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Electric vehicles (EV) are selling in record numbers in Australia. The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) reported that 43,092 electric vehicles were sold in Australia in the first half of 2023, compared to 9680 EVs sold here over the same period in 2022 - that's a 345 per cent jump!
But, and I’ve said this before, there is no EV on the market that can match a diesel vehicle's driving range, load-carrying ability or convenience of operation and there is no electric truck on the market that can cope with the long-haul demands that a diesel truck does every day in Australia.
Whether you like it or not, EVs can’t kill off diesel-fuelled vehicles – at least not for a damn long time.
And I’ll give you a few reasons why in this yarn.
Diesel gets you further
At the moment, there are no EVs that carry enough charge to cover as much distance as a diesel-fuel vehicle will.
A vehicle’s touring range – how far it can travel on a full tank of fuel (or, in an EV, at full charge) – should always be at the front of mind if you’re planning a road trip which places you at varying distances from fuel sources – or, in an EV, charging locations.
It doesn’t matter who you are, how much driving experience you have, how good a driver you think you are or what you drive (petrol, diesel, hybrid, EV) the safe reliable driving range of a vehicle at full capacity is always an issue – and it becomes a life-or-death issue during a remote-area trip.
Interestingly, during an all-EV test I have participated in, every vehicle in the line-up – a Polestar 2 LR dual-motor AWD, Hyundai Ioniq 5 AWD, Kia EV6 GT-Line AWD, and BMW iX xDrive40 – outperformed their official energy-consumption claims. So, theoretically, those vehicles should have greater driving ranges than the manufacturers have claimed; using the on-test power consumption figures as guidelines, the lowest as-tested projected range was in the Polestar 2 with 409km, and the highest as-tested projected range was 504km in the Kia EV6.
However, driving on a consistent sealed surface is a whole lot different to driving on the wide variety of road surfaces that exist in Australia.
There is simply no EV available that can get as far on a full charge as a diesel- or petrol-powered vehicle does on a full tank.
And adding a load to a vehicle takes even more of a toll, in terms of fuel or energy usage.
Diesel is for load-carriers
A whole lot of extra weight onboard a vehicle – whether that be people, gear, pets or a load on a truck – places far greater demands on that vehicle than if it was unladen. If that vehicle is an EV, the extra weight means an increase in energy consumption, and even more general wear and tear on components than the vehicle would sustain during an unladen manufacturer-conducted energy-consumption assessment.
Real life is tough. Loads can be close to the vehicle’s gross vehicle mass (GVM) and trips can be numerous and punishing.
And I haven't even mentioned towing.
Towing puts tremendous stresses and demands on a vehicle, and that weighty burden affects your vehicle's fuel consumption; and those stresses and demands – and elevated rate of fuel consumption – don’t somehow magically disappear when you use an EV as your towing platform.
The energy-consumption claims of EV manufacturers are one thing, but real-world use is another. For example, Rivian has claimed that its all-wheel-drive R1T electric ute has a touring range of 643km, but it wouldn’t do anywhere near that distance fully loaded and driving on a heavily corrugated dirt track in far western Queensland.
Now imagine if that EV had to traverse difficult terrain while carrying people and equipment AND towing a caravan!
Again, there are simply no suitable EVs available that can cope with all of the high demands and extreme stresses that diesel- or petrol-powered vehicles do every single day.
Diesel is convenient
Service stations are everywhere; EV charging locations are not.
At the moment, there is a paucity of reliable charging stations on major routes and there just aren’t enough of them on minor routes.
Charging stations are being established – or at least planned – all the time, but there just aren’t enough of them in Australia to take the guesswork and anxiety out of a long road trip.
On bush or desert expeditions, vehicles can sometimes be hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest fuel source, which is why petrol or diesel 4WDs carry extra fuel onboard or even organise for fuel drops to be made along a remote-area route so they can be sure they’ll have fuel no matter what. Carrying extra fuel adds extra weight to a vehicle and, in turn, increases fuel consumption.
The same principle will apply to EVs, except that power sources, not fuel sources, will have to be available at various points along a remote route, or alternative portable power sources will have to be used – but alternative portable power sources add more weight to a vehicle or a convoy, thus further depleting the available power.
There’s another serious issue around charging locations: they’re often broken or otherwise non-functional, offline (for maintenance purposes) or, worse still, the parking space allocated to an EV for charging has been taken by a conventional vehicle.
Also, in terms of charge times, an EV is far from ideal and nowhere near as convenient as knowing that there’s a service station on pretty much every street corner, highway or regional road in Australia.
For instance, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 (each with 800-volt architecture), are some of the fastest charging EVs on the market in Australia, and as such can use the fastest 350kW charging locations.
The Ioniq 5 has a 72.6kWh battery and is capable of being charged from 10-80 percent on a DC charger in just under 18 minutes. The EV6 has a 77.4kWh battery and can be charged to the same levels in about the same amount of time.
Those are impressive charge times but it took me about 90 minutes to get a Polestar 2 LR dual-motor AWD (with its 78kWh battery) from 39 per cent to 97 per cent charge at a ‘Fast Charger’ location. Note: the Polestar 2 has a lower voltage architecture, around 400 volts, and so that means it should charge slower than the Kia and Hyundai because it has a stated maximum DC charging speed limited to 150kW.
What I reckon
I want to help save the world from climate change, I really do. But EVs aren’t the cure-all solution they’re made out to be.
And EVs certainly aren’t up to the task of lugging loads around Australia for commercial purposes, or even for carrying people and their camping gear to their favourite holiday spots. The tech isn’t there yet, the vehicles themselves are heavy, and the charging infrastructure is nowhere near comprehensive enough.
EVs simply aren’t yet capable of taking on the sheer volume of work or leisure duties that diesel trucks, utes and 4WD wagons tackle matter-of-factly every day.