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Electric for the masses?

By / 9 years ago / Features / No Comments

By the time you read this the Geneva Motor Show will be over and the motoring journalists will have attended all the launch events and published their first impressions. Of course, missing from the Geneva show this year will be Saab – only time will tell if this brand can re-emerge, but to do so it will need a new philanthropic owner than can offer plenty of love and (quite) a few investment kroners!

As I write this, my research is limited to whatever I can find on the internet, or may have heard through various industry contacts. The financial troubles of 2-3 years ago, while not forgotten, have not prevented product development and, as usual, many manufacturers have chosen this show to reveal their new models and concepts. Inevitably there are those vehicles about to start production and which we will expect to see on our roads every day, from the manufacturers that account for the vast majority of European new car sales, sitting alongside some fairly extravagant offerings from the usual suppliers of niche or premium vehicles. From the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta or Lamborghini Aventador, to concept vehicles like the Range Rover Evoque convertible or hybrid and electric concepts in the form of the Bentley SUV or Rolls Royce 102EX Phantom, there’s plenty to view and review.

But one headline suggesting that in future electric cars may be only for the rich caught my eye. The theory suggests that without government subsidies – from already stretched budgets – these cars (Rolls Royce 102EX) will be too expensive caused, no doubt, by rising raw material cost (increased demand), higher production costs and residual values, which in turn are not helped by general (used car) industry scepticism regarding battery life and replacement cost.

Now, I’d like to do more to reduce my carbon emissions and an electric vehicle would go some way to achieving that – I particularly like the idea of refuelling in my garage – providing we conveniently ignore the carbon created when the electricity is created (nuclear/renewable aside) – but the capital cost or monthly battery lease charge for my usage makes the financial equation unworkable. 

So, on one hand it’s being suggested that only the wealthy will be able afford to purchase these cars – while mainstream manufacturers continue to spend billions of dollars on their development – and on the other hand governments are challenging us (either directly or, more commonly, through taxation) to reduce our CO2 emissions. And Mr Muller-Otvos (chief executive of Rolls Royce) is quoted as saying: “We can’t use 12-cylinder engines forever”.

I’ve touched on this subject previously, but that was before there was any suggestion that electric vehicles would be beyond the means of a large portion of the population. This whole dilemma is not going to be easy to solve and it’s not going to go away, so it’s a good job that the manufacturer’s research budgets survived the cost-cutting of a few years ago to remain in the search for the ‘silver bullet’.

But I wish they’d hurry up! When historians look back at the period from the second half of the 20th century to the mid-21st century will they be critical of our use (misuse?) of oil? Will it be viewed in the same way we regard the extinction of various animal species (the Dodo)? Because, it would seem there were alternatives available at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Coincidentally, also on display at Geneva, having been re-created from drawings, was an electric vehicle with a 44-cell battery pack, 2 x 2.5 petrol engines for battery charging and a 200-mile (320km) range. The original extended-range electric vehicle (Lohner Sempervivum Vivus or Always Alive) was designed by Ferdinand Porsche way back in 1900! Sort of, ‘back to the future’…

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.

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