Will electric cars ever be suitable for equine practice? - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Will electric cars ever be suitable for equine practice?

“It’s no good waiting for our politicians to ‘do something’. We are intelligent, scientific and comparatively affluent people; if we cannot set an example or, better yet, take the lead on this, what hope is there?”

british equine veterinary association (BEVA) logo

At the end of 2016, Donnington Grove was an independent practice, and I contrived to persuade my partners that a Tesla Model S 90D was the ideal car for me. At that stage, there were many tax breaks for electric cars, some of which have subsequently gone. So as a business acquisition, the £86,000 car actually “cost” about £47,000. I still drive the same car today (Figure 1), which now has 125,000 miles on the clock. When asked, I’m still adamant that it’s the best car I have ever had. It’s fast – thrillingly fast. The instant response and lack of any gear changing means it is faster to drive on the road than the (already incredible) performance figures would suggest. The autopilot self-driving capability makes motorway cruising very relaxing.

FIGURE (1) Bruce Bladon’s Tesla, taking advantage of a free charging station at… Rossdales? Do they know about this?!

It hasn’t been completely trouble free. A couple of door handles have failed, and a wing mirror stopped extending. Most annoyingly, during the beautiful weather of the first COVID-19 lockdown, the computer completely failed; you could still drive the car but couldn’t shut the sunroof! This was a problem during the lockdown because it was difficult to get spare parts while waiting for the weather to break. Ultimately, EV Link in Bedford were able to change the affected chip in the computer, and all was well before it began to rain. The car has not been “serviced” – routine servicing is not required by Tesla – and it still runs with the original brake pads.

Ultimately, charging is what people want to know about. Has it been a complete menace? The answer is not what people expect: it is less trouble than anticipated. A wired in-home charger (7kW like an electric cooker, not a three-pin plug) will charge the car from empty in about 10 hours. It is an overlooked bonus that when you arrive home with an empty car, the next morning it is full again so there’s no need to go to the garage once or twice a week. You avoid the temptation of spending another few quid on chocolate and crisps, too.

If you have to make a longer trip, then it does take a bit of research. The Tesla supercharger network is pretty ubiquitous, and a supercharger will have the car fully charged within an hour and often about 80 percent within half an hour. I have done longer trips, visiting York and Cornwall for work, and have driven to Ullapool in one day.

What do other people think about electric cars in equine practice?

Charlie Schreiber’s view

In Charlie Schreiber’s view, the trouble with me is that I am not a “real” vet. Rather, I’m more of a glory seeker who does one or two 20-minute surgeries a day, skims an MRI scan and spends the rest of the time dozing in my office. I do visit other clinics to operate, including emergency out-of-hours surgeries, but, ultimately, I drive about 20,000 miles a year and am the sort of person who has a Tesla because it is a bit flash, not because of its practicality. Charlie points out that he is a “real” vet. He does a lot of racing work and drives 40,000 miles a year.

FIGURE (2) Charlie’s Jaguar I Pace, with an optional but effective intruder alarm

Impressed by my efforts on the “eco-warrior” front, Charlie bought a Jaguar I Pace in 2019 (Figure 2). He has the same comment about charging, namely how useful it is to arrive home with an empty car but wake up with a full one. Has he had charging scares? Many! – often related to the UK charging network’s well-documented unreliable nature. On longer journeys, he has struggled with one destination after another being out of order or full. He has had to delay some evening calls 10 or 15 minutes while he tops up the charge, though he’s never had to make a genuine emergency wait.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending, though. About six months ago, after 160,000 miles, the car suffered a catastrophic transmission failure. Perhaps nothing to do with it being an electric car as it may have happened to the drivetrain of one of the internal combustion engine Jaguar range, though the cause seems to be unclear. Either way, the car has been off the road for over six months, waiting for appropriate replacement parts. Even so, Charlie has a similar opinion to me: he loved the car, thinks it is the best car he has owned and can’t wait to get it back.

Jeremiah Cygnet’s view

The final entrant to this debate is a slightly controversial character, so we have changed his name to protect the guilty. Let’s call him “Jeremiah Cygnet”. Now an independent, single-man practice, he too admired my Tesla and purchased his own. Tesla used to offer the perk of free use of their supercharger network, and both Jeremiah and I qualified for this. Inevitably, those days have gone, and current purchasers have to pay for the electricity.

Jeremiah is a proper horse vet in every sense: unreliable, hard to get hold of, has a hazy grasp of regulation and drives 60,000 miles a year. He regularly makes use of the Tesla superchargers, plotting his calls around them and enjoying his motorway service lunch while the car charges up. He visits one most days, which greatly reduces his electricity bill.

His car has, however, had a complete electric failure, and the battery had to be completely replaced. This was done under warranty (five years or 100,000 miles) and he paid a small amount to get the battery upgraded to a larger capacity. It was replaced with a recycled battery, and, in turn, his battery was recycled for use in another car. He takes the car to Tesla about once a year for a complete service and upgrades as many parts as possible at the same time. Yet again, another driver who is adamant this is the best car he has ever driven. It now has 300,000 miles on the clock, not a bad innings!

When his car was off the road, he borrowed his wife’s all-electric MG ZS Long Range, a much more affordable car. His comment – it was perfect

Jeremiah had a very interesting point. When his car was off the road, he borrowed his wife’s all-electric MG ZS Long Range, a much more affordable car. His comment – it was perfect. Easy 200 miles of range, good boot, amply fast enough. He had no issues using the public charging network when working with this car. Apparently, if the chargers were busy, he just pulled a large syringe out of the boot and the other users would scatter.

Why not?

Which brings us to the key question. There are superb premium electric cars that are expensive but beloved by their drivers, some of whom are “proper” horse vets. There are also more basic electric cars, which perform quite acceptably, have a functional range and are cost effective. So why aren’t corporate practices making these obligatory for their junior vets while charging their senior vets a premium for Teslas? Why don’t we all drive electric cars?

Why aren’t corporate practices making these obligatory for their junior vets while charging their senior vets a premium for Teslas? Why don’t we all drive electric cars?

There are probably three answers, two of which can be laid squarely at the door of our craven and contemptible politicians.

Tax

The first is tax. There were exceptional tax incentives to buy an electric car. Although these have been reduced, electric cars are still tax effective. But so are vans.

Buy yourself a massive truck with seats in the back for the family at the weekend. Put a cover over the seats so they are slightly tricky to use, load it up with all the unnecessary kit you may never use, including lots of drugs (which can go out of date in the boot!), slosh in 200 litres of diesel and off you go, making a massive hole in the air at the front and filling it with a mixture of CO2 and diesel particulates at the back. Tell them you never use it for private mileage or that you are self-employed: no company car tax.

Meanwhile, your electric car is currently attracting a 2 percent company car tax (could be a bill of £800 for a higher-rate taxpayer with a Tesla). Extraordinarily, plans to tax double cab pickups, ie ones where a second row of seats could be, so you can use it to take the family out at the weekend, were immediately discarded, despite being brought in progressively, so no van currently owned or indeed ordered would be affected!

Cost

The second is cost. When I bought my Tesla, diesel cost about £1.20 a litre, and electricity cost 14p/kWh. Now it is £1.60 and 31p/kWh. Diesel has gone up with inflation, while electricity has more than doubled.

I’m sure that all of us recognise that burning fossil fuels is causing a problem, yet the government avoids using taxation to provide any incentive to reduce CO2 emissions. The cynical might think this is because large numbers of voters use petrol and diesel, and being elected in five years is more important than taking steps to preserve our planet for future generations. The alternative point of view is that politicians are too stupid to understand. (Both are plausible explanations, in my mind.)

Professional vanity

The third reason can be laid at our door, and that is professional vanity. Despite overwhelming evidence from human medicine that post-operative antibiotics do not influence wound infection, almost every surgical procedure on a horse gets a few days of antibiotics afterwards. When questioned, the comment by equine surgeons is: “It is OK for human surgeons, their patients live in a clean bed, while a horse goes back to a filthy stable.” This ignores the reality that large numbers of human patients are not clean people with a reasonable body mass index, and they return to an environment filled with seriously resistant bacteria, while horses go back to an immaculate stable, and their incision is maintained by dedicated staff under a sterile bandage.

It’s no good waiting for our politicians to ‘do something’. We are intelligent, scientific and comparatively affluent people; if we cannot set an example or, better yet, take the lead on this, what hope is there?

The same is said of electric cars: “Oh, they are great for lesser people, but would never work for us horse vets. We do 400 miles a day and have to be ready to go 50 miles on an emergency call at a few seconds’ notice.” Really? There are horse vets who use electric cars. They have made some adjustments to their day and find the cars very effective for their business requirements. They love their electric cars and more of us must learn to love them. It’s no good waiting for our politicians to “do something”. We are intelligent, scientific and comparatively affluent people; if we cannot set an example or, better yet, take the lead on this, what hope is there?

Bruce Bladon

Bruce Bladon, BVM&S, Cert EP, DESTS, Dipl ECVS, FRCVS, RCVS and European specialist (equine surgery), BEVA president-elect, graduated from Edinburgh University in 1988. He spent one year in mixed practice and then six years in two equine practices (Endell Veterinary Group, Salisbury, and O’Gorman Slater and Main, Newbury) before joining Bristol University as a resident in equine surgery. He was awarded a Certificate of Equine Practice in 1992, a Diploma of Equine Soft Tissue Surgery in 1999 and a Diploma of the European College of Veterinary Surgeons in 2001. He returned to Donnington Grove Veterinary Group in 1998 and is now a clinical director. He has been recognised as a Specialist in Equine Surgery since 2000 and was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 2016.

Bruce has lectured extensively, including to the British, South African, Australian, New Zealand, Dutch, Italian and Israeli equine veterinary associations, at international meetings in Brazil, Canada, Spain and Germany, and to the European and American Colleges of Veterinary Surgeons. Bruce is the principal equine surgeon at Donnington Grove Veterinary Surgery. He was the emergency services team leader at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Bruce’s key interests are surgery, especially fracture repair and colic surgery, and he is also very involved with advanced imaging, particularly MRI.


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