Science – Affordable electric vehicles

The growing demand for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) is driven primarily by the need to address the looming threat of climate warming caused by fossil fuel emissions and the rise in the cost of petrol fuel. However, BEVs, even with Government rebates, have been viewed by many in the NZ population as being too expensive for most families. That reasonable perception may be about to change. A new generation of much cheaper BEVs is likely to encourage more in the NZ community to reconsider BEVs as an affordable family proposition.

These latest developments are to be expected, given that electric vehicles are intrinsically simpler and have 100 times fewer moving parts than internal combustion vehicles. Hence, they last longer and have much lower maintenance costs. The high initial cost of BEVs was significantly due to the cost of development of the EV batteries and as this investment has paid off, the BEV cost itself has declined, including for the more expensive brands.

Over the past few years, we have seen the growth in the number of BEVs on New Zealand roads. This growing per capita trend with BEVs is even more advanced in Norway, Iceland, Sweden, California and Europe. The leading countries in terms of number of BEVs manufactured between 2018 and 2023 are China (13,000,000), Germany (4.4 million), USA (4.1 million) and Japan (1.5 million). China alone has hundreds of companies manufacturing BEVs. Aside from passenger BEVs, China is also leading the USA and Europe in the development of electric trucks, and this expected to continue through to 2030.

Of the largest Chinese companies, only BYD, Geely and Nio are sufficiently advanced at this stage to engage with the major USA, Korean and European brands. The latest partnership of Tesla (USA) and BYD (China) around new BYD blade battery technology is an icebreaker for the global sector. BYD has also had local success with the Atto 3 model, which was awarded New Zealand’s top Motoring Writers Car of the Year last year. In addition, BYD is also producing a new platform with models Ocean, Seagull, Dolphin and Seal featuring an 800-volt architecture. The BYD Seagull hatchback has been launched with a starting price in China of US$10,659, which attracted 10,000 orders in the first 24 hours. It is being described as the 2023 equivalent of the T Model Ford breakthrough in 1908. The automotive world is also poised waiting for the next move by the other leading China company, Geely, which already owns several famous brands including Volvo, Polestar, Lotus and others. On the high-performance end of the market, Yangwang has produced an electric supercar, the U9, which claims a two second time from zero to 100km/hr. India is also a rising power in electric vehicles and there are currently 10 electric cars on sale in India, with the BMW i7 being the most expensive and the MG Comet EV (range 230kms) being the cheapest at US$9760.

It is apparent that the highest emitting countries are accelerating into a new age of inexpensive non-carbon EV transportation. This will not entirely solve the climate crisis, but it is likely to play a very valuable and substantial role. Let us all hope that New Zealand will enthusiastically join in this switch to greener and cheaper car travel.