Electric vehicles (more specifically battery-driven vehicles, to differentiate them from trains, trams and trolleybuses, which use a land-based power source) previously thought of as confined to the realms of golf carts, the milkman or mobility for the disabled, are now emerging as a viable commuting vehicle.
Further, as road performance and battery endurance increase, and the downward pressure on emissions and society’s ‘carbon footprint’ continues to grow, we could soon be witnessing the emergence of a significant new branch in the range of automotive options available to the road user – and you could be servicing them! Report by Martin Shippey.
Battery powered vehicles are not new; Scottish businessman Robert Anderson invented the first crude electric carriage somewhere between 1832 and 1839 and by the early 1900’s they outsold vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine on the roads. They also held many of the speed and distance records at that time, but the relatively cheap Ford Model T, introduced in 1908, coupled with the development of the electric starter by Cadillac in 1913 finally tipped the balance in favour of the petrol powered vehicle. By the late 30s, apart from certain industrial applications, the battery powered vehicle industry had all but disappeared.
Recently however, further technological advances in transistors and batteries, as well as emission and environmental concerns seem to be combining to swing the pendulum again in favour of the battery powered vehicle.
Electric motors deliver power efficiently and they are mechanically very simple. They often achieve 90% conversion efficiency over the full range of speeds and power output and can be precisely controlled. They provide high torque even while the vehicle is stationary so do not need gears to match power curves, removing the need for gearboxes and torque converters. Electric motors also have the ability to convert movement energy back into electricity through regenerative braking, which reduces wear on brake systems and the total energy requirement of a trip.
When operating, the electric motor produces no emissions and unless (as bizarrely, in certain hybrid vehicles), the battery is recharged using power from a petrol or diesel engine, recharging can easily be achieved from ‘green’ or sustainable sources.
What’s currently on the market?
The Tesla Roadster: 0-60 in four seconds, 130mph.
At the top end there are some surprisingly attractive vehicles, with impressive performance and prices to match. It’s probably fair to say that some of these are developmental cars, and although they are on sale to the public, the initial target market seems to be the high-visibility wealthy celebrity.
The Tesla Roadster is a fully electric sports car, and is the first of a proposed series of electric vehicles to be produced by US start-up electric car firm Tesla Motors.
Tesla claims prototypes have been able to accelerate from 0-60 mph (100 km/h) in about 4 seconds, and reach a top speed of over 130 mph (210 km/h).
Additionally, the car will be able to travel more than 200 miles (322 km) on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery system. The Roadster’s efficiency is reported to be equivalent to 135 mpg (1.74 l/100 km). The makers proudly boast of a drive train consisting of nine moving parts.
The Venturi Fétish, from Monaco-based Venturi Automobiles. The vehicle uses latest generation Lithium Ion batteries, (Venturi LV-7) with liquid cooling. 30% lighter, they have reduced the total weight of the Fétish while improving its energy yield. You’d be lucky to see one of these pulling in for a service; only 25 have been made.
Similar performance figures are cited for the Venturi Fétish – which produces approximately 250 horsepower (180 kW), with a 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) time of “under 5 seconds”
All very impressive – but you are not likely to see these in your high street for a while yet.
In London at least, it’s a different story; electric vehicles do seem to be making some progress. While the size and performance are a long way removed from the examples quoted above, so are the prices – and coupled with some very generous congestion charge, road tax and parking concessions in London, electric cars are being snapped up like proverbial hot cakes.
It’s easy to see why – while the performance; 45kph (28mph), with a 75-100 kilometer (46-62 mile) range, is nothing special, and the price, at around £10,000 is not exactly small change, with no congestion charge (saving £2,000 per year), no road tax (saving £180 per year), and only a £200 per year charge for garage parking – including a top-up battery charge (save up to £6,000 per year); a total saving to a commuter driving into the congestion charging zone every day of around £8,000! Not bad for a £10,000 outlay. And of course the battery recharge cost works out at only a penny per mile.
So what do you get – apart from the annual £8,000 kickback from the Mayor of London – for your £10,000?
We went along to the Park Royal offices of Sakura UK Ltd, importers of the Maranello4, an elegant Italian-designed battery powered vehicle.
On entering their offices we picked our way around various electric vehicles – bicycles and scooters in various states of assembly and repair, and a very strange looking cabin and flatbed conveyance which we are told goes by the generic name of a ‘neighborhood vehicle’ in the US. Sakura are hoping to sell it to an enterprising central London firm which might wish to use it for advertising (no Congestion Charge or parking fees!)
So how did Sakura get into the electric car market?
“We started off selling electric bicycles” Managing Director Dan Hornby explains, “we were in the battery reconditioning business and were looking for a means of expanding. We were thinking about making our own but then found a manufacturer in the far East. The product was terrible – badly designed, unreliable and faulty, but we were able to fix the problems here and then they sold very well. So we decided to go a little further and looked at electric cars”.
“After looking at the various offerings on the market we chose the Italian designed Maranello4, originally a diesel powered quadricycle design from which the present electric version was developed”.
“We are now selling about six every month, almost entirely by word of mouth – the word is getting around about the very generous congestion charge and parking concessions, which people who need to drive in and park every day are just finding irresistible”.
When asked about sales outside London, the picture changes: “We sell electric bicycles all over the country – mainly the coastal or relatively flat areas, but there really is not much of a market outside London for these cars at the moment; the top speed and range limitations make it impractical, and of course the financial incentives aren’t there. But that could change as other cities introduce congestion charging”.
On the road
Smaller than the original Mini, 1p a mile and will save you £8,000 a year if you are currently driving into and parking in London every day.
What’s it like driving in one of these on West London’s busy roads. Dan offered to take me for a brief run in one of Sakura’s very smart designer-black Maranello4s.
The feel of the ABS type plastic forward opening door is much as you’d expect; feather light – weight being very much a factor in performance of electric vehicles. The inside is roomy, albeit being built for only two people plus hand luggage, but certainly two large people would not be uncomfortable in the spacious cabin.
On switching on there is no startup sound, no engine turning over – silence. The ‘gearbox’ consists of forward and reverse, and forward being selected, the vehicle whirrs off, accelerating briskly into the traffic on Park Royal Road.
Other drivers look with mild curiosity at the vehicle, but there are no problems with keeping up with the traffic, and clearly no problems not being seen by other drivers in a car which would fit twice into the average parking bay.
This vehicle is fitted with electric windows and a digital radio – which Sakura fit as standard to all Marinello4s to give interference free reception, and possibly to cover the eerie silence which characterises a journey in an electric vehicle.
Visibility is excellent, and there is little sense of being low down or in any way ‘inferior’ to other road users. In fact one might be forgiven for feeling slightly superior to other road users as far as one’s carbon footprint is concerned, if not in purely financial terms.
As we arrive back at the Sakura building the low battery alarm sounds – this signals that a range of about two miles remains and the motor will now run in power saving mode; ie, at a slightly lower speed.
An interesting feature of the Maranello4 is that to save battery power, the cabin heating is performed by a diesel-powered catalytic heater of the type used in trucks or boats, the diesel being stored in the vestigial tank originally used for the diesel powered version. For the same reason there is also a conventional 12V car battery fitted, which powers the windows, windscreen wipers and lights.
An overnight charge from a normal domestic supply will be required to bring the main batteries up to scratch for the next 60-odd miles, and on cheap rate electricity would cost about 50p – 1p per mile!
Another option for the green leaning road user is to convert an existing vehicle to battery/electric. Certainly it would have to be a fairly well-heeled road user; the conversions are not cheap.
Somerset-based Alternative Vehicles Technology Managing Director Robert Fowler informs us:
“If you brought in a Peugeot 107 for example, the conversion cost would be around £9,000, including the lead-acid batteries” He says. “That would give you a vehicle capable of 65-70mph with a range of 20-40 miles. If you wanted to go for longer range and higher top speed you could add another £20,000 for lithium batteries though”.
“There is a trade-off to be made between top speed and range, and it really depends on the preference of the user – do they need hill-climbing ability or speed and range on the flat?” he continued. “We retain the existing gearbox, and it can be fixed in second for really simple operation, or we can put in a set of ratios to achieve better efficiency at higher speeds”.
From the vehicle servicing angle, the electric motor is a nightmare – it doesn’t need any! Even the brushes are now becoming defunct.
At present the batteries, which are expected to last between two to five years dependent upon use, are the only part of the power chain which may require service.
Of course the brakes, lights, tyres, steering and suspension will all require attention at the appropriate intervals, but look at it this way; you won’t be needing to raise finance for training or sophisticated tools and equipment to work on the engines!
At present, and perhaps for that very reason, the major vehicle manufacturers seem to be keeping no more than a wary eye on electric vehicle use – servicing makes a significant contribution to their revenues in today’s retail climate – and until they decide they are losing sales or market share, the upward sales curve of electric vehicle sales may well be slow and gradual. But a further significant breakthrough in battery technology could be all it takes, for millions of city commuters, not to mention the ecology conscious suburban and country driver, to swing that pendulum right over to the battery powered vehicle.
Left: the BlueCar. In 2005 The Bolloré group, through its subsidiary BatScap, introduced an electric vehicle (EV) concept car using its new Lithium-Metal-Polymer (LMP) batteries at the Geneva Motor Show.
The Bolloré Group is not trying to become an auto maker but is eager to have its battery technology used in a vehicle.
The BlueCar, with its LMP batteries offers an operating range of 200-250 kilometres (124-155 miles) and a top speed of 134 kph (84 mph).
A full recharge requires six hours, a two-hour recharge will recover 50% capacity.
BlueCar has three front seats and an 810 litre (28.6 cubic feet) storage area in the rear. The vehicle is mere 3.05 metres (10 feet) long, or exactly the same length as the original Mini. Two fold-up jump seats can also be installed in this area, making the BlueCar a five-seater.
Unless things change following the forthcoming MOT 4-2-2 Consultation, these electric vehicles – be they scooters or purpose-built or converted cars, will need an MOT after three years. Until that time, servicing will consist of all the usual items, except of course emissions and the exhaust system. Everything else will be subject to the same wear and tear as in a normal vehicle.
When it comes to MOT time however, things are slightly different.
In the case of a conversion as noted above, or a purpose-built car, the vehicle would obviously be Tested normally, omitting the emissions and exhaust aspects. However, owing to their light weight and low power, the likes of the small imported Maranello and G-Wiz for example, would be Tested as quadricycles.
The definition and Test class of a quadricycle is covered in the Introduction Section of the MOT Inspection Manual – page 3. This states that a quadricycle is a “Four wheeled vehicle with a max ULW of 400kg (550kg for a goods vehicle) with a max net power of 15KW.” They are Class IV vehicles, with certain exemptions from a normal Class IV Test, which is detailed in Section 9 of the Inspection Manual. There is also a note explaining that if the vehicle is electrically powered, the ULW must not include the weight of the batteries.
All this means is that the brakes are Tested as a quadricycle – again, everything else is the same.
According to VOSA, since MOT computerisation in April 2005, some 6,589 electric vehicles have been Tested – this figure probably includes hybrids – the vast majority of them as class IV, and the average Test time was 43.52 minutes.
Incidentally, VOSA has the following to say about MOT Testing hybrids (Special Notice 2/2002 Page 3 of 3 Item 6 Electric/Combustion Engine (Hybrid) Vehicles):
“Hybrid vehicles that can run on electric power in addition to petrol/diesel are exempt from the emissions test. Care should be taken with such vehicles as; there may be high voltage present at any one of several points around the vehicle; the engine may start without warning if the battery voltage drops; high voltage may be present in storage capacitors as well as batteries”
Additionally, the following information was received from VOSA after MOT Workshop went to press:
“Of 12 GWIZ vehicles which have been MOT Tested between 12 Jan 2006 and 7 Feb 2007, 4 failure items have been noted; 1 tyre, 1 rear wheels, 1 rear fog lamp and 1 headlamp.”
In conclusion, it’s probably safe to assume that the price of oil will continue to rise, and that battery technology will continue to both improve and reduce in price, making the electric vehicle more attractive to the motorist. If enlightened London boroughs will continue to allow more householders to install roadside battery charging outlets outside their homes, that will help as well, and then there are murmurs that one or two other cities may start their own congestion charging schemes.
Additionally, given that the environment will continue to be of concern to governments and the public alike, the battery electric vehicle market could switch on soon!
More information can be found at:
Electric Vehicle Updates
EU Strategy for Electric Cars http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/spain-environment.2ly
M4 set to become ‘Hydrogen Highway’ https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8511319.stm
NIssan ‘Land Glider’ concept vehicle (left)
Maranello4 Venturi Fetish Tesla Roadster Bluecar Conversions
Sainsbury’s goes for world’s largest electric van fleet
UK retailer Sainsbury’s has ordered another 51 electric vans from Smith Electric Vehicles. The Smith Edison chassis cab is a pure electric version of the Ford Transit, driven by an electric motor and powered by leading- edge lithium-ion batteries. The Sainsbury’s vehicles have refrigerated box bodies and are restricted to a top speed of 40mph with a 60 mile a day range. The firm already has 20 electric vans in its London fleet. When the 51 new vans are delivered, by next summer, Sainsbury’s will have the largest fleet of electric vans in the world.
Charging Infrastructure proposed
Email for Further Information
News Release: SMMT 25/2/10
“Britain set for automotive revolution”
Britain is set for an automotive revolution as the final details of government’s £230 million ultra-low carbon car incentive programme were announced today.
From January 2011, motorists will be entitled to a ‘Plug-In Car Grant’ of up to £5,000* when buying an electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell car that meets safety, reliability, performance and warranty standards set by the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) in consultation with industry.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) welcomed the announcement from OLEV that detailed how cars will qualify for the incentives and the grant ammount. Also announced were the winners (London, Milton Keynes, North East England) of the Plugged-In Places bid which saw UK cities and regions bid for investment to support the development of infrastructure required to support ultra-low carbon vehicles.
“This incentive scheme signals a significant commitment by government and industry to promote ultra-low carbon vehicles and is great news for motorists. The UK is determined to be a world-leader in developing the field of ultra-low carbon vehicles, sustaining and creating high-skill jobs, attracting inward investment and producing cutting-edge products,” said SMMT chief executive, Paul Everitt. “Manufacturers develop and produce new technology where demand exists. This incentive will encourage international investment in the UK as well as helping motorists cut CO2 emissions.”
The Plugged-In Places investment will see the installation of over 11,000 charging posts in London, Milton Keynes and North East England. There will be another opportunity, in June 2010, for additional cities and regions to bid for Plugged-In Places funding. Already confirmed as intending to bid are the West Midlands, Cornwall, Sheffield, the Lake District, Greater Manchester, and Northern Ireland.
Since its creation in mid-2009, OLEV has worked with industry to promote the manufacture of, and infrastructure for, ultra-low carbon vehicles. The £230 million Plug-In Car Grant and £30 million Plugged-In Places scheme were initially announced in March 2009 before being formalised in Budget 2009.
*Motorists will be entitled to a 25% discount from the list price of the eligible car, up to the value of £5,000. Offer of the ‘Plug-In Car Grant’ will be subject to notification of technical requirements to, and state aid approval from, the European Commission.
Ultra-fast battery charging technology demonstrated at Consumer Electronics Show 8/1/15
MOT Workshop Magazine