x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Whiners are saving the earth

Has the electric car era finally arrived? With a limit of around 160km on a single charge, and with the length of time it takes to top up the batteries, EVs are admittedly not for everyone.

Has the electric car era finally arrived? Almost, but not quite yet, according to David Booth. He's quite impressed with the Chevrolet Volt, a petrol-electric hybrid that offers practical transportation for real-world driving. And he also likes Nissan's new pure electric vehicle prototype, which he finds surprisingly smooth and sophisticated compared with other EVs. And all that is great, but, for a pure electric vehicle (unlike the Volt), the limitations are glaring. With a limit of around 160km on a single charge, and with the length of time it takes to top up the batteries, EVs are admittedly not for everyone. Long trips are out of the question, and for those with a budget for just one car, it often just wouldn't make sense to buy one.

And the charging infrastructure required is just in the planning stage now. It will be quite a while before charging stations become as universal as petrol stations. So why release EVs in the first place? The public is sure to find out firsthand the problems and limitations associated with this new technology that has become the focus of the media worldwide. It will see that the vehicles advertised to save the earth aren't quite ready for that job just yet.

But we really have no choice. And, by "we", I mean both the car companies and the buying, driving public. Because there is no other way this technology will advance other than actually putting it on the road and in people's mindsets. Even Formula One recognises this development need. This year, teams were given an option to carry a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), which is supposed to collect energy wasted during braking and save it as extra power to be used at the driver's discretion with a steering wheel-mounted button. By the fact that all the winning cars in the four races this year do not carry KERS, it's obvious the technology hasn't really found its legs yet.

But if F1 hadn't regulated this, the technology wouldn't even have got off the ground. In a few years, with the immense pressure to win, the massive amounts of money and the sizeable brains associated with racing's top tier, KERS will almost assuredly develop into a practical technology. Already, battery science is advancing faster than ever before. General Motors has invested $30 million (Dh110m) in a research centre in Michigan, and alternatives to lithium-ion are being discovered and tested all over the world.

And why has it advanced so quickly? Exactly because the public won't put up with an inferior product. Because nothing changes things faster than a whiny, demanding consumer, especially when that's who the money comes from. Accepting the limitations of electric vehicles may sound sanctimonious, but it will hardly allow the technology to improve. So, please continue complaining about electric cars and how they won't fit your lifestyle. You're just helping the environment.