Chris Bowman is no stranger to petro-masculinity–powered BBQ conversations. He has been interested in climate change and electric propulsion for many years. I had a chance to interview him at the recent Gympie Enviro Tech day, where he was using his IONIQ 5 to provide power.
He tells me that he first got into an electric vehicle when he was 10, back in the ’60s. His grandfather worked for General Motors Holden (in Australia) and had made an electric motorbike, which he gave to his grandson.
“I have been a believer in electric drive as a propulsion method for many decades just as my grandfather had been. During the Second World War, he converted a Douglas motorcycle from petrol power to electric using a Dodge starter motor and two hefty 6-volt lead-acid batteries. I inherited this in 1964 when I was 11 and loved riding it,” he fondly remembers.
“In 2020, the pandemic notwithstanding, I made the decision to buy an electric car. I understood my driving needs as far as range was concerned, and over a period of 18 months test drove all available and sanely priced electric vehicles, so the usual suspects: Tesla, Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, and Hyundai. Growing up in a country where petro-masculinity underwrites much of any BBQ discussion, I found my move toward purchasing an electric car challenging for many. In the end, my decision on a final vehicle was based on the right form factor, not power, range, or pricing.”
“Prior to buying my Hyundai Ioniq 5, I owned a Mercedes-Benz C-Class diesel-powered sedan. I purchased this vehicle a few years back when electric cars were not easily available or able to meet my driving requirements. The Mercedes was very economical, averaging 5.3 litres per 100 km, and both great to drive and own. Having owned various Saabs, Volvos, VWs, and Mercedes over a 40-year period, I made an active decision to open my mind to owning whatever car best meets my current requirements of adequate range as well as being an easy vehicle to get into and out of.
“My options were somewhat limited, but I settled on a legacy car manufacturer who had been in the EV world for some years and had built a new car on an all-new platform. Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 felt like it would be a fun car to own, and as I purchased it, I felt happy to be making a purchase that was somewhat flippant and outside of my usual decision-making parameters.
“As good logic would have it, my new EV is better to drive given all the advantages of electric traction, [being] quieter, linear power delivery, better internal space, and a better ride than offered by my Mercedes with air suspension. I have covered 10,000 kilometers and believe it to be the best car I have owned.
“Over the past 3 years, the dialogue around EVs has shifted among many people. Early discussion often centred on denouncing climate change science. 3 years ago people I spoke to would often open any conversation on electric cars by saying they didn’t believe in climate change, and my reply of ‘Lucky for us climate change isn’t a belief system’ often brought what should have been a good conversation to an end. Happily, conversations have moved on to more relevant aspects of EV ownership like range and battery life. More recently, the discussion has come down to pricing and availability and I feel a willingness to look at options.
“Among those that are still on a journey of self-discovery, I do get asked some great questions. The most common is to be asked pointedly how I would get to Sydney or Birdsville in my EV. I usually say ‘Well, I fly to Sydney and I’m not sure I would want to go to Birdsville. But if I wanted to drive to Sydney, I could easily do so and recharge every 200–300 km but with 3 times as many comfort stops on top of that, or if I found the need to go to Birdsville, I would rent a 4WD for a week.’
“A favourite discussion is in response to those who tell me that because I charge my car with electricity generated by coal, I am in fact more polluting than a fossil-fuelled car. Before I get onto the obvious answer, I ask them if they are concerned that so much coal is burnt to generate electricity. Some are and some are not. Those who are not concerned about CO2 emissions are less interested in the fact that many EV owners charge their cars using self-generated solar energy or that during the day the grid is heavily sourced by renewable electricity.
“But my all-time favourite question is in response to me saying I charge my vehicle completely from my solar panels: ‘but what happens when the sun doesn’t shine’. My bewildered answer is ‘Oh, when did the sun last not shine. You know, it’s light not heat that generates electricity,’ thinking to myself the sun has provided light for 4.6 billion years.
“However, if one tries hard enough, there are still plenty of life-affirming discussions to be had. I get stopped frequently in car parks and asked about what it is like to own an EV, and people tell me they like what Hyundai has done with the retro styling of the Ioniq 5.
“I have taken steps to reduce my CO2 footprint from an environmental perspective. I chose to have energy in abundance and generate 4 times more energy than I consume from rooftop solar. With the help of a battery, I have no need of the power grid. However, I remain connected to feed in my surplus. I am able to charge my car (allowing 20,000 km per year), run 2 households, and feed in a considerable surplus to the grid with the 18 kW installed on the roof.”
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