Will we all be driving EVs in a few years?

Here’s a reality check if you think electric vehicles will be taking over our roads in the next decade. It’s another very good article by Stuff reporter David Linklater titled Silly car question #52: will we all be driving EVs in a few years?

Talkmotorsport has previously looked at this topic (Has Toyota got it right?) in an article by Linklater regarding the strategic decision by manufacturer Toyota in heading down the Hybrid (petrol-electric) path as opposed to others who are pursuing full electric vehicle futures.

What’s this to do with motorsport? Well, due to heavy manufacturer support in motorsport, we need to keep an eye on what is happening in the mainstream car business. Have a read of the following opinion piece…..

Silly car question #52: Will we all be driving EVs in a few years?

OPINION by David Linklater: Electric Vehicles (EVs) are a hot topic in New Zealand that seems to be getting hotter as time passes.

Enthusiasm for the idea of owning an EV (bearing in mind there are still fewer than 15,000 registered in NZ) seems to be equalled only by gleeful anticipation of the death of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE).

You could be forgiven for thinking that we’ll all be driving EVs in a few years.

Actually, a lot of people do think that. And no, I can’t forgive them.

We’re right at the start of the EV-evolution and while carmakers are embracing the technology at what seems like a rapid pace, fossil fuel is going to be with us for decades yet.

For one thing, there are not that many EVs available to buy and there’s not going to be an onslaught of them in a short space of time. They’ll trickle onto to the market, just like any other new type of vehicle.

There are many zealots (that’s the kindest term I can think of) who say the Government should simply ban petrol and diesel cars and then we can all drive eco-friendly vehicles. Which ones, I wonder?

There are only a dozen pure-EVs on the new-vehicle market in NZ and that’s a pretty decent cross-section of what’s available globally in right-hand drive. Only seven of those cost less than $100,000. None cost less than $60,000.

I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the impending takeover by EVs that’s based on mixed messages from the car industry about its electric future.

Many companies are now saying that all of their new models will be “electrified” in the next few years, without really explaining what that means.

“Electrified” usually means petrol-electric hybrid – like a Toyota Prius or the new RAV4 (pictured). That’s great, as hybrid technology is a relatively inexpensive way to save up to 30 per cent in fuel consumption. But an electrified hybrid is not an EV, unless it’s a plug-in hybrid (PHEV)… which not may are.

True, used cars make up half of NZ’s plug-in fleet. That’s fine in this baby-steps period, in our very unusual market that welcomes other countries’ unwanted secondhand stuff. But in the bigger picture, without new cars there can be no used cars.

Besides, we can’t all drive old Nissan Leafs. Please, please let us not all drive old Nissan Leafs.

More to the point, even with enthusiastic uptake of EVs (which is not happening, however many people “express interest” in an EV as their next vehicle), it’ll take decades for the fleet to change.

You’re probably thinking I hate EVs and don’t know a thing about the global business of cars. You’re wrong on the first thing; I love plug-in cars and I’m lucky that I get to drive lots of them. You might be right on the second thing.

So don’t take my word for it. Listen to the boss of NZ’s biggest car brand, which also happens to be one of the world’s biggest car brands.

“All car companies have an ACES (Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Sharing) strategy,” says Alistair Davis, chief executive of Toyota NZ. (Or CASE if you prefer).

“But with new technology, it takes a while for the reality to live up to the hype. It all takes longer than everybody hopes.”

With EVs a big issue is mass: the “speed of churn in the marketplace”, as Davis puts it.

“​There are roughly a billion vehicles on the planet and we [the global car industry] sell about 94 million every year. So effectively the rate of churn on the carpark is between 10 and 15 years.

“Even if technology is taken up 100 per cent, it still takes literally decades to infiltrate the whole fleet.”

Norway, which has been funding its extreme EV subsidies with profits from North Sea oil, is often held up as an environment to emulate. The new-vehicle market there is now 30 per cent EV.

“If EVs improbably jumped to 30 per cent of the market as they have in Norway, it would still take 20 years for half of the fleet to get onto electricity,” says Davis.

“It just takes a really long time to get the other cars off the road.”

The other big issue with ACES and CASE is cost, says Davis.

“New technologies cost a lot – in the billions. But the challenge is that customers don’t really want to pay huge premiums for the products.

“So what we have is the conundrum that these ACES technologies are coming, everybody says they’re a good thing and they are inevitable.

“But nobody wants to pay for them.”

Benjamin Carrell

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!


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