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Electric vehicles: what’s stopping more of us from owning one?

Graham Franklin-Browne chats with Michael Thompson – Secretary Australian Electric Vehicle Council

As a comparatively recent convert to fossil fuel-free motoring I am always keen to talk to other EV owners and supporters of electric vehicles.

Last month I met up with Michael Thompson, Secretary of the Australian Electric Vehicle Council, an enthusiastic promoter of electric vehicles, and an ardent supporter of renewable energy.

The Australian Electric Vehicle Council focuses on promotion of EV technology and transport solutions to a wide audience including business and government.

I asked Michael why the motoring public in Australia still seems to be ignorant regarding the capabilities of electric vehicles. Michael thought that part of the reason was related to the size of our country, and an erroneous perception of just how far we need to travel on a daily basis.

Most Australian motorists are urbanised, and do not commute long distances.

5 seater Tesla effortlessly leaves Alfa in its wake

We drive a daily commute of about 30 minutes one-way without realising that our urban commuting environment is just perfect for electric vehicles.

So who wouldn’t opt for a form of transport that is fast, clean, silent, and efficient?

Well, in many ways EVs are crippled by their own success. They don’t need a lot of service, and very few spare parts – no mufflers, exhaust pipes, radiators, carburetors, or spark plugs.

After sales – big earner for conventional car dealers

Therefore, although most car manufacturers have one or two very good EVs in their product range, they are reluctant to promote them and cripple a lucrative source of profit. Margins on new cars are slim, but after sales parts and service for fossil fuel cars is a huge earner.

Then there is the excitement factor

Motoring journalists consistently tell us that we must be passionate about our daily drives. All forms of motorised transport are supposed to excite us to the point of orgasm.

The exhaust pipe should sound like a castrato choir, and the tyres must squeal and smoke when we leave the parking lot after dropping the kids off to school.

Most people rarely consider, that if indeed we are over-excited, with sweaty palms and racing hearts, perhaps we shouldn’t be in control of a ton of metal balancing on a few square inches of rubber – just saying…Jeremy Clarkson.

So, EV’s don’t do spectacularly – or do they?

Well, not until the highly disruptive and irritatingly superior Tesla vehicles appeared on the scene, an example of which sits in pride of place in Michael’s garage in Kambah.

Go online and ask Mr Google about a recent race between an electric Tesla P85D and a top of the range Alfa Romeo.

The 5 seater Tesla effortlessly leaves the Alfa in its wake and adds insult to injury by simultaneously towing another Alfa behind it on a trailer.

They are spookily smart as well. Michael’s P85 has recently downloaded self-driving capability from the Tesla Corporation and it is teaching itself to navigate and drive the roads in our region.

Even more remarkable, is that while the car is teaching itself to drive around these parts, it is simultaneously teaching every other Tesla in Australia (currently about 200) about our driving conditions.

Michael admits, that may be a bit disconcerting when the car we put to bed in the garage at night, may not be the same car we drive out the door in the morning.

Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, began his three-stage EV development strategy a few years ago with the production of high end, high performance and high cost electric sports cars.

Built in low volumes, they were designed to excite the petrol and rubber burning crowd, and show them that an electric vehicle is a serious player.

Luxury and mid-range family cars now within reach

Sales of this model funded the next development stage, a 5-seater family sedan.  With exceptional performance, and a practical range, the P85 series is a real contender in the luxury family car market.

The final stage of this strategy happened early this year with the release of the Tesla Model 3, an advanced and affordable electric passenger vehicle with stunning performance, incredible range, and self-driving capability.

Of course this strategy is not new to the auto industry. Cranky old Henry Ford did something similar to fund the development of the Model T, as did Ferdinand Porsche with the development of the Volkswagen Beetle.

So, will we be able to afford the Tesla Model 3?

Possibly. In the US, Tesla has already pre-sold 400,000 units at US$35,500, which is around $47,000 in our money.

Not exactly an affordable people’s car, or a Model T Ford, but it still means that within about 18 months a practical, long distance EV, will soon be available at a competitive price to a large segment of the Australian motoring public.

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