Move to electric cars (and their Li-ion batteries) now seems unstoppable
In the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen (it borders Hong Kong) the city government has decreed that each new residential development must have battery-recharging units for every parking space. Otherwise, the developers will not be given permission to sell the apartments even though most of their new buyers will be driving gas-fuelled automobiles.
According to the Beijing-based Caixin news service the city government is concerned that lack of recharging facilities is holding back adoption of hybrid and electric cars. The city has only 81 fast-charging outlets, but only seven of those are for private car owners to use (the rest being for government vehicles). Slow charging outlets can involve up to a nine-hour recharging task. Hence Shenzhen (population 11 millions) has only 6,958 hybrid or electric vehicles on the road. The government expects that number to reach 25,000 by the end of next year assuming, presumably, that the recharging stations are available.
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Elsewhere, though, clean energy vehicles seem to be on a roll. This will certainly be a relief to Elon Musk of Tesla with his plans to establish the first gigafactory, a huge battery-producing plant to supply 500,000 car batteries a year. The battle to get the nod for the location of this project is still raging as several states vie for Musk’s approval. Texas Governor Rick Perry has just been to Sacramento to pitch the case for his state. According to latest news reports, San Antonio and Reno are the favourites (with Arizona and New Mexico still not being ruled out).
The best evidence that the electric car is assured of a future is the fact that commercial competition has now kicked in. Tesla’s Model S is expected to be selling 31,200 units this year. Now the motoring press is enthusing over BMW’s entry to the fray with its plug-in i8 sports car retailing in the U.S. at $137,500. According to the Detroit News, the BMW model (while still trailing Tesla in sales) benefits from its state of the art electric motor and lightweight carbon fibre body; it purports to have better gas mileage than the Toyoto Prius and faster acceleration than the petrol-fueled Porsche 911 Carrera. It runs emission-free for the first 37km of a journey.
In sales, the Tesla sports car has pulled ahead of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf (the Leaf having half the Model S price tag of $63,570). So car buyers in the U.S. are prepared to pay good money to back the electric car concept. As are the Norwegians: hybrid and electric cars scored 20% of all sales in March of automobiles. In the Netherlands 35,000 such vehicles are now registered. The Tesla Model S is now being launched in the United Kingdom which, even after government subsidy, will retail for a hefty £50,000.
And opinion seems to be that even a $100,000 sticker price on the Tesla Model S in China will not prove to too great a barrier (hefty import and sales taxes swelling the price). Chinese buyers, as experience has shown, will fork out large sums if they really want the car of their choice. Then we will wait and see what reaction globally there is Tesla’s Model X SUV. The prototype was unveiled in 2012 and the production model is expected to be available in 2015. It will have two lithium-ion battery packs and will accelerate from 0 to 97 km/h in 4.4 seconds. By 2017 the Tesla compact saloon is expected to be on sale, and Musk has plans for an amphibious electric vehicle.
Last week we heard that the joint Ford-Samsung battery research program was making good progress to produce a hybrid battery technology. This will involve a lighter-weight lithium-ion batty along with a lead acid battery in each vehicle. Ford is planning to install its Auto Start-Stop technology in 70% of its vehicles. The system turns off the engine when the car stops, which saves fuel. The battery system then powers all the vehicle’s accessories and system until the drive releases the brake pedal and the engine restarts.
Footnote: This correspondent first experienced this technology recently during a painfully slow trip through Paris rush-hour traffic to Charles de Gaulle airport, so there were many, many stops. It was disconcerting at first to hear the engine switch off but it worked. It sounds like we’re going to have to get used to it.
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