Electric ute

Pioneer EV electric ute

Missed this earlier in the week. A Christchurch couple have bought an electric ute to commute to Lincoln with. It is a Pioneer EV (sold in America as a Zap Xebra PK if you want to search for more info on it). Click here for an excellent review of this vehicle in America.

I had a look at these vehicles a year ago, and they do look interesting. The reviews seem to indicate they are cheap and nasty, but do the job, depending on what the job is you want them to do of course.

They will find it frustrating commuting to Lincoln in, as it has a top speed of 65kmh, not that great for in the country. But it would be ok in the city, and in the States some people use them round the farm (only on dry soil of course!).

It is classified as a motorcycle, so technically the driver should probably be wearing a helmet, which he isn’t in the picture. Ridiculous really considering the design of the vehicle, but something to keep in mind.

Now I am a fan of electric vehicles. I think they are a great way of saving money. I don’t have one myself yet, but I do have an excellent rechargeable electric lawnmower so am slowly weaning myself off expensive petrol! An electric vehicle is part of the long-term plan, unfortunately in the country they aren’t that practical.

Electric vehicles are old technology. They first entered production in the 1880s (some experimental ones were made before that date), and were very popular in the 1900s. The advantage at the time was that you didn’t have to crank-start them, but as internal combustion engines improved these started to take over, and the invention of the electric starter motor killed the electric car. At the time they only had lead-acid batteries, so electric vehicles could only be short-range city vehicles, while petrol vehicles could be refueled and driven any distance. This is the same problem today, but now fuel prices are higher and longer-range batteries have been developed, so the picture is changing.

In a city, electric vehicles are a great idea. They are cheap to run. When stopped at the lights they use no electricity, so are very efficient. They produce no emissions within the city (only at power stations away from the city) so reduce smog. Electric motors are powerful (if you get one big enough), as they have maximum torque at zero RPM, so if you have a decent sized one it would be great on hills and for towing. I have seen a few electric tractors on the internet that are apparently very powerful (look at the custom conversions at this link), and this is of course why our trains are diesel-electric. Having said that the ute in this article is apparently very underpowered going by the reviews. Most electric vehicles still use lead-acid batteries and are short-range but that doesn’t usually matter in town. Mitsubishi will soon be bringing out a longer-range vehicle, which Meridian will be testing.

Note that electric vehicles are very different to hybrids, which are a complete waste of money in my opinion.

There are two major problems with electric vehicles. Firstly, if lots of people buy them, we will need more electricity generation. Some of this may have to come from coal and gas if we can’t get enough reliable renewable electricity.

Availability is also a big problem. I am glad to see that this couple were able to import one. You can go to a dealer and buy an electric scooter, or electric lawnmower. You can also convert your own car to electricity. But until you can go to a dealer and buy an electric car, the technology will never take off.

We can never replace our car fleet completely with electric vehicles. But they may have a valuable role in the years to come within cities.