One of my favourite UK journos, Chris Harris, waxes lyrical on what the arrival of electric cars will mean to his profession. See his Tesla video on Driver’s Republic for some surprisingly very progressive thinking from one of the foremost petrol heads in the UK.
Finally some common sense coverage of the Volt from Fox, showing renewable energy obviously can fit with conservative ideology (if you can consider their need to frame this in security policy common sense?). Hopefully this will neutralize the American right wing’s totally unreasonable objections to the Volt so they can at least get out of the way of this badly needed progress.
Despite increased activity and interest in electric cars by activists, politicians, scientists and finally manufacturers, sales of electric cars remain slow. An article in today’s Sunday Times by Dominic Tobin and John Arlidge states that just 21 new electric cars were sold in Britain last month! Now that is a low amount of cars no matter how you frame it (even if it is one more than Feb 2011).
This is obviously a concern given the large amounts of R&D some automakers have dedicated to these projects. One solution according the authors is to make loss making electric vehicles available through car sharing clubs. This they say will mean “manufacturers can reduce the overall carbon dioxide emissions from the cars they make, and thus keep the EU regulators at bay”.
Below:Mercedes Car2go has been rolled out in France, Germany and the USA
The two big manufacturers that already have car sharing schemes of the kind discussed in the article are Daimler (Car2go) and BMW (DriveNow). Daimler is currently the only one using electric vehicles. The schemes basically allow people to hire cars for short periods of time, pay-by-the-minute and and drop off in any municipal bay. This is all facilitated by a smart phone and a chip installed in a members driving licence. Simple.
So could these schemes be the key to the future of urban mobility? According to the Sunday Times, Mercedes claims 70,000 members and BMW 16,000, whilst world wide membership of urban car clubs tripled between 2006 - 2010 to reach 1.2 million members. Also consider the fact that 80% of under 25’s in Tokyo, one of the worlds biggest consumer markets, don’t own a car (and I am sure you would find similar patterns in other major cities) and you can begin to see the structural issues. These days having a car in a city can be a massive hassle and looking after a tonne of metal in a crowded environment with limited space is stressful.
So perhaps the reason for slow electric car sales does not only come from their lack of range (largely perceived and not relevant in a city) and high price point. It could be the way in which we perceive car ownership that no longer fits with many people’s actual lifestyles.
Car sharing does of course come with its own problems for OEMs, who I’m sure would rather sell a car to 10 individuals rather than 1 car for 10 to share. But looking at it from the other direction, this could just be a great way to access a lot of people who would otherwise not have bought a car at all.
It is in a sense shame that regulation seems to be running ahead of demand for clean vehicles (although this matches historical precedent many aspects of the automotive sector). However, these kinds of solutions could be vital to providing sustainability in the EV market, both to take up demand side slack in the interim and structurally over the longer term. Changing business models as well as perceptions is the next step.
Some interesting related articles
With Europe’s biggest motor show now nearing its end let us take a look at what have been some of the major talking points.
If Geneva acts as kind of barometer for the popularity of new technologies within the auto industry, then this year’s show has been something of a mixed bag. A report from the New York Times surfaced saying that the show just didn’t have that mad green fever of the past couple of years. Moreover, Norbert Reithofer, Cheif Executive of BMW, said that makers of electric vehicles are “going to have to have a lot of stamina”, whilst spoil sport Peter Schwarzenbauer of Audi remarked that electric cars were “not very compelling for consumers”. Meanwhile Bentley showed this. Enough said.
But perhaps none of this should come as a surprise to anybody and despite some of the pessimistic rhetoric there are a still a large number of manufactures who remain (or at least appear to be) committed to the pursuit of emission reduction. Strangely however, the only electric car from a major OEM not seen before at Geneva was the Renault Zoe, an excellently packaged city car with an 89bhp 65kW electric motor and 130 mile range.
Above: Apparently dwarfs are the target market for the Zoe
It was revealed by champion of electric cars Carlos Ghosn, who seems to have emerged as the undisputed electric car leader in Geneva according to Laurent Mason @ plugincars.com. I’m waiting for the range of Che style T-shirts to appear.
More good news for alternative fuel vehicles as the Chevrolet Volt continues to fill its trophy cabinet with awards, this time for European Car of the Year. They did seem a little confused over who to give the award to, announcing the winner as the Chevrolet-Opel-Volt-Ampera. Hopefully this is where Chevy’s luck picks after an undeserved bumpy ride in the press over the last month.
Above:Would this be the first time an American car has won ECoTY?! Probably yes.
Other notable events included Tesla’s European premier of the Model S. A crucial car for them in their long term viability. So far they have got the styling and interior spot on and pre-orders have been strong despite their recent “bricking” controversy.
One of my personal favorites of the show comes from a company not accustomed to change. Morgan are still happily making V-Twin 3 wheelers largely by hand at their cute Malvern HQ. So they caused quite a stir when they showed their Plus E in bright yellow. Using a 94hp Zytech motor it will be the first electric car to have a 5 speed manual gearbox. Morgan recons the 221 pound-feet of torque should be enough to shove it from 0-62pmh in a respectable 6.0 seconds and on to a top speed of 115mph (more than enough for something that looks like second cousin to the horseless cart imho)
Above: Just like any other 1940’s concept car on display at Geneva…wait no
Interestingly, according to the Morgan PR document, the clutch is retained as in a normal gear box, but because the motor provides torque from zero speed the driver can choose to leave it engaged when coming to a rest and pulling away, driving the car like a conventional automatic.
As Morgan Operations director Steve Morris put it, “we wanted to see how much fun you can have in an electric sports car, so we built one to help us find out”. As plans go that’s a good one to me. Unfortunately no one else will be finding out as this one is purely a concept, however if enough people start deliriously waving their cheque books around then they may apparently be persuaded .