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Seeking reality – Pricking the BEV balloon, Part 2

IAIN ROBERTSON 

VW-Touareg-R-5
VW-Touareg-R

Confusion exists across the new car scene, explains Iain Robertson, with diesel owners sniffing at Electric Vehicles, as an alternative to more recent efficient petrols, but eco-protection has gained significant high ground as the new car scene barrels towards an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) ban in 2030. This is the second part of a new series aimed at providing some answers.

Affordability is one of the key issues confronting us at present, as we emerge from pandemic (and I do appreciate that it is a situation that is far from ‘over’) to confront higher future tax takes by our government. Yet, the present BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) appeal, however minor, lies in relatively inexpensive recharging and zero road tax ratings. However, this is a very superficial consideration, especially as our government, which will not be alone, will be sure to introduce a new ‘car tax’, whether linked to user road pricing, a premium fee on publicly accessible chargers, or outright purchasing, to replace the millions ‘lost’ to reduced petrol/diesel sales.

Of course, it needs to be remembered that the planned ban on the new sales of fossil-fuelled transport will not impact much on the balance of the usable vehicles remaining in the national car parc, the owners/operators of which will still need to fork out annually for road tax that is almost certain to be renamed ‘eco-tax’ and is almost certain to increase significantly per vehicle, while users will be expected to pay more per litre. Think about it, although the extraordinary recent rises in pump fuel are being little railed against, they are almost a ‘softening-up’ exercise for what is sure to come.

Mitsubishi-PHEV-2b
Mitsubishi-PHEV

A ‘free’ market also ensures that public recharging fees that are so easily clicked onto a debit, or credit card, can be as much as three times the cost per kW charged using a domestic wallcharger. After all, service providers need to recoup their hardware, installation and maintenance costs. While still cost-effective, i.e. less than the equivalent cost-per-mile of petrol, or diesel, a life on the open road is still a sting in the wallet. We already recognise that users of several plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV), which have a fallback area of ICE technology allied to an electric motor and self-charging battery pack, tend not to bother plugging-in domestically, even though they might have access to upwards of 45mls of cheap motoring on tap…more than enough for the much-vaunted commute.

Most BEV-makers provide their users with a wallbox for domestic use. Acquiring such a device separately can incur a supply and installation charge of almost £1,000, of which a government subsidy of almost 50% can be claimed by the installer, which helps to reduce the price. However, some wallboxes are better, more efficient and more reliable than others and, in a world where nothing is free, even the supplied devices incur ‘hidden’ fees.

However, if you believe that the transition from fossil to electric power is elementary, while there may be only small driving experience differences between the fuel types, bear in mind that most mid-size BEVs tip the scales at over two tonnes, some 700kgs greater than their ICE equivalents. This extra bulk needs to be managed and several wear items are the casualties. Tyres, for instance, are of a significantly different construction for BEVs, featuring stiffer sidewalls, reinforced carcasses, tread compound changes and greater replacement unit costs. Their wear rates, which do impact on environmental emissions, are exacerbated by the greater vehicle kerb weights.

VW-EV-3
VW-EV

Interestingly, many BEVs feature what is known as ‘one-pedal-control’, which is not reliant on the vehicle’s braking system but the electronic management of the electric drivetrain instead. Conventional braking systems need to be used to ensure that they operate efficiently. If they remain dormant, the friction materials can seize and even rust within the callipers. Even if they are used electively, the extra weight of the BEV ensures that they will not last as long as expected. The additional weight of the BEV also places a toll on bearings and other elements of the car’s drivetrain, which can increase longer term maintenance costs significantly. However, with fewer operating components and the relative dependability of electric motors, the longevity of a typical BEV is unlikely to be in question for much of its early existence.

Despite manufacturers talking up the fully charged range potential of the latest BEVs, even those boasting around 300mls worth will struggle to obtain 80% of their claims, which means more realistic ranges of 240mls instead. My assertion is based on user experience, as opposed to the WLTP official figures that are laboratory sourced. BEVs are great around town, where a 300mls claimant is likely to attain 10% greater improvement. Yet, motorway travel is a BEV range killer, unless the user is prepared to drive everywhere at 55mph, instead of the 70-85mph average of the rest of the motoring population. Right foot flexing to demonstrate the blindingly rapid acceleration rates of some of the costlier examples of the BEV breed will drain the batteries to worrisomely low levels.

Ignore the low range warnings, of which there are plenty, and running out of charge will result in an immediate and immovable stop. While the motorists’ emergency services providers are gearing up to providing a vital kerbside shot, a dead of night call-out is still as time-consuming and disquieting as ever. The key for fruitful BEV operation is always to keep on top of recharging. Yet, even publicly accessible chargers will only top up the battery pack to around 80% capacity (after around 45mins for most of the latest BEVs). It is a situation that is improving and in-built invertors can enable up to 60mls of range, which may be enough to get home, with just a ten minutes’ hook-up.

Conclusion:          Having considered running and acquisition costs, in Part Three of this series (‘Closing the Gap’), we shall contemplate other options such as lease and rental programmes, all of which are governed by manufacturer list prices.