Internal combustion is not dead - Arnold Difflock

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Words: Arnold Difflock
9 Oct 2019

If we were to believe the breathless media and the unending propaganda emanating from the ‘climate change’ zealots, we could almost be excused for abandoning our petrol cars tomorrow and sacrificing our future motoring on the altar of the wonders of electricity. But fear not dear readers, because a battery-powered future is further away than we are being led to believe.

As of now, for every electric car on New Zealand’s roads, there are about 250 internal combustion cars. Yes, the electric car population has trebled in the past two years (from almost nothing), but if there is ever going to be a 50/50 ratio a lot more trebling is going to have to happen, and reality will set in before that occurs.

Make no mistake, for a small number of buyers electric propulsion makes perfect sense but for the majority the practicality, the economics and the environmental considerations are going to firmly put the brakes on mass acceptance of pure-electric propulsion for a couple of decades at least. Look at it this way. Because we are not a wealthy country the vast majority of electric cars on our roads are used Nissan Leafs.

Yes, they seem quite cheap but they’re five-year-old used imports which are half way through their useful life when they arrive here after some poor sap in Japan has worn a massive depreciation hit. The second five years will pass quite quickly and then the hapless owner will have a car with a battery which can no longer power the car’s electric motor. It ‘might’ be able to be repurposed into a domestic energy storage unit for the next 15 years or so until it eventually becomes a disposal problem.

In the meantime the batteryless Leaf will have to be scrapped while the owner is obliged to buy another car. Resale value of a 10-year-old Leaf is going to be near zero and even the dealers who imported them are not going to want to trade them back. In this scenario, Leaf motoring is not exactly cheap, and operating a new electric car is even less so, even with Julie-Anne’s feebate scheme.

Meanwhile, Teslas are bursting into flames so frequently overseas, either as a result of crashes or spontaneously, that they don’t even make the news any more, and then there was the Hyundai Kona EV which blew up in the owner’s garage in Canada when it wasn’t even plugged in, firing the garage door to the other side of the street.

It’s not as if IC cars don’t catch fire, but at least they’re relatively easy to extinguish. The only way to stop an EV fire and prevent it re-igniting the next day or the following week is literally to fork lift it into a large tank of water or push it into a swimming pool. Then there’s the next wonder fuel, hydrogen (remember the Hindenburg?). For some reason best known to themselves, Hyundai NZ are plugging a TV commercial featuring a Nexo hydrogen car on a test rig pumping water vapour out its exhaust pipe. Of course this technology is unavailable in New Zealand and Hyundai isn’t saying when or if it will be, so showing how clever they are with something that punters can’t buy seems a little pointless.

Admittedly they are selling the Nexo in Korea and the USA in minuscule numbers, using a hydrogen reticulation system which is only available in very limited areas. And then there’s the price. Try $US58,000, about the same as the new mid-engined Corvette, so if the Nexo ever made it to NZ you can put a ring around $150K. But don’t quiz your friendly Hyundai salesperson about any of this because you’re only likely to upset him.

Forget hydrogen then, but what about hybrids? Well, hybrids have the same issues as pure electrics with regard to long-term degradation of the batteries, but at least they have the advantage of longer range and the ability to keep going even when the battery is completely exhausted. What the hybrid then becomes is a petrol-powered car which chews a lot of fuel because it’s carrying around the weight of a dead battery. Petrol-powered cars haven’t reached the end of the road yet, far from it. In fact today’s petrol cars offer a mix of performance, efficiency, whole-of-life sustainability and affordability that alternative propulsion cannot match.

The reality is that the most ardent enthusiasts for electric cars are those with someone else’s money on the line, and that includes everyone from Government virtue-signallers to various motoring journalists.


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