Electric Cars: The Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask But Were Afraid To!

So, we’ve all heard how electric vehicles are the way of the future, and how they’re going to solve the world’s sustainability problems, haven’t we?

And yet take up on these vehicles still isn’t very widespread, probably because of a lack of reliable, real information (as opposed to manufacturer’s sales patter) on what it’s actually like to own, drive and maintain an electric car.

Well, at Newcastle University, our researchers have spent the last three years conducting a research project on electric vehicle usage, monitoring a phenomenal range of aspects of electric car ownership and usage, giving us access to an unparalleled body of data and opinion on what it’s really like to be an electric vehicle driver.

In an upcoming series of blog posts, we’ll be sitting down with Phil Blythe, Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems and Director of the Transport Operations Research Group (TORG) and other members of his team, and putting to them the sort of questions we’ve always wanted to ask and will be using this to give you the inside scoop (and the real picture, not a sales pitch!).

So, here’s your chance to have your input: below are the questions that we’ve come up so far.

What else would you want to ask if you had the chance? What would your barriers be to buying an electric car? What have you always wanted to know about electric vehicles but not had the chance to ask?

Use the comments box at the bottom of this post to add your questions and we’ll include as many of them as we can (sensible suggestions only, please!).

And then don’t forget to check back next Monday to read the answers to ours (and your) first set of questions … or you can sign up to receive updates automatically using the ‘Follow Blog via Email’ link on the right hand side of this page.

We look forward to reading your suggested questions!!

  • Terminology and general questions:
    • What is the difference between a hybrid and an electric vehicle?
    • Are they automatic or manual?
  • The cost of electric car ownership (buying, running and maintenance):
    • Are they a lot more expensive than conventional petrol/diesel cars?
    • Does it work out cheaper to run an electric car than a petrol or diesel car?
    • Is the road tax free?
    • How much does it cost to insure an electric car?
    • How soon would you recoup the purchase cost of an electric car?
    • I couldn’t afford to buy a brand new petrol or diesel car – if I wanted to switch to electric cars, what are my options?
  • Driving:
    • What constitutes efficient driving in an electric car, and how much does this extend the range by?
    • Do electric cars sound really quiet when you are driving?
    • Can the battery in an electric car cope with having a radio/lights/air con on, or does it make a big difference to energy use?
    • Does an electric car feel the same to drive as a petrol or diesel car?
    • Is an electric car slow to pull off?
    • I have a really fast, powerful car at the moment – surely an electric car isn’t going to have that sort of power?
  • Charging:
    • Will availability of charging points depend on where I am in the UK? What about Europe?
    • How do you find out where charging points are located?
    • Is there a way of finding out which charging points are available en-route, to avoid arriving needing a charge and finding none available?
    • What happens if you run out of charge before you find an available charging point? Will I end up getting stranded on my way to somewhere?
    • Is there a protocol for behaviour at charging points? What do you do if you arrive and find another car plugged in but fully charged?
    • How do you charge them up from home?
    • Can you charge an electric car from home if you don’t have off-street parking?
    • How much does it cost to charge up an electric car from home/from a charging point?
    • I wouldn’t be able to charge a car at home all; will it really be more efficient/cheaper to have an electric if I always have to drive to a chargepoint to charge it up?
    • Is it true that it takes ages to charge a car?
    • Does it affect the life of the batteries if you consistently only part-charge them?
  • Will an electric car really suit your lifestyle:
    • I’ve heard that you can’t get very far in one before you have to charge it: what sort of range can you get out of them?
    • How much is the range affected by the number of passengers, luggage, hills etc?
    • Could you use one to pull a caravan? How far could you drive with the extra load attached?
    • Do they have less boot space/leg room/passenger space than conventional cars?
  • Maintenance and repair:
    • If it’s a while between uses of the car, will the batteries drain?
    • How long are the engines/batteries predicted to last, and how does this compare to a petrol/diesel engine?
    • How expensive are the batteries to replace? Will this negate the benefit of the cars being cheaper to run?
    • How regularly do they need to be serviced and how much will this cost?
    • What happens if the car breaks down? Do break down companies know how to fix electric cars?
    • Are the chances of break-down and the cost of repair the same, better or worse than a conventional car? Will these cars suffer higher breakdown frequencies and repair costs from having more complex electronics in them?
  • Sustainability:
    • Isn’t it a ‘false’ sustainability to use electric cars at the moment, when the electricity used is derived from fossil fuels?
    • How sustainable are the cars in terms of production processes and materials compared to conventional cars?

11 thoughts on “Electric Cars: The Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask But Were Afraid To!

  1. These are probably just slight variations on exisitng questins but I’d still be interested to know:
    – How do electic car whole lifecycle emissions compare to petrol / diesel cars given the UK’s current electricity production mix and embodied carbon? (Presumably this answer would be based on a lifetime and no. of miles per year).
    – How does luggage affect range?
    – How widespread are charging points in the UK (annecdotally I’ve only ever seen them in Newcastle and in the City of Westminster) and is there an easy way to find them (e.g. mobile phone apps).
    – How widespread are charging points abroad (especially could you easily drive to near contidental countries like France, Belgium, the Netherlands)
    – How is future technology not out yet looking? (e.g. what would be the range of an electric car in 10 year’s time)

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  5. How soon before the main issues with EVs are solved?

    Specifically: The limited range; the length of time to charge up; the (alleged) short life of the batteries (around 5 years?), less if fast charging is used; the shortage of charging points;

      • Hi Steve

        As promised, we put your questions to Phil, and he’s given us these answers for you:

        ‘Range is limited by current battery technology. I am confident new battery technology will emerge in the next few years to increase storage capacity and hence range. Driving the vehicle eco-friendly can increase range significantly (30% at least).

        Length of charge depends on the charger. For a 20kw battery, a standard charger would provide charge at 3.3kw/h (requiring around eight hours for a full charge), a mode 2 charger is around 7kw (requiring about four hours for a full charge) and a fast charger of around 50kw can charge the battery to about 80% in 20 minutes.

        Fast charging does not seem to reduce life of battery as much as previously feared. Overall battery life is generally guaranteed for five years by car manufacturers although few commercial cars have reached five years of operation as of today. Many manufacturers offer 100,000 mile warranty which will clearly be above five years of operation.

        There is no shortage of charging posts in North East England (more than three for every EV registered in the region). However, we have by far the highest density of charging posts in the UK. More information on how widespread charging points are in the rest of the UK and Europe, as well as how to check the availability of charging points in particular areas, can now be found in the blog post from 4 February. [http://sustainabilityncl.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/electric-cars-how-do-you-keep-them-charged-up/]’

        We hope these answers help, Steve, but you can still add additional questions to our list (http://sustainabilityncl.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/electric-cars-the-questions-youve-always-wanted-to-ask-but-were-afraid-to/) for inclusion in future posts; any questions submitted which don’t get answered in the main posts will be included in a supplementary session with Phil and the team and published at the end of the series.

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