I wasn’t around in the late 1800s when the early motorcars took their first tentative journeys, but I’ve read enough to know what happened.
The prevalent transport at the time was the horse. The horsemen would mock the car drivers, saying that every inn between here and there would have hay and water for horses, and failing that, the beast could refuel itself in any paddock. And look how fleet of foot it is, cantering easily over those rough paths, whereas the motorcar putters along painfully slowly, breaking down at least once a journey. Why would you bother, when there’s sleek stallions for the taking?
We all know how that turned out. It didn’t take long for cars to replace horses, and in fact, horses were banned in cities due to health hazards. That’s because they were allowed to freely defecate everywhere, producing a litre of urine with 15kg of manure every day, and dead horses were often left, for dead.
In 2019, we find ourselves in a similar position as we make a fundamental change in our transportation, driven not by the promise of better transportation, but again by an urgent need for less polluting transportation, even if the risk isn’t as obvious as a tonne of rotting horse in the gutter. So let me cut through some of the scare mongering, point scoring and sheer ignorance with three facts:
1. The world cannot continue with internal combustion engines (ICE) like petrol and diesel due to pollution and health problems. Not risks, actual problems, right now.
2. Electric vehicles are here now, more are coming, and they will replace ICE vehicles.
3. We are at the very early stages of electric vehicle development. If ICE engines are banned in 2040, imagine where another 20 years of electric development will take us. Think back to the phones of 20 years ago.
Now, you can be like the horseman of old and pretend nothing will change, unable to look forwards, cling to what you know and love, putting up a thousand arguments. Just like those who decried the use of fire, the wheel, writing and more recently, mobile phones and mobile internet. I remember when people said nobody would buy car insurance over the phone, far less the internet.
Study history, and you will find every development we now take for granted has been rubbished by those who are slow to understand, who frame problems that can be overcome as unresolvable roadblocks. Here’s a few: there’s not many charging stations, where will all this electricity come from and isn’t it coal-fired anyway, the range of electric vehicles (EVs) is too short, they take too long to charge, and we’ll run out of lithium to make batteries.
I don’t have space for a complete rebuttal, but all those problems are solvable. In short: more and more charging stations are being built, 329 at the time of writing and increasing. Of course, your 10A home power will charge an EV, at the rate of around 10km per hour. But what about the myriad industrial 3-phase outlets, or every caravan park with RV-friendly 15A outlets? The infrastructure for electric cars is here today, and so many existing businesses could start to make a bit on the side simply by offering a charge station at their shop. Here’s a current Aussie charger map:
Now for electricity generation. Did you know that we’re using less electricity as time goes on, despite increasing population?
And we’ve barely started using our renewal resources of solar, wind and tidal due to the pathetic failure of our federal government on energy strategy, so if we continue on a path of an energy-efficient society and increase renewable use, then we’re set to handle the changeover to electric vehicles. Also, most electric vehicles will be charged overnight when there is relatively little other electrical demand.
And range. The average mileage for passenger cars in Australia is around 14,000km. If we take 260 working days per week, that’s less than 40km a day, and electric cars like Hyundai’s Kona are already into the real-world 500s. How many people have a commute more than 150km round-trip? You cannot tell me that many, many Australians can’t use electric cars today. However, if you’re reading this magazine you’re not an average Australian, you’re a tourer. And here we come to what I suggest is a truth:
As long as humans desire to travel and explore, there will be some sort of vehicle to let them do it.
In other words, the petrol/diesel engine will survive, but not a moment longer than the time alternative propulsion systems, electric or perhaps hydrogen, are able to replace it. My testing of the Tesla Model X indicates that range needs to about quadruple to become a serious Aussie tourer. Same deal for charging, rates to need to about quadruple for effective long-range touring. But battery and charging technology are both improving, solving the problems of reliance on rare metals and charge rates.
Does anyone bar the most recalcitrant conspiracy theorist really think we won’t massively improve electric cars? And torque is so much loved by towers, so as electrics kill diesels for torque isn’t that an improvement?
Whether you like it or not, electric vehicles are headed our way. Emissions standards like those of Euro 5 and 6 are tightening every time they are revised, forcing engineers to push ICE engines to their technical limits and beyond. That’s why we have EGRs, cat converters, DPFs and now carry around 20 litres of AdBlue to inject into diesel exhausts. The whole reason the Dieselgate saga exists is because the engineers found it so hard to comply with emissions targets. Diesel fumes contain particulates, a Class 1 carcinogenic, a cancer-causing agent. At what point do we say after over 100 years of development diesel is dead, like steam power, and move on?
This is why virtually every car-maker has committed to dates like 2025 or 2030 to have their products electrified or electric – the former means hybrid, plug-in, or electric. Simply, electrified cars will become the majority of vehicles, then take over entirely. As that happens over the next many years, the infrastructure will adapt to basic supply and demand.
Electric vehicles are in many ways superior to ICE vehicles. I’ve driven them off-road, on a racetrack, around town and towed. You can’t beat off-idle torque, single-pedal acceleration/deceleration, the quiet smoothness, or simpler and cheaper servicing. The Rivian off-road EVs will do 0-100km/h in three seconds, have a range over 600km, can tow 5000kg, individually drive each wheel (better than cross-axle diff locks) and where the engine would normally be is a large storage space. There are also moves to create electric-driven caravans, so towing range can be increased compared to the unhooked vehicle!
Now I love the raw experience of a nat-asp, pure mechanical, manual V8 as much as the next petrolhead. But that doesn’t mean to say I’m going to deny that we’re at the start of a fundamental change in vehicular transportation.
Which camp are you in, acceptance of reality or denial? Let us know by Facebook, email, letter or hand-delivered parchment.