In British Columbia 10 per cent of new vehicles purchased are now electric vehicles. A milestone reached earlier than expected.
This includes BEVs (battery-electric vehicles) and plug-in hybrid vehicles. A BEV has only an electric motor or motors to propel it. A plug-in hybrid will power itself solely with an electric motor but it does have an additional ICE (Internal Combustion Engine (diesel or gasoline)) for extending its range when needed.
Where BEVs have large battery packs so they can travel 300-to-500 kilometres on a charge, a typical plug-in hybrid may go 80 kms on a fully charged battery. Switch over to ICE operation and the plug-in hybrid driving range will likely equal that of a typical ICE.
Purchase of these vehicles in B.C. is currently subsidized significantly. The rebate on an electric vehicle in British Columbia can be as high as $8000. A plug-in hybrid is typically less. There is both federal and provincial money involved. Yes, we are all paying for these vehicles.
These vehicles are significantly more expensive to build. The propulsion-system cost of a typical long range electric vehicle (battery, electric motor, and transmission) is around $16000 compared to $6500 for a conventional internal combustion powertrain. Studies show that the gap in price will close 10 per cent annually. Given this assumption it will be many years before electric vehicles cost the same as gas/diesel vehicles.
There are theoretical cost savings with electric vehicles ownership. The current most prevalent savings is fuel. There is also a lot of inference that maintenance costs will be less. I am quite sure the maintenance costs of a plug-in hybrid will be equal to or more than a conventional ICE vehicle. As far as a battery-electric vehicle is concerned if there is any savings it will not offset the extra cost of the vehicle.
I have read a lot of articles that suggest there is little-to-no maintenance being required for battery-electric vehicles. Many conclude since there is no gasoline engine there is nothing to maintain; you know oil changes, spark plugs air filters, fuel filters, antifreeze etc.
Believe me vehicle maintenance is more than just engine maintenance. BEVs have brakes, tires steering and suspension just like any other vehicle. These parts wear out. An electric vehicle has a heating cooling and air conditioning system not only to keep the occupants comfortable but also to keep that big battery and electric motor at the optimal temperature.
The modern internal combustion engine is incredibly reliable and requires very little maintenance. Keep it supplied with clean oil and clean fuel and it will provide yeoman service.
I suspect the same will be true for an electric powertrain. There will probably be a lot written on caring for that big battery and electric motor.
When the population of electric vehicles is large enough and old enough that they frequently grace my garage doors I suspect the cost of owning one will be very similar to that of the ICE vehicles I am servicing and I will still have an interesting and challenging continuing career.
I will still be having fun fixing cars.
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org