EV? Plug-In? Hybrid?
EV development is not slowing down, so how do you decide if an EV or hybrid is right for you?
Electric vehicle technology is continuing to develop at a rapid pace. Mercedes-Benz Trucks recently unveiled an electric 26-tonne heavy truck, which will be given its public debut at the IAA Hanover CV Show in September. Such a vehicle would not have been possible a few years ago because of the weight of the batteries. Mercedes reckons that it will offer a 200km range around an urban distribution route and that could increase further by the time the truck enters production around 2020.
Power density up, battery costs down
By then, Mercedes expects battery power density to have taken another significant step forward. Overall, the company expects energy density to rise by a factor of 2.5 from 80Wh/kg to 200Wh/kg between 1997 and 2025. In addition, Mercedes expects the cost of batteries to be reduced by the same factor over the same period, reducing cost from €500/kWh to €200/kWh.
That opens up the prospect of range anxiety disappearing as an issue. If a range of 300km becomes a realistic possibility in production EVs, it could prove to be a game-changer and really open up the market for EVs, particularly if cost continues to fall as Mercedes-Benz suggests.
For the moment range anxiety remains a factor in the decision to adopt EVs. Among fleet service providers, Alphabet International has looked at the EV sector and alternative mobility in more detail than many.
“The biggest difference between an electric vehicle and one powered by a combustion engine is that it’s not one size fits all,” says Uwe Hildinger, chief sales officer at Alphabet International, “You need to look at the usage profile and the needs of the driver first, then you can talk about the best option. We at Alphabet try to cover this most important question by using our Electrification Potential Analysis (EPA). This gives us fundamental feedback on what we can do for our customers.”
How important is range?
Range anxiety can be more imagined than real. For drivers who tend to use their cars mostly for commuting and local travel, current EVs offer a realistic daily working range. Persuading a driver that they could use an electric vehicle successfully may take some work though. “The first step is to put an EV in the car policy of a company so that the driver can choose. I think this is more or less driven by the total cost of mobility on one side and on the other side, the pressure to reduce the carbon foot- print,” says Hildinger.
“Let’s assume that everything is done in this case and it is in the car policy. In that case there are two topics. First of all, we need to know what the driving behaviour is.” That can be done by simply using information from a driver’s regular driving patterns to assess how long individuals drive between home and work.
“Then you can check if an electric vehicle would be useful,” says Hildinger, “From our investigations, the average distance drivers drive today is between 60 and 70km a day and this could be covered by an EV anyway. I think it’s just that feeling that there might not be enough range to drive, or that there could be some unexpected needs for longer travel distances that the car could not cover.”
A pool car is often the way ahead, as Hildinger observes, “What we see quite often is that EVs are often a kind of a pool car or used as an AlphaCity car when our car-sharing solution is chosen, as people get used to electric cars. Sometimes they are really afraid – it’s different, it’s new, how can it be charged? Where can it be charged? How long will it take? Is it fun to drive? That’s also a topic. This is a way to get people used to EVs. I think it’s quite a usual practice to have an EV as a pool car in the fleet.”
EVs need a business case
Reducing a fleet’s carbon footprint might be the driving factor in deciding to choose an EV but not at any price, “Most of our corporate customers want to see a business case as well,” says Hildinger, “What we see is that in some countries where we see tax reductions or there is government support for EVs, an electric vehicle can at least be on the same level of cost as an internal combustion engine, or even lower.” But it will depend on how the car is used.
“If you look at a typical salesman, driving 50,000km a year, an EV is not really a solution at the moment, but a hybrid could be an intermediate with electric drive in the city and internal combustion engine for when you go outside.”
“If you smartly combine the electric drive with a combustion engine, then you can really close the gap almost completely, from the perspective of fuel consumption and carbon footprint.”
That advantage is probably greater for a plug-in hybrid offering greater range, “The Netherlands offered a huge tax reduction for hybrids last year and you can save cost if the country provides such a programme,” says Hildinger. “My under- standing is that the pure electric range is on average up to 30km, so for small distances you can easily drive as an EV. If you are able to charge afterwards, you can cover these distances by driving electric. Then if you use the internal combustion engine for longer distances, the overall CO2 emissions can be lowered quite significantly, if you use the potential of driving under electric power. We also see that a lot of those hybrids are not used in a proper way, unfortunately.
Greater choice of hybrids
As Hildinger says, the range of hybrid models is increasing and drivers now have a choice of a hybrid model as well as conventional petrol and diesel models. A few years ago, parallel hybrids performed well in stop/start urban traffic, while diesels provided lower fuel consumption over longer distances. Parallel hybrid technology has improved though.
That seems to be supported by Alphabet’s experience. As Hildinger suggests, the 50,000km per year sales driver is still going to be better suited to a diesel car, but looking at a car used over 100,000km, he said: “If you smartly combine the electric drive with a combustion engine, then you can really close the gap almost completely, from the perspective of fuel consumption and carbon footprint. It’s a matter of the mix in usage in the end.
“We need to cover both challenges. From one side it needs to be a business case and on the other side there is pressure on companies to reduce the carbon footprint. Then if you compare a diesel car with a petrol car, it will be more expensive so a diesel and a hybrid could be almost equal. There is not such a big difference anymore.”