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Understanding the Mechanics of All-Electric Cars | Nation

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Understanding the Mechanics of All-Electric Cars | Nation

Electric Cars: Answers to Your Most Frequently Asked Questions

I am receiving loads of questions in all sorts of different ways about electric cars. Here are some quick answers to the most frequent (bearing in mind that nobody actually knows exactly what is going to happen!)

Running costs

Will electric cars be cheaper to run, and by how much?

Overall running costs are a combination of purchase price and finance rates, “fuel” consumption, service and maintenance costs, insurance, and resale values/depreciation. Taking in all these factors, over time the change from fossil fuel to electric is unlikely to cause a seismic change in the cost of “motoring”, neither for better nor for worse.

Market forces, national tax policies and consumer conduct will tend to “balance” inherent extra costs and savings to somewhere near existing market “norms”. Electric and hybrid cars are more energy efficient. Whether that translates to lower “fuel” cost depends on how the electricity they use is generated, at what cost, and with what tax levels. Kenya uses an admirably high proportion of wind, hydro, geothermal and solar power. Currently, electricity is significantly cheaper than fossil fuel energy (which, by the way, is widely used to generate electricity).

The service and maintenance cost of electric vehicles is lower than for petrol-diesel engines. Their motors have fewer moving parts, less wear-and-tear and require virtually no maintenance – no engine oil change or oil, air and fuel filters. Battery replacement is the big cost issue.

Battery life… and price

How long will the batteries of electric cars last?

The warranty on current lithium-ion batteries averages about 8 years, with an anticipated lifespan of about twice that, and a theoretical potential of four times the warranty period. The cost of replacement of current designs ranges enormously from about Sh453,000 to Sh3 million ($3,000 to $20,000). The majority would be in the region of Sh754,000 ($5,000) (for your budget calculations), with potentials for repair, restoration and recycling evolving rapidly. How those international prices would translate through Kenya’s motor industry and customs systems remains to be seen. The costs and lifespans of solid-state batteries are not yet commercially established but seem likely to be a positive step forward.

Charging points

Will there be enough charging points, and how many will be needed?

There are lots of variables and unknowns here, including the number of electric cars, their range (frequency of refuelling), the proportions that will need fast-charging at specialised “stations” versus those that can slow-charge at their own homes, ongoing evolution of battery and charging technology, etc.

As a quick rule-of-thumb, countries which already have a lot of electric cars (in the UK, one in every three new cars sold is now electric or hybrid) are talking in terms of one commercial charging point for every 100 vehicles as a predictive guideline. In Kenya today, that would mean about 20,000 commercial charging points. A saving grace is that electric charging “hubs” (in supermarket car parks or stand-alone) could probably accommodate 50 cars in the space of a major petrol station forecourt. Factories, warehouses, and transport workshops are likely to self-equip to recharge most trucks in-house. Kenya Power will respond to its part in this challenge with diligence and brilliance, and there will be other innovations like giving charging parks a roof made of solar panels.

New car price

Will purchase price be higher or lower than petrol-diesel cars?

Currently, electric cars are significantly expensive because their batteries are so costly to make, production scales are relatively small, and huge investments are being made in the initial transformation of production lines. International predictions are that these factors will close-up as volumes increase and battery technology advances. Electric/hybrid versus petrol-diesel cars are expected to achieve price parity within the next ten years.

Mileage range

Will the mileage range of electric cars improve and by how much?

Yes, and by a lot, if and when “solid-state” battery technology replaces the current lithium-ion solution. Solid-state batteries will be lighter, charge faster, last longer, and have higher capacity. There is little doubt that the boffins will come up with technical solutions; the concern is whether the materials they require can be sourced in sufficient quantity.

Climate change?

Will all-electric cars solve climate change/global warming?

No. But they might help. Petrol and diesel vehicles are major generators of greenhouse gases (and other undesirable stuff), but they are a very long way from the only or biggest source. To rein in global warming and climate change, all fossil fuel users will need to match the reduction made by electric cars. Carbon capture would seem to be the process warranting the biggest investment in research and operationalization worldwide.

The question of timing

Will Kenya be in step with the global swing to electric cars?

In step, yes, but at least 10 years behind the leading edge. You can buy a new petrol-diesel car today without any danger of it losing its resale value because of a looming ban. For us, a formal ban on fossil-fuel cars will probably never be necessary because eventually electric cars will be the only kind we can import. In the initial stages of our adjustment in a less dependable infrastructural environment, hybrids will dominate.

Note: The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of NMG Management. The article is intended to give broad guidance and provoke thought cycles and does not substitute for good professional advice adjusted for your specific location, requirements, and objectives.

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