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Published on September 28th, 2012 | by Ellen R Delisio

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Electric Cars update

While the expansion of electric car use remains hampered by three major obstacles—a high purchase price, a short battery life and limited charging stations – advocates continue to work on improving the models they have and incentives to purchase them.

Opel, which imports cars to Sweden, is addressing the battery life issue with an extended-range propulsion system in its Ampera E-REV model. A lithium-ion battery powers the car for the first 40-80 kilometers – enough to cover most European drivers’ daily commutes, according to Thomas Forslund, who is Opel Sweden’s key account manager and electric car expert.

“When the battery runs low, the range extender kicks in,” Forslund continued. “This gasoline-powered generator supplies electricity for another 500 kilometers. Electricity is used to drive the wheels at all times and speeds.”

DEVELOPING NEW TECHNOLOGIES
The company is committed to increasing its share of the electric vehicle market. “Electricity plays a key role in Opel’s strategy on the road to independence from fossil fuels,” Forslund said. “The electric car is one of the best long-term solutions to the energy and environmental challenges that face society. Already today we have an outstanding product with a unique technology. We will continue to push for this vehicle and of course, work on research and development of other vehicles and technologies.”

In terms of other sustainability efforts, Opel also is downsizing its internal combustion engines so they consume less fuel and is in the forefront of fuel cell vehicle development. “We have been testing fuel cell vehicles in real life conditions since 2005,” added Forslund.
Besides expanding the infrastructure, incentives for customers and companies are needed to boost electric vehicle sales, noted Forslund.

LIGHTWEIGHT SOLUTIONS
But not everyone agrees that electric cars are the best long-term solution for more environmentally-friendly transportation. “When it comes to energy-efficient vehicles, we don’t have the market for electric vehicles because of the range issues,” said Håkan Lutz, ceo at Swedish company Vehiconomics, which created the Smite, a lightweight, three-wheeled city vehicle. “The environmental gains are very small, and the cars are costly.”

The Smite weighs about 200 kilograms and is designed to meet the needs of urban commuters. Electric and combustion engine prototypes were equally efficient, according to Lutz. But while consumer interest is high, Lutz has been unable to secure capital to put the car in production.

“Technologically, the Smite turned out to be everything we wanted it to be; very safe, very lean and it works well,” Lutz said. “Technologically it is a success, and market-wise it is a success. But so far we’ve failed in getting the capital needed. Right now it is uncertain if it will survive.”


Smite, a light weight three-wheeled city vehicle.

NORWEGIAN INCENTIVES
Norway has embraced incentives for electric cars and they are paying off – the country has one of the highest rates of electric car use in the world. About 7,000 of the 2 million cars in Norway are electric vehicles, and the number soon may be growing. This month the Norwegian Parliament extended an incentive for another five years that will allow consumers to buy electric cars tax-free. Owners of electric vehicles also have access to bus lanes, free parking in prime areas of cities and pay no tolls or vat or import duty. While the cars may be more expensive to buy, the incentives make them cheaper to operate, said Snorre Sletvold of the Norwegian Electric Vehicles Association (norstart).

While Norwegians like electric cars, the country has had limited success producing its own models. Production of the Think electric vehicle has stalled because the company lacks funds for full-scale production, even though customers are eager to buy them.  That leaves a small city car called the Buddy, but it may not be built on Norwegian soil much longer.

“It is probably only a matter of time before production is closed down or moved to countries with lower production costs,” noted Sletvold.

According to Jan-Petter Skram, founder at Buddy Electric AS, the company is manufacturing the Buddy vehicles in Oslo but are seeking partners for license production elsewhere in Europe and Asia, in order to meet future demand for this type of area-efficient electric vehicles.

The country is committed to building more charging stations that will allow owners to recharge electric cars more quickly, Sletvold said. The government is hoping to have 50,000 electric cars on the road by 2017, he added. “The goal is an electric car that can be recharged at night with cheap electricity and renewable energy.”


Opel’s Ampera E-REV model.


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