Monday, June 27, 2011

EV's for the rest of Us

Never having to visit a gas station ever again? I'd pay for that.

Dealerships in Australia have begun notifying their customers that the all-electric Mitsubish i-Miev will be available for purchase "soon after" fleet orders are filled starting in August this year.

Mitsubishi made the i-Miev available to selected "early-adopter" fleets late last year, and this roll-out finally extends the battery powered electric vehicle - the first mass market EV to be offered in Australia - to the rest of us.

EV's of course - unlike hybrids such as Toyota's Prius - require no petrol or oil. At home or at work, plug into a 3-pin wall outlet and when you jump in you're good to go. Imagine that - every day you travel to work, the shops or to collect the kids, never having that sinking feeling that you'll have to detour to the servo, and dig into your wallet for fuel.

Nissan, not to be outdone, is hawking its new Leaf EV to car buyers at the Motor Show in Melbourne from this Friday (the 1st of July) through the 10th of July. Apparently fans of the Leaf will be able to drive it - obviously not very fast or far - around inside the Motor Show venue.

Arguably the Leaf is the better car, performance-wise, and in some other areas - but both have their advantages, and Mitsubishi looks to beat Nissan in the race to get their cars into the hands of the motoring public.

Australia is still lagging very far behind in incentives for the battery powered electric vehicle, and both Nissan and Mitsubishi are taking a big gamble bringing these technologically advanced vehicles here to the wide brown land.

Will the Australian motoring public "get it" when it comes to EV's?

EV's are not new - hobbyists and small entrepreneurs have been building EV's in their back yards and workshops for a couple of decades. Groups like the AEVA have been waiting for this moment when EV's begin to go mainstream - so that plugging in becomes de rigeur and EV charge points start to spring up in cafe's and supermarkets.

If you want to find out about the history, the future and the technology of EV's the AEVA is a good place to start - in October you'll be able to to to their EV festival, right here in Brisbane.

Of course the big drawcard for EV's is the massive savings in the cost of driving - cents per day instead of dollars.

But both companies will be hoping that early-adopting Aussie drivers will discover the other benefits - such as clean air, low noise, and the convenience of never having to go to the gas station ever again - and word of mouth will spread the EV bug.

Tech savvy city dwellers are likely to be the first to grab an i-Miev or Leaf: already au fait with cellphones, laptops and other cool gadgets, the ready-anytime EV is likely to a hit with them. But another risk is that buyers will be caught out by the leap in technology and fail to plan their charging habits, or otherwise fail to abide by the EV playbook.

Both Mitsubishi and Nissan will be taking extra care to groom their customers and only let the cars out once new owners are schooled in "plugging-in".

Its a great thing to see - the beginnings of roads that are free from pollution, so kids on their way to school, in the future will not have to breath the pollution from those countless tail-pipes. The start of quieter streets, and the beginning of an end to the strong dependence on foreign oil.

For me personally - it will have to be a case of "wait and see". Right now $50k-plus is too rich for me to drop on my daily ride. I would love to buy one of the two offerings as soon as they're available, but the price tag will have to be right. I'll be pulling out my calculator to see how those fuel savings stack up.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hey Gas, Don't Project Your Anxiety

I love this new PSA from Plug-in America. Since I work in the mobile phone industry, and I'm surrounded by technology powered by electricity it really is galling to have to commute in a device that burns fuel, and produces smoke.

But what galls me even more is statements like the one in this BBC new clip that range anxiety will put ordinary car buyers off the newest electric powered wonder - the EV, or electric vehicle.

EV's are cars that plug-in to a socket in your garage at night, and then every morning they're ready to go with a clean pollution free ride to work or the errands of the day. Unlike hybrids, or range extended plugins, EV's use no fuel at all, and you never have to go to a gas station. Instead your transport costs are a fraction of the equivalent fuel bill for a gas burning car, and just show up on your power bill as a few cents per day.

EV's are just now appearing in the hands of a tiny few early adopters - like cell-phones and personal computers did in the 1980's and 1990's. And also like those devices they seem in some ways clunky and cumbersome - not fitting into the lifestyle of today's busy consumers.

Imagine if you tried to use one of the house-brick sized cell-phones of the 90's in your daily life. Of course today, no-one is without their pocket sized device that not only does phone calls but also email, texts and even internet browsing.

Fast forward to today, and the critics of EV's are busy judging these early clean running cars as not viable - and their favourite argument is "range anxiety" - the idea that people will be too worried about running out of power to buy an EV.

But hold on - how do they know people would worry about "range anxiety" when no-one has EV's yet?

Here's the reason: we suffer from "range anxiety" right now in our petrol powered cars.

"Hey honey - sorry I'm late - I had to put gas in the car".

"Guys - sorry I missed the meeting the queue at the gas station was a mile long."

"Damn - the cars low on gas, but I can't afford to fill it right up. I'll just go with $10 worth."

How many of those statements ring true for you?

Can you think of a few more, from your friends or colleagues? I bet there is plenty. Most of us in our younger days when money was tighter have run out of gas and had the sad and sorry walk of shame to the gas station.

Of course we are anxious about running out because gas burning cars are part of our lives and we constantly live with the nagging idea of "how much gas have I got left" and that needle that always edges towards "E" for empty.

Where the range anxiety argument goes wrong is that EV's are not gas cars, and like cellphones are not the "old-school" handsets on your Mom's hallstand, they don't work the same in life either.

Do you have some older relatives who insist on trying to call you when you're at home, because they know that cellphone charges are dearer than calling a landline? If we think about it we can probably remember a time too when we'd think twice about calling a mobile number, or curse at our friend that dialled some mystery cellphone number leaving a big charge on our phone bill.

But those times are past and we love the convenience of cellphones, and the ready-to-go power of these amazing communications devices, with their internet connectivity, text messages and so on.

That's how EV's work - you plug them in over night - they are always ready to go in the morning. No visit to the gas station ever.

You don't have a once a week mounting tension as the needle drops to zero, and you never have to join that queue at the smelly petrol pumps. Instead plugging-in means that you are always ready to drive.

But wait - say the critics - EV's have only 100 miles range! What if I want to do a trip that is nearly 100 miles around! I could run out!

You could run out in your petrol car too - just the same. Of course you don't - because you plan ahead. As our examples above illustrate - there's plenty of range anxiety for gas burning motorists. Shunning EV's is not a way to escape it.

My daily commute is 28 kilometers (that's around 18 miles) and where I'm from that's considered a moderate commute. For me an EV would be perfect - even today, with the lack of infrastructure or government support. Even if I could only charge in my garage, it would be perfect.

But not everyone can use an EV, chide the anxiety peddling gas lobby. When you have to travel more than 50 miles out, you cannot get the round trip done in an EV. You'd be out of charge!

Now the EV bashers wail, that you cannot fill up on these long trips - it takes far too long! The charging stations do not exist yet!

True - right now EV's are only good for around 90% of the trips people make. If you're like me and use the car for trips of less than 100 miles, you are one of the probably 20% of motorists who could use an EV as your only car.

Even today with the early EV technology - like the clunky 90's cellphone, or slow 80's PC - what if 20% of motorists could be free of ever having to go to a gas station, don't you think many of them would leap at the chance? In fact many are - thousands are signing up to register interest for cars like Nissan's Leaf and Mitsubishi's iMiev.

There's not enough EV's in production to meet a fraction of that demand. So don't worry - anxious gasser drivers - no-one is going to force you to drive an EV, because the folks who can actually benefit from them are going to be fighting over the ones they can lay their hands on.

Cellphones and computers took 20 years to get to the size and power they are today. EV's I predict in just 10 years will be going much further and providing much greater benefits with regard to power saving technologies, such as internet enabled charge point locations.

By that time, with ubiquitous plugging-in - charge points in your supermarket car park, workplace and sports facilities - the round trip range will not be an issue at all.

Kids starting at University in 10 years time and getting their first internet enabled EV, with everything that opens and shuts, will shake their heads and roll their eyes in disbelief when "the olds" talk about range anxiety.

They'll know that range anxiety is the last gasp of the fossil fuel burning old guard, and that EV's are way cooler than queueing for gas.

So, hey Mr Gas, own that range anxiety - its all yours.