OPINION: In February last year, when Hyundai New Zealand launched its first full EV, the Ioniq, it challenged the motoring media to drive the Queenstown section back to the top of Lake Whakatipu and back – a distance of about 170 km.
The range of the Ioniq is 200 km, and the journey along the big lake becomes hilly, so for the journalists involved it was heart-in-the-mouth stuff when they drove the route and then back to Queenstown with precious small amount of juice in their car batteries.
But each of the Ioniqs did it – just. In our case, our car ended up in some kind of weak home mode to save every little bit of battery power, and with that we were able to finish the drive with only 5 km remaining. Practice. Talk about distance anxiety.
Fast-forward to now, and Hyundai NZ has launched its second full EV, an electric version of the Kona small SUV.
* Are you moving over Tesla? Kona Electric does 400km
* Outlander PHEV almost the same price as a petrol copy
* We tag along on Tesla Supercharger Rally
* Real confession: why I love deep uncool Prius Prime
As with the Ioniq, the company again challenged the driving media for a driving task – this time a journey of 332 km from Auckland to Raglan and back.
Was there a distance fear this time? No. In my case, I drove south from HNZ's head office to Raglan, took a detour of 28 km to the nearby Te Uku wind farm, then drove back to Auckland Airport and arrived there with a range of 52 km of batteries. From there the Kona would have drove to Hyundai NZ, to get there with maybe 30km away.
Piece of cake, and here's the reason for it. In contrast to the range of the Ioniq of about 210 km, the Kona can offer a range of more than 400 km. In fact, the model is homologated with a range of 486km, but HNZ says it prefers a so-called "real-world" figure because of the hilly terrain and the winding roads of New Zealand.
But it adds that it believes that 450 kilometers is perfectly possible, just as a Kiwi Ioniq owner has reached a range of 260 km. All you have to do is drive carefully and make full use of all energy-saving technology onboard these vehicles, such as a regenerative brake system that is operated using paddles on the handlebars.
The arrival of this 400km-plus series Kona EV, only 17 months after the 200km series Ioniq EV, is a great illustration of how fast EV technology is progressing.
The range of the Kona is superior because the model we controlled had a 64kWh battery (there will soon be another version with a 39.2kWh package with a range of more than 250 km) while the Ioniq package is 28kWh.
GEMUNU AMARASINGHE / AP
That larger package has 236kg added to the weight of the Kona compared to the petrol engine version, but the batteries are low below the floor and I noticed that this helped to give the vehicle a nice planted feeling.
The performance is also good. Despite its curb weight of 1743 kg it scored silently up to 100 kmh in a fairly good 7.6 seconds, and its 150 kW power and 395 Nm torque ensure a flexible ride.
All in all, a new small SUV that I would like to own, with the exception of one thing – the Kona with the 64kWh battery enters the market with a price of $ 73,990 for an entry model and $ 79,999 for the best equipped Elite- model that I drove.
Set it this way: that front-wheel drive Kona EV Elite that we have driven at the start event costs $ 43,000 more than the almost identical specified Elite version of the conventional 2.0-liter model with petrol engine. It is also $ 14,000 more expensive than the Elite version of the Ioniq EV.
So in this phase EVs are still expensive to buy new in NZ – or right? And this brings us to a second portion of important EV news that we have recently served.
Mitsubishi NZ has knocked $ 8,000 from the price of its plug-in hybrid the Outlander PHEV, reducing the cost of the VRX version to $ 55,990, which will do well between the VRX versions of the gasoline ($ 54,990) and diesel ($ 56,990).
Of course this is not a fully electric vehicle, but it is eligible for the EV rating because it needs to be connected to be recharged, and it has a range of 54 km on electricity only before it is transformed to a full range of more than 600 km when used as a petrol-electric hybrid.
How did the downward price movement happen? It is clear that the Outlander PHEV has been on the market since 2014 and the development costs of its technology have been written off.
This is really important news because it indicates that the exact same will (or should) happen with all electric vehicles. And when that happens, EVs will really become affordable for many more New Zealanders, not just for companies and well-off EV enthusiasts.
DAVID LINKLATER / STUFF
And now for the third portion in the triple treatment of EV news: a group of 16 Telsa owners drove from Auckland to Taupo.
Whoop-the-do, you say. Other people do that in their normal cars for a day fishing for trout – and they do not have to refuel to get there and back; reload the Tesla owners in Taupo.
But the point of the exercise was to demonstrate high-speed charging stations that Tesla is installing called Superchargers, which can burn 270km of cargo in Tesla batteries within half an hour.
These Superchargers are only Tesla who might snack on eco-snobbery, but the fact is that the early adopters of Tesla cars got that power for free. In fact, high-speed charging stations that are for public use are becoming increasingly common. There are now dozens throughout NZ, and more and more are being installed.
Mitsubishi NZ thinks the charging infrastructure is already so extensive that hypothetically an Outlander PHEV owner, if he or she wanted to, could travel longer distances in pure EV mode simply by jumping and charging along fast charging stations. 80 percent battery capacity in less than 20 minutes at a time.
The same argument could apply to Prius Prime EV from Toyota, which has an official EV range of 63 km and only costs $ 48,490 thanks to the new "Drive Happy" tariff policy of the Toyota NZ.
Personally, I did not feel like it, but I do see the point – that electric vehicles improve within the range. Hopefully they will all improve in price and the charging network is getting better. It is all good news.