Future of electric car far from clear

Last updated 00:34 18/09/2008

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Mechanical engineer Mike Duke lives in a tricky world.

Will the future's roads be dominated by electric cars?

Tricky question.

Have we reached peak oil production?

Tricky to answer.

Will the electric car he has helped develop at Waikato University be on the market any time soon?

That is a tricky one, too.

Dr Duke is the man behind the prototype UltraCommuter electric car capable of reaching speeds of up to 170km/h and covering 200km between charges.

He was in New Plymouth last night spreading the word about electric cars and their potential.

Before the talk he described to the Taranaki Daily News just how fuzzy the automotive future was.

"We are in a transition period but no one really knows what is going to happen. The costs of buying an electric car still makes it cheaper to run a petrol-driven car but that may not be the case for long," said the transplanted Londoner.

Or it may be.

By his own admission, the present interest in electric cars is the sixth or seventh time they have been seriously looked at.

All other times it has come to nothing but this time may be different.

"Currently we have the technology to build cars that will deal with 95 per cent of the trips people make. That means the short trips around town or to and from work. Will people be interested in a car like that? It's hard to say. People are very set in their ways about what a car is."

The doctor said by his calculations New Zealand could run a fleet of one million large battery-powered cars and two million smaller ones using 10 per cent of the country's present electricity generation.

He believed such a scenario was far enough into the future to ensure countries could ensure the capacity was there.

Then again, they might not need to.

Conventional car manufacturing technologies are also improving and petrol is also on the way down from a peak of $2.19 a litre in July.

This could slow the uptake of electric cars.

"What we are finding is that conventional car manufacturers are incorporating many of the innovations we are making, like lighter chassis, better aerodynamics and other efficiencies so that while your average car in New Zealand might use nine litres of fuel to travel 100km, modern petrol cars could be able to do that with four litres or less."

 

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- Taranaki Daily News

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