Electric Cars: The Future?

Posted by Simon R 06/05/2021 0 Comment(s)

Growing environmental concerns about the effects of traditional engines have sparked a shift towards electric cars in recent years. Sales of pure electric vehicles are steadily increasing, according to research by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.


The market share of BEVs in the UK has increased from 2.7% in January 2020 to 6.9% in January 2021. During the same period, the market share of PHEVs Plug has grown from 3.2% to 6.8%.


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Both types of vehicle have taken sales off petrol and diesel powered cars, whose market share has decreased by 7% and 11% respectively. Sales of HEVs that combine a conventional engine with an electric propulsion system have also increased.


While the numbers are still relatively low, there is no doubt that the electric vehicle is starting to grow in popularity, as more people listen to scientists' warnings about how we are endangering the future of our planet.


While the goal of saving the planet is an important one, in the past, the price of an electric vehicle deterred many motorists from purchasing one. There were also concerns there weren't enough charging points available, as drivers feared being left stranded if they couldn't charge up their electric battery.


Now, drivers are being spurred on by increasing affordability, more charging points across the UK, incentives to scrap petrol and diesel-powered cars, city centre pollution charges and government grants.



When was the first electric car invented?

The first electric car was created more than a century ago, as the result of work by a number of early innovators. Hungarian engineer Anyos Jedlik invented the electric motor and French physicist Gaston Plane invented rechargeable lead-acid batteries.


Unfortunately, Jedlik didn't have any idea how to further develop his invention for a useful purpose. He reportedly used it to propel a model locomotive for fun. Then, English electrical engineer and inventor Thomas Parker combined the electric motor and battery to create the first electric car in London in 1884.


While the invention didn't take off massively in the UK, the first electric carriages were driven by New York taxi drivers in 1897. Historians estimate one-third of cars in the US in 1900 were electric. However, they were more suitable for city dwellers, as they wouldn't go any faster than 20 mph.


In England, a small number of Hummingbird electric taxis, with a maximum speed of 12mph, operated on the streets of London from 1897 - designed by electrical engineer Walter Bersey and built by the Great Horseless Carriage Company. Speed didn't matter, as a law called the Red Flag Act required a man carrying a red flag to walk in front of any vehicle that wasn't horse-drawn to warn passers-by!


Despite the drawbacks, Bersey recognised the potential of electric vehicles. He described how there was "no apparent limit to the hopes and expectations" of electric-powered vehicles. He described it as a "natural power" that would be the most "effective of all man's assets". Despite Bersey's premonition, his taxis disappeared off the roads after just two years.



Porsche ahead of its time

In 1898, Ferdinand Porsche designed and launched the Egger-Lohner C2 Phaeton, powered by an electric motor, with a top speed of around 15 mph. In 1899, Porsche jointly developed the electric wheel hub motor with the Viennese carriage-maker, Hofwagenfabrik Ludwig Lohner & Co.


The first Lohner-Porsche Electromobile was exhibited at the 1900 Paris Expo. Lohner's reason for manufacturing a car with an electric motor sounded remarkably modern, as he said the air was being "ruthlessly spoiled by the large number of petrol engines" at the time.


Porsche designed the Semper Vivus (the first hybrid car in history) later in 1900, using technology known as the Lohner-Porsche system. The manufacturer extended the vehicle's range by using a combustion engine to drive a generator that supplied the wheel hub with electrical energy.


In 1901, a production-ready version of the car was launched, known as the Lohner-Porsche Mixte. Sadly, the car had only a modest power output, but weighed a massive two tonnes. Its failure to catch on meant an end of electric car production for some time.


It was to be more than 100 years before the idea was finally resurrected, thanks to the development of lithium-ion batteries for vehicles and stricter legal requirements for carbon dioxide emissions. This paved the way for electric vehicles for the second time.


With the spotlight again on electric drive systems, Porsche launched the Cayenne S Hybrid in 2010, followed by the Panamera S Hybrid, the first full hybrid in the luxury car class, in 2011. It became the most economical Porsche to date. Later in 2011, Porsche tested three Boxster E all-electric models.


Today, the technology has advanced further to produce the Turbo S E-Hybrid (the third-generation plug-in hybrid drive) used in the top versions of the Cayenne and Panamera. Both models combine maximum efficiency with exceptional performance, thanks to their four-litre V8 engine.



What other marques produce electric cars?

It's no surprise that a luxury brand like BMW has a range of electric vehicles, equipped with its state-of-the-art eDrive technology. It has launched models such as the all-electric BMW i3, which goes from zero to 62mph in 7.2 seconds and features 170 hp.


The manufacturer has also supported the creation of a wide UK network of charging facilities, in line with the growing demand for electric cars. They include public charging stations that are easy to use and convenient home charging solutions.


BMW's eMobility service (BMW Charging) has helped to provide more than 10,000 partner charging stations UK-wide. In addition, BMWi drivers can charge their car at home, thanks to the BP Pulse wallbox. All new BMWi models come with two charging cables as standard.


Luxury brand Mercedes-Benz also has a range of electric cars, including the EQA, with a range of more than 260 miles and a rapid charge time of 30 minutes. "Coming soon" is its latest models, the seven-seat EQB and the EQS, with the latest MBUX Hyperscreen.


In February this year, Jaguar Land Rover announced it planned to launch six new electric vehicles over the next five years. However, its all-electric Jaguar XJ project has been scrapped. Its first all-electric model is planned for 2024 and it intends to sell 60% of its cars in electric form by the 2030s.


In 2020, when supercar manufacturer Lamborghini announced its first open-top hybrid, the Sian Roadster super sports car, it officially sold out almost immediately. With a price tag of £2.1 million each, the cars will be released this year.


Audi has launched its own e-Tron range of fully electric cars, including the e-Tron GT Quattro and RS e-Tron GT - the latest additions to the electric Audi Sport range. The e-Tron GT Quattro has a range of up to 298 miles and is one of the manufacturer's most sophisticated cars to date.


Bentley has announced its debut electric vehicle will be released in 2025, spearheading a series of innovative new models that will expand its range into a new market. The Crewe-based manufacturer (owned by the Volkswagen Group) has made a bold pledge to offer only BEVs from 2030 onwards.



Are electric cars truly green?

The Energy Saving Trust says that when the electric car is on the road, there are no exhaust emissions, significantly reducing pollution in the air.


However, the European Environment Agency suggests the production processes for BEVs cause more emissions than those resulting from the manufacture of traditional combustion engines. It claims carbon dioxide emissions from electric car production are 59% higher, attributed to the battery manufacturing processes.


The EEA has called for the process to be amended to make better use of renewable energy sources. Once the electric vehicle is on the road, most if its emissions have already been produced, compared with combustion engines, with continual exhaust emissions.


It has been suggested that generating electricity through wind power alone to manufacture the batteries would result in emissions during the production phase dropping by half.


Improved energy production methods, combined with more advanced battery technology, would lead to electric cars becoming greener over time, significantly reducing their environmental impact in the future.