Electric cars have had more false dawns than a French & Saunders fancy dress contest. We've been told, repeatedly, that battery power is the future, that motoring will become cheaper, cleaner and greener and that ten per cent of all cars on Irish roads will be battery powered by 2020.
The problem is that we’ve been told all this sin e 2008 or thereabouts and we seem to be very little closer to actually achieving anything. Electric car sales have increased, but they are still at a tiny percentage of conventional petrol or diesel sales. Thus far, the only truly practical electric cars have been plugin-hybrid vehicles, such as Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV which has a ‘normal’ engine on board for longer journeys.
That could be about to change though. Chemical and electronics giant LG Chem has reportedly made a series of breakthroughs that will allow its lithium-ion batteries to be more energy-dense; that is that they can store more energy for a given size and weight, allowing the range of a car they're fitted to to increase. Indeed, LG Chem claims that its advances in battery technology could allow an 'average' electric car to go for around 200-miles, or 322km, on a single charge.
Speaking to Reuters, LG Chem Chief Executive Prabhakar Patil said that “several factors are at play that are landing at this 200-mile range for a vehicle priced between $30,000 and $35,000. We’ve been talking to several OEMs regarding where our battery technology is and where it’s going.”
Those OEMs, or car makers to you and I, apparently include Ford (which is planning a stand-alone all-electric model to rival Toyota's Prius sub-brand), Volkswagen (which is keen to launch a longer-range and more practical e-Golf by 2018) and Nissan (which is also keen to launch a second-generation Leaf, also by 2018).
That combination of range and price is significant because it's exactly where Tesla is going to pitch its forthcoming affordable car, the Model 3. Tesla boss Elon Musk has repeatedly said that the 'sweet spot' for range, and the point at which pure-battery electric vehicles start to become relevant to a much broader swathe of the car buying public, lies between 200 and 350km.
The 2018 date is also significant as it is the year when California’s clean air laws start to demand a greater proportion of electric vehicle sales per brand.
Here in Ireland, in spite of being told that we're a perfect test case for electric vehicles (centrally owned utility, short distances between urban centres, mild climate) EVs are still a hard sell. Notwithstanding that Nissan saw a significant jump of 337 per cent in Leaf sales from 2013 to 2014 – that was still only an increase from 43 sales to 188 sales. Will a 300km range be enough to tip Irish consumers into electric cars at last?