Thoughts on the electrification of cars

by Marcus Loane

14th October 2018

Eventually the world is going to run out of oil which means vehicles are going to be powered by other means. Battery powered vehicles are the most sensible alternative and the electricity used to charge them can increasingly be sourced from renewables such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and nuclear. Regardless of the issue of global warming being caused by burning fossil fuels the endpoint is still inevitable because there is a finite amount of fossil fuels and we are going to run out. I think the sooner we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels the better as it lessens the likelihood of runaway global warming. Runaway global warming occurs when various positive feedback loops kick in and at that point there would be nothing we could do to stop it. Coastal cities and communities would be flooded and massive human suffering would result. Therefore the sooner we tackle global warming the better our chances are.

Even ignoring these issues there is still a very strong case for preferring electric vehicles over internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

A Nissan Leaf at a free charging point in Newry, N. Ireland

Advantages of electric vehicles

They are much quieter. They emit a faint whine which is much quieter than the rumbling spitting sounds of petrol and diesel engines. Drivers of electric cars say they notice other sounds more such as tyre noise or creaking panels because there is no engine noise to mask them. They also report enjoying listening to music more without the competition from the engine. They describe driving as more relaxing and serene.

Instant smooth acceleration. In an electric car there is instant torque and no lag between pressing the accelerator and the car accelerating. There is no jerkiness of going through gears or of turbos kicking in. The fastest electric cars outperform similarly priced and significantly more expensive fossil fuelled cars. For example the Tesla model S P100D has a 0 to 62 mph time of 2.7 seconds! Electric cars are no longer slow.

No engine vibration. We are so accustomed to vibration in vehicles that we forget it is not necessary.

No exhaust fumes or odour from fuel. You will not be breathing in toxic fumes at least not from your own vehicle. Imagine future cities when all transport is electric. They will be so much quieter and cleaner and there will be less pollution caused diseases.

A Tesla model S charges at Ikea near Belfast, N. Ireland

Regenerative braking and one pedal driving. The electric motor can be used as a generator to slow down the car while simultaneously recharging the battery while in motion. This is often shortened to “regen”. This allows a one pedal driving mode in some electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf. Lifting your foot off the accelerator leads to slowing more aggressively than in a petrol car which would coast. Apparently with practice you can come to a complete stop using just one pedal and this works well for city driving, rather like driving a dodgem. The regeneration also recharges the battery extending the range before the next charge is due. It also reduces wear on the brake pads as they are used less.

Low centre of gravity leading to better handling. Most of the weight of an electric car is from the battery and this is usually designed as a floor so the chassis is basically like a skate. This lowers the centre of gravity and keeps it well centred unlike in a petrol car which has the weight of the engine at the front and sitting higher. The electric car can have less roll on cornering as a result.

More space inside the car. Electric motors are small compared to engines and they can be placed on the axles. Electric cars have no engine and no drivetrain running down the middle of the car. The space at the front (bonnet/hood) can be used for luggage.

No need to visit a petrol station. Assuming you have off street parking, electric cars can be charged at home overnight like a mobile phone and newer models have a range of 150 to 300 miles which covers most daily driving scenarios. A standard 13 amp socket can be used but is too slow to fully charge longer range electric cars overnight so most owners will install a 7kw home charger for which there is a government grant.

Lower running costs. Fully charging an electric car to a 300 mile range costs around £7 (12p/kwh and 60kwh battery). In a petrol car this costs approximately £34 in petrol (about 3/4 of a tank). With the annual mileage I do that would be a saving of about £1800 a year. Electric cars are simpler and require less servicing. They do not need oil and filter changes. Their brakes last longer due to the use of regenerative braking. The main maintenance cost would be replacing tyres. Road tax in the UK is zero on zero emission cars costing under £40,000. In the UK the government will pay £3500 towards the cost of a new electric car and £500 towards the cost of a home charger. There are similar incentives in other countries.

A free charger in Dromore, N. Ireland

Disadvantages of electric vehicles

Currently there is a limited choice of models to choose from compared to petrol vehicles. However when I researched what was available in the UK I was surprised at the range of models. They are nicely organised at the

Currently there is also limited availability. Except for Tesla, the car manufacturers are doing limited production runs on electric cars as their petrol cars are more profitable for them. They make money from the oil changes and increased servicing that petrol and diesel cars require. They also do not advertise electric cars much and dealerships are not very knowledgeable on them.

The Hyundai Kona Electric has a range of about 300 miles on one charge.

There would be very few days when you would want to drive more than 300 miles.

They can be less convenient for very long road trips. There are less charging stations than petrol stations. Most charging is done at home and public charging may never be needed. However if going on a long road trip, charging on the road can become necessary. Charging, even on rapid 50kw/120kw DC chargers can take 30 to 60 minutes so some planning might be needed to make it coincide with a meal break while on a road trip. In Ireland and Northern Ireland most chargers are free to use. Some of their locations are shown below in a screenshot from the Zapmap app. Tesla's worldwide supercharger network has shown the industry what is needed and Porsche is planning on even faster charging so that the Porsche Taycan will charge to 80% in just 15 minutes.

Electric cars are more expensive to buy although I am told that this will change over the next few years as the cost of batteries comes down. China and Norway have the most electric cars on their roads relative to fossil cars. China is also producing the most cars and they could take over the market at the low end with Tesla serving the high end. However it is still too early in this nascent industry for firm predictions, except that I can confidently predict that the number of electric cars on the roads will increase and eventually make up the majority. It is the timescale which is open to debate. In the UK in the year up to September 2018, plug in vehicles made up 2.4% of all new registrations. In the US, Tesla which only makes electric vehicles outsold Mercedes and was the fourth most selling car manufacturer in the 2018 third quarter. All major car manufacturers are working on releasing electric cars on to the market in the next few years as well as new less well known companies. There are also plans for rolling out more charging infrastructure in UK, US, China, Europe and elsewhere. The future of transport is undergoing exciting change and I have not even included self driving and semi-autonomous driving capabilities in this short article.

The ZapMap app for finding chargers in UK and Ireland