British EV Fleet Returns Interesting Data, But Paper Questions EV Viability

A fleet of electric cars testing in the U.K. has returned its first real-world data on EV driver's habits. While encouraging for some, a paper published at the same time as the EV fleet report raises serious questions about the viability of electric vehicles.

The Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Vehicle Demonstrators (CABLED) project, which is putting a fleet of Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars in the hands of Brits nationwide, has released its first quarterly report on the project as Aston University crunches the data. While the program will eventually test 110 vehicles across England, the first fleet of 25 cars is already returning interesting statistics that will help EV-makers develop their products for markets around the world.

Among other things, the program has found:

* Electric vehicle drivers use their cars like the typical U.K. driver - the majority of journeys are less than 5 miles. (At similar distances, conventional car engines pollute most when warming up, and catalytic converters are least effective.)

* Average daily mileage is 23 miles (well within the i-MiEV's 80-mile range).

* Drivers use the entire speed range of the car, showing they are happy to drive at motorway speeds when required.

* The vehicles were driven in all temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius, throughout the winter period. There was a drop-off in usage at very low temperatures, likely to be the result of reduced car usage during extremely cold weather, when only essential journeys are made.

* Vehicles are parked 97 percent of the time, typically overnight and during school hours, allowing lengthy battery charging periods at home and work.

* Although vehicles only use the electricity needed to charge them, they were left plugged in for more than 20 percent of the time, occasionally for several days at a time.

"Collecting real-world usage of electric vehicles through our satellite mapping and analysis has been essential in understanding actual demands and requirements of EV vehicles for consumers," Aston University's Brian Price said. "The journey data gathered is already showing that the current generation of ultra low carbon vehicles are cheap to run as well as being comparable to petrol and diesel vehicles for speed, ease of use and daily journey distance; using less than 30 percent of total charge in typical daily use. The next phase of the study will allow us to map out an optimal charging point network to further extend range and improve the convenience of electric cars."

Engineering & Technology magazine, a trade publication distributed to the members of the international Institution of Engineering and Technology, disagrees. An investigation by the magazine found that consumers will likely resist switching to EVs until their capabilities are on par with gasoline and diesel vehicles. Due to limitations in battery technology, EVs have roughly the same range today that they had in 1910. Experts contacted by E&T calculated that batteries capable of giving an EV the same performance and range of a modern internal combustion vehicle would weigh 1.5 tons, cost nearly $150,000 and would be larger than a typical car.

E&T noted three distinct problems facing mainstream adoption of EVs, all centered around their batteries. First, battery performance today is only six times what it was a century ago. Electronics, for comparison, have increased their performance by 10,000 times in the last 35 years alone. Second, lithium-ion batteries last longest when kept between 20 percent and 80 percent of their maximum charge, but manufacturers are already claiming vehicle range based on completely draining a fully charged battery, which would shorten its life. Third, the rapid charging systems being touted by EV-makers are also known to hurt battery life. Eclipsing all of those concerns, though, is E&T's estimation that strain on the electrical grid, which comes from mostly non-renewable sources, could put more CO2 in the air than the current high-efficiency diesel model.

That isn't slowing down GM's U.K. subsidiary Vauxhall, though. They've got a brand-new Vauxhall Ampera, their version of the Chevrolet Volt, and they're taking it on a 170-mile road trip across England. Leaving the Vauxhall Heritage Center in Luton, the car will travel by motorway to the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, using roughly half of the Ampera's advertised range. It will be the longest single road trip ever for an EV on British roads, which Vauxhall hopes will reduce range anxiety in customers.

What do you think about the viability of electric vehicles? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Source: CABLED Project, Engineering & Technology Magazine, Vauxhall

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