Should you get an electric car in UAE?

Alvin R. Cabral/David Light/Dubai
Filed on March 11, 2017 | Last updated on March 11, 2017 at 06.56 am
Should you get an electric car in UAE?

Electric cars are better-looking, charge quicker and ranges on a single charge are increasing.

If we told you that the first contraption to be considered an 'electric vehicle' came out almost two centuries ago, would you believe us?

Probably not. But look up the name Anyos Jedlik, considered to be the unsung creator of the dynamo and electric motor. In 1828, the Hungarian - also a priest, by the way - slapped on what was called a "lightning-magnetic self rotor" he'd made a year earlier into a small car.

While we're quite sure that his "vehicle" didn't go miles back then, from wherever Jedlik is, he must be smiling at what he's seeing today.

About 190 years later, electric vehicles are somewhat a buzzword right now. But - of course - with any new technology that would tend to disrupt the market, there are questions - and doubts.

The pros and cons

Arguably the best benefit in using an electric vehicle is that it doesn't require gas - and this is an advantage if you're going to use it in a place where petrol prices are sky-high. If you're in an oil-rich country like the UAE, that could be a no-brainer.

Conversely, while you won't have to queue up at a petrol station, one of the biggest problems the electric vehicle industry is facing is inadequate charging stations. Sure, you might have your own at home, but what if you'd have to drive more than you expected and would need a jolt along the way?

Just recently - and just shortly after the launch of Tesla in the UAE - Elon Musk and Co installed nine charging stations at Dubai's Mall of the Emirates. Prior to that, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) had already installed 100 charging stations all over the emirate, each capable of powering 24 cars simultaneously. Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has also said it plans to raise its 12 charging stations to 20 in the capital. Still, that pales compared to the number of petrol stations, which are as common as shawarma shops.

And on a full charge-versus-full tank basis, an electric car is the clear winner. Dewa says the cost of charging is 29 fils per kWh; if it takes 34kWh to go 160km, the journey would cost you Dh9.86. Extreme heat takes more of electric vehicle's power compared to traditional ones. Charging times could also be an issue; it can range anywhere from 20 minutes on Tesla's supercharger to 12 hours for the Nissan Leaf.

As for the Dewa initiative, there is a Dh500 refundable deposit to pay for a Green Charger card the utility issues in order to use its charging stations. Charge up at home and you pay the standard rate - that's if you live in your own villa or house. At present, there are no formal provisions for those living in apartment buildings or flats; seriously, how many outlets do you see in your parking lot?

Which leads us to the next argument: price. A base 2017 Tesla S, according to UAE car website DriveArabia, would set you back a cool Dh287,000. We get it that Tesla is a top-of-the-range vehicle, but still, is it worth it? At that price, you can already get some sturdy wheels from top brands - and still have enough change for gas for years to come.

Good news: there are cheaper options. The beloved Nissan Leaf will peel out around Dh118,000 from your pocket, and that's not the cheapest; in 2016, the cheapest electric car is the Mitsubishi i-MiEV at a shade below Dh85,000.

One more thing before we leave the numbers behind: a battery replacement for your Tesla will cost you around Dh44,000 (although reports from the Tesla Motors Club vary), which could more or less get new a new car, while a Nissan Leaf battery clocks in at around Dh20,000.

Gas up or charge up?

As with any type of commodity, it's good to have choices. But at this point in time, making the UAE a hub for electric vehicles - despite the support even from authorities - is an unclear scenario, especially with cheap petrol around.

However, right now electric cars are moving along the right path: they are better-looking, charge quicker and ranges on a single charge are increasing.

But, to use a crude metaphor, if an electric car is as easy to use as an iPod, we could be at the stage akin to when the minidisk player was launched - it was revolutionary and expensive, but it wasn't the finished product, a bit cumbersome but didn't particularly excite.

One thing is for certain: the rapid pace of technology will - someday, somehow - finally put electric cars into the mainstream. It's not an if, but a when - a big when.

For now, standard cars are the mode of choice in the UAE, and understandably so. If you're torn and hesitant on leaving behind your old reliable gas-guzzler and taking the next step in the road transportation revolution, why not have one of each and decide?

Oh, just imagine the day when electric flying vehicles are the talk of the town. That's going to be one hell of a debate - and charging time.

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