If you were paying attention during the 1980s, then you’ll have learned from films like Blade Runner and Back to the Future Part II that flying cars should have been with us by now. And yet things haven’t quite progressed that far. Not only are flying cars not with us, but our road vehicles are still reliant on inefficient, atmosphere-polluting fossil fuels.
And this isn’t through lack of trying: an extraordinary amount of hours have been put into making electric vehicles feasible. Which leaves us with a tricky question: exactly why aren’t we all driving around ultra-quiet, ultra-efficient vans? And at what point will making the switch to electric make a worthwhile investment?
In the motoring industry, we have a pretty strong grasp of the internal combustion engine and how it works. There are thus expert mechanics distributed across the country, each competing with one another to offer you their help in maintaining your vehicle. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for electric-vehicle-maintainers. This scarcity of expertise will inevitably drive up the running costs of an electric vehicle.
While electric vans are more efficient and easier to maintain than gas-guzzlers, they also tend to be more expensive in the short term, even if we factor in tax incentives. For smaller courier businesses, the shock that comes with first exposure to a hefty electric price-tag is certain to kill your enthusiasm.
Going to refuel a diesel van can be irritating. You have to pull in, make sure that you pick up the black pump rather than the green one, and pay for your fuel before pulling off and thereby triggering the cashier into a panic attack.
A recharging station presents its own problems. Even if you’re visiting the efficient sort that you’d find on a motorway service station, it can take thirty minutes to get a car fully charged. This presents a considerable problem of capacity – since there’s only room to charge a very limited number of vehicles simultaneously.
We might one day get around this issue by having all cars run on standardised, interchangeable batteries which can be swapped out by specialised machinery in a matter of moments. For the moment, however, we’re stuck.
A related problem concerns range. If you’re making a fifteen minute journey to work and back each day, the maximum charge of the average battery might be sufficient for your needs. But commercial hauliers often need to travel thousands of miles in one go, with one driver sometimes getting behind the wheel just as another clocks off. Moreover, as batteries clock up miles, they inevitably shed just a little bit of their maximum capacity.
Being an early adopter of a new technology can be perilous. You often end up feeling like a guinea pig – and when things do go wrong, there’s often no-one to turn to. For that reason, many drivers are put off the idea of investing in an electric vehicle, preferring instead to wait for wider acceptance. It won’t seem like such a risk when there are electrics on every driveway. Based on current trends, we can expect this in a few decades – but then, we’ve been saying that for awhile.