Can Lateral Thinking Bring Down the Cost of Electric Cars?


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By Peter Henshaw at Green Futures

Full-size electric cars cost significantly more than their petrol and diesel equivalents. Attempts to bring the costs down fall into two camps: some attempt to bypass the cost of the body, others the cost of the battery.

Somerset-based Alternative Vehicle Technologies is taking the first route. If you fancy an electric Citroen 2CV, it will convert a standard model to battery power for you. Prices start at £15,132 for the conversion. You might pay £17,000 for a complete e-2CV, ready to go – as opposed to £24,000 for a brand new EV (after the UK Government’s Plug-in grant).

Two universities in North America are on the same track. Research scientists at Carnegie Mellon University,Pittsburgh, have developed a kit to convert the 2001-2005 Honda Civic, bypassing some of the costs of manufacture. However, at £20,000 for a complete car (based on a £3,000 second-hand Civic), it offers little saving over a brand new car. More promising is the work at Middle Tennessee State University, which has converted a petrol car into a hybrid by adding a DC electric motor to each rear wheel, plus a lithium-ion battery. It needs no mechanical changes to the engine, gearbox or other parts, and the projected price for the conversion is £1,900.

However, the most expensive component in any electric car is the battery: both to buy new and to replace when the time comes. A new battery for a full-size electric car such as the Nissan Leaf costs around £400 per cell. Leasing the battery spreads this over a longer period, making the financial commitment more akin to buying fuel for a petrol car: pay-as-you-go, not pay-everything-at-once.

Renault is the only manufacturer currently offering leased batteries on its electric cars. Leasing costs vary according to mileage and length of lease, but start at £76 per month for the Fluence ZE (the monthly cost goes up if you cover more miles or opt for a shorter lease of one or two years). This cuts the upfront price of the Fluence to £17,495, which is a good £6,000 less than a Mitsubishi iMEV, the next cheapest full-size electric car. That saves up to £3,795 over three years.

Leasing also looks like a cheap option for two-seater city cars. The Renault Twizy starts at £6,990, with battery leasing from £45 per month – making it significantly cheaper than its nearest rival, the REVA G-Wiz, at £11,950. The leasing model also fits well with the battery exchange scheme being pioneered by California-based Better Place, which allows drivers to swap their dying battery for a fully charged one in a matter of minutes. A pilot scheme is underway in Copenhagen.

This article originally appeared in Green Futures, the magazine of independent sustainability experts Forum for the Future. Image via einstraus