Many motorists considering switching from combustible engine cars to electric vehicles voice anxieties about how far an EV’s charge will go, how long the expensive batteries will last and how maintenance is managed. Who best to allay those fears than owners willing to share their experiences?
AA Members Alan and Janice Chester are active retirees living in Auckland and a two-car couple by necessity. Their near-new BMW i3 recently replaced Janice's 12-year-old petrol hatchback that was consuming $70-90 of fuel per week from short trips and cross-city running.
Alan had his mind set on an EV. “I liked the principle of it. I wanted to get away from the combustion engine, essentially, as I was getting sick of the higher servicing costs and the fuel price always going up.”
He says he moved towards electric with a layman's approach – test-driving a few cars and ultimately concluding that EVs are overpriced, “because they have a lot fewer moving parts than a conventional car.” The practical benefits, however, outweighed the up-front cost.
Janice admits it took time for her to be convinced. “With the i3 model, we liked the fact that it has a small range-extender (a two-cylinder petrol generator) as back-up. That gave us a lot of confidence. The display console tells you where the nearest charging points are, but if you do run out of battery power, you've still got 100km of travel left.”
The couple were unfazed by the rate of improvement in battery technology. “If you wait for the very latest you'll never get one,” Janice says. “It's like computers and phones.”
Janice now finds the i3 has exceeded her expectations. “I find it so convenient that it actually encourages me to drive more, especially if I’m making short trips. Yes, it's very different to drive, and the one thing I'm still struggling with is maintaining an even speed. But I'm getting used to the instant braking effect when you lift off the accelerator.”
The Chesters charge the car about three nights a week at a three-pin plug in the garage. They don't monitor energy costs.
“Everyone asks about battery life,” Alan says, “and we say we expect 15 years. If it starts to degenerate, you can replace cells, but we would have replaced the car well before then.”
Alan concedes he and Janice have had a mind shift with the range-extender, which is largely redundant. “The range-extender calmed the initial fear of running out of battery, but that fear has evaporated. Now the fear is that we'll never put the range-extender to use. We're carrying around this fuel and perhaps should use it occasionally.”
Businessman Eric Faesenkloet bought an example of the first electric SUV model to be sold locally, the Tesla Model X, with its distinctive, self-opening gullwing doors.
An avid motoring enthusiast, Eric drives between 18,000 and 20,000km per year, mainly for business, and has only charged the car away from home on a couple of occasions. His longest Tesla trip to date has been a 375km return journey between Auckland and Putāruru, achieved without recharging en route.
“I design my driving around the capacity of the battery, which will enjoy greater longevity if it's charged to 80%. This gives me a 370km range.
I charge it fully if I'm driving out of town.”
Two years ago, Eric changed from a high-end luxury car that, he admits, displeased his environmentally-conscentious son. When considering EV options, his initial concerns were more about quality control.
“I have experienced a few small niggles, yet I've also never had as much pleasure from driving any other car. I couldn't believe the practicality; the power and technology are mind-blowing.
The car is quiet, entertaining and its handling and performance are second to none. It really has brought the fun back to driving.
“I once hosted an American astronaut from the Space Shuttle programme and he thought the acceleration was fiercer than the space shuttle upon take-off! I'm now converted to electric and I wouldn't go back to petrol or diesel. I feel as though I'm driving the future and creating zero emissions in the process.”
A busy, self-employed mother, Trudy Ferguson of Auckland is often on the road for three hours a day. She carefully researched available EV options before committing to a new five-door Hyundai Ioniq last year. It replaced a mid-size SUV that was proving expensive to fuel each week.
“I wanted to buy a vehicle from an established brand,” she says, “so I researched the costs involved with replacing battery packs. The Ioniq offered peace of mind with a 10-year battery replacement warranty and features a cooling system to manage temperatures on long trips.”
Another clincher was an annual service cost of $200 compared with $700 for her partner's new car, which is of comparable value. “He actually prefers driving my car because it's so much quicker. It's like piloting a jet plane. I also think the $55,000 purchase price represents good value when you consider all the fuel savings.”
Trudy routinely charges the Ioniq each night and the car shows a range of about 220km each morning. “I usually achieve more, perhaps 230-240km, as energy is regenerated while driving.”
The car has to fit in with a lifestyle that includes regular out-of-town travel and the use of public charging facilities. Her biggest trip in the car is imminent: “Auckland to Taihape is over 400km,
so I'll have to plan to recharge once or twice along the way.
“Only once have I been concerned about the battery being depleted before making it to the next charging point.”
In Trudy's experience, charging station availability is mixed in our fledgling network. “I find I have to queue about 60% of the time. But my only real gripe is that Auckland Transport suspended the EV priority lanes on Auckland's motorway on-ramps. It would be nice if they reinstated those.”
Reported by Andrew Kerr for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue