A sobering warning on EVs as manufacturers complete pre-launch trials

A report in the magazine of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has cast doubt on the ability of electric vehicles (EVs) to ever supersede conventional models, just as many manufacturers report significant progress with pre-launch trials.

An investigation by Engineering and Technology (E&T) Magazine, published by influential UK-based engineering and electrical body the IET, has suggested that the current inefficiencies of batteries and the investment needed in infrastructure for EVs may mean that governments would do better to focus their efforts on high-efficiency diesel models and hybrids.

The report points to the range of today's vehicles, some of which would be capable of over 600km at 70 mph (113 km/h) on a single tank of fuel, calculating that for an EV to offer comparable performance, the battery would weigh 1.5 tons and cost approximately £100,000 (€120,151).

According to the authors, the current performance limitations of batteries, along with the life expectancy of lithium-ion models and the infrastructure requirements for charging, means that finding a vehicle that "behaves in the same way as a petrol or a diesel is not viable for the foreseeable future."

“Some of the performance improvement claims being suggested are likely to stay pure fantasy for the foreseeable future,' said E&T magazine editor in chief Dickon Ross.

"While we believe electric cars overall are a good idea, particularly for short-range commutes, there’s a need for more honesty on whether they can really be the solution to our transport and environmental needs in the mid- to long-term. Do people really have to invest in more than one car, and all the resources they demand, to take care of commuting and family holidays? We need to encourage alternative solutions.”

Criticism of the limitations of battery technology is nothing new, but the findings of E&T magazine could rattle manufacturers deep into final-stage trials of electric vehicles, some of which will hit the roads later this year.

Mitsubishi, which announced the results of a UK trial of its iMiEV electric vehicle on June 16, says that it has found that electric vehicle drivers use their car like a "typical UK driver," with the majority of journeys less than five miles (8 km).

"The i-MiEV is certainly proving itself in real-world tests," said Mitsubishi UK MD Lance Bradley of the trial.

"It is interesting that the British motorists involved in this trial don’t seem to be showing any significant signs of ‘range anxiety’ and are using their cars just as they would a normal vehicle. Altogether, this is good news for Mitsubishi and the future of electric vehicles in the UK."

General Motors, which was dust testing its new extended-range Volt EV in the Arizona desert this week, recently announced an expansion of its global battery lab which houses 1,000 engineers currently working on developing lithium-ion and other types of technology.

The Detroit giant is in no doubt about where the future lies, however, saying that it believes that "electrically driven vehicles, based on battery and hydrogen fuel cell technology, offer the best long-term solution or providing sustainable personal transportation."

With government subsidies lined up and infrastructure development deals in many cities signed and sealed, the proof of electric vehicles is likely to be in the driving for many motorists.

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