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EV range deemed acceptable

Costly exercise: Victorians driving EVs like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV as a part of a state government trial say they are comfortable with the range of the vehicle but not the cost.

Victorian trial shows electric-car drivers are comfortable with range, but not price

General News logo4 Dec 2012

A MID-TERM report on the Victorian government’s three-year electric vehicle trial handed down today reveals that more than 80 per cent of metropolitan drivers could seamlessly adopt the new technology with no change in their driving habits.

Findings released by the Victorian department of transport at the Australian Electric Vehicle Conference in Melbourne also show that these drivers could fit an EV into their daily routines by relying solely on recharging at home, reducing the need for widespread public battery charging infrastructure.

The findings may help allay concerns at the top echelon of many car companies in Australia, where range anxiety is regarded as a key issue holding EV sales to very low levels.

These fears also appear to be guiding crucial product development decisions at local and international levels that are increasingly favouring plug-in hybrid vehicles over full-electric models.

In an exclusive interview with GoAuto this week, trial manager Kristian Handberg said the mid-term report reveals that most participants readily became comfortable with their EVs, realising that the available range was more than they needed on a daily basis.

80 center imageFrom top: EV trial manager Kristian Handberg Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf that are a part of the Victorian government's EV Trial.

However, while Australian households could easily integrate EVs into their daily routines, Mr Handberg said the trial also found that the main barrier to the adoption of the new technology is still the initial purchase price.

The current price of $51,500 (plus on-roads) for a Nissan Leaf or $48,800 (plus on-roads) for a Mitsubishi i-MiEV emerges as the major deterrent for people who otherwise would consider buying an EV.

Mr Handberg said one participant was ready and willing to buy an EV but, after examining finance options and leasing options, could not justify the purchase on cost grounds. So he bought a Toyota Prius hybrid instead.

Citing results from a survey of EV drivers from the trial, Mr Handberg said the average distanced travelled each day was 35 kilometres, with 82 per cent driving less than 40km.

“That means that the limited range of the EVs was not an issue,” he told GoAuto.

“The survey shows the households were using the EVs as their primary vehicle 85 per cent of the time.”

The rest of the time they used their own petrol-powered car.

Mr Handberg said “it was a given” that EVs would not suit everybody.

“There are people who will drive 150km a day, poor sods, but thankfully that is not the majority,” he said, adding that these drivers were among the “significant minority” for whom EVs would not work.

“They would need to pay a fortune for a big battery or they would require a big public fast-charging network or battery swaps if EVs were to meet their needs.”

An interesting aspect of the survey results was that exposure to EVs and their limited driving range heightened the participants’ interest in making the most use of the energy available.

During the three-month vehicle loan period, each household was surveyed about range anxiety and around 20 per cent of drivers said they were concerned about it the majority of the time or all the time.

“With the people who were concerned half the time and occasionally (a total of 58 per cent of participants), we saw a strong trend come through of them managing the range of the vehicle,” said Mr Handberg.

“That was about understanding how far they had to go in a day and assessing that relative to the available range.

“They were using the Eco mode of the vehicle and modifying their driving style to conserve the battery charge.”

Mr Handberg said this transferred to how they subsequently drove their petrol-powered cars.

“A lot of them said they changed their driving behaviours in a normal car on account of what they learned about how to manage the range of an EV because they now understood how energy use is linked to driving style.

“And it also transferred over into how they managed their household energy use as well because now they understand a lot more about how they use energy. They started to make changes about the way they used energy in the house.

“Initially, they were driving the EVs like they were stolen, but then they started to figure out there was a strong relationship between how they were driving the car and the range of the vehicle.”

Mr Handberg said the mid-term report confirmed the findings revealed in the first report, which showed that drivers were most impressed with the performance of EVs.

They were not expecting performance of any sort, but the areas where they were most positively impressed were acceleration, fun to drive, overtaking and maintaining highway speed.

“They are all performance-related. It’s about how the car is going to go. They’re much quicker than people thought they were going to be.”

Mr Handberg said this favourable impression of performance meant that EVs would fit in very well with how cars are sold already.

“Cars are sold on the basis of how well they go. People love getting away from the traffic lights first, even if they are driving an SUV. If they think they have the fastest SUV on the road, even if it is like a tank, then that’s very persuasive.

“That influences buyer behaviour much more than saving the world. People don’t buy cars to save the world. People buy cars because they like how fast they go.”

The Victorian trial is the only one of its kind being conducted in Australia and is likely to play a significant role in the development of policy around whether or not governments will encourage the adoption of the new technology.

Under the three-year project, car-makers provided more than 50 cars to the trial. The vehicles were then lent to 100 households for a period of three months. The last group of 20 households will get their cars early next year, lifting the total to 120.

In addition, 42 fleets will have participated by the end of the program.

The trial is a policy development project to help the Victorian department of transport and about 70 organisations – from car-makers to electricity suppliers – understand more about how electric vehicles will fit into the transport mix and what special needs they may have.

The Australian Electric Vehicle Conference was presented by the Electric Vehicle Alliance and organised by Henry O’Clery’s Future Climate Australia.

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