Electric Car Update

If you don’t know me in real life and only read all my blogs espousing the benefits of walking, cycling and public transport, you may be surprised to learn that I do in fact own a car and drive it sometimes.

I’m in my mid-thirties and over my lifespan, jointly with my wife I have now owned four cars. Our first three cars were all second-hand japanese imports at least a decade old and petrol powered. My wife tends to use the car a lot more than I do and for quite some time she has been keen on getting something newer and nicer, but I’ve always resisted. Recently we managed to come to a compromise: she could have her nice new car but only if it was zero-emissions.

A few things came together to make this happen:

  • Government introduced the clean car rebate taking $8,200 off the price
  • ANZ released a low-interest EV loan (e-bikes also eligible)
  • A whole lot of previously unavailable models came on the market in NZ (partly as a result of the rebate)
  • Petrol prices shot through the roof, due partly to the Ukraine conflict, partly to carbon pricing schemes starting to bite, and partly that the world is running out of cheap-to-access oil reserves. Despite Government temporarily increasing petrol subsidies, this isn’t financially sustainable and in the long-term I can’t see prices doing anything but continuing their upwards march.

We bought an MG ZS EV. It was the ninth best selling new vehicle in 2022 and is marketed as the “best-value” electric car on the market right now.

At $42,000 (after rebate) it’s comparable to many other new cars, but is still eye-wateringly expensive when you’re used to getting around on a $300 bike, $2.60 bus, or a $4,000 20-year-old jap import.

It’s great around town. Most short trips my whanau walk or bike, but my pre-school kids can’t handle biking any more than a couple of kilometres so for anything longer we sometimes bus but more often drive.

An EV still clogs up the streets same as a petrol car, but it is noticably quieter and smoother. This was an unexpected benefit for me – I jumped into my old petrol car the other day for the first time in ages and was shocked by the noise and the shaking – felt like I was in a WWII tank! It’s amazing how fast you get used to the EV. It has a nominal range of 320km which means charging is mostly not an issue – we charge it once every couple of weeks just plugged into a normal power socket at home.

Longer-distance trips were always the bigger concern for me. We have friends and extended family all over Te Wai Pounamu South Island and try to visit fairly regularly. Every year we travel to Tekapo (220km) 3 or 4 times. Nelson (410km), Queenstown (482km) and Balclutha (438km) perhaps once each. Out to various skifields and tramping/boating destinations a handful of times. Inter-regional public transport generally isn’t great to any of these places, especially when travelling with young kids and their associated paraphernalia.

We took it on a long trip to Queenstown and Wanaka over summer, and I was pleasantly surprised with how little hassle the charging was. It can drive for about 3 hours before it needs to stop and charge for 30 minutes. To be honest, I can’t go for more than 3 hours without needing to stop and charge myself and the kids anyway so it doesn’t add any time to our trip. Every time we stopped, the car was ready to go again well before we were. There were no queues at any of the chargers we went to.

Every town seems to have public chargers now so it would be almost impossible to get yourself stuck.

The southern portion of the West Coast is about the only place you could drive for more than a few kilometres without hitting a charger

The advertised range of 320km was pretty accurate. In the early days of EVs the advertised ranges were a bit wild west, but they are tightly regulated these days and have to follow a strict testing procedure to come up with their range. But it is tested under certain conditions: urban driving, one person in the car, no luggage, nothing strapped to the outside, “normal” driving mode, average driver behaviour. In these conditions it seems bang on. When I’ve driven with 2 adults and 3 kids, boot full of luggage, on the open-road, it understandably drops 20% to about 260km.

There’s not really anything you can say against the performance. Acceleration is absolutely mental if you want it to be (both from stopped and while overtaking), top-speed is higher than any legal limit, hills are nothing, handling seemed as good if not better than any of my previous petrol cars. It’s got a towbar and roofracks so you can cart stuff around. The only downside I can think of is the towing capacity of 500kg. I don’t ever tow heavy stuff so it doesn’t bother me, but this car wouldn’t suit if you had a big boat or caravan.

If you’re interested in that sort of thing, under the bonnet it looks like this:

Not a heck of a lot in there

The battery is a big box under the floor of the car taking up most of the footprint of the car. It holds 50 kwh and is under warranty for 7 years unlimited kilometres (modern batteries don’t deteriorate at anywhere near the rate that the earlier ones did).

Make sure you don’t bottom out on a big rock

All up I’m really happy with it. It certainly feels like the technology has reached the point where most of the population could happily swap their petrol car for an electric and not notice any significant change in convenience or usability.

But we’re not there on the price yet – they’re still only viable for the relatively small proportion of the population who buy their cars brand new. It will be quite some time before a proper second hand market emerges (outside just Leaves).

Just for context, this graph shows the fleet uptake scenarios that the ministry of transport is working to at the moment.

Electric vehicles will never be the whole solution to decarbonising transport – even the most optimistic scenario has it taking far too long for the fleet to transition over. But they will definitely have a role to play.

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