How Far Has The Electric Car Come, And How Far Will It Go?

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Source: Retronaut

Toyota named its flagship electric vehicle the ‘Prius’ after the Latin word for ‘before’. But the Prius is certainly not a car ahead of its time. The electric car industry is maturing, it has many players, and is worth an estimated $1-2bn per year.

More Money Than Sense

US car manufacturer Fisker charges $100k per vehicle, which is too much for most affluent people, even. Their product is the luxury electric car. Switching from petrol to electric is already a leap: both in terms of breaking old behaviours and in terms of changing expectations as to how to use a vehicle. The switch from petrol to electric might be made for ethical reasons but ideally the driving factor would be either financial or convenience. Fiskers are toys for rich people with green agendas.

Neither Fisker nor the Prius has broken truly into the UK car market. The Prius is better known than the Fisker but certainly not driven widely. 84,000 electric vehicles were sold in Britain in 2011 but almost all of them were e-bicycles, not cars.

To Sell More, Make Them Cheaper

Does it come down to how the UK views ostentatiousness? The Fisker might seem an appropriate vehicle for cruising around LA, but British celebrities Jonathan Ross and Jade Jagger picked the G-Whiz over more expensive vehicles because it’s cute and understated. G-Whiz proved more popular in 2011 than the combined electrical sales of Renault, Peugeot, the Nissan, and Mitsubishi. The difference here is that Renault, Peugeot and friends made electric cars that look like regular cars. And people didn’t buy that story: they wanted something different like the G-Whiz.

The G-Whiz came priced at £8,000 and had little of the comfort, warmth and security of more expensive models, but then they are less comfortable and warm than regular petrol-powered vehicles. The suffering car models here are the ones occupying ‘middle of the road’ territory.

Now Renault Looks Like It’s Taking The Electric Car Market By The Scruff Of The Neck

The G-Whiz is no longer being sold in the UK and Renault has addressed the pricing issue with its Zoe. A UK government grant that plucks £5,000 off the market price sets the Zoe at £13,650 and its performance has been reviewed favourably in the Times. So it’s now maybe cheap enough and good enough to tempt people. But maybe not – leasing the battery adds £4-5k over four years so really the Zoe is not cheap.

The Renault Twizy is the natural heir to the G-Whiz. It’s a smaller, buggy-like option with gullwing doors, priced around £8,000. Here is a review:

Pre:Twizy, pre:Prius, Pre:WW2: The Very First Generation Of Electric Cars

In the 1890s electric cars were already being manufactured. This was when the automotive industry was young and electricity was vying with petrol to be the principle energy source.

Electric vehicles were marketed at women because they were demure, running silently without any of the petrol splutter or smell of male vehicles, which growled and revved engines, flexing their muscles and making a show.

One wicker creation, the Osborn Electriquette, was pitched at women and described as so easy ‘a child can drive it’.

Finally The Quieter Technology Is Being Talked About

It’s not arrived yet, but it’s conceivable that a time will arrive soon when electric vehicles are fuel and cost-efficient enough for the mass market. What has arrived is the turning of tides against those brash gas powered cars in many influential circles of society. People are critical of ‘gas guzzlers’, fuel prices are going up, and oil companies are conceived by the emerging generation as dirty, sleazy businesses.

The way in which we see energy has changed. I feel people will feel great nostalgia for carefree days of smoking Marlboro’s and driving vehicles that chug, but there will be a new sense of responsibility.

About the author:
David Thomas writes about clean technology for You can speak to him at @theecoexperts

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