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Electric Vehicles Poised to Take Over.

Jose Cano and Nelson's first Electric Van

It’s been a very long time in coming, but it is coming.  Before you know it electric cars will be common place.    There were electrics car back in the 1800s, but batteries were the problem.  Petrol packed more punch per kilogram, and we embraced the internal combustion engine.  That’s all changed now.  We  are about to experience a revolution.  Last month Tesla released their promised car for the mass market, and within the first week they had 325,000 orders.  That’s far more than Henry Ford ever had for his model T, and the model T still stands as the biggest selling automobile of all time.

I had the huge pleasure of meeting the owner of Nelson’s first electric van.  His name is Jose Cano, a man who went to the trouble of importing a new Nissan  NV200 from the UK.  Why did he want to go electric?  Because he cares about global warming and he knows that driving electric will have impact beyond his own reduced carbon footprint.  Every week at least one person asks him about his van, and he is happy to tell them, because those people tell other people and possibly even go off and get an electric vehicle of their own, which other people ask them about and so on and so on.   Jose’s  purchase of an electric van will result in countless more electric vehicles appearing on the road earlier than if he had not.


It is astonishing to me how quickly awareness has changed, but only recently.  One year ago I spoke to the principle of one of our major automobile dealership and when I asked him if he knew about the Tesla car company, he looked blank.  When I talked about it his eyes glazed over.  I contrast this with the experiences I’m having now.  In the past week when I tell customers  that I would be writing an article about electric vehicles I see a spark of interest every time.

So why would you want to buy an electric car when there’s so many good and relatively cheap petrol cars available?  Well yes, it’s pretty hard to beat the economics of a second hand Corolla, but consider this;  a new Nissan Leaf cost $40,000 which is slightly more than twice the cost of the most basic Suzuki Swift, but the cost of fuel for the Swift is seven times more.  And what about maintenance?  In the Swift 2000 moving parts make it go.  The Leaf has one. 

But what about range?  Jose’s Van will go 140km on a charge, and should he be caught short, Transpower has reticulated the whole country.  You can refuel where ever you can find an electric socket.


But doesn’t it take ages?  Fast chargers, which are popping up throughout the country at a rate of three a month, will give you a 50% charge in 15 minutes.  He can get 70km worth of charge in the time it takes to enjoy a cup a coffee and a scone.  And that’s just the way it is now.  Technology is moving apace.  Range will increase and charging times will shorten, but honestly, how often do you need a range greater than 140km? 

Jose let me have a drive in his van.  I’m a cautious driver at any time but particularly if driving someone else’s car, and particularly if it’s an exotic vehicle.  It was however no different from any automatic, except when you put your foot down there is no waiting around.  Acceleration is smooth and seamless. 

I’m not sure what the time for zero to 100km is in Jose van, but the new Tesla 3 does it in 6 seconds.  Achieving the same in a petrol car involves a whole lot of throaty growling.  Electric cars do it effortlessly without the sound effects.

Incidentally the Tesla3  is selling in the US for $35,000US that will be  about  $53,000NZ in New Zealand.   That’s the same as a moderately speced Holden Commodore.

So what’s the stuff you discover about electric cars when own one?  A couple of things stand out: 

Firstly it’s the quiet.  Not quiet due great insulation, but quiet because there no noise to start with.  You can roll down the windows and hear the birds singing.

Secondly you don’t have to go to petrol stations.  We are all so used to going to these places,  that  we don’t realise what an ordeal it is, but once you no longer do, you will look back and think what a daft business it was driving down the road to refuel, compared to just plugging in at home.

It took over thirty years for petrol and diesel vehicles to banish horses.  Fergus O’Connor, who was still with us just last week, had paid employment driving horse teams when he was a young man. At  the time of world war two horses were still a viable option even though petrol vehicle had been around for  forty years.  The change from internal combustion to electric vehicles will probably be a lot faster.  As the percentage of petrol and diesel vehicles become less and less the hassles of running one will become greater and greater.  Places to refuel will become scarce, and will eventually disappear just as stables for parking your horse have disappeared. 

New Zealand is far from being an early adopter of electric vehicles.  A fifth of the cars in Norway are electric, and Holland has the stated intention of being  100% electric by 2525.  New Zealand is however the place where electric cars make the most sense.  By good fortune we produce the majority of our electric power by hydro, geothermal, and wind.  80% of our power comes from those sources, and with a bit of will we could increase that to 95%.  So the vast majority of our electricity is freely given to us and there’s enough to charge every single car.  The chief executive of Mighty River Power says that it would only take one fifth of the output from their latest geothermal station to keep 64,000 cars charged, or put another way:  One geothermal station making no pollution = 320,000 cars on the  move.


Now think about how much money we currently send overseas to pay for petroleum to keep all our cars moving.  Well according to Wikipedia we are importing about 40,000,000 barrels a year.  If half of that is being used by private vehicles at a landed cost of  $78NZ per barrel (currently increasing as the price of crude is on the up again), that’s one and a half billion dollars a year that we are sending overseas to keep our petrol cars moving.  Imagine all the wonderful things you could do with $1,500,000,000?

The shift to electric is totally good for New Zealand and the government is easing the way. Both light and heavy electric vehicle are exempt from road user charges and will continue to be exempt until they comprise two percent of the national fleet.


As long as the government keeps nudging it along we could have half the cars electric in five years.  Now wouldn't that be great.  You could drive from Nelson to Eyebright and back for less than a dollar.


May 27, 2016 • Peter Owen

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