What’s Not To Like About Electric Cars?

July 9, 2009
In a bid to win over the hearts of Britain’s car-buying consumers, the U.K.

In a bid to win over the hearts of Britain’s car-buying consumers, the U.K. Government announced a £25million initiative to bring examples of electric vehicles to the country’s major cities, giving people the opportunity to road-test them. The cars will come in all shapes and sizes, from utility vehicles to the Electric Lightening GT, a fantastic looking high-performance sports model.

So why do they need to do this? The plain truth is that in general, people are just not keen on electric vehicles. But why? After thinking about this, I concluded that the public perception of electric cars still had some serious negatives despite the technical and aesthetic improvements made during the past 20 years.

I believe electric cars have enormous potential. I was lucky enough to drive one in California a few years ago—not only was it a very good-looking sports saloon, but it was very fast and a joy to drive.

So what are the consumer hangups? Among them are:

• They think they are ugly. Not so. Take a look at the Lightening (here are a couple of views).
• They lack range. Partly true, but improving all the time.
• They lack interior space because of housing the batteries.
Absolutely not true, thanks to developments like NanoSafe batteries.
• They lack performance. Try the Lightening GT car with its acceleration of 0 to 60mph in four seconds and a top speed of around 140mph.
• Not enough charging points to replenish batteries.
Probably true, but Government initiatives are in place to improve that.
• They are expensive to buy.
Yes, very true, but greater economy of scale via increased consumer take-up would cut prices.
• Current examples offer a confusing mix of technologies. True to some extent with the various hybrid models available. Consumers need to learn more about them.
• Environmentalists think the energy consumed to create the electricity to power electric cars is as damaging to the climate as internal combustion engines. Such was the case sometime ago because of the inadequacies of early battery technological. Now it’s no longer true, with general figures suggesting that electric cars have 30% less damaging impact on the environment compared to internal combustion engines.
• The emotional “they just don’t sound like cars” comment. Okay, call me a boy racer, but I have some sympathy with this one. Drive some cars and they give out nice throaty engine noise that I’ve got to say is rather pleasing when accelerating through the gears. Electric cars sound of, well, not much. Maybe the answer here is to simulate engine noise under the instrument panel, perhaps emulating the noise of a Ferrari when you pull away in one of those traffic-light Grand Prix starts.

Anyhow, given these consumer concerns, I think the U.K. Government’s initiative to change car driver perceptions is a good one. And, given the technology used in electric cars, it won’t do the global electronics industry much harm either.

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