Matthew Mills checks out electric cars - and discovers that the future is already here.
Make no mistake, cars are evolving – they have to if they are to survive in a changing world. It’s a fact that the ever-innovative motor industry is well aware of, and one that they’re working overtime to address.
The simple truth is that the days of the traditional gaz-guzzler are numbered. The planet is running dry, there isn’t an infinite supply of oil, and we’re all coming to terms with the fact that things are going to have to change.
Luckily, there are forward-thinkers out there who have been on the case for some time and have developed the technology that will keep us behind the wheel for many years to come – electric cars.
Heading that group of innovators are the likes of BMW, Nissan, Tesla and Mitsubishi.
BMW, for instance, has developed the wonderful i3, a great compact electric car that was launched on an unsuspecting world in 2013. A slew of awards followed, including World Green Car of the Year and Wheels car of the Year here in Australia. They also produce the stunning i8, a hybrid supercar that can hit 100km/h from a standing start in just 4.4 seconds and has a top speed of 250km/h.
Nissan, meanwhile, has given us the LEAF, a comfortable compact that can easily transport five grown-ups (and also the e-NV200, an electric van that proves electric motors can be commercial too) while Mitsubishi has earned accolades a plenty with the i-Miev, a funky little motor that’s as stylish and fun as it is easy on the environment, and the Outlander PHEV, a hybrid SUV that’s as tough and as comfortable as any of its petrol-drinking brothers.
American firm Tesla, which makes nothing but electric cars, may not be a household name yet, but it looks like it could soon become a big hit in Australia. The Model S is a great looking car, quick and comfortable and packed with hi-tech luxury.
Other models to check out if you’re considering going electric include the Mercedes B Class, a cool-looking five-door hatchback, and the likes of the Renault Zoe, Honda Fit and Kia Soul EV, all of which are cool looking compacts proudly flying the no-gas flag.
These ground-breaking vehicles, then, have been quietly changing the face of motoring in Australia – sales of electric and hybrid cars have risen by 49 per cent since 2011 to 13,246, with the majority of those going to private buyers.
The quality and diversity of the electric and hybrid cars out there, then, is helping them into mainstream motoring, but the reality is that one negative issue still remains – range anxiety. Basically, people are worried that their batteries will run low and they’ll be stuck in the middle of nowhere.
For metro drivers, this seems a strange notion – petrol tanks, after all, are just as finite. And with, for instance, the i3 boasting a range of 200km before you’d even need to think about kicking in the optional range-extender petrol engine, there’s few of us in Perth that would need to fret over our daily commute.
And while your neighbours may be queuing at a servo for gas, recharging an electric car nowadays is simply a matter of plugging it in when you get home, either to a trickle-charge system or the fast-charge option all makes now offer. And don’t forget, a full battery is going to cost you a lot less than a full tank – and rig your home up to solar and you’re basically getting free transport for life.
Country drivers, however, may think they have a case for sticking to gas – Australia has a lot of very long roads, after all – but many motorists in rural areas are now realising that electric is an option for them too, thanks to the emergence of more and more charging stations, an area in which WA is leading the way.
The RAC’s Electric Highway, for instance, is a flagship example of what can be done. They have set up as series of charging stations between Perth and Augusta – 10 in all, the city’s on Wellington Street and others cropping up in Mandurah, Bunbury, Busselton, Margaret River, Augusta, Nannun, Donnybrook, Dunsborough and Harvey. Two more are due to open soon, in Fremantle and Bridgetown.
The system is a fantastic example of efficiently providing the infrastructure this exciting new technology needs.
And it’s only going to expand and prosper. The day of the electric car is already here – after all, as one i3 convert in Margaret River told us, keeping your electric car topped up is only as difficult as keeping your iPhone alive, watch the gauge and plug it in when it’s looking low.