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Range, Charging Hurdles Confront Electric Car Buzz

Range, Charging Hurdles Confront Electric Car Buzz.

For example, you could go to four different public chargers and get four different charging speeds in the same day”

Britain and France have declared the end is nigh for the internal combustion engine (ICE) and the imminent launch of the Tesla Model 3 has set off electric car superlatives and hyberbole, but battery-electric technology must make big strides in range, recharging and price before victory can be declared.

Anecdotal evidence in Britain suggests that electric car manufacturers are still exaggerating the range of their cars, while the charging network is unpredictable in terms of technology and availability.

Finding a charging station is a big problem on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S. the Autos Cheat Sheet website  says this.

For example, you could go to four different public chargers and get four different charging speeds in the same day. One plug could give you three miles an hour; another could give you 13 miles an hour; a third could give you 27 miles an hour; and a fourth could give you 180 miles in 30 minutes.”

In Britain there is the same confusing range of chargers, with only 2,000 of the 12,000 capable of offering 80% in 30 minutes – And according to the U.K.’s recognized go-to bible of recharging – Zap-Map., there now about 70,000 pure electric vehicles in the U.K., about seven for every charging point

Don’t panic!
But there’s no need to panic yet because “nigh” in this case is 2040. In theory this means no new cars sold then will emit any CO2, at least from their tailpipes. In Britain, TV and radio talk shows trumpeted the news as if this was about to happen, and the victory of the electric car was complete. A lot of things can happen in 23 years.

Data from Britain’s Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT), the industry lobby group, reported that in July, sales of electric cars jumped 105.3%, as if to compound the excitement. Unfortunately this only raised the total to 860 from 419 in the same period of 2016.

Latest information from the influential newsletter Automotive Industry Data of Britain offers a more sober take. In the first 5 months of 2017, Western European electric car sales at just under 50,000 accounted for 0.8% of the market. Renault of France, mainly through sales of its little Zoe, was market leader with 25.4%, followed by Nissan (19.0%), Tesla (17.7%) and BMW (16.7%).

Industry intelligence provider BMI Research said the proposed bans on fossil fuelled vehicles raised the question of the availability of charging points, and the capability of electric grids to produce enough energy.

In 23 years time, technology may well have advanced enough to offer 500 miles of range rechargeable as fast as ICE vehicles are now. Or perhaps there will be a new technology not even imagined yet.

Renault Zoe
While the advent of the electric car was being declared, I was driving a Renault Zoe, recently upgraded with a new more powerful battery lauded by the company as good for 250 miles on one charge. (Prices start at about $28,600 after tax. There’s a $5,860 government subsidy. You don’t buy the battery. You rent if from Renault for $78 a month.)

So did this latest example of electric cars show the technology is now ready for prime time?

When the Zoe arrived fully charged, I took a quick look at the gauge for miles available. To my surprise this said only 180 miles, not the 250 I expected. This, according to the vehicle specification, is the available range in a “temperate” climate, not 250 miles, a government figure arrived at by calculating how far it will go in perfect circumstances. More worryingly, the specification also talks of an estimated winter range of only 124 miles.

But I had a 260 mile round trip planned in the middle of summer to test the range capabilities. Surely that would prove no problem, with a promise of a fast charger at the destination. But after driving around a bit locally I found that after travelling 25 miles, the range available would drop more, by about 20%. Go over 60 mph on a motorway and this becomes a more alarming descent. I decided to test out the local recharging facilities in my local area Worthing after consulting Zap Map. Worthing is about 70 miles south of London in a highly populated and prosperous area of the country, where electric car first adopters are likely to live.

Where are they?
First on the list was a big municipal multi-storey car park in the centre of Worthing. The two chargers had been removed because it couldn’t meet the range of different plugs being sought. On to the offices of EDF, a big French utility, also close to the centre of town. Chargers were promised, but the company had moved on. No word as to where. The list included the local Nissan dealer, allied with Renault and seller of the all-electric and perhaps compatible Leaf, but it didn’t want to refuel Renaults. Then there was another local car park. It had two shiny new recharging points, but they were both old style devices and would have been agonizingly slow.

Next day I visited a local brand-new and huge supermarket close to Worthing and it had two of the latest chargers. After a conversation on the phone with the charger owners who provided some advice, I was assured my remaining range of 80 miles would be filled to the brim in 30 minutes. I gave it 45 minutes to make sure before returning. To my amazement it had added only 20 miles – from 50% to 65% – and I junked my plans for the 260 mile trip, and threw my suitcase into the back of my ICE SUV. Sure, there were charging stations strategically placed on the trip, but what if they are this slow, or if they were already being used?

Renault says that if you find the right charger, it will refill from zero to 80% in one hour.  To be fair to Renault, every time they sell a Zoe they provide a superfast home charging system for the owner, and if I’d had that, I might well have taken the risk of a longer journey ending somewhere other than home. And with this home facility the Zoe would make a terrific city car.

Double or triple time journey time with electric car
That 260 mile trip prospect reminded me of a conversation I had with Paris, France based Frost & Sullivan analyst Nicholas Meilhan earlier this year.

“Most drivers (of electric cars) leaving for a long-distance weekend or holiday trip will run the risk of their trips taking double or triple the time for a diesel or gasoline internal combustion engine vehicle. A battery electric car with “fast” electric charge (50 kW) is approximately 25 times slower to fill than a vehicle with conventional fuel. Gasoline or diesel drivers will take 5 minutes to take on board what it will take 2 hours for a battery electric car,” Meilhan said.

The next big event for new electric cars comes in September, when Nissan unveils its new, improved Leaf, the world’s biggest selling electric car with 270,000 sold so far. Nissan wouldn’t give any details of the capabilities of the new Leaf, which is rumored to have a 300 mile range. But it has published “teaser” pictures, and said the new model will include improvements in its aero dynamics to improve range, and a new technology called ProPilot, described as a “semi-autonomous” feature.

The Frankfurt Car Show in September will showcase how Europe’s manufacturers are progressing with their attempts to match the success of the Tesla Model S and X, and the bigger threat posed by the imminent launch of the mass market Tesla Model 3. Politicians in Britain and France who have predicted the demise of ICE vehicles will be observing progress nervously.


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