Holland’s Coming Experiment with All-Electric Passenger Cars

Holland’s legislature is working on a law that by 2025 will ban new passenger cars that use gasoline or diesel.  This is a predictable stage in the evolution of emissions regulation and Holland is suited for the experiment.  It is flat, has high fuel taxes, and a disproportionate share of electric vehicles already.

The nine-year advance notice is helpful.  Existing fossil fuel cars, new trucks and commercial vehicles will presumably be allowed to operate for some period.  Long distance heavy transport trucks require the heavy duty attributes of diesel engines. Battery technology does not have enough power and range.  We assume Holland will adjust its fuel ban to include more vehicle types, especially those that drive through several countries for commerce or visiting friends and relatives.  Not all destinations are on rail or public transit routes.

The key to success will be recharging. The relevant issues are the availability of adequate recharging stations, the recharge time, and the range for a charged battery.  Few of the 440,000 electric vehicles on the US roads today seem adequate.

The most capable is the Tesla Model S.  It has a full battery range of about 340 miles. Using a Tesla Supercharge station (Tesla built/sponsored at some public recharge areas) the battery can be half-recharged in 30 minutes.  Using a more conventional recharge arrangement such as a 110 volt 20amp wall receptacle in a home garage, a full charge would need about 7 hours.  For a commuter running 50 miles per day, the modest recharge electricity would cost about $2.  A mandatory planning consideration for any serious road trips will be the location of fast recharge stations.

The Tesla Model 3 is much more affordable than the Model S and has already attracted 400,000 reservations to purchase it in late 2017.  Its range is 215 miles on a full charge, about half that of the Model S.  Full recharge times in a home garage will be proportionately faster than for the Model S.  Again, long road trips will require advance planning for recharges.

The Ford Focus Electric car has a top speed of 84 mph and a full charge range of 76 miles.  Ford recommends using a 240-volt home recharge station to achieve a full charge in 3.6 hours (it would presumably take 7 hours at 110 volts).  The skimpy range and slow recharge will limit this car to urban use.

The Chevrolet Volt gives 53 pure-electric miles and 420 from gasoline.  As a hybrid, it would not qualify for use in Holland’s future fleet.  The Volt recharges with 120-volts in approximately 13 hours, but its gasoline engine can also recharge the battery. The Volt uses a rational strategy to get the best mix of low urban emissions and a useable highway range for most people.

Charge Point operates 28,000 recharge points across the US.  Most are in parking areas sponsored by commercial enterprises or municipalities.  A few hundred are operated by Charge Point itself.  This crop of recharge stations will need to expand rapidly to accommodate any serious uptick in the number of electric vehicles, especially those that require hours to recharge.  The challenge is similar to reengineering gas stations to allow a gasoline car to spend hours refueling at a gasoline pump – the lineups and waiting times would be horrid.

Tesla has been engineering faster recharge technology that could recharge the Model S in 5 minutes, but it requires a 120 kilovolt recharge station with special arrangements to convert from AC to DC and chill the batteries during that cycle.  It is not expected to be compatible with other battery technologies.

When they first confront the short-range and long recharge times problem, many people think of quickly replacing standardized batteries instead of trying to recharge built-in batteries.  A Renault electric tried this strategy without success.  Automotive battery packs weigh 200 to 900 pounds and usually have cooling fluid connections to keep the battery from overheating.  Removing and replacing an object that heavy, hot and with liquid seals requires sophisticated machinery.  As well, a car’s chassis is built around the heavy battery to support it and there is seldom a way to pull the battery without dismantling the chassis.  Many manufacturers have substantial intellectual property in their battery designs that they do not want to share with others.  It appears pull and replace will not solve the recharge problem.

We should monitor Holland’s progress in all-electric passenger cars.  It may reveal some useful lessons for use in North America and other areas where there are vast highway distances, a pattern of dispersed commuting, and fuel prices that are not as oppressed by taxes as they are in Europe.