Joining the charge for electric vehicles

I love my car – it might be the first time in my life I’ve said such words.  My history of motoring does not include a reputation as a petrol head – Nana driver is more like it.

My new car is a five-year-old Toyota Prius.  It’s the third generation of this hybrid electric-petrol vehicle with a 1.8 litre engine, a five star ANCAP safety rating and 5.5 star fuel economy rating.

It’s this fuel economy that is blowing me away – officially at 3.9 litres per 100km.  That translates to about a third of a tank, or $20, for a return trip to Wellington from Whanganui.

It reminds me of my first car – a teeny tiny aluminium can on wheels – an 800cc Suzuki Alto.  My flatmate and I drove to Gisborne from Wellington one summer and, by the time we got home again, the poor car was on its last legs, running on only two of its three cylinders.  I sold it for parts after that.

My other driving claim to fame is that a university boyfriend built himself a stock car and I drove it at the Mothers Motorcycle Club racecourse in Palmerston North in a race for novice women.  I came second, although there may have only been three of us in the race.  I still remember the adrenalin buzz.

My latest car excitement has absolutely no connection to petrol – the announcement of Tesla’s Model 3, all electric, mid-range car.  Tesla already produces electric vehicles at the luxury end of the market but its latest model, due for release end of 2017, comes with a more affordable price tag of US$35,000.

The big shock came at the response to their announcement – in the first 24 hours, they took orders for 198,000 electric cars, each providing a $1,000 deposit.  People queued down the street.  Orders now total 276,000, which is pretty outrageous for a vehicle that isn’t yet in mass production and is 18 months away from delivery.

To give some sense of the scale, in the US in 2015, people bought 277,000 Honda Civics over the entire year – the fifth most popular vehicle sold.

As I read on www.qz.com in an article by Michael J Coren, the deposits are basically equivalent to an interest-free loan of $276 million, which will help Tesla ramp up its production – not a bad investment result.  

There were apparently some orders from New Zealand as well, with Mighty River Power quoted as putting down a deposit.  That gets me excited about the possibility of being able to afford a second-hand fully electric Tesla vehicle in years to come.

While the range of this latest model is an improvement at 320km, we still need the infrastructure to support fully electric vehicles and that’s where Z Energy is leading the way.  Just this week, it opened a rapid charging station in Christchurch, with more to follow in Wellington and Auckland.

It looks to me like the transition away from dependence on fossil fuels is speeding up.  I read that The Netherlands is one step closer to banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2025, with legislation passing through their lower house of Parliament recently.  There’s also serious discussion in California and Norway exploring a similar approach.  Norway already had 30% of new car purchases in 2015 were of electric vehicles, thanks in part to generous incentives.

How do we speed up action in New Zealand?  I guess the first question is determining that we want to shift to electric cars.  My motivation isn’t just fuel economy and the sleek lines of the latest Tesla – it’s about reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change.

The latest news on ice melt is sobering and there is fear that the rate of warming is accelerating.  Action is becoming urgent and Government has a direct part to play, given the size of the Government vehicle fleet.

Let’s start the conversation now on how to get ready for electric cars are part of our every day.