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February 3, 2020

I'm Pretty Sure I'm Not Ready to Own an EV Just Yet

Initially, I thought I’d be one of the first to champion electric vehicles. Given the short distance I drive on a daily basis, I could live with the daily routine of charging my car daily in exchange for zero tailpipe emissions, and max torque available from zero rpm. But all that’s changed after I sampled the Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine. This is when I figured out: boy, the Philippines isn’t ready to join the EV bandwagon just yet.

A little caveat: this isn’t a full review of the XC60 T8 Twin Engine—that’ll come at a later time. Instead, lets focus on the aspect being a theoretical EV owner. See, what makes this particular variant of the XC60 different from other hybrids, say those from Toyota or Lexus, is the ability to plug it straight into a 220-volt socket. This negates having to rely on the internal combustion engine to charge the traction battery (though you can) thereby giving us a good glimpse of what EV ownership would be like.

Now, take note: the battery of the XC60 T8 Twin Engine isn’t that big. At 11.6 kWh, it’s dwarfed even by the Lexus RX450h’s 37 kWh. Still, Volvo says it’s good for about 30 kilometers (US EPA)  and up to 54 kilometers (European WLTP) when fully juiced up. Let’s put that to the test.

Picking it up from Volvo’s offices along Pasong Tamo, the battery was fully charged, and the electric-only range showed, what else, 30 kilometers. Since I knew it’ll be a slow trudge along EDSA to my office in Marikina, this is perfect scenario of how an EV will cope.

Initially, it was smooth sailing. I drove conservatively, allowing the system to recover my kinetic energy and braking energy to add charge to the battery. It was great until I hit traffic near the Ayala Tunnel area. From this point, the computer re-calculated the range. It crept down, constantly—displaying 30 then 25 then 20. And mind you, that was for a distance of not more than 2.2 kilometers. The built-in display in the SENSUS system confirmed my worst fears: I was consuming electricity at the rate of more than 40 kWh per 100 kilometers. At this rate, if traffic didn’t let up, I would have completely depleted the battery just getting to the office, and would have lost more than 30 percent in range.

True enough, I did make it back to my office with no fuel consumed, though the remaining range showed a blank figure—confirming that I’ve depleted the Volvo’s 11.6 kWh battery. Now, since my office garage space has access to a 220-volt socket, I attempted a charge. The entire process should take around 8 hours. Surprisingly, everything was painless and straightforward. The charging system has several fail-safe mechanisms built-in. Socket not to spec? No charge. Plug not secured properly? No charge. Car too hot or too cold? No charge. The only problem was that instead of displaying the problem in plain English, I had to memorize what each set of LED meant. Anyway, given that the system draws only 6 amps, there’s no way of tripping the circuit breaker. Sadly, my plug wasn’t to spec since EVs require a properly grounded three-prong plug, and no, you can’t use an adapter.

Throughout the entire exercise, I was confident simply because I had a gasoline engine to fall back on. But if this were a pure EV? I wouldn’t have been so lucky. Sure, an all-electric vehicle would have a larger and more robust battery than this plug-in hybrid, but this experiment highlights two personal issues I have with EVs.

First is about the range. Given Manila’s horrendous traffic and the draw of electrical accessories such as air conditioning on an EV’s range, it’s about time that carmakers stop touting how much theoretical range their EVs could do, lest it will lead to disappointment. Now some will argue that carmakers have done the same thing when it comes to their fuel economy figures, right? Well, we must remember that there’s a gasoline station not more than a few kilometers apart, and refueling takes just 10 minutes as opposed to an EV’s 10 hours. Instead, I propose that carmakers work on selling EVs based on its merits as a huge technological advancement and as a zero emissions vehicle with lower running costs.

Second is a realization that the Philippine infrastructure isn’t ready for EVs yet. Even when a car comes with a cable intended for home use, it’s imperative for carmakers to actually check if their customers can accommodate charging EVs properly in the first place. Perhaps, they should go the extra mile and install a home charging station to fully maximize the ownership experience. Even if it doesn’t look as sexy as the newest sportscar or hot as the newest SUV, carmakers will have to spend even more time explaining how EVs work. Not only will they be selling a car, but they’ll have to actually teach the car buyer how it’s properly used.

Electric vehicle ownership is an entirely different animal, and I’m now convinced that the Philippines isn’t ready for it. If those things are addressed, then sure, I would re-consider getting an EV once more. But at the current state of things, I’m heading to the middle ground in believing that electrified vehicles—hybrids or plug-in hybrids make for the best solution for an environmentally-sound motoring in the local setting.

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