How far away are we from electric cars?

How far away are we from electric cars?

There are over a billion cars on the road today, most of them pumping out greenhouse gases and guzzling fossil fuels. Imagine the difference it would make for our environment and air quality if we converted these into electric cars. We are getting close, certainly closer than new technologies like driverless vehicles, but we still face many significant challenges.

Public sentiment is changing, with more people acting in environmentally conscious ways and willing to consider electric cars. It helps that it can be quite cost-effective. The VAT on electric cars and private domestic use is very low or nil and there are exemptions from the Congestion Charge in London.

Plug in car and van grants are available which can pay for up to 35% of the cost of a new car¹. There is political willingness to drive forward this change. For example, Norway is set to ban the sale of cars that use fossil fuels in the next decade and expect to have 100% of their vehicles using green energy by 2025². The election of Donald Trump, who does not acknowledge the existence of climate change, underlines the other side of this debate, which could stall the progress of electric cars.

Indeed, there are also many challenges that stand in the way of progress. The cost of electric cars is a major disincentive, especially for poorer families, given that the only cars on the market are new or nearly new. Charging is a big obstacle.

Public charging facilities are limited, meaning people need off road parking, which is a challenge in urban areas. The lifetime of a single charge also limits the mileage that an electric car can endure, currently below 100 miles. You can also only use familiar routes to avoid the risk of getting lost and running out of power. There is also an image problem with electric cars. They are not perceived as being attractive, dynamic cars, unlike many of their petrol or diesel counterparts.

However, many companies are now heavily promoting electric vehicles. At a consumer level, the BMW i3 and Renault Zoe have made the market more accessible. General Motor’s Chevrolet Bolt has recently launched and when Tesla launches its electric cars, the market will shift dramatically.

Many new technologies are being developed that increase the green credentials of these vehicles. For example, the Nissan Leaf has an eco-indicator which senses when you are driving in an eco-friendly way by displaying tree emblems. It gamifies environmentally friendly driving by letting you check your long-term score and competing against others.

The decline of diesel cars and petrol vehicles signals that change is on the horizon. Whilst solutions are needed for some of the major obstacles facing electric cars, consumers are slowly moving in that direction.

Interested in automotive Engineering? Take a look at our Combined Engineering courses at CU Coventry, CU Scarborough or CU London.

² Independent