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Will electric-vehicle sales take off with Carwings?.

Will electric-vehicle sales take off with Carwings?

There are more charging points for electric cars in the UK than there are electric cars on the road.

While there are only just over 2,000 electric cars in the UK, there are some 2,500 charging points.

One problem is the high cost of electric cars. They retail at around £25,000 even after the Government grant of £5,000 to each new owner has been discounted.

Another is that no one knows precisely where the charging points are. As a result, drivers of electric cars - which can travel only around 100 miles on a full charge - tend to suffer 'range anxiety' in wondering where their next top-up will take place.

Gliddon looks at this issue in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of the Australian Computer Society's Information Age magazine. He reports that the big car manufacturers - which feel that they have to develop the cars despite the fact that returns will be slow or non-existent - are acutely aware of the need for improved electricity-charging infrastructures.

The author reveals that Nissan has invested in a Microsoft-powered solution named Carwings, which also links into an iPhone app to provide an in-car system to help drivers to plan their trips by calculating if they have enough electricity to get to where they want to go. The system can also help them to find the nearest charging station.

This technology is particularly helpful in countries like Australia, where there are few charging stations available to electric-car drivers and providers are reluctant to install new charging points until there are enough electric cars on the road to justify the investment.

A third factor holding back the development of electric vehicles is the advances being made in the efficiency of petrol, diesel and natural-gas engines.

In the November edition of Industry Week, Josh Cable explains that diesel-powered vehicles are more efficient and cleaner than ever. They emit 99% less particulate matter and nitrogen oxides than they did 30 years ago, thanks to technology such as exhaust-gas recirculation, diesel-particulate filters and selective catalytic reduction or SCR. SCR virtually eliminates nitrogen-oxide emissions while improving fuel efficiency by up to 6%.

Cable also reports that US waste-management firm Republic Services plans to build a natural-gas fuelling station in Indianapolis and add 60 natural-gas trucks to its fleet there. The company believes that natural-gas vehicles cut greenhouse-gas emissions by nearly 30% compared with diesel trucks. Its landfill sites generate methane gas that it can convert into compressed natural gas to fuel its fleet. As a result, the business typically recoups its investment in a natural-gas vehicle in less than three years, thanks to fuel-cost savings.

While Republic's 700 natural-gas collection vehicles currently represent only about 5% of its fleet, the company has decided to commission a new compressed-natural-gas vehicle each time an existing truck reaches the end of its life.

Of course, such efforts to reduce vehicle emissions in the developed world will count for little so long as customers in developing countries continue to opt for basic, low-cost cars. In India, for example, Tata Group's Nano retails at only $2,500.

In Volume 12 Number 4 2011 of the Business Strategy Series Deepika Jindal [Diy-PIH-Kaa JIN-dull], Chandan Jee [CH-AENDaeN ] and Rajiv R. Thakur [T h AH - k OO r] report that one way in which the world's largest car makers, like Nissan, can see off their smaller competitors in the developing nations is to sell on technology rather than price. In these key growing markets, the most advanced 'hybrid' vehicles, which combine petrol or diesel with electric power, are attracting growing numbers of more environmentally conscious consumers.

There are not yet enough of them to ensure that some of the world's most polluted cities - such as Beijing, Shanghai, Moscow and Mumbai - once again become healthy places to live and work. But rising wealth, which is itself behind the explosion of car ownership in countries such as India and China, may eventually lead more consumers to select the green option when buying a car.

If that happens, we shall all be able to breathe more easily.