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Learning from past mistakes

There has been a lot of conversation recently regarding Electric Vehicles, how they will save the world, or not; how they are winning the marketing race, or not.
 |  Trevor Ammundsen  |  ,

While reading much of this, I could not help but recall the old maxim; people learn from their own mistakes, unfortunately they do not learn from other people’s mistakes. That would save time.

To relate this maxim to the EV discussion I will offer a small history lesson, for our younger readers.

In the late seventies and early eighties, we had oil shocks with prices rising rapidly and supply becoming challenged. Interim moves such as car-less days (ie: you couldn’t drive your car on one day of the week – everyone picked Sunday) were tried without much success so the government thought big. This led to the building of the Petrol Refinery at Marsden Point which addressed much of the supply issues, but another plan was to have vehicles become less reliant on petrol and this was to be done by using alternative fuels, these being LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) and CNG (Compressed Natural Gas).

Enthusiasts started converting cars to dual fuel, using both petrol and either of CNG or LPG. Some LPG users converted entirely to LPG, but this was not really an option for CNG, due to power and range issues. Of the two, LPG performed best although the need to tune an engine for two different fuels caused many problems. CNG had a couple of problems; it was gutless and didn’t go far. With CNG, you constantly had to switch between fuel types depending upon the road.

For example, if you were heading towards Thames over SH 25A, you could use CNG on ‘one ton straight’ and possibly get up to 80 km/hour, perhaps even make it to 100km if you turned your radio off for a power boost. As you headed up the hill, speed would drop rapidly and tourists in camper vans would start to pass you so you would be forced to switch back to petrol and, if it was raining, probably turn your wipers off, to have enough power to continue.

Eventually the problems of the dual fuel options became obvious and the price and availability of petrol became less of an issue for people so the conversions to CNG or LPG stopped and we returned to our normal form of travel – petrol based cars.

Forty years pass by and here we are with today’s version of a CNG vehicle, the EV. This is basically an identical situation where we have a perceived problem being the weather getting out of hand and a perceived solution being the EV. A number of people have decided to purchase an EV, the majority buoyed by financial inducements that were in place last year. With the demise of these financial inducements, mixed with our general love of petrol engines and a growing understanding of the problems with EVs, the sales of EVs has plunged to a level where they barely registered any sales in New Zealand in January 2024. I do note that some enthusiasts have written in to say claims of EV sales being dead are wrong, but they all seem to be using 2023 figures to support their argument which is being a bit tricky with the figures.

The problem with EVs is not their method of power, electricity is a quite acceptable power method and offers good performance, it is with the delivery of electricity. Currently EVs use lithium batteries as a power source. This is sourced by mining using lowly paid native labour in dangerous conditions which is not what we should be supporting. The batteries will wear out and at that time, due to the expense of new batteries, your car will be worthless so will be trashed and you will need to buy a new one.

Running costs will also become an issue with EV owners becoming contributors to the roads they use by paying road user charges from April this year. It will not take long before they will be charged for electricity when charging, after all the country cannot afford to generate the power a national fleet of EVs would require without some recompense. With that form of cost model who would want one?

The lithium powered EV is today’s equivalent to a CNG dual fuel car and will go the same way. It has not significantly made any gains in the vehicle market and will not do so. Within a very short time attention will go to other forms of powering EVs (manure perhaps) but until then we will quite happily use our petrol-powered vehicles. All that is missing in Whitianga is a traffic light for us to rev our engines while waiting for the green light.

Thought for the Day: Electric cars are really carbon powered cars. Where do you think the electricity comes from, flowers?