Electric cars: Plugged in

1 Apr 2019 by BusinessTraveller
Jaguar I Pace

Demand for electric cars is set to surge in 2019. Nat Barnes looks at the latest developments

In years to come, when 2019 is written up in automotive history books, it’s sure to be viewed as a major turning point for electric cars.

While fully electric cars and hybrids in all their forms have been on sale in showrooms for some years (the Toyota Prius is now more than 20 years old), it’s only of late that they have really started to gain traction, largely because of something of an automotive Catch 22.

Until recently, most mainstream car makers hadn’t been convinced that there was enough demand to develop and build hybrid or electric vehicles (EVs), especially the latter, partly blaming the lack of a comprehensive charging infrastructure. In turn, a lack of product and customers meant little incentive for electricity companies to increase the numbers of charging points or ensure that existing ones were working properly (more on which later).

Now, though, we’re getting easier and more accessible charging points for electric vehicles – around 19,000 in the UK at the last count – and seeing big strides in battery technology. Plus, there’s also a surge of new electric vehicles arriving into showrooms this year.

Some might say that surge is already well under way. Jaguar’s £64,495 all-electric I-Pace (pictured above) went on sale in July and already has a six-month waiting list. Meanwhile, anyone after a new Hyundai Kona EV will have to wait an astonishing ten months to see one parked outside their home – the kind of delay usually associated with a high-end exotic supercar rather than a £27,250 small crossover.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, last year’s sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles were up 20.9 per cent on 2017. Although that meant one being sold every nine minutes, they still only represented a relatively small 6 per cent of new car sales. Still, there’s no doubt in the minds of car manufacturers about which way the wind is blowing globally – especially as governments everywhere seek to be seen to be more eco-friendly.

Charging ahead

A big reason for that change of heart for consumers comes in one word – range. Tesla aside, past electric cars have been limited to about 100 miles and only more recent progress with battery technology has seen that extend to 150 miles. However, when fully charged, both the Jaguar I-Pace and Hyundai Kona boast ranges in excess of 270 miles. While still not rivalling a conventionally powered petrol or diesel car, that’s good enough for many when the average UK commute is 17 miles (source: Randstad).

The trend for electric cars is across both premium and mainstream marques, too. Hyundai and sister firm Kia are expected to have 38 eco-friendly models (across hybrid, plug-in hybrid, fully electric and hydrogen fuel-cell technologies) in its range by 2025. Honda will also unveil a production version of its Urban EV concept later this year.

BMW delivered more than 140,000 electrified vehicles globally last year and Audi and Mercedes will introduce the first models of their respective electric families with the E-tron and EQC later this year. Porsche is expected to unveil its Tesla-chasing Taycan saloon, based on its Mission E concept, at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

With the Taycan, Porsche is not only promising a fully charged range of more than 300 miles but is also claiming that it will have performance equivalent to a 600bhp saloon, with a 0 to 60mph time of only 3.5 seconds. Crucially, too, the Taycan’s batteries are estimated to be able to accommodate super-fast charging, with a zero to 80 per cent charge taking just 15 minutes.

Audi E tron

Expensive business

Even so, while views towards electric cars have certainly changed, the industry is not without issues. Research and development for the sector isn’t cheap. Tesla, the biggest name in electric motoring, might have posted a US$312 million net profit for its 2018 third-quarter earnings, but that was only the third quarter that it had reported a profit since going public in 2010. In the intervening nine years, Tesla has lost – are you sitting down? – more than US$6 billion. Even if it says Gates, Bezos or Zuckerberg on your passport, that is a knee-tremblingly high figure.

Car company profits aside, there’s also the slightly thorny subject of charging all of these cars. Car manufacturers are keen to quote their low charging times when introducing new electric models, but these require rapid charging points of 50kW or above. At present, rapid chargers constitute less than a quarter of all of the UK’s charging points.

Despite the fact that an estimated 80 per cent of all existing charging happens either at the driver’s home or workplace, data company Emu Analytics forecasts that there needs to be a further 80,000 charging points in the UK by the end of 2020 to provide an adequate infrastructure for EV drivers.

Zap-Map is one of the UK’s leading charging platforms, with more than 80,000 people using the website each month. “There’s no doubt that the UK charging infrastructure needs to be ahead of the vehicle market and that we need more rapid and ultra-rapid charging points for journey planning,” says Zap-Map director Ben Lane. “The two big problems are the lack of off-street parking, which is being solved by some local councils fitting charge points inside lampposts, and the lack of interoperability between the various charging companies, which we’re hoping to resolve with the introduction of Zap-Pay later this year.”

Zap-Pay could be a godsend for drivers of electric vehicles. Until now, you could only use a charging point if you had an account with that particular provider. With some companies dominating certain areas, such as Ecotricity at motorway service stations, that would frequently cause headaches for those in EVs. However, the Zap-Pay app plans to act as a one-stop shop for numerous providers, thus avoiding that issue.

Other new charging companies, such as Instavolt, have introduced an easier “plug and pay” system for their charging points, while Shell bought Newmotion in 2017 and BP bought Chargemaster in summer 2018 to grow the network and introduce more rapid chargers. BP has just invested in Chinese start-up Powershare, which helps direct drivers to charging points. A partnership between Volkswagen and Tesco, meanwhile, will see 2,400 points introduced at 600 branches of the supermarket between now and 2020.

So there’s no doubt that all areas of the electric car market are progressing – and fast. With exciting new cars already on the market, plus others on their way and numerous expansion plans for the charging network, when filling up your car you could be reaching for a plug rather than a pump sooner than you think.

BA gets switched on

The new LEVC TX London electric taxi has now been added to British Airways’ Premium Transfer Drive service at London Heathrow.

The chauffeur service drives qualifying customers who are at risk of missing their connection to their onward aircraft. Running alongside BA’s existing fleet of Jaguars, the TX features wifi connectivity and phone, laptop and USB charging as well as air conditioning and plenty of room for hand luggage.

The taxi can travel for about 70 miles on electric power only, using a 1.3-litre petrol engine range extender to give it a total range of 377 miles. It can also fully charge its battery from empty to full in only 30 minutes via a rapid charger.

It’s expected that about 9,000 of London’s 21,000 black cabs will be running on electric by the end of 2020, cutting nitrogen oxide emissions from the capital’s taxi fleet by 45 per cent.

Five bright sparks for 2019

Jaguar I-Pace, From £64,495

Jaguar’s I-Pace didn’t just beat Mercedes and Audi to the premium electric crossover market by almost a year. As details of its German rivals emerge, so the I-Pace’s technical brilliance is becoming clear, with its 298-mile range from a 90kW battery. It’s no surprise that there’s a six-month waiting list.

Hyundai Kona EV, From £27,250

There’s no shortage of premium EVs with list prices to match, but rather less at a more affordable level that can also double as a family car. Enter the Hyundai Kona EV, featuring a 279-mile range and great on-road manners. The only downside is the lengthy wait to get one.

Audi E-tron, From £71,490

The Audi E-tron will join the premium electric vehicle marketplace in March. With a 95kW battery and a 241-mile range, it can’t quite match the Jaguar I-Pace’s statistics, but you can expect some intriguing onboard technology such as cameras instead of door mirrors. Yes, really.

Mercedes EQC, Est. from £67,500

Officially speaking, the EQC won’t go on sale until November but a limited number of 100 First Edition models will be released in June. The EQC boasts a 249-mile range, and has an 80kW battery. The EQ range will designate Mercedes’ electric models, so expect other cars to follow suit in due course.

Honda Urban EV, Price TBC

First unveiled at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show as an impossibly cute concept car, we’ll see the final production version in autumn prior to it going on sale late this year. Details are sketchy, but if it looks half as good as the concept, with its mix of retro and Peugeot 205-like styling, it’ll be a sure-fire hit.

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