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Pushing it to the electric limits

By: Gabriel Gutnik
20 October, 2010

Feature of the week: As the energy source at the forefront of current research and development, battery powered vehicles have travelled a long way in the last few years.

Being the heart of the ever-growing lion, the battery – unlike the engine specifications of a petrol car – makes for the most impressive marketing feature. With the demand for more advanced smart-phones, lighter laptop computers, and paper-thin music players growing by the day, the electric car industry has been in the fortunate position to collect momentum and ride the wave of continued advances.

However it remains a few leaps and bounds behind the level of convenience that would take it that extra step to being a true household name.

"As far as Electric Cars are concerned – it all comes down to battery technology. There are batteries that will do 300+ km – but at a price," says Mark Taylor, secretary of the Sydney branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA).

Current costings for a Lithium-ion battery pack, of a 100km range, come in at around $10,000, and last around five years. Whilst similar to the idea of paying for your fuel consumption upfront, rather than week to week, it is a prospect that is out of the reach of most Australians, come replacement time. 

According to Taylor, progress is certainly being made, with his latest upgrade to a Lithium-ion battery shedding around 300 kilograms off the total weight of his electric-converted minivan.

"Electric Motors, both AC and DC, are very efficient, reliable and powerful. I believe battery powered cars will be used primarily as second cars, doing short runs, where range isn't an issue. As the technology progresses, range will increase, and charge time will decrease, as will the cost," he added.

And it is obvious why the scale is tipping towards battery power. Lower running costs – with no oil, air filters or spark plugs to replace; almost completely recyclable batteries, and importantly: zero tail pipe emissions.   

Whether or not this will be enough to force a shift in the batteries' favour, only time will tell. Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has stated that 85 per cent of Australians on the road cover less than 100km a day, which would leave sufficient time to charge a battery overnight – fresh and ready for the next morning. Indeed it seems the initial cost of setting up one’s car, to be able to run on battery power, could be the deciding factor for most.

Talks with the Australian government to push for ownership incentives are ongoing, but perhaps the greatest step forward, would be just any step at all.

Taylor added a thought that might just be the reason for the slow development stages along the way: "I see great untapped potential in electric vehicles – but it will bring about reduced profits for many large, powerful companies. I believe this is the biggest underlying factor holding back their progress."

It wouldn't be the first time that such corporate pressures overshadowed technological progression.

"Maybe that's why compressed air cars fail: they don't consume anything. At least electric cars will bring profits to battery manufacturers."

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Richard Newton | Monday, October 18, 2010, 11:13 AM
When will the elephant in the room be addressed? When and how much will electric cars be taxed. Fuel tax is a major persentage of current on the road costs. How much will be dumped on the electric car?
Bruce Davis | Tuesday, December 14, 2010, 4:13 PM
Maybe electric cars will be heavier due to the extra weight of their batteries. Maybe that extra weight will damage our roads more. Maybe then, they should be taxed at a higher PERCENTAGE!