Thursday, October 30, 2014


I often read articles about the bright future of electric cars. Here are a few.

The economics of electric vehicles

Part of the reason for moving to electric vehicles is the increasing difficulty of sustaining our oil consumption [1].The problem is that to replace the existing vehicle fleet with new electric vehicles will, I think, be prohibitively expensive. Consider that in Australia a petrol car can be bought for less than $1000, whereas the cheapest electric vehicle is more like $45000.

Because of this, I think that in general electric cars will be for rich people only, even in developed countries, and that middle-income and lower people will not own a car at all.

The electric-vehicle you will use will probably be an ebike. Consider this table:

ebikeelectric car
initial cost$500 - $4000$40000 - $100000
range50 km160 km
carrying capacity1 - 3 people4 - 5 people
energy to recharge0.3 - 0.5 kWh10 - 20 kWh
battery replacement cost$500 - $800$15000
top speed30 km/h150 km/h

Clearly, cars and bikes are very different vehicles and there are many things cars can do that bikes can't. This is irrelevant, though, if the cost of the car is out of reach of many people -- as it is. I bet that this won't change either.

Using an ebike

My family's ebike was build from an old mountain bike, and a retrofit kit that I bought from gloworm bicycles [2]. I installed it myself, though mechanically challenged people could get it installed at a bicycle shop, or buy a complete ebike off-the-shelf. This kit was $1500 -- there are much cheaper kits available (starting form about $400) but we wanted a quality kit that would last.

There are a few scenarios when we use the ebike:
  • we're ill, and not up to riding our other pushbikes
  • we're going a long way or up a big hill, and taking the kids or other cargo (say, 30 kg) in the bike trailer 
  • we're coming home last at night, and know we won't feel like cycling
  • just feeling lazy that day
If we didn't have the ebike, these are all scenarios where we would drive instead of cycle, so having the ebike has meant that we drive a lot less.


The performance of the ebike is amazing. Much better than I thought. It has a 200 W motor, which doubles the power of a reasonably fit cyclist. A couple of things I have done with the ebike that I would never have imagined:
  • took the two kids, lots of food/water, bike locks, trailer, etc up a steep 400m climb to go bushwalking (overtaking lycra-clad road-bikers on the way)
  • accelerated myself up to about 30 km/h without pedaling at all
  • Visited the hardware store and bought up, used the trailer to get it home
The power and range of this unit has exceeded my expectations. It has a nominal range of about 50 km, though after three years' heavy use its range is about 1/2 that -- and less if I'm using the motor heavily (ie. the above examples).


If you would like to cycle, but think you lack the fitness, or if you already cycle, but would like to decrease your dependence on your car, an ebike could be a good option.


[1] The capital expenditure of oil majors is soaring, while their production is flat or decreasing
[2] I have no affiliation of any kind with glo-worm bikes -- I'm just a happy customer

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