Oil prices have reached roughly $90 a barrel, the highest since October 2008 when the financial crisis hit and global economies stomped on the brakes. Next year oil could reach $100, but nearly $50 less than the peak in July two years ago. The price of oil should continue to rise as long as economies do.
The next time oil skyrockets the worldâ€™s auto companies will have protection against the disastrous consequences: electric vehicles (EVs). Thereâ€™s no question about it: Car companies want super energy-efficient, battery-powered cars on their showroom floors in case oil gets uppity again. The companies want to sell cars no matter what the price of oil decides to do.
Still, even if oil reaches a 2008-like peak will people buy EVs? According to a new study from Market Strategies International, 70 percent think itâ€™s important to the expand the use of EVs, and a relatively high 43 percent see themselves driving one in the next ten years. That sentiment may get higher if oil again reaches nearly $150 a barrel, or more.
According to the E2 (Energy + Environment) Study, 28 percent were concerned about range and/or battery life of the vehicles. But vehicle cost weighed in as a factor as well with 17 percent concerned about total cost and affordability and 9 percent concerned about the cost of the new EV.
Yet EVs introduced on a large scale may bring a new calculation to overall vehicle cost. With their inherent drive train simplicity EVs may last much longer than conventional vehicles stretching out their operating and economic life. Electric motors are simple things compared with combustion engines, rarely needing repair, and batteries too may have a very long productive life.
Smith Electric Vehicles, which has more commercial electric vehicles on UK roads than any other manufacturer, has been studying its own fleet for longevity. Kevin Harkin, Sales Director for Smith Electric Vehicles, said in a press release:
â€śThe battery condition reports delivered much more impressive figures than we ever expected, demonstrating far lower levels of battery degradation than even the manufacturer forecast.
â€śOur own research - and independent tests that we commissioned - have verified that the battery should still have a minimum of 80 per cent capacity after 3,000 cycles.
â€śSo even if the vehicle uses a full battery cycle, every day for 300 days a year, it will still be 80% efficient after 10 years. For example, a vehicle that had a 100-mile range brand new will still have an 80-mile range, a decade later.â€ť
Smith, which has turned a profit from the refurbishment and resale of road-going EVs to industrial and airport customers, sees that a new market could emerge for electric vehicles with high mileage on the odometer but with some considerable useful life in their batteries.
Smith Electric used to use Sodium Nickel Chloride batteries, but moved to lithium-ion phosphate (LiFePO4) chemistry for its longer life, durability and better performance.
Smith sees a similar second life model developing with the LiFePO4 vehicles. A fleet manager would be able to operate an EV until its range capabilities decrease below requirements; then sell the vehicle into an application that requires lower mileage.
There are road-going electric commercial vehicles built by Smith 30 years ago that are still working. Smithâ€™s second life conclusions on battery-powered trucks should be echoed in battery-powered cars. Many battery makers use ten years as the expected useful life.
Three decades is certainly a long time for a vehicle to last and a long time to spread out costs. However thereâ€™s another way for EVs to drop in price. Convert existing, fully depreciated, but solid vehicles, to electric drive.
KleenSpeed Technologies of Mountain View, California is offering its KleenSpeed Lite EV Power System kit that will enable the conversion of most light cars and trucks with a completed weight under 2500 pounds to electric drive. The package includes drive motor, lithium-ion batteries, motor controller, charge system and necessary cables, connectors and DC/DC converter.
As testbed for its under-$15,000 product, the company converted a 1990 Mazda Miata sports car to electric drive giving it the many-voweled name Eiata. The company said in a release, â€śThe conversion addressed all passenger car systems including power brakes and steering, headlights, dash display and car balance, and the Eiataâ€™s performance has been exceptional. With over 800,000 sold in the US, the Miata provides both an ideal test platform and a substantial conversion market opportunity. The Lite EV Power System works with or without a transmission or torque converter.â€ť
The price of the Lite EV system doesnâ€™t include the cost of conversion.
An older Miata converted to electric drive could be a lower cost route to zero emissions and energy independence than buying a brand new EV. With the KleenSpeed Lite EV conversion up to 100 mile range should be possible in a light but sturdy sports car.
Thereâ€™s something else about extending the useful life of cars and trucks, either conventional or electric. It takes considerable energy and emissions of greenhouse gases to build a brand new vehicle. Keeping an old one on the road keeps another from being built, keeps the energy of manufacture from being spent and keeps the emissions of building yet another new vehicle from being released in the first place.
Smith Electric Vehicles
Market Strategies International