Electrifying the Dutch – Part 3: alternatives for the alternative

Over the past few weeks I have written two articles on Electric Cars, part one & part two mentioning that electric cars are a valid alternative for the conventional car from an economical perspective and that these cars are offering mobility whilst considerably reducing the environmental impact. But still: can I use an electric car for my daily commute? Yes I can! Can I use an electric car to safely convey myself and my family across the Dutch countryside? Yes I can!  Can I get more than 100 km from a single charge without driving like my grandfather or without having to dress like entering an Antarctica expedition when temperatures fall? Yes I can!  Can I use an electric car to drive to Italy in my well-earned holidays? Yes I can! But I’d better make sure that I have extra time to spare.

Obviously the present electric cars do have some drawbacks which stand in the way of an one on one substitution of conventional cars by electric models.

First and foremost, an electric car needs time to charge. There is no denying that. Charging time differ from six to ten hours, which is generally more than the average motorist lingers at a petrol station. Adding injury to insult, a majority of households do not have a private parking space or the possibility to install a charging station. Luckily the number of public charging stations is steadily increasing, decreasing the need to carry around street lengths of extension wires. And most electric cars can use the fast charging protocol, decreasing the charging time till 90% to a mere 20 minutes. And if that’s still to long for you, some companies are aiming at replacing empty batteries with full ones in less then 3 minutes without the need to leave your car. The current aim is to realize well over 450 fast charging station across the Netherlands by the end of 2013, pretty much ending the feared syndrome known by all in the field of electric cars: range anxiety.

Another point to be made is that, when confronted with the limited range of a battery, electric car owners are reassessing the need for mobility and are rapidly becoming the forerunners of a new breed motorist. The route to and from work, to meetings etc used to be determined by the amount of traffic, the possibility of grabbing a nice lunch of combining business with… well business, such as the daily shopping for groceries. Range anxiety and the knowledge that petrol stations are effectively around every corner called for a planning which was the most efficient for the motorist, but not necessarily the most efficient in general.

With an electric car, users are looking for a more effective way to travel whilst meeting their demands and the effect is, to much surprise that the mileage is dropping without the number of meetings dropping. This simply means that users of an electric car are travelling more efficiently. The spacing and location of meetings is planned more effectively, decreasing the mileage. There is an increased use of car sharing programs also decreasing the mileage and – as a side-effect- decreasing the need for an employer to pay travel allowances.

Electrifying the DutchBut still, there are few motorists who willingly substitute there fuel guzzler for an electric car (apart from perhaps the Tesla.) The question is whether we should aim for  this substitution? I believe that electric cars make a paradigm shift from ownership of mobility to access to mobility a reality.

In the traditional way, we own a car. Or perhaps, in the case of a company car, we may not own the vehicle, but we sure feel like we own the car. One car (possibly two, for the school run), used for the daily commute, the trips to friends & family and holidays. One car, owned generally for more than four years. This car, seats four, generally transports 1,7 persons, travels less than 30 kilometers on a daily basis and carries a bag of some sorts, sometimes groceries. So it needn’t be a large car. But still it generally is, because we might want to travel to the grandparents over the weekend, or take off for a weekend to the Ardennes. So that is why we need a large conventional car, which can take us to Italy should we wish to.

But picture this: what if we can use a small electric car for the daily commute, or, even better, use a small electric car readily available, for the commute to work or the shops. Very fuel efficient, and preferably paid only for the use of the car, instead of for owning the car. This vehicle can transport us where we want, given the radius. For example, to a train station. We hop into the train, check in with the same RIFD-card which we used to access the electric car, travel to our destination. Upon arriving, we can choose between a rental (e)bike, public transport or once again, the electric car in the vicinity of the station to transport us to the appointment. The route back home is a repetition of the above! A distant future? No, very possible today.

And for the visit to the grandparents in Limburg, or a cycling weekend in the Ardennes? Could this limit our mobility, if we don’t have a large car with unlimited mileage given the petrol stations abound? No! All it takes is an innovative way of access to mobility! Access which delivers the car of choice (model, not necessarily make) to your doorstep without having to go through the hassle of going to a rental agency and renting a car. The car we need  would be available at the click of a button. Family with two young kids and up for a holiday trip to France? A station wagon! A romantic overnight stay? An Electric Smart! In need of a versatile, small and fast way of transport? Please. Use a bicycle!

What about the costs of renting a different car every single time? Well, it may come as a surprise, but considering the costs of car ownership over the year, renting  a car which specifically suits your demands is significantly less expensive than paying for car ownership. And as proves earlier, an electric car as a rental makes the equation even more profitable.

Is this possible today? Yes and no! There are very few providers who can offer such services but the main and limiting factor is us. We are very reluctant to give up the privilege of having a car at our disposal and mobility in its present form is still not too expensive for the average motorist to start reconsidering car ownership. Although some are renting their own car to others already.

However, I, for one, am convinced that in due time, when petrol prices rise (and they will) and the travel allowance is once again being renegotiated, people will reconsider and will realize that in the end, having access to mobility far outweighs the ownership of mobility. Let’s dumb the pump.

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

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