Sunday, July 25, 2021

Electric cars, hybrids and fast chargers

We are, it seems, in the middle of a huge transition in our daily transportation, to “greener cleaner” alternatives. Figures coming in show a doubling of purchases of electric cars (EVs) in Europe from 2020 to 2021, reaching about eight per cent of the total of new car purchases, with another eight per cent plug-in hybrid cars. EU has decided to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2035, Britain already by 2030. Norway, where I am sitting, does not (contrary to popular belief) have any similar ban, but the government has an aim of voluntary adoption of zero-emission cars only by 2025, four years from now. At the moment, we are at about 60 per cent full electric, and another 25 per cent plug ins, like in Europe these figures are just going up. Now, I am aware that Norwegians can come over as rather smug about this - ha, ha, we can afford it with our oil. My intention is however to try to see this as a living experiment: Europe is clearly going to catch up by the end of the decade, and in the meantime, the Norway example can be seen as a lab experiment of what this will entail, at least in Europe. 

Just another car
First, there is the issue of a point of view. In this country, we cannot talk any longer of “regular cars” and “electric cars”. EVs are the regular cars, the default. Cars with combustion engine have basically disappeared from the showrooms, so far in 2021 three per cent of new cars sold had a petrol engine, and four percent diesel. Eight per cent in total - almost nothing, and dwindling. Many importers have simply stopped taking in combustion cars, they do not sell. And not because of any ban or regulation, simply because people have chosen other options when the issue of price was removed (electric and diesel cars of the same type cost the same in Norway). That is the first learning point: Today, this is of course the result of special financial incentives (tax rebates); but when production volume has brought manufacturing cost of EVs down to the level of combustion engine cars, it will not be 50/50 electric and petrol. It will be all electric, simply by market choices. At that time, the term “EV” will have gone, we will simply be talking of “cars”. 

Or maybe not? There is one type of car that still holds out - plug-in hybrids. As mentioned, they still make up about a quarter to a third of new sales in Norway, and are even increasing, and in our neighbouring Sweden the vast majority of “plug-in cars” are plug-in hybrids, not full-electric. Recent reports in French media also stress how the government and car manufacturers seem to push plug-in hybrids as the way forward to electrification, giving them incentives and preferences for public sector purchases.  This raises the issue: Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the cause of emission reduction and “greener cleaner”. A viable alternative, a transition stage, or simply a red herring to preserve petrol cars in a new form?

Hybrids and hybrids, a variable term

“Hybrid” is unfortunately a very confusing term, as it is used in different and often contradictory ways. The term “hybrid” simply means that the car has both some form of petrol engine and some form of electric motor (in English “engine” is used for a combustion system, “motor” the electric one. Most hybrids use petrol, diesel hybrids exist but are rare). Sometimes "hybrid" is used in opposition to "plug-ins", so that it means a "non-chargeable" hybrid car only, at other times both types are lumped together as "hybrids" (and I have even seen it used for plug-ins only, so that we have "hybrids and non-chargeable hybrids"). To clear it up, we should distinguish according to how the relation between the (petrol) engine and the (electric) motor is:

Toyota Prius

In a full hybrid both the engine and motor are independently capable of driving the car. Thus, one could expect them to take turns; the engine charges the battery while it drives the car, and then leaves the propulsion over to the electric motor when that has enough juice. However, the normal situation is that the two work in unison to drive the car forward. A typical case is a Prius, there the car will start up in electric mode until it reaches the low speed of 15 km/hour, then the engine kicks in, and takes over more and more as speed increases. That allows the car to have a very small battery - it is, on its own, only able to drive the car about 2 km - which saves valuable weight and improves economy.

In a mild hybrid, the electric motor is smaller and is not able to drive the car on its own, so the petrol engine must run all the time; the electric motor only adds some extra power when needed, in particular when accelerating. Sometimes the term “mild hybrid” is used for both of these types, which is thus incorrect, but as we can see the difference between them is only one of degree, as both engine and motor are normally active in both cases. 

The Prius and other hybrids were hailed as a major step to cleaner driving when it was introduced some twenty years ago, and its producer Toyota are still selling this point as a “self-charging hybrid”, where the driver does not have to worry about the propulsion, he simply uses less petrol than otherwise. The driver cannot influence the distribution engine/motor power, that is all done automatically. However, many - particularly in Europe, where we drive smaller cars - dispute the benefits of this type of hybrid. They point out that an efficient diesel engine can show a similar fuel efficiency, with diesel both being cheaper and emitting less CO2 than the petrol used by the hybrid. Both will vary between 4-5 l/100 km (50 mpg). 

Chevrolet Volt
The inverse of the mild hybrid is the range extender. In this type of car, the electric motor is the one that drives the car. It does however also have a smaller petrol engine that does not engage with the wheels, but simply gives extra charge to the battery. Sometimes this is considered an EV, but it is a hybrid and does, of course, emit CO2 when the engine is running. There are very few of these around today, but the BMW i3 Rex was one type (no longer sold), and in the US, the Chevrolet Volt was a very popular range-extended hybrid. 

If we consider the non-chargeable full hybrid as mainly a petrol car with a twist, there remains the plug-in hybrid, the PHEV [Plug-In Hybrid Electrical Vehicle]. That is then main alternative in Norway as well as in Europe to the full electric car. As the name indicates, it is simply a (full) hybrid with a plug - the user can charge the battery from the mains, unlike the closed system of the non-chargeable, but it opens up for a new set of issues. 

Mitsubishi Outlander
In principle, the PHEV sounds like the best of both worlds: It has a much larger battery than the full hybrid, normally enough to run the car in full-electric mode for up to 50-70 km, which is more than the average commuter uses in a day. So, the user charges it overnight, and drives it as just another full-electric car most of the week, but does not have to worry about “range anxiety” or similar on longer trips, as the petrol engine takes over when the battery is used up. Then, the car runs as a full hybrid, the engine will charge the battery and the two work together as in a non-chargeable. Hence the “viable alternative” or at least transition as long as the user is not able or willing to rely on charging stations and long waits on holiday trips, as the full electric user must do. But is this the full truth?

Two reports that came out last year questioned this premise, and warned against considering PHEVs as a green alternative. One was usage. Unlike the non-chargeable, the greenness of the PHEV depends on the user. He or she can select whether to drive in “full-electric mode” or “hybrid mode”, and must of course charge up the battery regularly, preferably daily. What the report showed was that a large percentage of PHEV owners in Europe did not do that. This is particularly the case when companies in danger of paying CO2 fines, invest in PHEVs as company cars, with no further support to their drivers: On paper their emissions go down, but as long as the company pays for the petrol, the users will simply drive them as heavy and inefficient petrol cars. With higher emissions, because of the increased weight of the fairly large, but then pointless battery. Thus, in Germany, the report shows, a PHEV is driven in electric mode only 18 per cent of the time. 

Further, another report showed that even when driven in “electric” mode, the engine can still be active, without the user’s awareness. This can happen when accelerating sharply, but also in cold weather. One producer, Kia, acknowledged this to the researchers, if the cabin temperature drops below 14 centigrade, the engine will kick in to assist the heating system. This is of course often the case in northerly climates. It is evidently done to ensure that the advertised battery range is kept. In total, the reports claim, the PHEV will in the real world have emissions similar to those of the non-chargeable hybrids, or even smaller diesel and petrol cars. 

Full-electric cars and charging: What do we need, and what do we have?

So, that would leave the full-electric car as the only clear alternative, if we accept those arguments. But we know the problem with full-electric cars: They have a limited range. More than enough for your daily drive, but if you are taking a longer trip, you need to visit a fast charger or similar on the way. Hence “range anxiety”. Now, newer EVs have longer range, and they charge faster than before. The newest brands can fill up enough for 400 kms or so in twenty minutes. They are few yet, but we must expect both car manufacturers and chargers to hasten to compete with this speed. New charging stations are also being set up all the time, but not fast enough, as the number of EVs rise even faster. 

Local charging station
So what is the status? And what do we actually need? A new convert from the petrol world would probably hope for what he is used to - you drive until the petrol gauge is in the red area, and just look for the next gas station - there will surely be one within a couple of miles or kms, so you drive in and fill it up. Sadly, even in Norway, we are not there - yet. Even though electric cars are “regular cars” now (for new ones, anyway - some 15 per cent of all cars on the road), going long distance in an EV does require some foresight, particular in unfamiliar areas (on holidays). For one thing, while petrol stations are visible from far away, electric charging stations are very discreet. Unlike petrol stations, they are normally unmanned and often just a couple of vaguely marked cabinets hidden behind the grocery store, or at best in the corner of a parking lot. You often have to drive around a bit before you find it, even if the car’s navigation or an app shows you that it is “there”. So, you will miss it if you just drive past looking for one, and there may be miles to the next one.

A survey of Western Norway

Also, of course, they are far fewer than petrol stations. And that is the issue I wanted to look at, again using Norway and my own region of Western Norway as a case. My primary question was, concerning range: How far apart are the charging stations? The advice normally given to EV drivers is twofold: (1) Charge when you can, not when you must [so that you are not flat with too long distance to the nearest charger], and (2) Do not charge until your battery is at 10-20 per cent of full charge, as that gives the fastest charging time (and not above 80%, as that is very slow!). Those are of course contradictory, one says to charge often, the other to wait. So, some sort of awareness of how far you can drive before you hit the 10 per cent mark, and whether there will be a charger there, is essential. Hence the question: How far is that?

That of course depends on your car, 10% of 100 km and 500 km are very different. But let us assume you have a medium size family car, which today will have a “range” of about 300 km. If you should charge not above 80 per cent, and not below 10 per cent, that gives a maximum “stage” between charging of about 200 km, or some three hours of driving. That is quite generous, chargers are clearly more frequent than that. But, unfortunately, we are still in the situation that some chargers may be out of order, and in the holiday season or in weekends, queues may build up, as the number of chargers are sill inadequate. So you would probably want a higher frequency of chargers than the absolute minimum (and many older cars have much smaller range than 300 km). 

The Norwegian EV owner’s association has promoted two goals for an acceptable charging network:

  • There should not be more than 50 km between fast chargers.
  • On main arteries, there should for every 150 km distance be a plaza with at least 50 chargers. 

How far are we now from this aim? To answer that, I spent some time looking around in my region, Western Norway, on the Chargefinder app, to see how many charger we actually have there and how far apart they are. I couldn’t bother to go outside the West Coast, but looked at the area from Nordmøre in the north to Kristiansand in the south, coast to mountains (pop. 1,3 mill., ca. 110,000 EVs, 980 km north-south). As of today, late July 2021, I found a total of 160 fast charging locations with 867 chargers (“pumps”. I only counted the most common CCS chargers, but with two or three exceptions all locations also had the alternative Chademo contact).

The E39 artery 
I said “charging location”, rather than charging stations, as what I was looking for was how far do you need to drive to charge? For that purpose, it does not matter if there are two stations with two chargers each within 100 yards of each other one single station with four chargers. Interestingly, Tesla users are of course - justifiably - proud of their network of Tesla SuperChargers, very easy and convenient. But in this context, they do not make much difference: There are only twenty SuperCharger stations in this region, and with a couple of exceptions, they are all located alongside another company’s station. However, they tend to be larger with more chargers and thus less prone to being occupied, which is also good for other users. (In the number of chargers above, I did not include SUCs, only open CCS chargers.)

So, what was the result, how far apart are these chargers? Where are we in relation to the goals set up by the EV owner’s group?

To my great surprise, the first criterion is actually now filled in our part of Norway. Looking at both major arteries (“Europaveg” and “riksveg”), and the smaller local “fylkesveg”, the longest distance I could find between two charges was 73 km, and the few stages of more than 60 km between (or to) locations were into remote valleys or across mountains. Evidently, on the major arteries like the E39 north-south, the frequency is even greater, the average between two “locations” (i.e. villages or towns with chargers) is 24 km. For regional roads and sideroads, that figure is higher, but mostly in the region between 30 and 45 km, well below the 50 km aim. 

However, that is unfortunately not the full story. Very many of these locations are small, with only one or two chargers at the location. That is of course fine if they work and are unoccupied. But with only two stalls, unfortunately, that may not be the case. With four chargers, your chances are a bit higher. Of the 160, only 73 were of the four plus type, and the distance between  them increases. Not so much on the main arteries, there the maximum distance increases only to about 70 km, with an exception or two, but off the main roads, we can often find 100 km or more between two four+ locations. Surprisingly, our two most famous touristy fjords, Sognefjorden and Hardangerfjorden are only served by small one- or two-charger locations, and they are not particularly close to each other either. 

Still this is a surprisingly positive result. It is often claimed that EVs are not suited to countryside because the charging network is too weak, but at least for Norway-average Western Norway this is quite simply not true. If 50-60 km is the minimum; you can reach a charging station even from the farthest hamlet on the off-shore islands to the deepest inlet of the fjords within that distance.  

Sorry - California, not Western Norway

The second aim is more idealistic. No such plaza with 50 chargers exists. The only way we can get such numbers is to add up all the chargers in the largest cities - or actually only one city, Bergen with 83 by my count (and mostly in the suburbs); Stavanger has 43 and its twin city Sandnes 37. But if we lower that demand to a more realistic 10+ chargers in one village or town, we are better served within the 150 km range, at least on the two major arteries, E39 north-south and E16/RV7 east-west. There are a couple of misses (Førde, at seven, should then be upped to ten), but otherwise they both fit the criterion. Some other popular routes (RV15 Strynefjell, E134, RV5) do not. 

The result of this survey would then be that while we certainly do need more chargers, the “charging strategy” should not be so much to increase the number of locations where chargers are set up - that is probably adequate for the time being, certainly so in the countryside. Instead, the focus should be on expanding those stations that we have, so that instead of one or two chargers, each station should have “redundancy”, where there now are one and two chargers, there should be at least four, and where there are four there should be eight or more. Thus, it would not matter so much if a single charger or two was temporarily off-line (although that is of course also something companies should clean up), and queues would not build up so quickly, because when a driver then sees a queue, she can rely on there being a working station 40-50 km down the road and drive on there. Today, she would probably get in line rather than drive 50 km to the small station and find that it is off-line. It is a matter of trust, that you can rely on finding a working charger where the map tells you there should be one (some chargers give this information on-line, so an app can tell you, but most of the smaller and older charger do not provide any status info.). If not, the “charge when you can” philosophy will tell you that where there is a line, there is a working charger, so just get into the line (a bit like the queues in the old Soviet Union: if there is a line, there must be something worthwhile at the end, so if you see one, you get into it.). 

In other words, the advice “charge when you can” should be made obsolete and replaced with “I can charge whenever I want to - within 50 km / 15-20 per cent on the charge-o-meter”. As I said, the charging network is expanding rapidly, about 1,000 new chargers are set up nation-wide annually, I understand, and many are rapidly building out faster chargers of 150 kW rather than the older 50 kW. With the new 800V models, we will surely see chargers of this capacity (350+ kW) also appearing. Which is very good, but the companies should add these to the existing chargers, rather than replacing them, as all cars can also charge on less powerful chargers if the rapid chargers are occupied. And, of course, also do the same in the small village stations where they now have a single and vulnerable 50 kW charger. 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Norway, electric cars and taxes

At the end of June 2021, we have seen another round of exceptional numbers for EV (electric car) adoption in Norway: In the first half of this year, about 57 per cent of all new private cars were full-electric, with another 26 per cent plug-in hybrids, 83 per cent plug-ins in all. June alone showed even higher numbers, 65 percent full electric, while petrol and diesel cars are basically no longer sold, 3.8 and 4.4 per cent of the total respectively (and 7 per cent non-plug in hybrids). 

Sale of "fossil" vs. plug-in cars in Norway
There was however another interesting figure published. If we split personal cars into those bought by individuals and those by companies, the former was 77 per cent full electric, the latter a “mere” 37 per cent. The reason for this difference? Taxation policies. And now it gets interesting, because Norway is heading for parliamentary elections this September, and the various parties have all suggested changes in the taxation that has so favoured EV adoption.

It is often said that the cause of Norway’s exceptionally high EV adoption is that we are filthy rich from selling dirty oil, and can salvage our conscience by heavy subsidizing of EVs. That is partly true - the double standards thing is true - but we aren’t directly subsidizing purchases, as some countries do, we are doing it indirectly by waiving taxation on EV purchases. For historical reasons (see earlier blogs), Norway has had extremely heavy import duties as well as full 25 per cent VAT on cars. Thus, a petrol car that might cost €15,000 in another European country could easily cost €25,000 here. We moaned, but have come to accept this as an inescapable fact, as taxes tend to be. Now, when an electric version of that car came along, it might cost €25,000 off the factory line. So, the government dispensed it from all import duties and VAT, and voilà: it had the same sales price as the petrol version. And, as EVs do not need petrol (currently some €1.60 per litre - even though we pump it up ourselves) and electricity could be down to €0.10 or less per kwh, the math is simple to make.

That is the method, and that is why companies don’t see the same advantage as others, because they do not pay VAT on any car. Or to be precise, they pay it, then deduct it, and pass the cost on to the customer. But in any case, an EV is taxwise for them much closer to a petrol car (they still avoid the import duties, though). Still, EVs do make more sense for 37 per cent of the corporate buyers, which we can then assume would be the case generally if the VAT was imposed for all EVs. Still rather more than in Europe (8 per cent full electric now, but rising rapidly), but far from the “Norwegian utopia”.

EVs and party politics

Sooner or later this will happen, there is no rationale for any permanent exemption from VAT for this product, electric cars, it was always meant to be temporary but has been extended period by period. At this juncture, however, most political parties have stated that it is time to readjust this policy. National elections will be held in September, and while the election campaign is just heating up, opinion polls have shown consistently for more than a year that the current centre-right government will be replaced by some form of centre-left government, probably some form of coalition between two or three parties. All of the relevant parties have declared an opposition to maintaining a tax exemption for the most expensive, luxury cars: taxpayers cannot go on subsidizing the millionaires who pay $150,000 for a Porsche lighting up his cigar with a $100 bill he has screwed out of the common man. The conservatives basically agree, although their argument is the one billion € (give or take) a year that the exemptions cost the state in non-collected revenue. Granted, we do have the oil to fill the gap, but economists warn against this kind of reliance on oil revenue. 

Car of the filthy rich

So, the policy the parties of the prospective future government have agreed on, is to impose full VAT on the part of the sales price that is above €60,000. That is, a car costing €80,000 before tax will pay VAT on the last €20,000, or a price hike of €5,000. Those sound like ridiculous high sums for a European and certainly a US consumer, but it must be remembered, as we said above, that EVs are not cheaper in Norway, they actually cost more than in other countries - it is just that petrol cars alway cost as much or more. And maybe we are filthy rich. If we look at purchase figures for western Europe, we find that, Tesla exempted, European EV buyers tend to go for small fairly reasonably priced cars: Renault Zoe, Peugeot 208/Opel Corsa, Smart, Fiat 500 and the Mini. In Norway, these are pushed down a table by Audi, Mercedes, Volvo, BMW, with only the medium-priced Koreans breaking into the more expensive models (the new VWs, also to be considered medium-priced, I guess, are also beginning to take up room). Many of these, if you add various options and stuff, will break the €60,000 barrier; a typical E-tron is probably most often sold at around €80,000. 

How much will this affect sales? Of course, in popular parlance this new tax is nicknamed “the Tesla tax”, but in fact most Teslas fall below the limit and will not be affected: the lowest priced Tesla Model 3 starts at €35,000 now, most are probably sold specced at somewhere around €45-55,000, well below the limit. Most Audis, BMWs and Jaguars will be hit, but - as indicated - only by a few thousand euros, which, it is argued, people in that price range will not even notice. 

Luxury cars and practical cars

Audi e-tron
Not all agree, the Green party evidently mans the barricades, but many also argue that the reason so many Norwegians buy E-trons and similar, is not (just) because of the brand name and luxury. Traditionally, it is only these cars with a higher price that offer four-wheel drive, which is very popular in snow-rich Norway; 50 per cent of all cars sold in Norway are 4WD. Also, particularly in the countryside (where EV adoption is seriously lacking) a tow hitch is often considered essential, and while even the smallest diesel or petrol car will have this option, no EVs below €40 to 50,000 did. You had to go to the Audi, Tesla or Volvo level for that. Now, some of the VW ID / Skoda group do have both or either of these requirements for less than €60,000 (they stop at around €55,000 for the highest specs), so that may influence this argument, but still, many fear that customers who are thinking in such practical, not luxury terms, will make their calculations and then go for the diesel alternative instead - or, rather perhaps, not move from diesel, as they might otherwise have considered. 

So, it is a bit of a gamble. Some studies suggest that a VAT re-imposition on the most expensive cars like the one suggested will lower EV adoption by some 3-4 per cent a year. Others think it is a political price to pay in order to preserve most of the VAT exemption, as the “we will not pay our hard-earned tax money on those good-for-nothing latte-drinking posh Tesla kids” is definitely a sentiment that is voiced openly both on the left and right of the political spectrum. Putting a limit, so that only “normally-priced” cars get the exemption staves off that criticism. 

Also, nobody has said when the change would be made. It could be as early as next year, or it could be postponed even until the symbolic year 2025 - when all parties except the far right agree that all new cars should, voluntarily and without any ban - be zero-emission only. 2025 is within the coming parliamentary period, so the parties may want to hold off and see how close we get to reaching that goal (which is of course statistically unattainable without a ban; politically if we get towards 85 per cent full electric / 95 per cent plug-in, the government can claim victory, and on current development, that is attainable, but far from assured). 

However, more agressive voices want a reduction now, and a full re-imposition of VAT from 2025. That would, the study suggests, cut EV sales in half, and increase CO2 emissions noticeably. Such a change is thus unlikely without a comparative increase in taxation of petrol/diesel cars, which is politically virtually impossible. Pro-EV bodies agree that the VAT exemption must come to an end at some time, but argue it should keep time with the reduced factory price of EVs, so that the basic principle of petrol/EV sticker price equality, which we have now, will be maintained until that parity is achieved out of the factory (probably in the latter half of this decade). 

Perhaps it is a question of symbolism. Economically, the new taxation is probably not going to make that much difference. But if the impression is made that the EV benefits are going away, that may slow the buyer’s inclination to go for the EV as the default choice, which is pretty much the case now in the cities. This view of the EV as "the normal car" could be broken off and combustion engines again become envisageable alternatives. On the other hand, the “secondary” benefits, like reduced or no toll on toll roads, free parking, and access to bus lanes, have been progressively reduced or removed, without any apparent slowing down of EV adoption in the cities, rather the contrary, so it is possible that each buyer still will make his own calculation of cost and benefits, and make his choice from that. If so, it may be as important to remove the other hindrances to EV adoption, such as expanding charging options, including curbside overnight charging, hotel destination charging and expanding fast charging into the countryside, all important elements to make electric the natural choice for those who buy and drive cars. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Range and range anxiety

If we are to move to a greener form of transport, the number of petrol/diesel cars must be reduced, that seems to be clear. For now, that also seems to mean to move to electrified transport, where battery-powered electric cars will be an important component. But for those considering such a conversion, one concept always crops up : range. Do electric cars (EVs) have the range I need, and what happens when it runs out of juice - will it then just stop suddenly and leave me stranded on the highway?

The answer to the second question is no: the car will then have beeped at you and flashed more and more insistently red for many miles warning you to seek a charging station, and maybe even told you where the closest one is, so do not worry about that: you do not need to have “range anxiety” for suddenly being blindsighted. 

The first of the two questions is however both controversial and vey confusing for the new user: what kind of range should I look for in a car, and what does that actually mean; how far will the car in reality take me? So many figures are flashing around to make your head spin, and they never match up. So, we should take it from the basics to see how to read this information. 

“Range”, then, is a figure for how many km / miles a car will drive from a full battery (“full tank”, 100 percent) before the battery is completely depleted (0%). That figure is result of two factors: the size (capacity) of the battery, measured in kiloWatt-hours (kwh), and the efficiency of the car, measured either (European style) in how many kwh is used per km, or (US style) how many miles a kwh will take you, i.e. like miles per gallon (mpg).

The first figure, battery capacity is fixed (batteries lose a bit of capacity over time, about 1-2 per cent a year, but we will ignore that here). However, the efficiency of the motor varies a lot, it could be from 12 kwh to more than 20 per 100 km, for the same car. It depends on a lot of factors: your driving style, whether you go uphill or downhill, your speed, how many passengers you carry and even the weather. Much of this is the same for petrol cars, incidentally, we just do not worry so much about precise range for them. 

The two most important factors are your speed and the outside temperature.  EVs, unlike petrol cars, are more efficient at low speed, i.e. city driving. You normally worry about range only when you are travelling longer distances, but here the “sweet spot” seems to be about 80-90 km/h (50-55 mph). I cannot give you a precise figure for how much capacity you lose by increased speed, but let us make a guestimate of about a half to one percent per km/h increase, so that by driving consistently at 110 km/h (~70 mph), you lose at least 20 per cent efficiency compared to 80 km/h. 

The other factor is specific to batteries: they lose capacity when it is cold. The optimum here is somewhere around 20 centigrade outside temperature, we can calculate perhaps one percent loss per centigrade below that, so that 0 degrees gives a 20 percent loss, and -20 a 40 percent loss. These two are cumulative, of course, so if you drive on a motorway at over 100 km/h in -20, your capacity will be rather less than half of the leisurely summer drive. Now, people in Florida or Costa del Sol may not have to worry about that combination, but in Canada or Sweden that is certainly an issue. 

The various figures
This great discrepancy is reflected in the figures you see quoted in ads for EVs. Evidently, the manufacturers want the range to be shown as high as possible, so some independent bodies have devised a range of tests with a combination of city and highway speeds, under various conditions, to establish a way to compare cars. Unfortunately, they do not agree. There are three different sets of such range figures, and when you compare two cars, you must be certain that you are comparing them by same standard. The three are:

NEDC. This, the “New European Driving Cycle” is neither new nor European, it is the oldest and by common consent totally unrealistic, you could only achieve that result in a laboratory. It is therefore mostly abandoned today in Europe, but you can still find it used in China and partly Japan. You can of course compare two cars according to their NEDC figure, but know that neither will ever give you the range listed.

WLTP. In Europe, therefore, a more realistic test was developed, the “World Harmonized Light-duty Vehicles Test Procedure”. It is what you most often find used in Europe, if an ad there just says “range” you should expect it to be the WLTP range. However, many in Europe and the US consider this also to be unrealistically generous (“you can never, never, ever reach the WLTP range in real-life conditions”). This is a bit surprising for us up in the north, because in a recent comparative test made by the Norwegian Auto Association, a long-range drive on normal Norwegian highways, 38 out of the 39 models tested exceeded the WLTP range, some by a lot, up to 80-90 km (15%) higher than the official range. That was under ideal summer conditions, but other tests locally confirm that WLTP is very achievable. I myself am not at all an experienced EV driver, but regularly hit my car’s listed range or above on long-distance journeys. 

EPA. Nevertheless, the Americans normally use the range figure established by the Environmental Protection Agency. This is markedly lower than the WLTP. To see the difference, the small BMW i3 (33kwh) car is given a 300 km range by NEDC, 245 km by WLTP and only 172 km (107 miles) on the EPA standard - just over half of the NEDC figure. 

There are complex reasons for these differences, but probably the main one is that Americans are assumed to drive more on high-speed motorways, so that speeds of 70 mph or so (110 km/h) are given more weight in the EPA than the WLTP cycle, but also that the latter will seem less realistic in those European countries where fast motorways are more frequent. We do have such in Norway as well, but only on some main arteries, and the general speed limit is 80 km/h. In Western Norway, where I live, even the “arteries” may be narrow, winding and go through rather than around villages, so an average of 75 km/h is often the best you can get. So, the WLTP fits us better. How realistic the range figure is for you, will therefore depend on where you live. 

But how far can you actually drive?
However, even if the “range” in your favourite measurement says 400 km, that does not mean that you can actually drive 400 km in one go. The range figure is how far the car will take you from 100 percent charge to 0 percent - but you certainly do not want to drive it down to 0 percent, because then it will stop, and you have a couple of tons of car to lug around. And as we said, it will anyway start warning you at somewhere around 5-10 percent, which you should heed. Most likely, you would want to start looking around for a charger at around 15-20 percent, unless you know precisely where you are going and how far away it is. So, the “real” range you will actually want to drive is more like 80 per cent, or 320 km in your 400 km car (under its ideal conditions). 

Furthermore, you may not always start out with 100 percent charge. If you start from home on a long journey, you will probably charge it fully before you go. But if your trip is so long that you need to fill it up on the road, in a charging station (think “gas station”), you hit on a second snag where batteries differ from a petrol tank: It is a law of physics that a rechargeable battery charges more quickly when it is half-full than when it begins to fill up. We won’t go into the physics of it, but to protect the battery, the car’s electronics will begin to slow down the charging speed when it reaches about 80 percent of full charge. Typically, if it takes 45 minutes to charge from 20 to 80 per cent, then it will take another 45 minutes or an hour to top it up the last 20 per cent to full. You do not notice that on an overnight “slow” charger, because you are sleeping anyway, but when you are on the road, on a fast charger, you will notice, and it is often therefore advisable to stop charging at around 80 per cent. 

Now, nothing stops you from spending the extra time to fill it up completely, for instance if you have a long leg ahead of you where there are few chargers on the road. But if you can, there are a couple of reasons to stop at 80 in addition to your own convenience: One is if there is a queue of cars behind you waiting to charge. That should not be case, but it does happen when many people travel and charging stations are fewer than they should be. You may get a few angry looks if you are sitting there waiting for the meter to glacially advance from 94 to 95 percent. The other is economic, while some charging stations bill by the kwh, others calculate by the minute or a combination of the two. If so, you pay more, sometimes considerably more, for that last top-up than the rest of your charging. 

So, for your daily commute and charging at home, this is not an issue, you charge when you want to, all EVs on sale to day can easily handle your everyday travel of e.g. up to 90 km (50-60 miles) without any sweat, and most of us drive considerably less every day. It is for the long legs, your vacations trips or similar (or if you are a commercial traveller) that you have to consider this, and your “leg” or “stage” of travel from charger to charger is most effective if you limit them to from 20 to 80 percent of the listed full charge, i.e. 60 percent: Your 400 km becomes 240 km between fast chargers, and then add the reduction above from highway speed and cold weather. 

Short range, middle range and long range electric cars
So, with all of these deductions in range, you should go for the car with the highest possible “maximum range”, right? Well, that is where the debate goes. It is indeed typical that new owners who cross over from petrol cars do focus on range, and want an EV with as long range as they can get. More experienced EV users shake their heads at that, and say that this is rookie behaviour, wanting an EV to be as much like their old petrol car as possible. What if, they say, you make like two such long vacation trips a year, and buying a long range car saves you perhaps three or four charging stops, a couple of hours of waiting, in a year, is it worth the $10-20,000 extra you pay over a car with a more moderate range? Look more at other stuff, they say: how practical it is, how much space it gives you, and in particular: how fast it charges. Because that also varies, some models limit fast charging to about 45 kwh/hour, while others - often with smaller batteries - can top 100 kwh/h, or even beyond that. If so, you may charge a bit more often, but you will spend half the time on each stop. 

An electric car battary

There are some reasons to go for a car with lower range, all related to the fact that a lower range means a smaller battery in the car:
- One is thus price. The battery is probably the most expensive part of the car, so the larger the battery, the higher the price. The figure of $10,000 (or €) difference between a 250 km and a 400 km model is probably realistic, and $20,000 may be even more often the case. 
- The other is weight, batteries add hundreds of kilos to the car, which also means the car with a large battery needs to be more sturdy. That may impact the efficiency, a case in point is the quite popular Audi e-Tron, which is a roomy and luxurious car with a huge 95 kwh battery, but with 2,5 tons net weight - about a ton more than comparable vehicles - it barely tops a fairly mediocre 300 km (with very fast charging, though).
- The third, and most important for many, is the environmental impact. While EVs are the ultimate green zero-emission transport, at least on green electricity, the fly in the ointment is the production of the car, which does cause quite a bit of CO2 emission, mostly due to the battery (the motor itself is much simpler than a petrol engine). So, if you double the size of the battery, you also increase considerably the emission cost of producing the car, with the added problem of ethical production that batteries still (but hopefully not for long) have. 

In fact, one Japanese manufacturer, Mazda, has used this argument to intentionally limit the range (and battery size) of its most recent model MX 30 to 200 km, because that is what people need, it reduces the environmental impact of battery production and makes the car less expensive. 

How much do I actually need?
But is this true? What is actually the optimal range you should go for when choosing your EV, weighing these considerations against each other? Clearly, there is no single answer to that, it depends on your situation, your needs, your driving habits, and where you live. But, given the factors indicated above, let us suggest some scenarios. I will use myself as an example, so adjust to what is your situation.

Daily transportation (commute): The distance I drive to work and back again is about 30 km (19 miles). That means that even the oldest, banged-up and battery reduced Nissan Leaf from 2011 will satisfy my needs easily (it was the first “family size” EV, and should today still give you at least 90 km (55 miles) on a charge). So we will ignore that, any model will do. 

“First leg” weekend range: I do not have a cabin in the mountain, but I do have some relatives I may visit, who live about 150 km (90 miles) away. It takes me a bit over two hours to drive there, on our West Norwegian “highways”. I would rather like to make that distance without having to spend half an hour charging up on the road. However, I start from home at full charge, and know that I can charge up at arrival, so I would be willing to stretch the lower buffer down to 10-15 percent, i.e. that the real range I would hope for is about 85-90 percent of full charge. 

“Stage coach” holiday range: If you go on a longer summer vacation, perhaps you are more relaxed, perhaps you have kids with you who need a break every couple of hours. So, again, a “stage” of about two hours between stops could be useful. On the other hand, your charging on the road will be fast chargers, so try to stick to the 20-80 per cent formula, i.e. 60 per cent of full charge for each stage. You may travel part of that on fast motorways, where two hours actually could carry you 220 km (140 miles), but let us calculate here that you are taking the scenic route at a leisurly 80 km/h. 

Professional travel: If you are a professional traveller, you are probably less relaxed. Lorry drivers are required by law (EU?) to rest for at least 45 minutes after 4.5 hours of driving. And of course they would drive on fast roads if they can. So, to imitate that, we would need a rather longer stage; 4.5 hours at 110 km/h means 500 km (310 miles). Can any EV come even close to that on a single charge?

As we saw, this depends on circumstance. But to create a model for our example, let us compare three cases: First, how far will a car get us from home (fully charged) to a familiar destination, driving either at fast highway speed, or colder weather, like a coastal north European winter, of around 0 degrees. We suggested that either of those will reduce range by about 20 per cent. Secondly, a "stage" between two fast chargers for a family on a summer holiday, crusising on highways and backways, at 80 km/h average. And thirdly, the intemperate professional driver who will do 110 km/h and have as few stopovers as possible. What kind of official, listed range would we have to look for to comply with these needs (and, again for simplicity, I will here use the WLTP figures only, as those are the ones used in Europe, the miles are my division by 1,6; the figures are for illustration only).  

Small range city cars
Skoda Citigo
As examples of city cars, fairly inexpensive (as EVs go), we may take a used, elderly Skoda Citigo, listed at 130 km (81) miles range (today, this model performs much better), and the very popular (but now retired) VW eGolf, which had a 231 km (144 miles) range. That corresponds to a real-world range for “first leg” of 88 km (55 miles) for the old Citigo and 157 km (98 miles) for the e-Golf, while a “vacation” stage would take you 78 km (49 miles) and 138 km (87 miles) respectively. With the Citigo on a holiday trip at lower speeds, you would have to stop and recharge about every hour, on a motorway it would only last 30 minutes. With a Golf, you might get one and three quarter hour on each stage, unless you drive only on fast motorways, that would cut it to just under an hour before recharging. 
    The motorway speed of course gets you faster to your destination than driving at 80 km/h, even if you add in the charge stops. The time you gain by driving at high speed, when available, is more than you lose by having to stop and recharge more frequently, so there is no argument for driving more slowly just to gain efficiency. I am talking here of the inconvenience of having to stop and recharge more frequently. On the other hand, as these cars have small batteries, they will often also use less time in recharging - although newer cars (with larger batteries) also may have improved charging speeds.  
    Anyway, I would imagine for the Golf, that would be doable once or twice a year, but it would struggle to get me to my weekend spot without a charge stop. It may, at least in summer, but the margin might be close. Taking the Citigo on a long vacation really means you have to adapt to the car’s needs. But people certainly do, and it is a very affordable car, you could get it as almost new at less than €20,000.

Medium size cars
More realistic as the single family car are newer models with a bit more range, so their figures are more interesting. By “medium” we may think of cars like the Peugeot e208 (and its sibling Open e-Corsa) at 340 km (213 miles) listed range, the Hyundai Ioniq at 311 km (194 miles), and smaller in range than these, the again quite affordable MG ZS at 263 km (164 miles). How do these fit into our calculation?
The smallest of them, the MG ZS has thus a range not much above the eGolf. It would on a “first stage” from home take me 179 km (112 miles), so it would take me to my weekend destination without recharging. On a vacation trip, I would have to charge every two hours, but on motorways, a stage would only last an hour (126 km or 78 miles), so it is probably not a car for the professional traveller, but certainly within the practical for a family that might want to stop every other hour anyway.
Peugeot e-208

The two others confirm the same impression. The Ionic’s “first leg” would be just about 211 km (132 miles), and in my “vacation trip” at 80 km/h it would take two hours and 20 minutes before you need to stop. The Peugeot e-208 just tops that, two and half hours vacation speeds,  but an hour and twenty minutes at top speed on a motorway between charge stops. Starting from home, even driving at high speed, you would however reach 231 km (145 miles) without having to take a break. If you wonder how much 231 km actually is, it would get you from London to a bit beyond Bristol, or from Paris to Lille. 
That means that to achieve my first request, to get at least 150 km from home before charging, I would be looking at a car with at least 250 km listed range. That would exclude many used cars, but most new cars today exceed 200 km range. If, however, you are in the situation of driving quite a lot at higher speeds than 100 km/h; or you live a cold climate where below-zero temperatures are common, you might want to look at cars with 300 km or beyond that, to be assured you can drive for at least two hours between charges. There are currently a lot of new models in this “mid range” that will provide that. As EVs go, these are in the lower middle of the price range (€30,000 +/-), with the MG ZS definitely the most economical, but the others (and the many not mentioned here) are also priced within reason. 

Long-range cars
The third request, however, the 500 km or four hours non-stop on a motorway for the professional driver is way beyond the means of those cars. Can any EV go that long? I guess many, maybe most who have read this far, have been jumping up and down shouting “Tesla”. And, without doubt, Teslas are very much ahead in the long-range market, and have been so since they appeared in 2012. They are however, at least in Europe, fairly expensive, and there have in the last few years appeared a number of cars at a lower price point that also top a 400 km official range, some exceeding 500 km in some tests (like the Hyundai Kona, which did 568 km in the mentioned NAF test). But what does that mean in our “real-world” figures?
Although I said “above 400”, let us include the Renault Zoe, very popular in Europe, because it may fall around $30,000 in price and with 390 km (244 miles) listed range, clearly tops the “bang for buck” for long-distance cars. In the US, we have the Chevrolet Bolt, which WLTP gives 423 km (264 miles) range, and the “Koreans”, the mentioned Kona as well as the Kia eSoul and eNiro - the Niro has 455 km (284 miles) - also sell well (about €35-40,000). At the top end, we can then include the Teslas Model 3 Long-Range (560 km/350 miles) and the Model S LongRange (610 km/381 miles, at €80,000 or more), but other American car makers like the Ford Mustang Mach e and the luxury car Lucid boast of similar very long range; they have however not yet reached Europe. 

Kia e-Niro
With a Zoe, you can drive for about an hour and a half at motorway speeds (187 km/117 miles), a fraction of the required time. For a Bolt, the figures would be not much higher (203 km/127 miles). Even the most popular Tesla, the model 3, would fall short; 269 km (168 miles), or two and a quarter hours in our calculation. A Tesla model S is as close as you get among currently available cars: At 610 km official, we calculate it to 366 km on the vacation stretch (four and a half hours at 80 km/h, two and a half hours at full motorway speed). If you, however, take the time to fully charge to 100 per cent on their Tesla SuperCharger, the next leg could be somewhere in excess of 400 km, which is as close as we get. (Again, remember that we are here talking about the time it takes you between charge stops, not how often you have to charge on a given distance, evidently higher speed will get you farther in those two hours.)
In the last few months of 2020, we have seen or seen advertised a number of new models that lie within this same area, in particular the new VW models, the ID.3 (in Europe) and ID.4 (in the US), as well as the Skoda Enyaq, and coming models from Nissan and others. Most of them are not here yet, but seem in 2021 to be offered in a number of battery sizes, which would mean that the lesser expensive trims would fall into the medium-size 300-and-something listed range, while the more expensive will top 400 km or even 500 km, if claims are to be believed. That may change the picture, but not really by much, as far as can be seen; there are already many models in these ranges, and these models seem to be priced at the mid-to-high end, as the long-range cars already are (some of the new ones are more spacious, however, and have other new features that would make them attractive). 

275 km non-stop, four and a half hour, 
41 kwH (out of the car's 64 kwH)
Now, again, these are all figures from a spreadsheet, real life experiences will differ - and I have certainly myself driven my Kona for four and a half hours in a stretch, but that was across a mountain where my speed was nowhere near motorway speeds. The purpose of the exercise was not to recommend or disapprove of any particular model, but to indicate how to look at the “range” figures you see in the advertisements. They do certainly tell you something about each car relative to others, but you must not expect to actually be able to drive as many km or miles as the ad claims, without having a pick-up truck ready to tow the car in when you reach an empty battery. Calculate the actual figure to be perhaps two thirds or three quarters of the listed range, at best - or down to half the listed range if you live in a cold country. In addition, our notes here can perhaps provide some more indications. 

And do remember that 250 km or 150 miles is a considerable distance, and that a stop you take to charge the car will probably be the half hour or so you use to take a coffee or lunch break anyway. Whether you really need to - or want to pay premium in order to - travel more than that between bathroom breaks is really a choice only you can make.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

What is it with Norway and electric cars?

If you live in Norway and have some interest in electrification and green issues in general, one topic is bound to come up: cars, electric cars, battery powered cars. The EU has planned to be "zero emission" by 2050, which for cars means battery powered electric vehicles (EVs), but is far from this goal: In 2019, only 3,6 per cent of all new cars bought in the EU were "plug-ins". The highest adopters, Netherlands and Sweden, had 11-13 per cent plug-ins, but they were mainly hybrids, fully zero-emission cars were at four and three per cent respectively

Norway, on the other hand, is already close to reaching this hairy target: 56 per cent of new cars sold were plug-ins in 2019, of which 42 percent were pure electric (BEV, "battery-electric vehicle"). In early 2020, plug-ins reached 75 per cent of all new cars, of which 56 per cent BEVs. Petrol and diesel cars ("internal-combustion", or ICEs, for short) dropped to about ten per cent each. 

It is of course of great pride to Norwegians to be so far ahead, but the significance is elsewhere: As long as EV adoption remains at 3 per cent (UK) or 1,9 per cent (US), it can reasonably be considered a special interest, for the committed few. Buyers can be asked: why did you choose an EV, rather than a "normal" car? In Norway electric cars in some form or other is now the norm (for new purchases!). So that question is no longer relevant, it is what regular people buy. But not all people, of course, so the question is rather: why did you not buy an EV?

A political choice

How did Norway got to this stage? That must be of interest to figure out if this is the direction the rest of Europe (and other countries) have decided to go. Does Norway provide a model they can follow? The answer is both yes, maybe, and no. 

Evidently, Norwegians are not more concerned with the environment than other Europeans. We have a green consciousness, but cash is more important. Surveys show that economics and practicalities are what dictate car choice, the green environment is at best a nice extra. So, we have to look at the economic incentives that have been provided to further EV sales. 
1950s: a rationed luxury

It is often said that it is because we, as a wealthy country, can afford to subsidize EVs. That isn't completely accurate, although there is some truth to it. The state's freedom to intervene stems not just from our current wealth, but as much from our history as a poor country. After the ravages of World War II, Norway was in dire need of reconstruction, but our foreign currency reserves were depleted. We never had an automotive industry, unlike our neighbours in Sweden, and private cars were seen as an unecessary luxury that only siphoned off our meager currency reserves. Accordingly, imports of foreign cars were strictly rationed - you were not allowed to buy a private car unless you were a doctor, vet or otherwise could prove transportation need - all the way until 1960 (I remember from my childhood a neighbour who had gone to Sweden to buy a used Volvo - used cars were legal. However, it was so nice looking that he had to muddy it up, he claimed, for the customs people to accept that it wasn't an illegal new car.)

Diesel car: 113 per cent tax
Even when the restriction was lifted, cars were considered a luxury item that drained foreign reserves, so to discourage imports, a very hefty purchase duty, a so-called "one-time fee" [engangsavgift] was levied on all new cars, and particularly on larger cars considered more luxurious. Even when private cars had become ubiquitous in the 1970s and 1980s, a duty once imposed was of course never removed. People complained, but had gotten accustomed to it, even when VAT was introduced and 25 per cent was slapped on top. How the one-time fee is calculated has varied over time, engine size was important, today CO2 emissions is the crucial element. A larger car having a factory price on import of €22,000 (Ford Galaxy Diesel, chosen at random) has a one-time fee of €19,000 and VAT of €5.400, making a total of €47,000. Small cars may have one-time fees at around 35-40%, plus VAT, still adding a whooping 65% fee and tax on top of the factory price. 

The no-fees car

So, you see where this is going. Any car with a battery will have a smaller CO2 ["tailpipe"] footprint, and a full battery EV will have none. It was thus easy for the government, once they decided to favour zero emission, to dispense BEVs from the one-time fee altogether. That fee will probably not be re-imposed, as long as it is based on CO2 emissions. It is thus not actually a subsidy, it is just in the logic how this fee is calculated for all cars. But then, the government in 2001 in addition decided to dispense BEVs also from the VAT, while all other cars, including all kinds of hybrids, pay the full 25 per cent. 

The VAT exemption is, more than the one-time fee exemption, clearly a form of indirect subsidy, and it was never meant to be eternal: It was to be a short-time measure to compensate for the higher factory prices of EVs. It was intended to last until 50,000 EVs were registered in the country. But when that target was reached in 2015, the measure was so popular that government decided to extend it through 2017, and then through the next parliamentary period to 2021. It was a snowball that threatens to become unstoppable, due not least to the pride I mentioned in "Norway is the best in the world" - we are suckers for that - but of course mostly by the universal rise of the green wave, also in Norwegian politics - the Green party may well have the casting vote after the next election, and is an important part of the red-green group that governs the capital Oslo. Few parties dare to talk of removing a measure that may actually allow us to reach the target of zero private car emission in a foreseeable future. 

No tax - did I pay for that?
Still, some voices have questioned it. The EU has raised the issue of whether it an unfair subsidy; but there is also the "Tesla factor". Tesla appears to benefit more than other cars from the fee exemptions, not just because a higher price means that more VAT is lost, but also because of its appearance: that of a luxury sports car. A petrol car of the same type - a Porsche, for example - would most likely (in the public mind) be a gas guzzler and would therefore carry a heavy one-time fee, like other luxury cars: a car like a Tesla S "should" have cost €150,000 or 250,000, not €60,000 as it does. That is money that is taken from the tax payer and given to the filthy rich. Politicians are sensitive to such talk as well, although they do recognize that EVs are "normal cars for normal people" now. So, rather than abolishing the VAT exemption in general, they are likely to begin imposing some form of VAT on the more expensive models, e.g. those costing more than e.g. €60,000. But only after 2022. 

A model?

Other countries have also used tax incentives or direct subsidies, but in a more limited form; thus the US have time-limited tax rebates of up to $7,500, while Britain have rebates up to £5,000. But they have never been blanket or so long-lasting as Norway's, and because of the unique history of the Norwegian one-time fee, they could never reach its extent. In effect, compared to a petrol car, the Norwegian exemptions may cut the price in half of more. That does come at a cost, the one-time fee alone brought in about €2,000 mill. in 2010, and with half of new cars now fully exempt, and hybrids reduced (because of lower CO2), that is a noticeable budgetary loss. But it is a desired loss, in the sense that the one-time fee is based on taxing unwanted CO2 emissions. So, like in many types of taxation that aim to direct citizens towards a desired behaviour, the end target is that the fee disappears. The VAT is different, and sooner or later that will be reimposed. But EV advocates argue that it should wait until global EV production has ramped up so high that EVs have competitive prices with ICEs from the factory gate. 

To what degree other countries can copy this, depends of course on the taxation structure (and financial elbow space) of each country. But there is no question about what the key element of the Norwegian success is: it is to remove the financial issue altogether for new car purchases: It is in any case a big investment to buy a car, and particularly a new car. But if you have decided to do so, it does not matter pricewise whether you pick the electric or petrol option: they cost roughly the same. So, your choice is made by other factors than price. 

Price ranges EV vs. petrol and diesel

To illustrate this last point, let us take a few examples. (To make it easy, I here only cite "entry level price" for each trim, and as our battered Krone jumps up and down now, I use a fictitous exchange rate of €1=10 NOK. Just now, a US $ is 9,75 NOK, a euro 10,70, so you can replace € with $, if you like, a £ is about 12 NOK, so reduce the figures a little).

Corsa: €22-32,000
Typical cars that have both a petrol/diesel and battery-only power train:
Opel Corsa: Four petrol variants, from €22,000 [75hp] to 32,000 [130hp]
Opel e-Corsa: 25,000

Peugeot 2008 petrol: from €26,000 to 38,000
Peugeot 2008 diesel: from €26,000 to 34,000
Peugeot e-2008: from €28,000 to 33,000

Virtually all cars that have both an ICE / hybrid and an EV version, show the same pattern: the EV is "in the middle" between the ICE trims. The one exception is VW Golf, where the petrol version starts at €39,000, while the e-Golf is at 26,000. That is the only model were the EV version is clearly lower than the ICE, and it is of course a very popular car, which may explain the price. Plug-ins (PHEVs) only have a small tax reduction, and is typically more expensive: the very popular Hyundai Kona electric just had a 4,500 price hike to 35,000, but still did not reach the PHEV price of 36,500. The Iconiq from the same factory costs 31,000 as PHEV, but 27,000 as BEV. 

A model for Europe?

So, can the Norwegian experience serve as a model? That may be presumptious, but if some elements may be learned, they could be:
        The key seems to be the discrepancy in purchase price. Norway introduced a number of other perks, like reduced annual fees, access to bus lanes, free public parking, reduced road tolls, which may all influence people's choices. But the main element is that one huge outlay, the purchase. Abolish the difference between EVs and ICE cars there, and then the other considerations may or may not make regular buyers, normal non-comitted people, choose zero emission. 
Whether that is possible, depends on each country. Norway does have a solid economy, and the state can forgo the revenue lost on the tax rebates without problem. That may not be the case for every country (in particular after the current covid crisis, of course, the effects of which may be with us for years). But rumours are that the EU is thinking along these lines, towards a VAT reduction on EVs. It may however not be enough. Norway has a flat 25 per cent VAT on most object, including all other cars, other EU countries have much lower VAT rates on cars, so removing it may not be as effective. 
However, it is clearly seen above that the greatest impact was the removal of the special "one-time fee", which could double the ICE price. Other countries may not have large enough taxes or fees on ICE cars that removing them for EVs would have enough impact to even the price difference EV/ICE. The alternative would be to impose some sort of CO2 emission fees on the purchase price of EVs, like in effect our one-time fee is, but that is likely to be politically impossible. You might tax the petrol and diesel fuel itself further, also inflammable measures, but that would most likely not move people to EVs if the purchase price is several thousand euros higher than the comparable ICE car. 
So it may or may not be feasible to go the same way, depending on the country. What the example shows, however, is the importance of the measure being both general and long lasting. The VAT exemption in Norway came as early as 2001, but it did not have measureable effect until the late 2010s, when a wider range of EV models became available. And it must remembered that while the measures are mostly limited to pure battery powered EVs, these still only constitute half of new cars - hybrids, still taxed, make up another 30 per cent. So, even with the purchase price out of the way, there are still reasons why people choose cars burning petrol, in spite of the petrol costs (normally c. €0,10 per km driven, compared to an average €0,01-0,02/km el). Which reasons? 
Reasons not to buy an EV

I have not done any research on why people actually make this choice! But some possible reasons for not buying an EV might be:

(1) I am on a limited budget, I could not possibly spend more than €10,000 or 15,000, as long as I get something that rolls. True. Clearly, there are many used EVs on the market, but that price range (cars 7-10 years old?) would only get you tiny Mievs or at most an old Nissan Leaf with limited range, which might not fit your needs. This will probably remain valid for another five years or more, until current cars reach that age and price level. 

Curbside charging?
(2) I live in an apartment, and have no place to charge at home, and charging commercially is expensive and inconvenient. True. A recent youtuber noted that in Shanghai, he had low-cost overnight chargers basically on every block. In Norway, we do have a few municipal ones in the major cities, but to make a difference, they should be everywhere, at least in the older residential parts of the city where flats generally would not have garage space: Small AC chargers near where residents park their cars overnight (on streets or in parking lots), priced similar to home charging. That should be a municipal task.

(3) I have a family, and I need a car with sufficient space, preferably enough for one or even two baby carriages and luggage. But I can't afford a Tesla. True. For some reason, while many EVs now have abundant range and strong motors, with 200 hp or more, they are all compact, SUV or SUV-like. ICE cars have a much wider range in size. For large families there are a number of seven-seaters, and many others with ample luggage space, like in a traditional station wagon. There are large variety of such with a petrol engine, ranging from the popular Skoda Octavia from €29,000 for 610 litres; a family willing to invest up to €50,000 for a car with 500 l or more luggage space will have 25 different models to choose from (and course equally ample choice in lower-cost used cars). That is also true for hybrids, PHEV or not, there are about half a dozen models in the category. 

Octavia: not an EV
But not a single battery-powered vehicle, you must then go up to the Audi eTron at €65,000 [and typically in trims over €80,000, 660 l]. From there, there is a large gap down to 451 litre in the SUV-like Kia eNiro (€35,000) and MG ZS (448 l, €24,000). That this is important is shown in that the eTron, in spice of its high price and fairly limited range, is currently the clear best seller in the country, ahead of more modestly priced cars like the eGolf and the Zoe, at half the price. This shows the need for such larger family cars in the market, size over range. 

(4) There are too few fast chargers around, and I can't be bothered to wait in queue for hours at end. That is less and less true, in particular as affordable long-range cars can drive for up to six-seven hours on a charge. But there is still something to it. Fast chargers abound around main arteries and larger cities, but if you go off-piste, you may have to plan your trip with this in mind; and anecdotes of non-functioning chargers and holiday queues are not without truth. Clearly, there is room for improvement here, but it is an area in rapid expansion, so it may be more a matter of how the situation is perceived by ICE holdouts than everyday reality. 
Still, there is of course the difference between two philosophies when you are on a trip, "charge when you can, not when you must" (pessimism) or "charge when you take a break anyway" (destination charging). Along the main roads, you can certainly do the latter, over the mountains, preferably the former. 
However, for long holiday trips, one surprising thing for sucn an EV-utopia as Norway, is the scarcity of overnight destination chargers: that is, hotels, camp sites and elsewhere where travellers spend the night. All hotels have as a matter of course parking spaces for the guests, but if these have charging at all (rather than: "there is a fast charger you can use down the road"), they are few and probably not exactly up to code ["granny sockets"]. That should change; when you are on a holiday trip with a car, you should be able to assume that there is a parking space where you stay the night, and that you can charge up for the next day's trip where you are staying. Sweden seems to be ahead of us on this score. 
What is to be done?

Roomy: but PHEV only, not BEV
The four points above are just possible arguments against buying EVs, I have, as I said, not made any survey! But, once the purchase price is eliminated as an argument, it is logical to assume that such practicalities govern the choice a buyer makes: Access to charging, and whether the EV models on the market answer the needs the user wants. I am myself all in favour of removing "range anxiety", and first-time EV buyers clearly want their new cars to match petrol cars in how far they can go. This clearly is an important argument for the 20 per cent or so that buy plug-in hybrids, even though these enjoy few of the economic benefits of BEVs, and are thus on the more expensive side. But, in addition to, and possible more important than, the removal of range anxiety, there are many PHEVs that have the same luggage and passenger space as their ICE relatives, unlike battery EVs. So, by spending that money you can combine being electric in daily commutes with having the space your family needs. 

As I said, the Norwegian case may perhaps show a path towards zero-emission private transport, but the reasons we got so quickly off the mark on this, relates to our particular currency protection history that may be difficult to reproduce, without considerable political cost: to increase the fees / purchase price of combustion engine cars to match EVs may very well be politically impossble.
    The more important elements of this example are probably the other side of this argument: even when prices are even, why do people still buy cars that require petrol or diesel? And what can we do get around these arguments? The points made here point in two directions: Charging - and perhaps not so much fast or super-fast charging, as making cheaper overnight charging accessible whereever the car sits while you sleep: outside your city apartments, in hotel parking lots or whereever: When all or most cars are plug-in, every overnight parking space should have an overnight charger.  
    The other is for the car manufacturers: There is a glaring unevenness in the types of EVs offered: to focus on small urban cars was evident when the typical range was 100-150 km. That is no longer case, with the e-Up! type doing 250 km, and 350-400 km is fairly normal. Now it is all compact cars and SUVs. But what we need to make the next step of the transition, are roomy family cars, the 600 litre Skoda Octavia type, or 7-seat large family type, with the same 350-400 km range, and at a price range for the normal young family. When EVs can fill all categories of personal cars with equivalent performance as an ICE or better, then we can approach the zero-emission target. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Electric cars for the rich?

Norway is a small country off somewhere above the top edge of the map. But there is one respect where it is huge. That is in the context of electric cars. In 2019, there were more than twice times as many "plug-in" cars (electric vehicles, EVs) than petrol/diesel cars. This is of course the result of government policy over many years, to promote "zero-emission" cars. The target is that in five years, 2025, all new cars sold in the country should be electric.

Controversy: are EVs bad for you?
But of course, that costs money. The loss in revenue for all EV measures has been calculated to some €200 million a year, and many see this as a subsidy from tax payers to EV owners. It has raised some controversy about whether this is justifiable, both economically and environmentally. The Michael Moore argument ("Planet of the Humans") that we should not support EVs because they are blacker than petrol since electricity comes from coal, does of course not wash here - we are 100 per cent hydro-electric - and is not true in the US either, I believe. But it highlights what is an actual dilemma: EVs are of course not fully green, because they have to be made, and it is true that more CO2 is emitted from producing an EV than a diesel/petrol car ("internal combustion", ICE)  primarily because of the battery. And longer range means automatically larger battery (not to mention the 2,5 ton e-Tron with its 95 kw battery, more than twice that of a new Leaf). So, there is a dilemma here. The very popular long-range EVs help the transition from petrol to electric. But at the same time, they are less environmentally friendly than the more modest cars which you may have to recharge more often because they have a smaller, but lighter battery.

EV batteries - they are bad for you
There was an argument in a web comment recently, which I thought was interesting to look into. It said, in essence, "... and you cannot defend, in environmental terms, to replace a petrol car that has 10 years life ahead of it, with a new EV" (because of the production emissions). That argument sounds plausible, but would it hold up? Now, a car with 10 years ahead of it (meaning, statistically about 8 years old) may well find a new owner, but let us ignore that and make the calculation simple: to be justifiable environmentally, the cost (in emissions) of producing the new EV must be lower than the CO2 that it replaces, i.e., that would be spent by driving the ICE for ten years. This production cost is in fact surprisingly large: just under 10 tons CO2 (for a car weighing a bit over one ton - the example is based on a 2019 Nissan Leaf). But an average ICE driving the average of 13,000 km a year, emits about 2.75 tons CO2 annualy. So the EV has saved its production cost already after about three and a half years - the argument is false. Nevertheless, for green purposes, the battery issue is definitely something that should be improved, by changing how they are produced, or improving reusage and recycling of the rare materials in the batteries. Of course, that is still a few years ahead for the current surge of EVs.

The social dimension: Should we subsidize electric cars for the rich?
The above argument is general. But we have also had a discussion from parts of the left wing in this country, which are irritated that wealthy Tesla owners get their toys subsidised by tens of thousands of euros of tax-payer money. That the green left supports this, shows their class affiliation, they whisper: the latte-drinking EV owners who have never set foot on a factory floor. The mentioned latte drinkers just sneer back. Yet, the argument is worth considering. It is based on these claims:

(1) Whatever you say, normal people do not drive EVs. They drive petrol or diesel cars. This is quite true. In spite of the surge in EV purchases these last two-three years, about 90 per cent of kms driven are done by petrol or diesel cars, statistics show. Also, the critics follow up: People with average income do not buy new cars, they buy used cars. Only the richest buy new cars, and used car sales are almost completely for ICE cars. That is also demonstrably true, about three of four cars sold are second hand, and they are overwhelmingsly petrol or diesel. But that is of course just an effect of the number of used cars there is on the market. The surge in EV adoption only took place a couple of years ago, and they have yet to replaced by their first-time owners. If the EV share of new purchases remains stable, used cars will eventually become EV or ICE in the same proportion as new cars today.
The red line is the market share.
Source:, from Public Car Registration
      However, that raises the reflection of how EV used car prices will hold up. All EV supporters claim that EVs have less wear and tear and require less service than ICEs, and will therefore keep their value longer (good for sellers, bad for buyers). On the other hand, it must remembered that an EV is basically a computer on four wheels. And we upgrade our PC not because it breaks down, but because the new one gives us functions we need or want. A new petrol car is more efficient, safer and better than a seven year old one, but it operates basically in the same way: It is mature technology, and functionally, you will find the old one just as useful as a new one. EVs are still in rapid development; every year introduces drastic new changes in functionality (as in battery management, e.g.) which may make a seven old machine dated almost like a seven-year old PC running Windows 7. Granted, an EV is a bit more expensive than a PC, so you would want to hold on to it longer, but the point is that this may lead to a more rapid decrease in value compared to a new one. Which is good for the buyer, and will help removing any "rich man's toy" image of normal, regular EVs.
      But anyway, in order to get EVs into the used car market, they first have to enter as new cars. So, the social differentiation we see today will disappear gradually over the coming few years.

(2) Nevertheless, we do know that even among new cars, the share of EVs follow the income distribution. A statistic (from 2018) shows that among new car buyers, the 25 per cent with highest income ("the wealthy"), 56 percent bought EVs, while among those with the lowest income, only 33 percent bought EVs. Furthermore, ICEs are more used than EVs, they have a higher number kms driven. Now that is very interesting, when we just postulated that a new EV has a similar or lower cost than a comparable petrol car. So economically, it should make more sense for the price conscious to go EV. Why do fewer in that group do so?
A car for the rich, paid by our tax dollars?
      The critics say this shows that the wealthy can afford to have two cars. They use an ICE by preference, but can afford to get an EV for the commute, in order to drive in the bus lane and escape the road tolls. EVs are just a toy and a status symbol for the rich. Teslas, gaah.
    It is also true that left-leaning people may gag over the number of Teslas on the streets of Oslo, because there are indeed a lot of them, and they are of course quite noticeable. Of course there is a status symbol show-off element here. However, it is not Teslas that actually dominate the purchase statistics, but normally-priced EVs that just look like other cars. You dont't notice them on the street unless you look closely.
Or just another car?
     It is more likely that these figures show a quite  different reality: People do not buy a second car because they are rich, but because they aren't. Two-car households are generally two-income households, i.e. families, and they more often than not have to calculate before they get the second car. They certainly could not afford to spend €20-30.000 on an EV just to save €2-3 on a road toll, that just does not make economic sense - particularly as these perks are progressively reduced. But families mostly do need at least one long-range car for holidays etc., and EVs (non-Teslas) have until these last couple of years not been seen as sufficiently practical for that. So of course their ICEs will get more mileage: Both cars are used equally for daily commutes, one by each spouse, and only the ICE will be used for longer family trips in weekends and holidays.

This may also help explain the sudden surge since 2018, in spite of the prospect of reduced perks: What is new in these last couple of years is the increased availability of models that may be called "affordable long-range" EVs. We always had the Teslas whith their 400 km or 500 km range, but at prices out of reach for most people. Now, there are several models with a range of 400 km or higher at a price below €35.000, going as low as the Renault Zoe (390 km) currently at €23.000. And, if we look at the best-selling models, these are precisely those that top the statistic: Zoe, Kona, Leaf, Ioniq (Soul and e-Niro were unavailable, but are in the same category). So, what we may be seeing is that more single-car households are now accepting such models as a realistic alternative for a car that they can also use for the longer trips, even though there are still issues left that favour combustion engines. If these practical aspects are solved in the time to come, these single-car households with moderate income will also increasingly choose an EV over an ICE. 
     Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are also an alternative as "both commute and weekend" car, but the market share for PHEVs has stood still around 15 per cent since 2016, and actually took a small plunge in 2019, supporting the argument that long-range full-electric has taken over some of that segment in the last two years.
      In other words, what people want and will favour, are not flashy or star-in-the-eyes EVs, but practical tools that "can be used in the same way as a petrol car", just a normal car, at a price comparable to an ICE car. If we, as the critics suggest, cut the subsidies to raise EV prices by 50 per cent, these families would not drop the second car, they would buy two ICEs. Thus, the EV subsidy policies do favour ICE to EV replacement, which was the intention, and are to the benefit of normal families.

That does not deny that Tesla owners absolutely do benefit from the subsidies. But then the intention of the EV subsidies is not social equalization, it is to move from petrol to electric. A rich person will remain rich, and if we price a Tesla out of his range, he will not buy an e-Golf. He will buy a prestige ICE, a Porsche or similar. He may have bought a Tesla just because it is cool, that is all right, he will still help with the green change, whether that is his intention or not. The point here is that it is less and less true that EVs are cars for the rich. When they have reached more than fifty per cent adoption, they will be just cars like other cars, for normal people who drive cars.
       That said, it must of course be remembered we are talking about cars against cars. Clearly, both for green and red purposes, it is better that people do not drive a car, but use public transport, or walk or bike instead. All cars, including EVs, congest the roads, wear down the road surface to whirl up particles and require parking space. So EV subsidies should of course always go in tandem with increased financing of public transport and bike lanes. But those are seldom in competition, the political forces that support green cars generally also support green transport generally. More funding to both, and less to polluting!

The un-equalizer - not the car, but the garage?
However, there is another factor which is not so often considered and has a social aspect. In order to have a plug-in vehicle, you must have somewhere to plug it in. The most practical, and economical, solution is to plug it into a home charger which you have in your garage, or on a permanent parking space where you can install it. But many people who live in apartments do not have a garage. That does constitute a social differentiation. So, to combine zero emission conversion (for those who need cars) with social equality, this is an issue that should be addressed, so that everyone has equal access to EV as to petrol cars including low-cost charging, irrespective to what kind of house or flat they live in. That might become even more important as EVs begin enter the lower-priced used car market in a few years, so that you can choose practical EV cars even if you are in the lower price range. 

Incidentally, at the end: This last bit also concerns the idea that EVs are "urban vehicles", which the old 100-km EVs mainly were. But in the countryside, most people do own the property where they keep their car and can set up home charging. They would hardly need access to public charging in their own village, at least with a long-range car. So, in fact EVs may be easier to adopt outside the city than inside. But again, the type of car may be important. Pickups aren't that much used in Norway, but trailers are, at least for someone working on a farm, and none of the regular low-to-medium priced EVs today allow a trailer to be attached. That may be a marginal issue in the city, but possibly a priority for people who want to use their car for their farm work. So, we can only hope the producers begin taking that into account and focus on making practical family cars for the same kind of use as any other car.

In short, walking is best, biking is excellent, buses and trains preferable, but EVs are also a good thing for the reds as well as the green in the political landscape.