It's become very clear over the past year or two that the electric car and hybrid vehicle are no longer a fad, but are definitely here to stay. With concern about the environment and carbon emissions growing almost daily, major automotive manufacturers across the globe are either unveiling green vehicles at a rate of knots, or promising commuters that they will have more fuel efficient cars to roll out in the near future. This is all good news for the environment, but electric cars are still far from perfect and their main draw back, the recharging issue, is still a large stumbling block for many would-be eco-friendly drivers.
Whilst some car makers are trying to tackle the problem at the most basic level, like Honda with it's potentially revolutionary FCX Clarity which has a zero–emission hydrogen powered fuel cell, most are left trying to convince car buyers that the feel good pluses of driving an electric car outweigh the inconvenience of constantly having to recharge the vehicle's battery.
Well, all that could be about to change with the news that a firm called 'Better Place' hopes to have electric car battery swapping facilities open in Australia's 3 largest cities by 2012. Their recharging solution seems simple enough, with robots beneath the vehicle in a pit taking out the dead battery and another robot popping in a fresh one. Not only does the method sound stress free for the driver, but also the company claim that the process is completed in under a minute.
This could be a huge breakthrough in the greening of Australia's roads. Talk to the average motorist in the street and whilst they might like the idea of a hybrid car, the recharging issue looms large. Car owners appear to be convinced that if they can only travel a maximum of 160km in an electric vehicle, that won't be enough. The fact that most people use their car for less than 2 hours a day and so have plenty of time to plug their battery operated vehicle into a power point for the necessary top up doesn't seem to take the edge off of this concern. Giving drivers the option of changing their eco–friendly vehicle's battery rather than having the charge it themselves is a winner in 2 ways. Firstly, it provides convenience for the car owner who would love to have a green vehicle, but isn't sure they can commit it the greater level of maintenance it demands when compared to a regular car. Secondly, the question of distance suddenly evaporates. Until now, most electric cars have been promoted as 'city vehicles' – great for the shorter distances and stop/start driving of an urban environment. However, if you don't have to actually take your electric car home to recharge it and can simply pop into a garage and have it's battery pack changed, quickly, efficiently and without having to get dirty, suddenly the hybrid car becomes a genuine all-purpose car contender.
Better Place has even thought about the possible problem of paying for an electric battery change, given that they expect most green vehicle owners to go home and plug their low emissions car into the mains most evenings. They are working on the idea of setting up charge plans, like many people have for their mobile phone, where consumers pay for their usage in kilometers. It could well be another factor in accelerating our move towards low carbon emissions vehicles.