Sunday 21st July 2019

Can Nio’s electric supercar smash the barriers to a mass market?

Published on January 30th, 2019

What’s more important in an electric car – thrust or trust? Freelance technology writer, Nick Booth investigates.

Does Elon Musk get up your nose? Would you expect Apple to launch an electric car with built-in battery obsolescence? Does the new electric Nio ES6, with its twin motors, liquid cool lithium battery and all-wheel drive, sound like a Chinese Tesla to you?

The Nio ES6 in the latest invention of William Li, China’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017 and hailed as one of its top 10 ‘economic personages’ and influencers in the Chinese car industry. So this new model of electric vehicle (EV) will be influential, even if just as a catalyst or agent provocateur, rather than market leader.

To paraphrase the time-honoured executive’s panic plea: Half of these new inventions are working – if only we knew which half.

Barriers to EV acceptance

No single agent will create the one product that simultaneously drives an electronic coach and horses through our barriers to EV acceptance. But each might dent at least one of them.

By extending the range of models available, the Nio has pushed one of the blockades aside, says James Kerney, head of insights at Pod Point. However, it’s the logistics of refuelling electric cars that is the major obstacle to mass acceptance, Pod Point would argue. Companies like Pod Point and Chargemaster have a critical role in this respect.

Not only are they building national charging infrastructures, but they are helping to guide novice drivers around the potential pot holes. Kerney advises drivers of EVs on how to adopt a new refuelling regime. Meanwhile, as part a UK£9 million (€10 million) Go Ultra Low City programme, Chargemaster just recruited 11 EV ‘gurus’ to enlighten drivers on the new culture of EV.

We drivers need to ditch a couple of the bad habits of the internal combustion engine. Firstly, we need to stop using our vehicles as mobile pollution machines. Yes, electric cars may still burn some fossils in order to power each journey, but at least they restrict that filthy practice to some distant coal-fired power station. Combustion engines dump out of their exhaust pipes right onto our own door steps.

Changing our dirty habits

James Kerney

The other important behavioural change involves the timing of our refuelling habits. Petrol and diesel consumers tend to be binge drinkers. They will run down the tank until the car is firing on fumes. Most drivers won’t think about finding a petrol station until there’s nothing on the fuel gauge but the maker’s name.

The new EV driver will eschew the terrible habits of the previous generation. Yes, their cars will take a lot longer to charge, but that problem can be obviated by a sort of ‘electronic grazing’ – i.e. imbibe charge a little at a time and often. The best way to do this is by topping up your car battery every night when you come home from work.

This is causing a slightly worrying trend, says Kerney. According to Pod Point’s analysis, there is a surge in home car charging between six and eight in the evening, which is precisely the time when the national grid is already under maximum strain. When everyone drives an EV national grids will struggle to keep up.

Still, that is a problem that Chargemaster and PodPoint’s algorithms and IoT expertise must tackle. (We will be discussing this in IoT Now soon).

Meanwhile, the Nio ES6 has brought its own heavy weaponry in a bid to break through the barriers of acceptance – a 500 kilogram hot swappable battery. This emulates the old filling station habits of old, when car drivers would pull into the petrol station forecourt and tell the attendant to ‘fill her up’. (Yes, dreadfully sexist, I know). Under Li’s model, the ES6 driver would park on a ramp, tell a robotic attendant to ‘switch batteries’ and expect the job to be finished by the time they’ve finished their coffee.

Well, it’s certainly an interesting idea. Mind you, we’re not a million miles away from the ancient Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times’. Like the EV, we shall just have to accept them!

The author is freelance technology writer, Nick Booth.

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