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The Dream Is Over — Europe Is Waking Up To A World Of Electric Cars

Taking a long stroll through some personal and global EV history that has to give you a smile.

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These days, the first batches of thousands of Tesla’s Model 3 is arriving on European soil. This is undoubtedly of profound significance, since this is probably the most anticipated vehicle of any kind for decades. Even for a small country like Denmark, this marks the beginning of a new era, even if most folks might choose other brands. But those other brands really have to get in the game now if they don’t want to be left in the dust.

The long wait is over

My own reservation of the Model 3 will have to wait a bit longer, since I cannot make myself place an order of the initial top-of-the-line offerings. But that doesn’t really bother me. I have waited since April 2016, and it will not be a problem to wait for the more affordable versions trickling down through the visionary master plan of the incredibly brave and competent (and dare I say, lucky) Elon Musk.

So many things could have gone wrong, and a few things did, but more things eventually went well. I personally think that it would now take a major disaster of some sort to kill off this company that literally is changing the world. As a result of Tesla’s role as the daredevil, others are hard at work pushing electric vehicles forward too, like the fabulous Hyundai Kona EV that just won the 2019 CleanTechnica Car of the Year Award. The only thing preventing me from rushing out to get a Kona is the promise of self-driving capabilities of the Model 3. I want to be ready to be part of the game when a Tesla shared fleet launches. On the topic of sharing in Master Plan, Part Deux from 2016:

“You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app … In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are.”

In my opinion, this will be the most significant technological launch since the telephone, and right now it looks like Tesla is ahead of the game. Too optimistic? Is it all about money? Or is it about saving a life every 20th second?

A dream come true

So, what do I mean when I say Europe is waking up to a world of electric cars? Well, I for one have been waiting a long time for this. For 4 decades I have watched the EV market closely, always knowing that one day I would be driving my own. In fact, I was so into this tech that, when there was nothing on the market, out of frustration, I just had to design my own EV at the age of 11:

My concept of a battery electric vehicle in 1980. Note the 880 V drive chain!

Now, you may wonder why I would put my own infantile drawing on display here, apart from the obvious reason that it documents that I’ve had EVs on my mind for as long as I can remember. Well, a year ago I rather selfishly used it in an informal short record on the endeavors of Elon Musk, with this rather funny email dialog as a result (edited to shorten text and anonymize the reader):

Reader: “Can you provide the source of that drawing of the electric car Elon made at age 11?”

Me: “It’s my drawing, look at the name on it. I dreamed up an EV at age 11 and made that drawing, forgot all about it and continued my average life. Elon did not stop at dreaming, he actually produce EVs now.”

Reader: “With all due respect, you should remove that drawing from the article. Many, like me, think it was a drawing by Elon Musk. We read quickly and don’t read the fine prints. Also, the article is about Elon Musk, it is not about you. “

Me: “While I do understand your argument, I must emphasize that the article is about Elon Musk as a suitable example of a dude actually doing EV stuff, and on the other hand myself as the example of a dude doing absolutely no EV stuff. Thus, the point will miss out without the drawing (with my name all over it in LARGE print). I don’t mean to be rude and I apologize for the inconvenience.”

Sorry, I just thought this was hilarious and I had to share it with you, and yes, there is a nod to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in my response to the reader. (Can you find it, Elon?) By the way, I would always recommend reading the fine print, especially when it’s in large, friendly letters (oops, another nod).

Anyway, when I was young, I was convinced that we would all be driving EVs by the end of the 20th century. Had I not been so sure, maybe I would have done something about it. After all, the pioneering work in wind turbines in the 1970s turned out so very well in this country, so why not EVs too?

Denmark actually had a few chances to be a major player in this business, but none succeeded — like the hopeless presentation of the Hope Whisper in 1983. A few companies tried the conversion business too, and I remember inquiring about converting my 2001 Audi A2 to electric propulsion, but the $100,000 quote I got was a non-starter. Last year, I unsuccessfully tried to convert my old Volvo and learned the reasons behind these ridiculous costs.

When the Tesla Roadster hit the market a decade ago, I realized something big was finally going to happen. The story of Tesla and Elon Musk hit a note that resonated deeply in me, and all I have done ever since is hope this particular startup would make it, against all odds. Not only for Tesla’s own sake, but to live long enough to convince legacy automakers to get out of their fossil fueled slumber.

The first mover toys

In recent years, I have leased a few cars — like the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 — and in a few years, it will be unbelievable that we had to rely on everyday electric transportation with ranges as low as 60 miles on a single charge. But that didn’t stop us from traveling abroad to Germany and Sweden, even though the search for chargers to get us to our destination was sometimes a major challenge.

I remember having a 50 kW charger juicing up my Nissan Leaf while calculating like crazy exactly when to unplug and hurry at low speed to conserve electrons to make it to a ferry, and calling the ferry shortly before departure to ask them to wait for me, and a few minutes later rolling on board with 2% left in the battery while the ferry crew was giving me the evil eye.

And my wife will certainly never forget the blizzard and fast-dropping temperatures that prematurely drained the battery of our BMW i3 and left her stranded miles from home waiting much too long for a tow truck and even longer while the tow guy tried to figure out how to get a dead EV with no clutch on a flatbed.

Yeah, that was the good old days of EV first movers. But let’s not forget, there were much tougher people earlier on who endured unthinkable hardships, like trying to go around the world in a converted Nissan Qashqai. Oh, and let’s also not forget that the first production vehicle was an Elwell-Parker EV that debuted in London in 1884, one year before the Benz gas car.

According to Wikipedia: By the turn of the century, 40% of automobiles in the USA were powered by steam, 38% by electricity, and 22% by gasoline. Sales of electric cars peaked in the 1910s, losing the market to the affordable, long-range gas car. But now, 109 years later, the EV is back. This time for good, I think. …

A magazine that manifests the coming of the EV era

The short era of low-range EVs and brave first movers is over. Now, long-range EVs of many brands are flooding the market, and people are noticing. The association of Danish motorists (FDM) has published a magazine by the name Motor almost every month since 1906, and I have read this somewhat conservative publication since I was a kid. I can tell you that by any measure, this solid instance of documentation of motorism in Denmark is making it crystal clear by now that electric vehicles are taking over.

I decided to plow through the last +100 editions to take account of the frequency of stories about electric vehicles. I concentrated on pure electric while filtering out other alternative fuels and hybrid drive trains in the process. I also filtered out articles about self driving technology. Here’s the stunning result:

Number of articles on battery electric vehicles in the magazine Motor. Source: FDM

This is in stark contrast to the sales of battery electric vehicles in the country, which began catching on in 2014 and 2015 thanks to Tesla’s Model S, but then took a blow when the tax exemption began gradual phaseout in 2016. Despite this fact, 2016 was the year FDM began taking EVs seriously.

Battery electric vehicle sales in Denmark. Commercial includes private leasing. Source: Danmarks Statistik,

Up until the introduction of Tesla Roadster, any tiny notion of electric vehicles was given mediocre attention in Motor magazine. However, the rate of long-range electric vehicles prototypes being presented from legacy automakers kickstarted a new trend in the Motor magazine. Consider this quote on page 84 of the July–August 2013 edition: “The electric car is dead … hybrid is the future,” and note the difference to what I am about to show you from the January 2019 edition below.

EV TCO is that of ICEV TCO

That’s right. What I have suspected, and many others have documented — the total cost of ownership of an electric vehicle is significantly lower than that of a comparable vehicle equipped with an internal combustion engine, and that is in print in the latest edition of the Motor magazine.

For more than one hundred years, the diligent writers and editors of the Motor magazine have presented cars to Danish motorists with all the data the manufacturers’ could provide combined with ruthless reviews that exposed every single weakness, with very strong focus on safety and cost of ownership. If you want to compare running costs of any vehicle on the Danish market, this magazine is the primary source.

For the first time in the history of the magazine, there was sufficient data for EVs to be included in the traditional annual article on private car budget. The result is good news for anyone with a stake in the electric vehicle economy, and very worrisome for anyone trusting a return on investment in the fossil fuel vehicle economy.

Here is a quick summary of FDM’s calculations (please note that these numbers are found through average Danish costs of ownership, including taxes, insurance, and all running costs, which means the $45,000 BEV compares roughly to a $35,000 base price BEV in the USA):

Total cost of ownership, Danish vehicles. Source: FDM

I put the green line ($0.86/mile) in there to make sure you notice that the BEV (e.g., the long-range Hyundai Kona EV) is cheaper to run than an internal combustion engine (ICE) car at two-thirds the price! On top of this, you can safely add three assumptions that will continually increase in favor of the BEV going forward: The share of green electricity in the supply mix will rise. The base price cost of EVs will fall, mainly due to lower battery cost. The longevity of EVs will surely prove to be vastly superior to ICE vehicles due to simpler and more robust hardware.

What do people think about all this?

I talk to friends and family about these issues daily, but they are often biased by my constant rant on EVs (going on for years), so I thought I would get out and find some new information. I went to the 2019 Motorshow, which is the biggest automotive exhibition in Denmark. It’s a super fun event with cars of all types, motorcycles, and racing — both outdoors (childish adults drifting BMWs) and indoors (mature kids playing it safe in go-carts).

This is not a place where you expect to find lots of EV supporters. However, I had read that the Danish association of electric vehicles owners (FDEL) was present, and the cool thing is that the 10 EVs on display where all privately owned, and the owners happily discussed the concept of EVs to visitors who had no idea they where present among the vast display of gas guzzling vehicles.

Jaguar had a very nice formal display of the I-PACE, though, and it was great to see that one FDEL owner had invested in one too. Next to the I-PACE were a couple of Model Ss, an old and new Leaf, a Zoe, an e-Golf, an i-MiEV, and a brand new Kona EV. They had made it there from all over the country, including this guy who works as a facility manager at the municipal of Silkeborg (a city famous for a very large solar heating system, by the way):

His name is Christian Nolsøe Nielsen, and he is the satisfied owner of a 30 kWh Kia Soul EV. He tries hard to make the municipal office where he has his day job prioritize electric transportation. We had a chat about how he felt people responded to their presence at the exhibition and what their thoughts were on EVs in general:

“The attitude towards EVs has certainly changed recently. As first movers we have often been somewhat ridiculed for driving these green low range cars, but something is changing. I think the new base battery capacity of at least 60 kWh in cars like the Kona, e-Niro, and soon the new Soul and Leaf, changes everything. The talk about range anxiety is fading.”

Indeed, and the numbers from FDM above removes the last doubt from ordinary car shoppers. Christian and I agreed that, though general environmental policies are important, the incentives at the dealers are paramount. Christian puts it this way: “When people go to a dealer to buy a new car, they are investing in the second most expensive thing in their household budget after their house.” Yes, and that would commonly be a 10 year plan. The thing is, we do not want 10 more years with brand new cars running on old fossil fuel tech. The Danish government wants 1 million EVs on the roads by 2030, but that will not happen if people are advised at the dealers to buy the ICE over the EV. I don’t think politics can do much about this, but affordable +200 miles per charge EVs certainly can.

The aftermath

If you were in doubt whether you should buy an electron sipper or gas guzzler, doubt no more. Just do the right thing. And then, when we have all “done the right thing,” how will we remember this time in history? I guess that depends on the effect on society as a whole.

I don’t believe for a second that I can save the world by buying an electric car. Consumerism in general is choking the planet. But maybe this personal mobility piece in the puzzle will have a profound effect on the rest of the less environmental friendly pieces, when it ends up all electric. Surely farming, shipping, flight, heating, and manufacturing will follow. The big question is: will we make it in time? Let’s do our bit, and see how it goes.

Suppose it all goes well. We cap off global warming at less than 2 degrees Celsius, the poverty, famine, and wars all end, and we even find a way to protect ourselves from asteroids, then what? Will we remember how close we got to the edge? Probably not. A quote from Daniel Kahneman would be in order here. The psychologist and economist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, as well as behavioral economics, for which he was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, states in his book Thinking Fast and Slow:

“A general limitation of the human mind is its imperfect ability to reconstruct past states of knowledge, or beliefs that have changed.”

In other words: Know-how is a thing, Knew-how is not. Now, that’s something worth thinking about!

(All photos by the author)

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Written By

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.


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