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Comment: Will battery EVs win the alternative fuel battle?

Published 25 October 2015

During the last week or so, I’ve driven cars with three types of alternative fuel propulsion systems that will increasingly be of interest to fleet operators.

First of these was the latest version of the Nissan Leaf, with greater energy density in its battery allowing a maximum potential range between charges of 155 miles. It will sell alongside a revised version of the current model with its 124-mile range.

It would take a certain discipline over a long period to achieve that distance, with almost no high-speed driving, but with an improving network of charging points, long-distance travel is becoming increasingly feasible in an EV.

For those that still have concerns over range anxiety, I also spent time in the latest version of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, a car that achieved 10,000 registrations in the UK during its first 12 months on sale, exceeding what the Nissan Leaf had achieved in four years.

Although it can only travel on electric for up to 32 miles, there’s a 45-litre petrol tank on board to fuel a 2.0-litre engine, so there’s no worry about refuelling when the plug-in charge runs out.

But that petrol engine also means that if you run the Outlander PHEV for 100 miles – around the range you should comfortably get from the 30kWh Nissan Leaf, the journey would have probably been cheaper in a diesel Outlander, especially with a lot of motorway miles.

The third powertrain was the hydrogen fuel cell and electric motor in the new Toyota Mirai. A chemical reaction creates electricity, which is stored in an on-board battery and drives a 152PS electric motor. A full tank of hydrogen will take the Mirai up to 300 miles, and the only exhaust emissions are water vapour.

The Mirai is the second fuel cell production car launched in the UK this year (Hyundai launched the ix35 in the spring), and we will see more of them. But for now, there is a tiny refuelling infrastructure (nine public sites should be available or under construction by the end of 2016). And that’s before you consider the price tags, which are in excess of £65,000 before grants are applied.

Fleets will be key in the adoption of all these technologies.

Five years ago, when battery EVs were coming into production with maximum ranges of around 100 miles, people were quick to write them off.

Plug-in hybrids appear to offer the safety net of a fossil-fuelled range extension, but soon anything with more than zero emissions will be liable for vehicle excise duty when currently all cars with CO2 of less than 100g/km pay none.

And, as battery EVs become less expensive and more capable in terms of how far they will travel between charges, we could see a minor resurgence as the different alternative powertrains establish themselves.

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