On January 15th we took our local farmer friend, Charles, to try a 4WD quad bike at Shropshire Quads near Ludlow. This is a short memo about what we found and what we think it means.
Eco Charger Eliminator Quad
The quad-bike we saw was manufactured by a company from Devon called Eco Charger, which imports a conventional quad-bike chassis without engine, cooling or fuel system and installs an electric motor and batteries. The original quad bike is a large one (see picture) with room to squirrel away a large number of AGM [advanced and maintenance free] lead acid – batteries. The quad has 12 of these, storing between them 6kWh of power at 72V – almost exactly the same as a Renault Twizy, in fact.
The electric motor delivers 15kW (about 20bhp), driving the quad through two staged hi-low gearboxes and both axles have full but lockable differentials. The gear levers were awkward to operate and ought not to be as necessary for an electric vehicle. However, they deliver general purpose 30+mph top speed and 30 miles maximum range performance for roads and regular hills and terrain as well as a very high torque 9mph top speed performance for extreme slopes and heavy towing applications. Acceleration from rest is good, though jerky for the novice rider.
The batteries can be fully charged in about 3 hours with a fast (2KW) charger, or about 7 with a normal (1KW) one. Top quality AGM traction batteries are good for over 600 cycles if discharged on average to no more than 50% of their total capacity. They will do much better than that – maybe 1000 cycles or more – if they are mainly “topped up” from relatively low levels of discharge. If they were completely discharged every time they can barely manage 300.
The quad costs about £9,000 plus VAT.
We didn’t test the quad bike extensively (three times round the yard) but it wouldn’t really have been possible to test the most important characteristic – range. We have no reason to doubt claims about its hill-climbing or towing ability, and the 4 wheel drive should enable it to tackle the same sort of terrain as a petrol quad. Since electric motors deliver more of their torque at low speeds, there is less need to “rev” an electric quad, and in some applications the reduced noise is a benefit. It probably doesn’t matter much to hill farmers unless sheep are spooked by silent quad-bikes!.
The two issues we cannot easily address is whether the range and resultant re-charge times make an electric quad bike an effective vehicle for hill farmers. The dealer, who was very honest and straightforward, said that it would not suit everyone, and he himself doubted how useful it would be to a “Welsh” hill farmer.
An electric quad bike might not be a good choice as the only quad-bike for someone who depends on the vehicle, because you can’t fill its fuel tank in a few seconds. And since an electric quad-bike costs nearly twice as much as a normal one, it is difficult to see who would buy one unless they particularly needed a low-noise, low pollution vehicle for intermittent discretionary use.
One major benefit touted by the manufacturer is running cost, which they claim to be less than 2p a mile. Low running cost is a claim often made by manufacturers of electric cars, but it ignores the fact that batteries are a consumable. AGM batteries of the kind used by this quad are cheaper than the lithium batteries now used in electric cars, but they are also heavier, hold less power, and don’t last as long. That could make a difference. It certainly makes a huge difference to an electric car with ranges of 90 to 100 miles, where lithium batteries are cheaper than lead acid ones of the same capacity over their entire life because you can recharge them several times more, and because they are have lower weight and volume for the same range.
To fully charge an Eliminator quad (something that you would rarely do, since it makes more sense to keep it topped up) takes about 7 units of electricity at a retail cost of, say, £1. If that takes you 30 miles, it means an electricity cost of 3.3p a mile. [The manufacturer’s claim of less than 2p isn’t a barefaced lie – if you drove one at constant speed on the flat you might get 45 to 50 miles!]. If, when you charge the battery, you tend to do so with it half full or better, you should be able to recharge it about 750 times before you notice significant drop in range. At that point, you’d need to replace the batteries, which would cost you £800. If you recharge from half capacity on average, each of those charges will take you 15 miles, and 750 times 15 is 11,250. At £800 a battery set that comes to about 14p a mile – which dwarfs the electricity cost. 11,250 miles is about 2 years of driving at 15 miles average a day.
A petrol quad of equivalent size and performance does (I am told) about 20mpg or 4.4 miles to the litre. A litre of petrol costs about £1.30, so that petrol quad bike costs 29p a mile in fuel, compared with 14p (battery) plus 3p (electricity) = 17p a mile for the electric quad. So an electric quad is cheaper to run, but it certainly isn’t cheaper to buy. The difference in most servicing costs will be minimal – whether petrol or electric a quad still consumes brakes and tyres. However, the electric quad bike shouldn’t (and you’d better hope it doesn’t) need any routine engine servicing. There is no coolant system or engine lubrication. The Eliminator does retain the petrol equivalent’s gearbox, but gearbox servicing isn’t an annual cost.
If the achievable range of the Eliminator is acceptable (and it won’t be for many farmers) then having lead acid batteries makes more sense than lithium ones. They are cheaper to buy, simpler to manage, and recyclable to the point where they have stable scrap value. It might require lithium batteries to make a quad bike that would go as far in a day as a petrol one, but it would probably put another £2,000 on the cost.
So whether or not it makes sense to have an electric quad on a hill farm comes down to a few factors, which will vary enough for them to command a small market niche. The situation and usage pattern that makes the most sense, it seems to me, are those where:
1. The farm has cheap or “free” electricity available – for example, PV, hydro or wind – although as you can see that doesn’t make as much difference to running cost as you might think.
2. Maximum daily use without a break is no more than 30 miles.
3. The average daily usage is no more than, say, 20 miles with frequent returns to base. This means the batteries will be more than half full, and ideally full, most of the time, simply by keeping the quad plugged in whenever it is in its hutch.
4. The quad needs to be road taxed – that will be free for an electric vehicle.
5. The farm has commercial or other reasons to maximise its use of renewable energy. A relatively small solar PV array or wind turbine can keep a quad bike fully charged.
6. There is legitimate concern about the price of petrol, and/or where obtaining petrol is inconvenient or costly in its own right.
We would like to test an electric quad in real life to confirm that it can at least do the basic job for local farmers. That wouldn’t be enough to recommend it by itself – it is still very expensive and we it would still need to fit the usage patterns of the farmer.
So we would also like to collect some basic data about daily mileages, but more importantly equip some local quad bikes with trackers. We have some that plug into the 12V “cigarette lighter” socket that we know some quad bikes have. If we can place a tracker in a quad bike during a busy period, we would see whether an electric quad bike could ever work around here. Our trackers record position and altitude every 5 seconds from which we can calculate run times, speeds, and returns to base rest times. From that we should be able to work out which farmers might find this kind of quad most useful.