Let’s begin by travelling back in time over 100 years to the late 1800s and the early 1900s. This was an era when electric cars were the preferred option over combustion because of their quietness, reliability and lack of fumes. Yet the rise of the petrol station infrastructure, the invention of the electric starter motor and the discovery of cheap Texas crude oil effectively killed off the electric car by 1935.

Marty McFly

Fast forward to the modern day, and in less than 10 years since their recent revival, EVs are now achieving exponential demand, triggering long waiting lists and $300 billion dollars of investment from manufacturers reacting to demand. Environmental and public health concerns from traditional combustion engines, along with the ‘dieselgate’ controversys, but also the huge leaps in design and technology, not least by Tesla, and the vehicle user and ownership landscape is changing beyond recognition – it would seem that the tipping point has now been reached. Despite a few tentative trials of EVs across the decades, especially during the 1970s oil crisis, it wasn’t until the release of the first Nissan Leaf in 2010 that the resurgence began. Up to 2018 electric vehicles remained under 1% of new car sales in the UK until 2018-2019 demonstrated a dramatic and sustained rise in uptake, currently at 2-3%. Compare that to Norway, where EV sales as of March 2019 represented a stunning 58.4% of all new cars, with their infrastructure evolving alongside the transition.

The Doc

Upfront costs and range limitations initially stalled mainstream adoption but these issues are eroding away. As economies of scale take effect we will continue to see list prices falling, but also because the huge up front development costs are now beginning to realise their potential, not least in battery technology that now allows for standardised 200-300+ mile range. Price parity with traditional cars is expected in the next few years and in some instances has already been achieved, and we will be getting a modern and better product with lower running costs and emissions for the same upfront prices as conventional cars. Even now we know the lifetime cost of an EV is less than an internal combustion engine model – very few moving parts, low servicing, cheap fuel, no VED and so on. Personally, I used to spend £240 a month on petrol , now it’s £70 a month on electricity, impressively offsetting a large portion of the £300 per month lease cost I pay for my training vehicle – a Nissan Leaf.

These savings don’t even account for the improved reliability, reduced servicing costs, lack of vehicle excise duty and a more enjoyable driving experience. The initial generation of modern EVs from 2010-2015 was plagued with an 80 mile average range, making them the focus of mockery, but this was only the first step. Now, for the same price, you can purchase a 200+ mile range EV which meets the daily needs of the vast bulk of the population, and technological developments are running at such a pace that range, prices and all other benefits personally and globally will only improve further. It’s worth pointing out that the average driver’s single car usage range is less than 50 miles, and for the average driving instructor it’s far less than 200 miles a day. During my longer 8 hour working days I take a 40-minute break, enough for my 120-mile range EV to rapid charge while I grab a drink, lunch and catch up on admin. Next year, when I take delivery of my new 300-mile range EV, it will significantly exceed the needs of even my longest days, and even my cross-country trips to Cornwall will be more relaxed.

The Lightning Strike

Each car manufacturer is setting deadlines for switching to electrification through a mixture of hybrid, battery electric vehicles and hydrogen. A side effect of this is that the manual gearbox is already well on the way to redundancy – currently over 40% of all new production cars are already automatic. The quality, efficiency and ease of the modern auto box, combined with the rise of EVs and hybrids that are all automatics, and mainstream manufacturing on manual cars is likely to end before the decade is out. Within our driver training industry, demand for automatics is on the rise, spurred on by a generational and technological shift. The driving test will undoubtedly reflect this sooner, and this will be the final barrier allowing all young people to confidently embrace new technology, along with their parents.
Next Month: new EVs and tuition.