. Europe is waiting for Tesla’s new offering, the Model 3 that is reported to be able to cover 200 miles on one charge, compared to the Leaf that manages less than 50, in spite of claims of 100.

Clearly, the technology has some way to go before it attracts a mass market and with governments’ enthusiasm waning – incentives are in many countries being reined back – it could be mass take up remains some way off. Modern diesel engines are managing real returns of over 70 miles per imperial gallon and petrol engines of around 50 mpg, the claims for PHEVs become harder to justify. Pure EVs will still prove popular with city planners for pollution reasons, but headwinds remain for the technology.

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