Jan 232012
 

Greener Vehicles are not a major contender

Cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Prius have captured the imagination of the auto industry, environmental campaigners and consumers alike in recent years – just look how many carmakers have started producing or announcing plans for hybrid and electric cars. But there is one truth that shows the industry still has a very long way to go before these greener vehicles even come close to being major contenders in the overall market.

Nissan Leaf - Electric Car

Nissan Leaf - Electric Car

Most cars are not Electric

As noted at the recent Detroit motor show, the USA, which ranks as the largest market for automobiles in the world, still only manages to sell three hybrids or electric vehicles for every 100 vehicles sold. That means 97 per cent of new cars that roll off the production line are diesel or petrol vehicles.

Nissan Leaf Sales

Nissan, for example, has sold fewer than 10,000 of its Leaf electric vehicles in the USA, while General Motors has sold an even smaller number of its Volt rechargeable hybrids. So why are these economically-friendly vehicles failing to sell?

Higher cost for electric vehicles

The problems remain numerous. Perhaps the biggest detriment to hybrids and electric vehicles is cost. Although, by definition, these vehicles use far less fuel, meaning running costs are considerably lower, and they are more efficient in terms of weight to power ratio in an effort to maximise battery life, the upfront costs are much higher.

Most consumers look at the price tag of the vehicle first and will often underestimate the cost-savings a green car could have versus a petrol or diesel vehicle because this financial calculation is not in black and white. This is especially true in the USA, where the difference between an electric vehicle and a hybrid compared with a petrol or a diesel, is greater due to the larger average engine sizes. In countries like China and India where engine sizes are far smaller, the difference is less.

The problem with re-charge

Almost all countries, including the USA, suffer from another key problem when it comes to electric vehicles, and that’s recharging points. Although a number of European countries, notably the Netherlands and Estonia, have committed to rolling out more charging stations, in the USA these stations tend to be localised, particularly to areas such as suburban California. Combined with the still low range of electric vehicles – typically less than 100 miles per charge – it simply isn’t feasible to use these eco cars for long distance journeys. This only serves to concentrate them in certain areas, given cars are often their own best advertisements. If electric cars had longer ranges, more people would become aware of their existence.

Less Powerful

The other main problems include the long charging times, the low speed and the acceleration compared to petrol and diesel equivalents and the fact that many drivers are simply set in their ways. Clearly the number of hybrid and electric vehicles as a percentage of total car sales is rising, but slowly. The key factors that help change this therefore remain price – particularly in the context of a weak global economy – and recharging capability. Given technology is expanding and improving all the time, the prospects for greener cars look good. Just don’t expect things to happen overnight.

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