What electric car tipping point?

Doctor Z, want to borrow my spectacles?

Dr Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG (that produces Mercedes-Benz and Smart) is reported in Automotive News to have said of electric cars being on the immediate horizon that “we are at that tipping point now.”

Really? I disagree for several reasons.

Insufficient range

How far can an electric vehicle travel between charges? About 80 km (50 miles)? That’s less than an hour on the open road, and a bit more in slower-moving urban areas. For many people that is not enough for the daily round-trip commute to work. So if you want a quick journey to visit the relatives who live just 170 km (105 miles) away (less than two hours down the freeway/motorway/autobahn), that means two charges on the journey there and two on the way back. Is that practical. A resounding NO.

No charging infrastructure

So we need to stop on the freeway every 80 km (50 miles).

Existing gas/petrol/filling stations are not equipped with charging mechanisms. How long will it take to roll out a complete infrastructure upgrade? A partial upgrade is no use – what do I do if I need to charge my vehicle every 80 km and the upgraded charging stations are located 100 km apart?

And I’m not sure that every freeway has filling stations every 80 km. So new buildings are also required, or signposted diversions into local charging stations are needed. How long will it take to build these new stations? And how economic will the business model become after the new stations cannibalize the non-fuel sales from the existing stations?

An alternative charging/refuelling process is required

How long does it take to refill a vehicle with gas/petrol/diesel? A couple of minutes?

How long does it take to recharge an electric vehicles’s battery pack? Much more than two minutes. Hours. Although I have heard that technology is advancing and super-fast charging techniques are being honed. Thankfully the existing filling stations tend to be hooked into the high-power grids that can deliver, say, 100 amps at 440 volts. But this sort of high-speed charging will never be possible for home-based use.

An alternative approach would be removable battery packs. You pull up at a charging station, underneath a hoist, and your existing battery pack is lifted out and a new pack is lowered in.

There are health and safety issues here to be overcome – but if we can allow people to squirt highly flammable liquids out of nozzles on pressurised hoses, then I doubt we will be stumped by an acceptable approach to lifting battery packs.

And another issue is to ensure that new packs are not removed and replaced by old ones, leaving the system overly expensive whilst the people responsible find themselves with high quality and readily saleable goods to quietly slip over the border into a different country.

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