While electric car sales continue to boom in Europe and politicians speed the demise of conventional engines, the media reports a steady drumbeat of dissatisfaction from those actually driving with battery power, which needs to be addressed for the advance to continue.
Battery electric vehicle (BEV) experts, often turn out to be almost religious devotees unwilling to see hear, see or speak anything remotely negative about electric cars. This is covering up real world problems in a fog of false optimism. Current record-breaking demand is likely to peter out when all well-off early-adopters have bought their BEVs, and if the next level of demand from the real world is to succeed, these basic problems must be addressed.
According to Fitch Solutions, electric car sales in Europe jumped about 72% in 2021, but growth will slow significantly in 2022 to 28.4% for an annual volume of just over 3 million. Sales will slow because many big manufacturers are concentrating on selling as many internal combustion engine powered models before the next tightening of European Union (EU) carbon dioxide (CO) emission in 2025. This slowing presents a good opportunity for carmakers and infrastructure providers to take stock and sort out some of the more glaring problems so the next and most important round of the electric revolution can succeed.
Electric car drivers complain mainly about the clunky and unreliable charging infrastructure which makes long-distance travel a nightmare, although operators routinely claim this has been miraculously improved. The price of vehicles makes even the cheapest versions too expensive for average earners, and the cost of batteries is not just about to dive to match the internal combustion engine (ICE), as the industry likes to assert. Raging demand and raw material bottlenecks are pushing prices in the opposite direction. There are problems which the vehicle manufacturers don’t shout about, like the recommendation to rarely charge more than 80% of capacity or let it run lower than 20%, with the best policy to refill when you hit 50%. This of course makes a mockery of range claims and battery capacity data.
Manufacturers, with some honorable exceptions, offer official range figures which deviate from the actual battery capacity typically by 20 to 30%, while the problem of scary quick range evaporation at legal high-speed cruising speeds is another problem which dares not speak its name (see data box). This is a big problem in Britain where the legal speed limit on the motorways is 70 mph, but in mainland Europe, where the speed limit on the massive network is often 130 km/h (81.25 mph) it is likely to be chronic. And in Germany there are some sections of highway with no speed limit at all.
The European Union uses CO2 regulations to make sure it will be very expensive for carmakers to sell new ICE vehicles after 2030, while Britain has specifically banned their sale, with a few hybrid exceptions. So, if the mass market is to be wholly electric, what happens to apartment and city house dwellers who can’t install their own chargers? An electric car owner without a home charger will be a very frustrated individual, not least because the price of electricity at public charging stations is hugely expensive and comparable with gasoline or diesel. And of course average earners face being priced out of the new car market.
Among the high-profile media exposures on problems with electric cars, BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” consumer program quoted one women who attempted a 200 mile round trip drive from Oxford to Cambridge in an older electric car, across country rather than motorway, and she barely made it there, having to cut her speed to 30 mph and turn off the phone, air conditioning and radio to make sure. On the way back, every single charger she sought was broken and she eventually had to stay overnight in a hotel and charge the car via her room window and the regular plug in the hotel room.
The Channel 4 TV “Dispatches” program recently reported similar charging aggravation, and published a survey showing 1 in 20 charging points across Britain were not useable, about 10% of rapid chargers were out of service, and 3% of new Ultra Rapid Chargers were faulty.
The mass-circulation Sun tabloid newspaper’s reporter also suffered acute anxiety as broken chargers were a major headache.
“Knowing there was a charging point less than a mile from my house (in London), I was blasé as the battery edged into the red and the car started flashing up warnings. But all three charging points at the station were broken, and the same thing happened at the next location,” the Sun reporter said.
She also pointed to another negative which will worry women charge-station users in public places.
“Sitting in the slowly-charging Tesla
Another problem with the charging network is the lack of a common system of payment. If you buy gasoline or diesel you simply pay with your credit card. But this often isn’t the case with electric charging when you have to present an app on your phone which will contain your banking details. If you plan a 400 mile across Britain, you would be wise to make sure you had perhaps half a dozen different apps, downloaded and ready to go. This is another problem the industry acknowledges and claims to be sorting out, but it does pose the question, why was this ever thought to be a good idea in the first place?
My own research shows the outrageous habit of the BEV makers overstating battery capacity. Typical is the 95 kWh Audi e-tron – official WLTP claim 241 miles, actual average mileage from my home charger 180 miles. The 58 kWh VW ID.3 and Vauxhall Corsa were equally as bad. The Mini electric was even worse – claim 145 miles, actual capacity 98.5 miles. This data ignores the 80% rule, so real outcomes will be worse.
Then we come to the highway cruise debacle. Drive over 60 mph and the energy drains away from the battery at a startling rate. If you set out on a motorway in an Audi e-tron with the range indicator at 100 miles, you will only manage about 75 miles at a steady legal cruising speed, Polestar 2 and you’ll only manage about 41 miles, Jaguar I-Pace close to 67 miles.
These problems suggest politicians are trying to force the industry to prematurely dump ICE cars and embrace BEVs as though the former were evil incarnate and the latter the holy grail are making a huge mistake. Only Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares of high-profile automotive leaders has been brave enough to express loudly and on the record that this will be an inexcusable waste of valuable ICE resources.
Meanwhile if the electric zealots continue to forge policy, my point that BEVs are hopeless at speed on the motorway will lead not to improved engineering, but a blanket 55 mph speed limit.
“It’s worth it if it saves the planet”.
I can hear it now.