The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is getting a lot of press lately as the first mass-produced all-electric car to go on sale in Australia, so I thought I’d throw my 2c in. It’s an interesting development, and maybe marks the start of electric vehicles becoming a viable option for the mainstream.
Right now it’s certainly not a cheap option, though – the i-MiEV is currently only available as a $1740/month 3-year lease, giving it an effective cost of over $70,000! A conventional petrol car of similar size and standard would be around the $15,000 mark.
My guess is that the price reflects the scarcity of the cars at the moment. There are only 110 being made available in Australia this year, and it sounds like production numbers are limited by the supply of suitable batteries. As manufacturing picks up in the next couple of years, I’m sure we’ll see the price drop dramatically. This is always the way with new technology.
The key stats of the i-MiEV are:
- 47 kW electric motor
- 180 Nm of torque
- 16 kWh / 330 V Lithium Ion battery
- 140-160 km range
- 130 km/h top speed (speed limited)
- 1080 kg weight
- 15 Amp trickle charge in 7 hrs (standard household outlet)
- Fast charge to 80% in 30 min (special 3 phase 200 V 50 kW outlet, not yet available)
Assuming electricity costs around 20c/kWh, you’d be looking at 0.2 x 16 = $3.20 to charge from empty. That would drive you 140-160 km. Another way to look at it is that’s about 11.42 kWh and $2.30 per 100 km (assuming 140 km range). Even a very efficient small car using 5 L of petrol per 100 km is costing about $6 per 100 km, assuming petrol prices of $1.20/L.
The maintenance costs for an electric vehicle will be much lower as well. There are no fuel/oil/air filters to replace, no oil to change, and no spark plugs and cables to replace. The transmission is much simpler, there’s no radiator and cooling system, there are less fan/drive belts, no fuel or oil pumps, and no starter motor or ignition system. In fact electric vehicles may may not be popular with dealers at all, since they’ll no longer be able to make such big profits from the maintenance and servicing side of their business.
OK, so the running costs should be much lower than for a conventional car. But what about the environmental effects? What if people just use coal-fired electricity to recharge their cars?
The worst figures in Australia for CO2 emissions per kWh of electricity generated come from Victoria’s brown coal power stations. These results in emissions of 1.25-1.56 kg CO2/kWh (source). Given the figure of 11.42 kWh/100 km above and assuming the worst brown coal emission figure, that’d be causing emissions of 17.8 kg CO2 per 100 km travelled. Converted to grams per km (the usual units used to measure emissions), we’re looking at 178 g CO2 per km travelled. In 2008, the average emission figures for new light vehicles (i.e. equivalent to the i-MiEV) was 222.4 g CO2 per km (source).
So in the worst case (burning Victorian brown coal electricity), driving the i-MiEV is still 20% cleaner than an equivalent new internal combustion car. That figure actually surprises me – I thought it’d be much worse. Of course, if you charged it with green power those emissions would drop to next to nothing!
All these numbers are impressive, but in economic terms they don’t currently make up for the very high purchase cost of an i-MiEV. Buying an equivalent petrol car for $50,000 less would leave you with a lot of money to buy petrol and carbon credits!
It’ll be interesting to see how the electric vehicle market develops over the next few years. As volumes increase and prices drop they’ll become more economically viable, and we could see a lot more of them on the road. Rising petrol prices would see us reach that point even sooner.
The one big issue that concerns me is how we’re going to generate all the extra electricity these cars will demand if they take off. We’re already pushing the limits on our electricity grid’s ageing infrastructure, and I’d hate to see increased demand result in more coal-fired power stations being built. And let’s not even mention the nuclear option!
What do you think? What’s the future of electric vehicles in Australia?