Electric cars are coming and they will transform the market. Tesla Motors will open dealerships in Sydney and Melbourne by the end of the year as it targets Australia in the next stage of its international expansion plans. Tesla’s Model S all-electric and Model X zero emission cars are popular in America, particularly in the Silicon Valley community.

According to various reports, Tesla plans to cover major routes across North America with “super-chargers” that dot the road between cities and could boost the car’s battery pack in 30 minutes instead of the usual eight hours. They would only need two super-chargers between Melbourne and Sydney and three between Sydney and Brisbane. The car already has enough range to drive between Sydney and Canberra

Current models start at about $91,000 in Australia, and have a range of around 400 kilometres. Once purchased, drivers can access any of the company’s recharge stations for free.

These cars will revolutionise driving. According to Gizmodo, Tesla has fitted all new Model Ss with a sophisticated array of sensors intended to better inform the driver of conditions around the car and which can take some limited control to avoid crashes. There’s four components to the Autopilot system:

Long Range Radar: This looks ahead of the Model S, identifying the presence, direction of travel and relative speed of other cars. It can see further than the car’s headlights and cut through fog, rain or any other visual impairment.

Image Recognition Camera: This also looks ahead of the car, identifying and reading things like traffic signs, lane markings and pedestrians.

360 Degree Ultrasonic Radar: Looking all-around the car, this sensor is able to detect everything from cars in your blind spot to a stray pet about to run into the road, to a child playing behind you as you’re backing up; a soft-object capability the forward-facing long range radar does not have. Consider that a boon to motorcyclists too, Autopilot should be able to stop homicidally negligent car drivers from running us over!

GPS Data Integration W/Real-Time Traffic: Location based data is beamed to the car, informing it with a database of speed limits and traffic/road conditions.

The question is whether cars like this could transform the market when only a handful of people can afford to drive them. Still there are signs the costs could come down.

Agence France Press reports that Tesla is working on a less expensive Model 3 that is expected to cost between $35,000 and $40,000.

Then the Daily Mail reports that an Arizona-based car manufacturer has created the world’s first fully functional, 3D-printed electric car, and its made using just 49 parts. The Strati, which is Italian for “layers”, has a chassis body made of one solid piece and a top speed of 40mph (60km/h).

The tyres, wheels, battery, wiring, suspension, electric motor and window shield were made using conventional methods. But the car’s small number of parts is significantly less than that of traditional vehicles, which typically feature more than 5000 components. It would sell for about $20,000

So how are they charged? As explained here, they use a charging system that pumps electricity into the batteries as quickly as the batteries will allow and monitors the batteries to avoid damaging them during the charging process.

Solar power will also drive the growth of electric cars. The solar choice blog points out that many people who have installed solar panels know that often in the middle of the day it tends to generate more solar power than is required on site. Therefore, we need a way of effectively storing this power for use at another time.

“The Electric Car is an ideal solution for this. Your home can be fitted with an electric car charging point, which can then send any surplus power into your Electric Car’s battery. This should remove the odds of any oversupply from your solar panels, thus allowing you to make the most of your solar panels yield.

“Looking at the bigger picture, Australia has huge areas of car parks for instance that are essentially a necessary but waste of space. However, if these carparks were fitted with a solar panel roof, an entire fleet of electric vehicles could be charged with both green and free electricty. This has to be the future when we consider the growth of the solar industry and the potential of Electric Vehicles.”

And as Time Magazine tells us, that could ultimately change the way people power their homes.

“When you put a solar panel on your roof, your home becomes a mini-power plant. When you buy an electric vehicle, you suddenly control an automobile-shaped energy-storage device. It won’t be long before homeowners with both can be mini-utilities, buying power from the grid when it’s cheap and selling power to the grid when it’s expensive… That would make the economics of EVs more attractive, accelerating the route to mass adoption.

“Net metering” will be similarly important for solar, allowing homeowners to sell power to the grid at attractive prices.”

So how do they compare to conventional cars. The Energy Supply Association of Australia has released analysis concluding that electric cars are 58 per cent cheaper to run at 62 cents an e-litre at peak electricity prices.  This is compared to the average Australian petrol price of $1.48 per litre over the last twelve months.  In addition, off peak charging of electric vehicles would further reduce the cost to a minuscule 37 cents per litre.

Origin Energy tells us that it costs about $2 to drive a Nissan Leaf 100 kilometres charged at the off-peak electricity rate of 15 cents k/Wh whereas it costs $12 to drive 100 kilometres in a similar sized car, a Mazda 3, fuelled at $1.47 per litre. Similarly, conventional cars have a moderate amount of maintenance while electric cars are low maintenance because they have fewer moving parts. Conventional cars make a significant amount of noise and generate vibration while electric cars have little engine noise and virtually no vibration.

On the other hand, conventional cars have lower upfront costs. Still, while electric cars have higher upfront costs, that’s decreasing as batteries become more affordable.

The big test for electric cars will be whether they will ever win over petrol heads. BMW’s new electric i3 could change that. BMW’s greatest achievement with the i3 is to turn the EV into an acceptable only car. The range-extender model with the little generator will keep the battery topped up and you’ll pass 150 miles before having to recharge. Throw in an impressive seven seconds to 60, a top speed of 93mph and the interior ambience of a 3-Series and all those electric car ­compromises evaporate in your slipstream. Similarly, the Tesla Model S which is fitted with a single-speed reduction gearbox that gives the Tesla not just Usain Bolt-like sprinting ability off the line, but huge overtaking grunt. The top speed is 130mph so it’s handy on the motorway, too.

Electric cars are now starting to flood the Australian luxury car market. It’s only question of when the price will come down to reach the broader market. And when that happens, it will transform cities and the automotive sector.

Something wrong with the distributor

The Conversation in Australia and Torque News in the US both pointed out this week that Tesla buyers might have problems with Tesla’s distribution and sales model that is somehow challenging traditional dealers.

According to Torque News, Tesla is currently banned from selling its vehicles in Arizona, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, where it is only permitted to open “galleries” that cannot facilitate sales. (Actual purchases may be made online). Earlier this month, Tesla owners from Minnesota drove down to Iowa to to provide test drives and a look-see to people banned from seeing the cars in their state.

The problem, said The Conversation is that Tesla markets its cars directly to consumers through upmarket retail malls that resemble Apple stores. And that’s something that traditional car distributors don’t like much.

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