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Publisher's Letter

By Leo Simpson

The attractions of electric cars

Following our review of the Nissan Leaf electric car in our August issue, we have had a number of emails which have generally contradicted our favourable impressions. The criticisms have been that the vehicle is too expensive, the range is nowhere near enough, the battery won’t last and the overall economics or running it don’t add up. Overall, that’s a pretty deflating summary which has been echoed by some of the local newspaper reviewers.

Well, I have to say that these people just don’t “get it”. I would love one. I am a prime candidate for such a vehicle. I have a short run to work every day and a range of about 100km would easily satisfy most of my motoring. Sure there are times when I drive much longer distances but my wife and I have two cars between us; we’d keep a petrol vehicle for those occasions.

I also love the idea of having a very quiet car. I already have a quiet car in the form of an 8-year old Honda Accord. If I purchased another, I would likely buy the latest Accord with active noise cancellation for an even quieter drive. If I purchased an electric car, it would be quiet anyway. Apparently, overseas some electric and hybrid cars are now being fitted with a sound source to warn pedestrians and blind people because the vehicles don’t make enough noise. Well blow that; I want my car to be utterly quiet!

I also like the idea of not making any noise when starting. Petrol and diesel cars can very noisy when they are starting, some needlessly so. For example, our Toyota Avalon revs the engine over 2000 RPM at start-up. This is part of the engine management system, apparently to quickly recharge the battery. In an electric, you just press the accelerator and move off; no noise.

Another great aspect of an electric car is that you never have to put petrol in the tank. My overall petrol use in my present car is not great and I probably only fill it up about 35 times a year (I drive less than 12,000km per annum). Still, I hate the whole ritual, especially if the petrol price is higher for that particular day.

I also get my car serviced twice a year and I hate that too, since it seems so expensive and is all involved with engine maintenance. That’s not necessary with an electric.

So I do feel that electric vehicles have significant attractions for anyone who does not have to drive long distances every day and that includes many, if not most, car owners.

So what’s stopping me from buying a Nissan Leaf right now? Well, I would like one but I don’t need one. My present car could still last for quite a few years before I need to change it. As well, I am too stingy and I do agree that all electric cars are presently far too expensive and compare badly in a “whole of life total cost” with the latest petrol or diesel cars.

Eventually though, electric cars should get a lot cheaper and then they should sell in significant numbers. By that time, doubts about battery longevity or the high cost of replacement will probably have been addressed.

Still, it is likely that electrics will probably never better the most economical petrol or diesel cars in terms of actual energy use. That is because the batteries in electric cars are very heavy and there are significant losses when they are being charged and discharged. Sure, if they are charged at off-peak rates there will be a big saving in energy cost to the driver but I have to wonder how long that advantage will be available.

Why? Because governments extract a significant amount of tax from petrol and other fuels. They are unlikely to want to see that all disappear if lots of people buy electrics. Mark my word, they will figure out some way to charge more for the electricity used in charging electric car batteries.

Leo Simpson


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