Electric cars wait in the wings

Last updated 11:55 17/09/2008
WARWICK SMITH/Manawatu Standard
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME: Dr Mike Duke outlined the future of the new-look electric car in Palmerston North last night.

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New Zealand and the rest of the world have been living in a 100-year oil "blip" that is about to end, said Mike Duke, speaking in Palmerston North last night as part of the 2008 Pickering Lecture series.

While predictions had been made that the oil age would be over by the end of the century, he said it would come much sooner than that.

In his lecture to nearly 100 people at Te Manawa he outlined the development of a new wave of electric car variants which he believes will help end oil's hold on society.

"We will be facing serious changes in the future and we have to look now at how we are going to overcome them," he said.

The scale of the change would be huge. Today there were 2.3 million licenced cars in New Zealand driven by 2.6 million people.

Drivers clocked up an average of 12,000km a year and their vehicles consumed 3000 million litres of petrol and diesel.

He said the change to electric would be brought about by a mix of vehicle types, with the main part of the load being borne by single- seaters as 68 percent of journeys today were "driver-only".

Dr Duke believes New Zealand could play a leading role in the switch to electric cars.

He is the man behind the prototype UltraCommuter electric car that raced in the Darwin to Adelaide World Solar Challenge recently. Dr Duke is spreading the word through a free national public lecture series, organised by the Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand.

"With the price of petrol skyrocketing and issues over carbon emissions, car makers are increasing their efforts to mass produce electric cars for consumers with expectations that EVs [Electric Vehicles] could be available commercially as early as 2010," he said.

"The UltraCommuter electric car that we designed and developed at Waikato University defies all weaknesses previously associated with electric vehicles. It is capable of running on battery for up to 200km before it requires recharging and reaches speeds between 120kmh and 170kmh."

In the future, gas stations will become a thing of the past, he said, and would be replaced by battery charging or exchange stations.

"You won't have to get out of your car. Your battery will be automatically taken out and replaced - it's all possible with technology we have today."

Discussions are under way between the Waikato University electric vehicle project and British car makers with the view to establishing a Britain, Australia and New Zealand consortium that may manufacture electric vehicles in New Zealand.

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"It is looking promising," he said.

"The idea has been developed without government funding so far. Entrepreneur and engineer Ian Macrae, who funded the UltraCommuter car, is behind this initiative."

While Dr Duke said government support would be helpful, he thought New Zealand's sole reliance on technologies developed by big car manufacturers was a mistake.

- Manawatu Standard

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