Electrifying the Dutch – Part 1: the debate

Ever since the introduction of the Th!nk City in The Netherlands in 2009, there has been an everlasting debate on the pro’s and con’s of electric cars in the Netherlands, and there are no signs that we are anywhere near reaching consensus on this subject.

The question is: do we WANT to reach consensus, or rather, why should we strive for consensus? I, for one, see no point in this.

Despite the high costs of purchase, the number of electric cars registered in the Netherlands are exploding, from somewhere to 100 in January 2009 to well over 1500 by March 2012. Of course, when compared to the total number of cars (well over 7 million) this is, well, a modest start. But didn’t Confucius say:” A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”?

One might wonder why those early adopters went ahead and purchased these vehicles in the first place? Expensive, range of 150 km maximum, no public infrastructure for charging the vehicle other than an extension cord, the battery has to remain plugged in otherwise it would bleed and it’s range would diminish to zero in roughly a week. The owners were either admired or ridiculed, depending on the perspective. But still, they went ahead and did it and discovered something amazing.

The sum of all fears for prospective owners (or rather, users) of an electric vehicle is called range anxiety. Only 150 km on a single charge. And refueling the car would take at least eight hours, even more. Not really versatile when compared to conventional cars. But what those hard-core users found out is that range anxiety is fundamentally non-existent. The only issue they had, was that they had to plan their journeys more carefully, to prevent the battery from running on empty. One added advantage of this was an increased efficiency of their daily business practice and a significant decrease of their travel distance, without, obviously, compromising their effectiveness! And of course, with the ever increasing number of fast charging stations (200 by the end of 2012, well over 300 by the end of 2013) the issue of running out of juice is merely a matter of pressing too hard or plain poor planning.

Those first vehicles would set you back roughly € 40.000 which is, frankly, staggering and there was virtually no choice in brands or models. That kind of money would buy you a decent set of wheels, even back in 2009. Lease of these vehicles was no different matter, because nobody in the car business knew what the long term development of their investment in those vehicles would yield, and so the lease-prices were even more staggering. You had to be pretty convinced or determined to even consider using an electric vehicle back then.

Today is an entirely different story altogether. Virtually all car manufacturers of conventional cars are developing new electric models from scratch, for prices which are much more interesting. Yes, those vehicles are still much more expensive than their conventional cousins. But a select number of providers, believing in the residual value of these cars, is starting to offer realistic lease prices, making the electric cars even cheaper than their conventional brethren, when comparing the annual total costs of ownership. This way, enterprises can actually start to convert part of their fleet from conventional vehicles to electric ones.

The prospective users of those cars are, of course, an entirely different matter. There are very few ‘owners’ of a company car who make this decision based on the environmental effects of the car. And those few just might be the ones who bought the first electric cars in 2009. The vast majority makes this decision based on the brand, versatility, fuel consumption and additional tax liability. This last aspect has caused a massive increase in numbers of sales of the Toyota Prius & Auris, the Honda Civic Hybrid etc.

Electric cars can benefit from an even greater advantage, the fuel consumption is dramatically less then it’s conventional counterparts and, due to the emissions on which the additional tax liability is based, there is a 0% tax bracket.

The increasing number of makes & models can provide the same (or challenge even) the level of comfort and ride of the conventional car, makes the electric car a much more valid alternative. And an added bonus is the amazing torque offered an electric car. A necessity is the availability of ‘access to mobility’ providers, for, for example a weekend trip to the Belgian Ardennes in a conventional car without having to go to the hassle of renting a car. Again, certain mobility providers are offering these services as we speak, making this a reality and thus ensuring that the driver of an electric car can access the mode of transportation they need, whenever they need it.

In this day and age, there is no logical reason why we should not choose an electric car over a conventional model for our daily commute and for most of business travel by car.

The question I’ve started off with was, however: do we WANT to reach consensus over the electric car? No we don’t.

I can very much understand and even appreciate ones point of view when someone states that they immensely enjoy the ability to reach 200 km/h and over on the German motorways, or how a particular brand of 4×4 really ‘does it for them’. At present it’s an illusion to think or, even more, to try to convince someone to substitute their beloved brand X for an electric car, and I for one, am not prepared to enter this debate.

What I am convinced of, and I will prove this in ‘electrifying the Dutch, part 2: the proof of the pudding is in the numbers’, is that electric cars offer a valid, and often economically more viable alternative to conventional cars.

This post was originally written for and published at TEDxBinnenhof in close collaboration with Ivo Stroeken, Advisor Electric Transportation, and Max Herold, owner at Managementissues.com.

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