Vaporware. The curse of the EV

Yes, it’s April 1st today. I’ve thought about making a joke post, telling you about all the latest wonderful improvements in battery technology, or perhaps about the recent study which states that electric cars can be ran on brainwaves with a simple modification. But After listening to today’s EVcast I think that Bo and Ryan pretty much have the EV gag market sewn up for today.

But it got me thinking. In the world of EVs we’re used to big tales of new vehicles; of fantastic ranges and ‘next year’ promises. Does the public image of EVs benefit from this, or do wild claims and media hype only serve to give the EV haters out there something to base their attacks on?

Think back, if you will, over the past five years. Just how many EVs have we heard of which haven’t yet come to market? How many vaporware vehicles?

One such purveyor of fine vapor is Zap!, maker of the Zap xebra.. You can buy their little NEV Xebra today, but Zap do like to make big claims about their other vehicles. For example, their Alias, the latest car Zap have been telling us is coming to market soon for well over a year is still just around the corner. It seems to be somewhere around the same place as the Zap X, The Zap Oblivio and various other models, most of which seem to have been removed from the Zap website. Just around the corner eh? They must be moving around the corner as fast as we’re approaching it. (Wired magazine ran a scathing report of Zap and it’s company policies in April last year. It’s worth a read if you can.) Zap are the worst offenders here. They’ve announced a whole stream of vehicles which never seem to make it to market. They promise impressive range, outstanding acceleration and an end to our evil, petrol-driven ways. I’ll say Amen to that last one, but the problem lies in the lack of vehicles. Vaporware? 100% positive.

But Zap aren’t the only ones. Troubled car manufacturer, Th!nk, who started to announce the rebirth of the Th!nk City into the UK market back in 2007 still have to bring the car to market. I know in this case the car actually exists and is available in some European countries. But is it in the UK yet? Or the US? No. Frustratingly not.

Then there are the EVs which over-hype what they can do, and leave prospective owners suspicious about what their vehicles can actually do. Sure, it makes sense when you’re selling an EV to state what the optimal range of your EV will be, but stating an over-enthusiastic figure of an EV’s capabilities to entice customers through the door can really backfire. Especially if you tell those prospective customers that in the ‘real world’ your car’s impressive optimal range shrinks by twenty percent.

From my own perspective it seems that there are very few EV companies who give a realistic range figure. It’s about time they did. I’m sure customers would rather be surprised when their new EV does 60 miles per charge rather than 50 in contrast to being disappointed when it does 60 because they expected 70. Telling them the car will do 70 miles (with a small footnote stating that it’s at 20 mph) won’t cut the mustard. Yes, it may look more impressive, but does it buy you more customers? No.

Don’t think for a moment that I’m laying into EVs specifically for this. Gas cars do it too. Real world fuel economy tests should be just that. It’s up to us (the consumer) to demand a more realistic testing environment for ALL fuel economy tests. Those of you in the USA will know that the Toyota Prius lost a huge amount of fuel economy last year when the federal fuel economy test requirements changed. Better to be pessimistic and have surprised customers than offer them the world on a string and give them a mouldy old satsuma.

It’s something though that I find myself doing. Maybe I help with the Hype? “Oh yes” I say. “My plug in hybrid can do 100 mpg”. Sure it can, but a more realistic economy figure for me after 800 miles of PHEV driving seems to be about 90 mpg. But I say 100, because it looks and sounds better. Yes, I can indeed get 100mpg out of my PHEV. In fact, I’ve got as high as 170 mpg on short trips. But the average works out to about 90 mpg. But I still make those claims. Does that make me part of the vaporware machine?

As clean, green EV enthusiasts we easily forget amongst the hype how important it is to be realistic and honest about what our vehicles can do. It’s great to be an EVangelist and it’s awesome to own and drive one. But let’s remember that vaporware and exaggerated claims about our own vehicle’s capabilities and those of commercially available EVs can do more harm than good for our cause. Let’s not give the Jeremy Clarksons of this world any more reason to hate what is, a very solid, renewable, usable transport model.

Support the vendors who already make EVs. Help them to bring more to the market. But beware the Vaporware vendors. If it sounds too good to be true then it may just be.
My partner was born in Missouri. Or as it’s known sometimes, the “Show Me State”.

Next time an EV company tells you about a fantastic new vehicle, or asks you to reserve a vehicle which hasn’t even been built remember. “You’ll have to show me….”

It could help clear our cursed vaporware EVs once and for all and let the guys (and gals) who do a great job bringing brilliant EVs to the market have a fair crack at the EV market pie. A great EV should sell itself, not rely on a PR company and false promises…