Are electric car manufacturers driving us all down the road that may result in the same sort of technology failures that we have seen in the past?
I’m not referring to the Sinclair scooter here but cast your mind back to the débâcle of Betamax v VHS home recording systems. The eventual winner was the technically inferior VHS but the battle was not resolved until innumerable consumers had paid out for worthless Betamax systems.
Back in the 70’s a similar conflict occurred over audio systems when America fell in love with the 8 track tape system that moved magnetic tape in a loop over the player head at a high speed resulting in a better sound. The world market finally dictated that the audio cassette was the way to go but not until millions of consumers had been lumbered with home and in-car systems that went down the technological cul de sac. Much wow and flutter ensued. Then there was the mini-disc …
Every major (and several minor) car manufacturers know that they have to get electric vehicles into their product lists and seem to be asking their customers to risk paying many thousands for a technology that may not be future proof. Worse still, the cost and life expectancy of the electric cells means that buyers in the used electric car market may be in for some real shocks (sorry) to their pocket when the cells have to be replaced. Burying the battery deep within a vehicle has to be the worst idea when it comes to fitting a replacement.
At cab4one mini cabs we have been actively looking for a vehicle that addresses the range and flexibility that we need for day to day taxi or mini cab operations in both urban and rural environments. To date, our search has been thwarted due to lack of vehicle range and the lengthy time it takes to recharge the batteries. May I humbly offer a couple of solutions which may go some way to overcome customer resistance to this emerging technology and save a fortune in ill-conceived development costs?
Motorists are a pretty conservative group of consumers and like things to continue much as they have experienced in the past.
The paradigm is that when a driver needs more fuel he simply arrives at a petrol station, replenishes his fuel, pays the bill and goes merrily on his way to the next traffic jam. In essence, this is the same system employed since the days of the horse – feed the beast and it keeps going. It’s easy, predictable and everyone understands how it works. Battery technology is advancing quickly so an element of future-proofing electric cars has to be found. Rather than having competing types of battery cell why don’t the manufacturers agree on a physical shape and commonality of connectors that will enable consumers to easily obtain new batteries, rather than have to disassemble the car to reach and replace the worn down power source?
By all means allow the batteries to be home charged aboard the vehicle or at the small but expanding number of on street recharge points. However, consider the rural driver or those making extended trips who don’t have either time or inclination to pre-plan journeys around available re-charge points. Now think of the ubiquitous AA or AAA battery. They are mass produced and therefore cheap, available world wide and can be used in a multitude of devices. If car batteries could be made in a uniform size and shape, then all electric car manufacturers could ensure a decent life cycle for their vehicles and a fair re-sale value for the used market.
I would propose a battery cell that is easy to replace and convenient enough to handle without falling foul of health & safety rules. Make it attaché case sized and easily accessible from the outside of the vehicle. For now they would probably have to be used as multiple cells in order to achieve the required power output. As the technology advances, more power will inevitably become available within a smaller volume, perhaps reducing the number of battery cells required per vehicle. However, if agreement can be reached on the physical size of battery cells and electrical connectors, future users will be able to follow the time-tested refuelling method wherever they travel. I can envisage the electric motorist pulling in to a “fuel” station, removing the attaché case sized cell (or cells), slotting in identical but fully charged replacements and continuing their journeys. Retailers would still find a way of making a profit and I’m sure the major supermarkets would be happy to compete on price and promoting the “greenest” way of recharging the replacement battery cells.
Martin Ott is a director of cab4one Limited who provide an expanding fleet of environmentally friendly private hire vehicles and mini cabs that carry just one passenger and their luggage. Conventional taxis and mini cabs spend much of their time with only one passenger aboard, guzzling fuel, pumping out high levels of carbon dioxide and taking up too much space on our congested roads. cab4one mini cabs can reduce your carbon footprint and equally important cost you less money on most journeys.
If it’s just you and your luggage travelling, who needs a DIRTY great taxi?
Since first publishing this article, I have seen one bright idea that could catch on. However all other manufacturers would still need to agree on commonalities, as discussed above. This is the Renault take on ‘lekky cars http://ht.ly/4030B. Martin Ott