Is the UK Government Taking a Step Back From the Electric Vehicle Market?

The UK government is today under significant pressure after refusing to acknowledge the recommendations of a Commons Select Committee with regards to the electric car market. This comes at a time when the UK government is publicly showing support for the electric car market while behind-the-scenes it seems a little reluctant to issue standards and sales forecast. What is going on?

Encouraging electric car sales

There is no doubt that governments around the world will play a major role in encouraging consumers to move to electric vehicles. The UK government has made encouraging noises over the last couple of years and issued a number of financial incentives but for some reason it is not willing to actively look to standardise charging point systems and payment systems together with issuing target sales for electric vehicles.

We can possibly understand the government’s reluctance to issue formal target sales for electric vehicles in the UK but why it is not willing to get actively involved in standardising charging point systems and payment systems is another matter. If these systems are not of a similar standard and a similar technology then there is the potential for confusion and mayhem in the marketplace.

Leading from the front

When you take into account the amount of tax the UK government, and indeed other governments around the world, collect from the sale of petrol and other similar fuels, there is obviously a need to address this potential income gap in the future. The UK government has issued a number of incentives to ensure the electric car market in the UK receives something of an injection of optimism in the short term but the long-term position is a little unclear.

Despite comments to the contrary there is no way that electric vehicle users of the future will escape the multitude of charges connected with travelling today. The government extracts a significant amount of income from the fuel market and in some shape or form this will have to be replaced when the almost inevitable move to electric vehicles gains more momentum. It would seem sensible for the government to issue a variety of standards across the board but so far there has been reluctance to do this.

Job creation

Only a few days ago we saw Nissan introduce yet another leg to its UK business in the shape of a lithium ion battery facility in Sunderland. This facility will feed the ever growing need for power supplies in the EV market and has the potential to create a significant number of jobs in the UK. The government has been fairly helpful with regards to financial assistance in the past, in the shape of tax breaks and government subsidies, and no doubt Nissan can again expect to receive favourable assistance from the UK authorities.

If the UK government wakes up to the potential of electric vehicles then it could help to create yet another prosperous employment arena in the country. Nissan has invested a significant amount of money into the UK automotive industry and created a mass of jobs across the north-east. The potential and the ability to have the same influence over the electric vehicle power supply market could put the UK automotive industry on a different level.

Conclusion

It is uncertain why the UK government is publicly in favour of electric vehicles but behind-the-scenes it has refused to acknowledge the recommendations from an influential Commons Select Committee. It will be interesting to see how this situation works out because there is no doubt that the UK government has put itself in a very tricky situation. You could argue there are more pressing issues to consider in the short to medium term, such as the economy, but the job of any government around the world is to look forward to the future.

Can Electric Cars Deliver As Promised?

By the sound of it, electric cars are poised to reshape the automotive industry in a way not seen since, well, the internal combustion engine was introduced. 2010 is shaping up to be an important year for electric cars as several new models are slated to hit the market.

That’s good news for environmentally conscious consumers, but do electric cars deserve our attention more than highly fuel efficient gas or diesel models?

Certainly, electric cars offer a huge appeal for the simple reason that visits to the gas pump are no longer part of the equation. Instead of fueling up, electric car users will plug it in at home, at work or while on the road. It’s all about tapping the power grid in ways not seen before.

I’ve been covering electric cars on my flagship The Auto Writer blog for several years, but not too many people dig deep when investigating vehicle electrification. I’m not about to tell you to buy one product or stay away from another one, but what I will say is that there are some things to consider before deciding in favor of an electric model versus something else:

Vehicle Cost – Surprise, surprise! Electric cars are pricey as we learned when the then $98,00–now $109,000 on up–Tesla Roadster hit the market in 2008. Sure, Tesla is an exotic car, but most electric vehicles are priced north of $40,000. The good news is that some models carry a $7500 federal rebate with individual states adding their rebates or tax abatement into the mix.

Vehicle Availability – When the first big wave of electric vehicles rolls out, the Nissan Leaf, Ford Transit Connect EV, Chevy Volt and other models will be available in limited numbers. That’s because manufacturers still aren’t sure if customers will embrace the technology. Some models will be scarce until production is ramped up which means you may have to wait six months, perhaps a year before buying one.

Weather Extremes – Just how durable are electric cars when facing weather extremes? Manufacturers are trying to find that out by putting their vehicles through various tests, but a Minnesota winter or Arizona heat may be hard to replicate. Look for these cars to carry generous warranties just in case the unthinkable happens…whatever that might be!

Unseen Pollution – Electric vehicles emit no carbon pollution, right? Well, while on the road they don’t. However, when powering up electric vehicles use electricity derived from coal burning plants. And, in the manufacturing process they consume precious resources just like any other car. Overall, their impact on the environment may be lower than a clean burning diesel or highly efficient gas engine, but if you’re trying to “save the earth” with an electric vehicle you may be disappointed.

There are other factors such as registration costs, insurance, maintenance and repairs and depreciation which also must be factored in. Likely, electric vehicles will improve over time and prices will drop, making power grid enabled vehicles hot sellers down the road.

Natural Gas Vehicles Are Beating Out Electric Vehicles for Consumers Top Pick

Consumers have been selecting natural gas vehicles over electric vehicles at a rate of two to one. By year end there will be approximately 123,600 natural gas vehicles on our nation’s road as compared to 65,500 electric vehicles. Despite the lack of marketing or fueling infrastructure for natural gas, it is now the first choice among consumers looking to alternative ways to fuel their vehicles.

The drop in natural gas prices has helped fuel the demand; beating out the more heavily marketed and federally funded electric vehicles (EVs). Four years ago President Obama unveiled his vision of 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by the 2015 and pumped $5 billion into funding for electric cars. In February the Obama admiration proposed the tax credit for plug-in vehicle be increased from $7,500 to $10,000 and also extend the credit to other alternative vehicles like natural gas.

In response to the higher demand from motorist, Honda began showing it’s Honda Civic GX natural gas vehicle in car showrooms across the country, where previously it had only been marketed as a fleet vehicle. It is currently the only NGV sedan on the market. Honda says the marketing is paying off big for them, and sales of the vehicle are continuing to break new monthly highs. Although the choices are few for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, it should be pointed out that conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles can be retrofitted for CNG. If natural gas is available at your home you can install a pumping station inside your garage.

CNG is safe or at least safer than gasoline, Although CNG is flammable, it has a narrow flammability range, and if released by accident it quickly disperses making it less likely to ignite than gasoline. CNG is also non-toxic, it dissipates when released and will not leak to contaminate soil and water supplies.

The natural gas used in vehicles is classified into two types compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas(LNG). According to fueleconomy.gov “eighty-seven percent of the natural gas consumed in the U.S.is also produced here; which greatly reduces are dependency on foreign imports. It is 60%-90% less polluting than traditional fuels. With 30%-40% less greenhouse gas emissions and is less expensive than gasoline. At the present time the main disadvantages of CNG vehicles is the lack of facilities available to pump the gas, fewer miles to the tank and few choice available by auto makers.

All gas vehicles depend on fossil fuel. The natural gas obtained from drilling is a fossil fuel and while no fossil fuels are considered to be renewable resources because of the millions of years needed for the earth to produce them; natural gas is primarily methane and methane gas can be produced as a renewable resource. Methane gas is currently being collected from landfills and produced from rotting vegetation and animal manure.

CNG vehicles are cheaper to operate than conventional vehicles and burn cleaner than gasoline vehicles. Electric vehicles running on electricity alone put out “0” emissions at the tail pipe, but the electricity providing that power is generated at power plants running off fossil fuels. The U.S. Department of Energy states that “PHEVs (plugin hybrid electric vehicles) and EVs (electric vehicles) typically have a well-to-wheel emissions advantage over similar conventional vehicles running on gasoline or diesel.

However, in communities that depend heavily on conventional fossil fuels for their electricity generation, PEVs (Plugin Electric Vehicles) may not demonstrate a well-to-wheel emissions benefit.”

The switch from diesel to CNG is the larger trend for cities and municipalities across the country. The U.S Department of Transportation provides grants for upgrading mass transit and many cities are already using those dollars to advance their fleets over to CNG vehicles.

The future for NGV remains uncertain; although the advantages seem clear, reduce dependency on foreign oil, cleaner energy for the environment, lower cost to fuel. The largest drawback is the lack of infrastructure for refueling. As government agencies along with private fleet owned vehicles begin to convert vehicles from gasoline to NGV the private sector will also begin to benefit from their expansion. Improvements in refueling technology and engine performance will also soon follow. It will likely be the consumers, who ultimately decide our next energy of choice.