Why haven't EVs taken off in Europe? And some advice for help

When I run the usual calculations, I can easily see that EVs are just not economical in the USA due to cheap gasoline. With gas at less than $3 per gallon, EVs just cannot compete due to the high upfront battery prices.

However, if one runs the calculations at $6 or $7 per gallon, things change heavily. If a car travels 11,000 miles per year (about a 40 mile commute per day plus some weekend driving), gets 25 miles per gallon, and pays $6.50 per gallon then it will cost (11000/25)*6.5 = $2860 per year in gasoline costs to drive the car. If you subtract some $310 to pay for the electricity, that is about $2550 per year is fuel savings. There will be even more savings due to lack of oil changes and maintenance of an engine filled with moving parts and other liquids but I’ll ignore that since it is difficult to quantify.

$2550 per year is a very significant savings amount. In 5 years, that would be $12750 . . . that could be enough to cover the cost difference between an EV and a gas car if the EV. It would certainly be enough if the government threw in a several thousand dollar tax credit.

Thus, it would seem that EVs should become acceptable in Europe. But they haven’t. Why?

So, I’ve come up with some theories . . .

  1. Consumer acceptance. They are unfamiliar with EVs. Or people just don’t want the limited ranges and long charge times. well, the former can be remedied with education. And the latter can be remedied with PHEVs like the Chevy Volt.

  2. The EVs are just not available yet. Except for a few expensive EVs like the Tesla, EVs have just not been available. The Gee Whiz has garnered some sales in the UK due to the congestion charge. Perhaps when the Think City becomes available again, the Leaf is introduced, and the iMiev become available those cars will sell. Or, if the limited ranges and long charge times are an issue, the eventual European version of the Chevy Volt (the Opel Ampera?) will sell.

  3. The comparison is just not apt since the Europeans already drive very efficient small cars. High gas prices have caused very efficient cars to be the norm in Europe such that the 25 mpg example in my calculation above is just not proper. European cars often get mileage in the 30 to 40 mpg range.

  4. The high cost of electricity in Europe also tilts the above equation. Europeans pay way more than the average $0.11 per kilowatt hour in the USA. Thus, the equation does not yield such a large advantage for EVs.

  5. Europeans just don’t drive nearly as much. They do not commute 40 miles per day. They have shorter or no commutes. They use public transport or live close enough to walk or ride a bike.

I guess a combo of all the above has been the issue. Some of the issues can easily be address. Consumer education will be easy. Some more government incentives would be good. But a big thing I’d recommend is a significant rebate or time-of-use metering from electric utilities to EV owners. Electric utilities LOVE EVs. They mostly use power during the middle of the night when utilities have huge amounts of excess capacity. Thus, EVs help electric utilities operate more efficiently. And Europe has moved heavily into wind and solar power. Both of those utilities suffer the problem of being intermittent . . . they only provide power when the wind blows and the sun shines. And electric power is generally a ‘Use it or lose it’ commodity . . . you need to user the power when generated or else it just goes to waste since it cannot be stored. But storing electricity is exactly what EVs do. Thus, EVs will greatly help with the usage of wind and solar. I believe Denmark, one of the European nations with the highest deployment of wind turbines, has moved forward with very significant incentives to EV buyers.

Electric cars are starting to become available in Europe, but you’ll only see them in specific niches: London, for instance, has over 1,500 electric cars and light vans on the road. Paris has a fair smattering of electric cars, as do some cities in Italy.

The G-Wiz has started a silent revolution in London with over 1,000 of them now on the roads. That is still small numbers, but when you consider the sort of vehicle the G-Wiz is, it is probably the best you could expect. What it has done, however, is lay the foundation for the future acceptance of electric vehicles in the capital city: millions of people around London see G-Wiz’s every day. They have proof that electric cars can be a practical, day-to-day vehicle that can be used by every day, normal people. Thanks to the success of the G-Wiz, hundreds of charging points are now in place around the city, with tens of thousands planned for the next few years.

Reva, the manufacturers of the G-Wiz, release their next model later on this year. I’ve already driven it and it is a very good vehicle. It’s the size of the original Mini, it performs well, it handles well, it looks good and the build quality is good. Most importantly, it is competitively priced: a base model will cost a similar amount to a similarly specified Ford Ka or a Fiat 500.

I am currently testing a Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car in Coventry in the United Kingdom as part of a long term trial. The iMiEV will be released to the general public during 2010 and the current trial cars are very good indeed.

Once cars like the Reva NXR and the Mitsubishi iMiEV become readily available, you’re well on the way to see a big uptake in the acceptance of electric cars.

The missing link in the chain is education. People need to understand what electric cars are like to own and live with on a day by day basis. It is for this reason I have written a book on the subject which is being published this month. Web forums like this have a part to play as well in helping people who are interested in electric cars.

I’m not expecting a huge explosion in the uptake of electric cars. Instead, I see it more of a ‘slowly slowly’ approach with sales growing steadily every year. This time next year, we’ll probably only be seeing a further 10,000 electric cars put on the road across Europe and the US, possibly rising to 40,000 in 2011 and 100,000 in 2012. Small numbers by the standards of the motor industry - to put that into context, there are 33,000,000 cars on the roads in the UK and 250,000,000 in the United States - but it is going to be part of an unstoppable momentum.

Incidentally, here is a link to an article I wrote recently about the impact the G-Wiz has had in London, and what the repercussions of that are for the future of electric vehicles across Europe: G-Wiz - the little car that started a revolution

Here’s another angle…lol


Don’t believe everything you see presented by Jeremy Clarkson. I was on set for another of the Top Gear stunts using a G-Wiz and met the people who set up the stunt. They explained to me how they had done it.

The G-Wiz that was used to crash into the table had its chassis cut in order to make it crumple. The ‘table’ was 1 inch thick iron plate bolted to the ground with three foot long steel brackets, then veneered to look like a pine table. After the crash, the G-Wiz was repaired using the existing chassis and body panels.

The guy who was responsible for making the G-Wiz crash look so bad told me he was impressed on how strong the chassis was.

Top Gear is comedy, plain and simple.
The real roadblock to EVs in Europe is infrastructure. Most homes do not have any means of plugging a car in other than throwing an extension cord out the window, and that’s really not practical if you live on the second or third floor (or first floor in GB).
I’m sure once GB is done finding stuff they can outlaw over fears of violence, they will manage to find the time to create and assigned parking space for every car complete with a high capacity plug in. Power grid stress and expense be damned!