‘Range anxiety’ is a major mental obstacle for those with the resources to contemplate the purchase of an all-electric car…

KM BMW wallbox charger

The future of cars may be electric… but don’t expect 2014 to be the dawn of the new age.

In fact, I predict there’s a long road ahead for manufacturers trying to woo the driving public into buying a car with a chord attached.

Throw in the sales numbers for all-electric cars, plug-in hybrids and gas-battery hybrids and they don’t come anywhere near five percent of total vehicle sales. The commercial conundrum is that these (more) eco-friendly vehicles come with a premium sticker price beyond most folks and the only way to bring them in range is to sell many more!

Most provincial governments have incentive rebates for those that make a green choice. While successful to a degree, they alone are going to turn us all on.

If gas prices soar then some more buyers will go the hybrid route but that said there are an awful lot of four-cylinder vehicles out there that are remarkably economical on gas. Let’s get our heads out of the dark clouds and accept that economy of purchase and operation are what drives most sales.

I am not an electric car naysayer, far from it, but we have to recognize that much needs to happen before the majority buy into this future. Sticker price is one thing but the single biggest challenge has to be the slow pace of infrastructure to fast-charge cars, whose batteries have run down mid-journey.

‘Range anxiety’ is a major mental obstacle for those with the resources to contemplate the purchase of an all-electric car such as the Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi iMIEV. For that reason, it seems likely that the likes of the Chevrolet VOLT will enjoy more sales success as a main means of transport because an onboard gas-powered generator is ready to kick in to recharge the battery when the juice runs out. Similarly, the new BMWi3 while available as a pure electric vehicle can also be purchased with a range extending engine.

Other manufacturers are set to follow that same route but in the meantime, the plug-in hybrid, which combines the pulling power of a gas engine and electric motor is the early winner of people’s green-tinged hearts.

But back to the thorny issue of infrastructure. Many advocates want government to play a lead role but with all the demands made on the public pure that’s a dead end street. Maybe the tax incentives they can offer will encourage the private sector.

For instance, the Canadian company Sun Country Highway has announced plans for a charging station network along the length of the Trans-Canada Highway. Other companies operating alongside major highways are extracting planning concessions from local government by installing recharging points.

Hats off to BMW and its holistic approach. The German giant is collaborating with small tech companies, who will work with customers to make sure their homes don’t require a major power refit just to own one of the new i3s.

And, as Dr. Ian Robertson, a BMW management board member, told me at the LA Auto Show recently there are many other power opportunities right in front our eyes. Urban areas are awash with street lights, which could be used as a source for curbside recharging.

He also pointed out that there are many discontinued public phone sites in today’s cities. They have power wired to them and are ready to be tapped, should the phone company want to make a profit of more than a quarter per call.

Contact: keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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