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Electric Vehicles at tipping point

If Hawke’s Bay is to lift its reputation from being the region with the third lowest uptake of electric vehicles, some serious myth busting will be needed around battery capacity, charging infrastructure, performance and availability.

Keith Newman29 May 2017

Despite exponential growth in global sales and the promise of 44 new models being released in New Zealand over the next three years, electric vehicles (EVs) are almost invisible in Hawke’s Bay.
While buying new remains prohibitive for many buyers, entry level is nowhere near as challenging as it was a couple of years back, with short range EVs selling on TradeMe for as low as $10,000 and about 300 Nissan Leafs for around $20,000.

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There are currently more than 3,000 EV registrations, although those numbers are skewed by nearly 300 Norwegian-made Loyds Paxsters delivery vehicles put on the road by NZ Post between June and December 2016.

The NZ Transport Authority (NZTA), says new plug-in hybrids dominated light EV registrations when they fi rst came to market early in 2014, but used battery electrics are now the biggest sellers.

While 517 EVs were registered in the fi rst three months of 2017, suggesting a blip toward mainstream acceptance, a quick scan of Hawke’s Bay car yards might have you believing otherwise.

According to NZTA, Hawke’s Bay has the third lowest adoption across all regions, with hybrids comprising over 50% of the meagre 26 or so vehicles registered as at February 2017.

Tom Belford, chairman of Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s EV Workgroup is confi dent EVs are heading into prime time but wants an awareness boost with his council taking an advocacy role with local authorities and fl eet purchasers, electricity and charge station providers, car dealers and other stakeholders.

He says the EV proposition needs to be made clearer, and is concerned few if any are in the showrooms, with little opportunity for drivers “to get behind the wheel and satisfy themselves that it’s not a toy”.

The EV Workgroup wants to ensure there’s an adequate region-wide network of charging stations and is proposing an HBRC-hosted web portal of resources, including availability and lifetime cost of ownership comparisons.

“We have a mandate to address energy issues and have begun to take a leadership role convening all the players who need be involved,” says Belford.

Because there are fewer moving parts, maintenance costs are lower; there’s no clutch or gears, no spark plugs or need for engine oil. They accelerate quickly and smoothly and climb hills easier than petrol cars and use no energy when standing still. 

Multiplying effect

Steven Greenwood, used vehicle sales manager with Central Motors Group in Taupo, is convinced the market for EVs is “going to be huge” and likely to comprise half the cars on its yard within two years.

In February, the company, one of the nation’s four main EV resellers, sold 18 EVs and 15 petrol cars, 90% outside Taupo including Hawke’s Bay buyers; in March most of its 25 EVs on TradeMe sold before arriving in the country.

“Six months ago people had no idea EVs were a viable option ….There’s a multiplying e ect — once people see them around it becomes normalised,” says Greenwood. While Transport Minister Simon Bridges boasts we’re “exceeding all targets” with 1,513 EVs registered in 2016 compared to Australia’s 220, there’s still a long way to go to achieve the goal of doubling year on year to 64,000 EV registrations by the end of 2021.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has taken the challenge seriously. Low range EVs suited for 70% of daily trips must be evaluated for all purchases with management approval needed to buy petrol vehicles.

It’s purchased four EVs among its fl eet of 150 cars and vans with more on the way as leases expire or petrol vehicles are moved on.

A survey of territorial local authorities (TLAs) in June 2016 showed there were 4,000 vehicles on the books but only 20 were EVs or plug-in hybrids, with little appetite for change. Since the launch of Greater Wellington’s new strategy and business case, 19 councils are now considering EVs for their fleet.

Proposition shifting

Wellington EV consultant Sigurd Magnusson, who helped develop the strategy, says payback on investment already stacks up, although over the next decade as production volumes increase it’ll become cheaper still to build electric cars than fuel cars.

On average New Zealand drivers travel 28 kilometres per day or within a 125 kilometre range. “Assuming you commute 40 kilometres a day, you would probably need about 8 units of electricity (kWh) to recharge, which at a low overnight rate of 11 cents per kWh would be 88 cents a day.”

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency (EECA) calculates; with the cost equivalent of 30 cents a litre or seven times cheaper than petrol, EVs o er an average saving of “a few thousand dollars a year”.

Magnusson lays out the case for EVs. Because there are fewer moving parts, maintenance costs are lower; there’s no clutch or gears, no spark plugs or need for engine oil. They accelerate quickly and smoothly and climb hills easier than petrol cars and use no energy when standing still.

Regular hard acceleration, driving over hilly terrain, constant high speeds, use of air conditioning or heaters, towing a trailer and battery age can deplete the charge. However, travelling down hills or braking; known as regenerative braking, helps recharge.

The Government has exempted light EVs from road user charges (RUCs) of around $620 a year until 2022 or whenever light vehicles make up two percent of the fl eet. From 2016 heavy vehicles also became exempt.

Currently full electrics and plug-in hybrids pay about $100 more than petrol cars in registration, including an ACC levy. From July, EV licencing fees will become lower than any other road vehicle.

To get a warrant of fi tness (WOF) all you need do is keep an eye on the tyres, the pollen filter and brake fluid.

 

Steven Greenwood (far right) of EV Central says 90% of EV sales in New Zealand are secondhand imports.

Parallel purchasing

Steven Greenwood of EV Central says 90% of EV sales in New Zealand are secondhand imports, leveraging subsidies o ered by the Japanese and UK governments.

These ‘plug-in grants’ – the equivalent of about $NZ10,000 when vehicles are registered for the fi rst time – are e ectively a rebate to dealers in those countries to keep street prices down.

EV Central can’t sell electric cars as new because it’s not a franchise, but it can parallel import “demonstrator vehicles with next to no miles on the clock”. Without this fl ow-on e ect from subsidies, Greenwood suggests the EV market in New Zealand wouldn’t exist.

The only people buying new are wellheeled individuals and companies like Air New Zealand which recently purchased 30 i3 BMWs at $80-$90,000 each — the equivalent parallel import would be around $55,000.

Renault Zoe 5-door hatchbacks are $75,000 new. Greenwood recently purchased 30 from the UK to resell for $40,000; even with the lower-landed price he concedes Zoes are “still way too dear”.

The only people buying new are wellheeled individuals and companies like Air New Zealand which recently purchased 30 i3 BMWs at $80-$90,000 each — the equivalent parallel import would be around $55,000. 

The Northland District Council has taken six of the Zoes. It was fi rst in the country to install a fast charger, and in partnership with Northpower has built a strong EV adoption community in Whangarei.

HBRC’s Belford believes the case for EV lifetime operating costs is already “very compelling” and only going to get better. “Certainly, for executive cars or runabouts those operating costs are clearly favourable. I don’t think you need other incentives, although I’m open to hearing the case.”

He says there is a public good element as it lessens the carbon footprint. “We have subsidies for cleaner wood burners why not cleaner cars?”

Maybe HBRC can provide incentives for installing home charge units, enabling a 6-8 hour battery top up. “Maybe Hastings and Napier councils can stipulate as part of building consents that every new home needs an EV charger?” He expects the EV Workgroup will look at a host of options from expanding public charge station coverage to promoting bulk purchasing incentives for fl eet operaters.

Fast charging network

Range anxiety has been one of the main concerns for EV customers; the fear of running out of oomph before reaching your destination.

For many buyers, hybrid petrol or diesel electric vehicles – about 50% of the current fl eet – eliminate that fear, although some models only last 20-50 kilometres on battery power.

A 120 to 160 kilometre range is standard across most EVs runabouts today; the next generation rolling out from later this year will more than double that capacity, comfortably untethering them for longer journeys.

Greenwood suggests most ‘next generation’ buyers will be current owners upgrading because of the smooth ride and savings.

They can expect better aerodynamics, power consumption and battery use, although the entry level price point won’t change much from $40,000 to $60,000.

The Renault Zoe will drive 300km before needing a recharge and the new Hyundai Ioniq and Nissan Leaf last 200-250 kilometre before well-overdue comfort, co ee and top-up stop. Regardless, a reliable public infrastructure of fast charge stations, capable of boosting batteries by 80% in 20 minutes, is essential for driver confi dence.

NZTA guidance documents published this year encourage investors, local authorities and others to get involved in rolling out public charging to “help reassure drivers that EVs are the way of the future and here to stay”.

The New Zealand standard is a multi- plug approach for both European and Japanese vehicles with users registering credit card details online to get a ChargeNet proximity key to wave in front of the charger. New EV road markings have just been approved for charge stations to complement o cial signs.

By the end of March there were about 50 fast chargers across the country. Charge.net. nz is establishing about 100 fast chargers in cities and every 80 kilometres along major state highways by the end of 2017.

Several other players are getting in on the game. Z Energy is building its own network; Spark is upgrading its phone box network with slow chargers, as are hotels, motels and camp grounds; charging units are appearing at mall and supermarket carparks.

Power companies Vector and Unison are partnering with local authorities to help seed the market with branded rapid charging outlets. Unison has stations in Hastings and Napier, Rotorua, one pending in Taupo, and in Waipukurau alongside Centralines.

As part of its ‘Electric Thermal Highway’ Unison will have two stations along the 140 kilometre Napier-Taupo Rd by June, with funding assistance from Government’s $3.5 millon Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund.

“We’re doing our bit to break the chicken and egg cycle because we believe in the long-term value. We’ll continue to review charge rates, usage and structure. NIGEL PURDY, UNISON CUSTOMER SOLUTIONS MANAGER

It had road tested the drive, discovering only the later models of Nissan Leaf could make it from one side to the other. A Hyundai Ioniq with a larger battery could just make it.The new stations at key locations at Rangitaiki and Te Pohue, will make the trek feasible for the existing small battery fleet, with higher capacity vehicles less dependent.

Unison is now fielding calls from tourist spots, cafes and other outlets wanting advice on the types of chargers suited for their premises. “It’s important to keep the discussion going and encourage suppliers of vehicles to make them available here,” says Unison customer solutions manager, Nigel Purdy.

Unison’s rapid charge stations cost over $40,000 each plus installation, and require a 50kw supply, an investment that’s unlikely to turn a profi t any time soon.

“We’re doing our bit to break the chicken and egg cycle because we believe in the long- term value. We’ll continue to review charge rates, usage and structure,” says Purdy, although no additional stations are planned in Hawke’s Bay for the “next year or so”.

Consultant Sigurd Magnusson says a full service network will require a trade-o between frequently used and less popular stations, and while there might be queues at some outlets, that’ll be addressed as the market evolves. “Capacity follows coverage and it’s a good problem to have.”

One smart solution is the Plugshare smartphone app, showing all charge stations and their availability.

Planning obstacles

A major hurdle for fl eet purchases, suggests Greenwood, is the high cost of new EVs and the fact that policies and procedures aren’t geared for secondhand buying.

Magnusson says the Greater Wellington decision to “flip the default” toward EVs is “a sensible approach”. The issue was forced because its Nissan Leaf worked so well, but wasn’t available, while new and “comparative vehicles cost two or three times as much”.

He says that approach should be emulated across the public service and by private fleet managers.

Magnusson says local authorities could review dozens of policies to support EV uptake. For example, the building code could require two EV charging spaces for every 100 car parks in new retail areas or apartment complexes. “No one is doing that yet in New Zealand, but it’s common overseas.”

Rather than becoming a consenting nightmare it could become a requirement and, like disabled car parks, build up over time.

One obstacle to EV uptake may be New Zealand’s love a air with petrol power. The national fl eet of passenger and commercial vehicles is around 4 million with vehicle ownership per 1000 people higher than Australia, Japan, the UK and the US … and growing at around 4% a year.

Steven Greenwood, the 29-year-old EV salesman who’s been in the motor industry all his life, is a recent convert. “I used to have a 400hp drift car and raced go-karts. I’ve driven seriously fast cars, but none respond even like a Nissan Leaf.”

He says the Tesla and i3 range are even better “but wait until the i-Pace Jag and Bentley start coming out, they’ll destroy any combustion engine in performance”.

And as for return on investment? “We live 8 kilometres out of town and my wife was driving a Falcon, dropping the kids o to school and doing the groceries. When we bought an EV we saved $70 a week. You try and save that anywhere else?”

Short on incentives

International research, according to Sigurd Magnusson, states the two most important milestones to transitioning are a reliable network of charging stations and being able to have a test drive.

Another may well be the level of public incentives. The US, Europe and China state that by 2025, 22% of cars on the road must be EVs. Norway and Holland want all vehicle sales to be electric from 2025 and many developed countries mandate low emission zones where petrol cars pay entry fees.

Norway charges a purchase tax based on emissions and weight and discounts electrics by $10,000. There’s no sales tax, they can use bus lanes with free use of toll roads, urban street parking and charging stations. Within four years that encouraged 120,000 vehicles (80% fully EV) and 7,000 charging points.

Critics in New Zealand suggest the Government’s $1 million annual spending over fi ve years to promote EVs and contestable funding to support innovative projects, including public charging, doesn’t go far enough. The latest Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund was oversubscribed, with only 15 of 80 applicants getting a slice of the pie.

Non-spreadsheet factors such as reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are likely to encourage conscience buying, but it will require more than car sales marketing to attain the tipping point for private and fl eet EVs, while purchase prices remain so high and fuel cost relatively a ordable.

Says councillor Belford, “Whether consumers buy for conscience or car-life savings, it’s time to hit the accelerator.”

Unison is pleased to sponsor robust examination of energy issues in Hawke’s Bay. This reporting is prepared by BayBuzz. Any editorial views expressed are those of the BayBuzz team.

 

Keith Newman29 May 2017

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