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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 14:15 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 14:15 | SYDNEY

Electric cars: Chaaarge!

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25 June 2009 15:20

The movement from a carbon-based to an electric transport infrastructure is gathering momentum, if the number of electric and plug-in hybrid car projects in development is any guide. Here are some of the more interesting projects, all either in commercial production or near to it:

   

  

Clockwise from top left: Aptera, Chevrolet Volt, Tesla Roadster, Mitsubishi iMiev.

Shifting automobile propulsion from combustion to electric engines could have substantial environmental and geopolitical implications. But as this piece from the Atlantic Council points out, there need to be some further technical breakthroughs to make electrification attractive to customers.

Most analysis focuses on affordability, and given Mitsubish is charging US$47,580 for its electric micro-car, the iMiev, that's clearly still a massive challenge. But to really capture consumers, switching to electric vehicles also has to be easy. At present, not only is it expensive to go electric, but there are big penalties — range is severely limited and recharging takes hours. 

The importance of convenience was brought home to me recently in an Alan Kohler article which had nothing at all to do with cars. Kohler noted that, despite the massive shift that journalism is making from the print world to online and the huge possibilities this had opened up, nobody has figured out an easy way to make small online payments — there's no internet equivalent to fishing a coin out of your pocket to pay for a newspaper.

The electric auto industry faces a similar challenge, of making it easy for customers to make the switch. The car makers have to either fix the range and recharging shortcomings of electric cars, or work around them. Project Better Place is taking the second route, with a system that, rather than recharging a car battery, entirely replaces it, and in less time and with less effort than it takes to refuel:

It's all very promising and exciting, though there remains one nagging doubt in my mind. As electric cars become more attractive to consumers, demand for oil will go down. Geopolitically that is doubtless a good thing for the West, but it does mean oil prices will drop. So unless governments implement steeper petrol taxes, electric cars will have to compete against gradually falling oil prices. The technology may not develop that fast.

Photos (clockwise) by Flickr users bisonblog, Jason Yoder, Coneee, Superstarksa, all used under a Creative Commons license.

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