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UK: Can electric cars ever become truly competitive? The charging and range debate continues

By Laura Chapman

With critics saying EV cars still have too many issues, especially those of range and charging, let us assess how the industry is addressing these and look at examples of countries moving forward to make the electric car option work.

This has always been the main contention with electric cars; where will I be able to charge it up? With many Governments now tackling this issue it will be interesting to see the effect on electric car sales.

The Transport Minister for Scotland announced in February this year the installation of 200 charging points were across the whole of Scotland – that means there will be one every 50 miles on main roads. Along with a new network of chargers for the 2014 Commonwealth games’ visitors and officials, the Scottish Government is dedicated to making the proposition of electric cars a viable one to businesses and individuals alike.

Concerns regarding charging stations are however a different ball game when you look to America. The sheer vastness of the country makes it commercially far more difficult – or does it? Consider the argument of people’s “normal” commuting lengths which are usually relatively low, and well below the 100 mile maker. Ensure plenty of charging stations with major city areas and market the vehicles as the suburban driving solution – it could be possible. However with US Census data showing only 13,000 charging point at the end of 2012 there is still a long way to go.

Long charging times have also been continually cited as a problem with critics pointing out that charge times of between 30 minutes and seven hours (depending on the voltage) are not a viable option for our fast paced world. However a solution could be in sight;

Look to the Middle East

Shai Agassi, the Israeli advocate of electric cars, has launched a new business called Better Place. As a prominent supporter of electric cars, his business aims to develop a network of so called “switch stations” allowing drivers to swap empty batteries for fully charged ones. The batteries would remain the property of Better Place meaning creating an added benefit for drivers who would no longer need to worry about the price or condition of them.

What about the lack of range?

One of the other primary concerns with EV cars has been and still remains the perceived lack of range with them. This has now even been given its own name by General Motors – range anxiety. Marketers of the EV car need to come up with a strategy that positions the vehicles as firstly cars and that are secondly run by electricity. Sarah Heaney of BMW has commented that they still see range as the “big cloud” hanging above electric cars.  Generally with a range of 100% charge for 100 miles although some users have experienced a variable de-charge; concerning if there is a sudden large drop and you are miles from home.

Look to the Icelanders

Electric car proponents argue that this is not a real problem for large swathes of the world’s population; as their average journey is well below that 100 mile range. For example look at Iceland: with 90 percent of journeys’ at below 40 miles, a car with a 100 mile range seems entirely feasible. With the government program of installing charging stations across shopping malls and tax incentives to go electric, Iceland is likely to make this work.

Want to take your electric car further field?

With range of 100 miles or less it would seem a tricky concept to go on a driving holiday in an electric car. For much of the world this is still probably a difficult ask, but there have been advances, with businesses realising the opportunities for providing more readily available charging points. Look to geographically smaller countries which are embracing and developing their networks for a way to make it work. For example ESB ecars has joined forces with an Irish ferry company and introduced charge point onboard ferries – initially on the Holyhead to Dublin route, thus demonstrating the willingness of some holiday companies to embrace green travel solutions. There are also ferry companies with charge points onboard its routes to France. ESB ecars are keen to build the electric car infrastructure and encourage people to travel more widely in their electric cars. With careful research and planning where to re-charge it is entirely feasible that you could take a driving holiday either in the UK or Ireland – it is the Emerald Isle after all.



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