In 2020, is an electric car on our roads still a far flung idea? Has it become an easy decision or does it still remain in the realm of EV devotees?
Let’s say you’ve made the mental decision and are about to take the plunge and buy a fully electric vehicle. Not a hybrid, not a PHEV, but one powered entirely by its inboard batteries. You’ve gotten all hyped about the apparent revolution from combustion engines to silent, zero emissions cars. That, or it was a move to purely sate your curiosity? We get it, you enjoy being an early adopter.
Congratulations, we admire your intrepid spirit. And it doesn’t even mean you need an imported Tesla to join the club, either. Even the windowless Renault Twizy guarantees a legit membership, and is possibly the coolest EV ever to be launched in Malaysia. That said, there’s also a Renault Zoe, two generations of the Nissan Leaf, and the incoming MINI Cooper SE to choose from.
Now that you’re (almost) part of the EV clan, you must also be well aware that, while the technology is progressing at a steady pace, a lot of the car’s limitations aren’t necessarily its own fault, but dictated by where you are and how you intend to use the car. We don’t want to deter you from going down this path, but we do want to give you a lay of the land.
Charging & Range
For us using gas guzzlers, any given petrol station is never very far away, especially if you keep within the orbit of more built up areas such as cities or even small towns. However, with most cars being able to go between 300 and 500 kilometres on an average full tank, we’re never too worried about running on empty and being left stranded.
EVs are definitely more limited in this regard, which makes them most ideal for more routine journeys such as commutes to work, rarely straying too far from either a charging station or your home base. Your drives, in general, will tend to require a little more planning ahead of time, too, since charging duration can vary quite dramatically depending on where you plug in.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) are quite a common sight on our roads now, especially within the Klang Valley, so there are more than a few publicly accessible charging stations spread around high traffic areas such as shopping malls and office parks.
Many of them are erected in partnership with GreenTech Malaysia’s chargeEV network (requires sign-up) and are typically sponsored by a specific automaker known for peddling PHEVs such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, or BMW using industry standard Type 2 CCS or CHAdeMO connectors, so don’t be turned away when seeing a logo that doesn’t match that of your car.
Charge time depends on the (1) car’s battery capacity, primarily, but also on (2) how much current the charging station can pump out as well as (3) rate at which your car is able to accept it. Also consider that your fully electric car probably has between 5 to 10 times the battery capacity of the average PHEV, so you’ll be there waiting (or hogging the charging bay) for a lot longer.
Getting your EV juiced up from your 240V plug point at home is also possible, but get ready for an even longer wait unless you’ve already gotten a wallbox installed, which is able to passively store energy while you’re away for quick(er) release into the car’s lithium ion reserves. Don’t expect miracles, though, as these wallboxes are still rated at a 4 to 7kW output.
Currently, the chargeEV network in Malaysia boasts of over 300 charging stations nationwide but the overwhelming majority of that is concentrated along the western side of Peninsula Malaysia. A reliable network of fast charging stations offering a 40-50kW DC output is quite a ways off, but a handful are already being set up. This would allow the Renault Zoe, for example, to reach 80% capacity in just 15 minutes.
Electric cars, by and large, are way more reliable than a conventional car by simple virtue of having much fewer moving parts. With combustion engines, there are all kinds of noises happening, explosions going off, viscous oils sloshing around, gears mashing together - it’s nasty business.
In comparison, an EV's essential components are its batteries (battery controller, arguably), and the electric motor(s) - the latter being the primary moving part, along with the axle, reduction gear, and wheels they’re connected to.
That might sound like an ace in the hole for EVs, and in a lot of ways it is. However, if something goes wrong with one of those mainline parts, a bill of epic proportions could be coming your way if not covered by warranty. Most of all, be aware of battery degradation, as that's a true silent threat.
We’ve all experienced it. The lithium ion battery in your smartphone, for example, loses noticable charge just after a couple of years of normal use (or sooner), and even that could cost a pretty penny to have replaced. Just imagine what would happen if something went wrong with the 40kWh bank of cells in a Nissan Leaf, for example, and you’re outside that warranty window.
There are many factors linked to batteries losing their ability to hold as much charge over time, and the specific use cases of smartphones does lead to an accelerated deterioration. That said, variables such as temperature and charging speed also apply to electric cars since we both demand quicker charge times and insist on living in countries with very warm and humid weather where even a fancy liquid cooling system would struggle against.
The fact that EV batteries degrade at all is a huge cause for concern, personally speaking, so much so because they're such a central part of an electric car, and it speaks to how desperately the world is for a breakthrough in this field. If BEVs ever hope to reach a tipping point for mass adoption, it can’t do so on today’s batteries.
Sincerely, we hope that resale value isn’t something you lose sleep over, because you’re definitely not going to come out on top if you want to jump from EV to EV. Unless you own a collector model or a classic, there’s really isn’t any car that is ‘profitable’.
It’s not because electric cars are a bad used purchase, necessarily, but keep in mind the market is a little tepid about new EVs in general, that makes selling one used no mean feat. It would take a very specific type of buyer; one who knows exactly what they want, is familiar with the car in question, and knows what to pay for it. As you might imagine, they don’t come around very often.
Despite being mass produced, the rarity of EVs as a category on our roads works to its detriment, as there would likely leave you with fewer options post purchase. For example, a normal mechanic wouldn’t even dare try to work on it as the much higher voltage that courses through its system could be fatal if tampered with incorrectly. And because demand is relatively low, the market will err to lowballing an offer.
Go Ahead Anyway
Of course there are pros and cons to every car purchase. There are just different set of them when it comes to EVs, so it still will come down to your individual situation whether or not to pull the trigger.
You will certainly get a motoring experience unlike any combustion-powered car you’ve ever driven. We’ve also heard of people getting a little tingle of satisfaction by knowing you’re not burning any fuel as you drive down the road - whatever floats your boat, buddy. Also, if only for the sake of convenience on your part, we hope the EV isn’t your sole vehicle.
Alright, so to answer the question if I could live with an EV?
Not right now.
Could you live with an EV?
If you wanted to, maybe.
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