Electric Vehicles: Misconceptions

There are still many who are hesitant to make the switch to fully electric vehicles, EVs. Change can often be hard and habits hard to break, but is this apprehension predominantly misled?

According to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, though the number of EVs being sold is increasing rapidly, over 1,000,000 new petrol cars were sold in 2020, approximately ten times the number of EVs.

Statistic: Passenger car registrations in the United Kingdom between 2016 and 2020, by fuel type (in 1,000 units) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

The number of EVs has, indeed, made a huge leap forward, but sadly petrol & diesel, or Internal Combustion Engine, ICE, vehicles, still dominate. Why should you switch to an electric car today? Let’s address some of the misconceptions.

EVs have rubbish range

The biggest concern that most people have with getting an EV is range. They think that all EVs can only do 80 km (50 miles) on a single charge, and that this is simply not satisfactory for their trip to Cornwall.

Yes, this was the case pre-2016, but times have changed. The reality is that the vast majority of EVs built within the last five years have a range of over 160 km (100 miles), depending on the life they have had. The latest EVs, such as the Tesla Model X, have a range of up to 547 km (340 miles).

Long range is important

Back in 2012, when range on EVs was much lower, this report was published.

95% Of All Trips Could Be Made In Electric Cars

Green Car Reports, 2012-01

Think about it. How far do you really drive during the average day?

On a daily basis, cars in the UK drive an average of 20 miles a day, 142 miles a week, 617 miles a month and 7,400 miles a year.

Average Car Mileage UK 2021, NimbleFins

The newest cars in Great Britain do an average of 10,377 miles in each of the first three years after they are registered. This is the equivalent of 28 miles per day.

Mobility FAQs, RAC Foundation

The vast majority of drivers drive significantly less than 160 km (100 miles) per day, meaning that the range on an EV could easily allow them to fulfil all their daily needs and still get home with battery to spare. Even the older models that only have a range of 80 km (50 miles) could still be useful for many people, as more employers are installing charging stations at the office. You would then be able to charge your EV at home, drive to the office and charge it there, then by the end of the working day your battery would be full again.

You cannot drive to Cornwall

For most of Britain, Cornwall is a far-away coastal region that is one of the first considerations when we think of holidaying within Britain. For the Cornish, I guess the same could be said of Bognor Regis.

The point is that no, most EVs will not allow you to do a very long drive on one charge. But as above, what you need to remember is,

how often do you actually do a very long drive?

If it is just once or twice a year, you will still be saving money by using an EV for 95% of your journeys and then renting an ICE car for the three days a year you actually need to drive to the ends of the earth. Furthermore, if everyone reduced their petrol usage by 95%, the planet would be in a much better shape.

A similar example was highlighted by Technology Connections; the LED traffic light. When LEDs were first introduced into traffic lights, many suggested that this reduced the safety of the traffic light, as LEDs do not produce enough heat to melt snow, which could obstruct the signals. They therefore insisted that incandescent bulbs should be reinstalled.

What this assertion fails to take into account is the 95% of the year when, in most parts of the world, there is no snow. Incandescent bulbs are so inefficient that they are more accurately described as heaters that happen to produce a bit of light. All this energy would be wasted during the summer, so installing LEDs, along with a heater that remains switched off unless there is snow, is significantly cheaper than running incandescent bulbs all the time.

The same “but sometimes” trap exists with EVs. We know that we do drive long distances, but fail to take the frequency of those trips into account. In reality, most of us rarely drive long distances, let alone every day, so we actually do not need the ability to do so.

Equally, you might sometimes go on a trip to Alton Towers with all your mates, but are you ever going to buy a minibus? No! You rent one! Why buy something you will almost never use?

But I do need to drive to Cornwall

The main limiting factor for EVs is not actually mechanical or chemical. It’s biological! Humans need to urinate roughly every three hours, so you will probably feel the call of nature before your EV calls for a charge.

Empty your bladder every three hours, whether you have the urge to go or not

Nazia Bandukwala, D.O., “How long is it safe to hold your urine?” Piedmont

Furthermore, driver fatigue is one of the most lethal conditions. Driving is a tiring activity, so doing it for too long can have dire consequences.

10–20% of all crashes are estimated to be caused by driver fatigue and could be as dangerous as drink-driving

DRIVER FATIGUE, Brake

The highway code, therefore, requires that drivers

plan your journey to take sufficient breaks. A minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended

Rule 91, “Rules for drivers and motorcyclists”, UK Highway Code

With the wide range of charging points now available (see next point) you could drive for a safe 90 minutes, then stop at a service station for a cuppa and a wee. By the time you are ready, your EV battery will be mostly charged again and ready to go.

There are not enough filling stations

Many people think that EVs need to be charged using the same operating model as ICE vehicles are fueled; with a petrol station. This is an understandable notion, as cars have needed petrol stations for over a century.

The first filling station in England was opened in November 1919 at Aldermaston, Berkshire by the Automobile Association (AA).

When Did England’s First Filling Station Open?, Historic England

The reality is that you might never need to visit a petrol station ever again, unless, as previously mentioned, you need to answer the call of nature. This is because, you, like most EV owners, will likely install an EV charger in your home. meaning that you can plug the car in at night and it will be fully charged by the morning. Not only does this save you money on not purchasing petrol, but also if you spend 10 minutes per week at a petrol station, you are also saving over 8.6 hours per year. This is clearly important time in your life that you can spend with people, rather than a petrol pump.

Furthermore, as of 2019,

There are now more electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the UK than conventional fuel stations

UK has more EV charging stations than petrol stations, Autotrader, 2019-08-15

If you do get caught short, you will always have somewhere to charge.

You need a driveway to charge your EV

Yes, having your own off-street parking is helpful if you want to have your own home charger, however it is not necessary. Anecdotally, I have heard of Taxi drivers who do not have their own off-road parking being perfectly happy with their Nissan Leaf and only ever using the public charging network. As above, this could work particularly well for you if your office has charging points in the car park.

EVs are expensive, ICEs are cheaper

There is no question that new EVs are, in 2021 at least, more expensive than their petrol equivalents – if you only look at the purchase price. As with many things, it is a question of “buy cheap, pay dear”. If one buys a cheap thing, it will usually cost more to run or it will break and you will have to purchase another, whereas if one buys a good quality thing, it will likely be more expensive up front, but it will probably last longer and cost less to run overall. When evaluating your purchases, it is always important to consider the total cost of ownership for three to five years, not just the up front purchase price.

For example, you can get a cheap printer from your local supermarket for £20, but the ink cartridges that make it work last for approximately 50 pages and cost £30 a pop; that’s £0.60 per page! A high quality laser printer could initially set you back about £1000, but they offer rates of approximately £0.006 per page. This allows it to effectively pay for it self in savings over the course of the three years.

ICE vehicles have been around for a while, to say the least, so the technology is mature and cheap. Car factories churn out ICE vesicles at a rate of knots, which reduces their price due to efficiencies of scale. This translates to a lower purchase price, both new and second hand. What that low purchase price hides is the cost of,

  • tax
  • maintenance
  • oil
  • coolant
  • fuel

EVs, on the other hand,

  • do not pay road tax in Britain
  • require significantly less maintenance as they have significantly fewer moving parts
  • do not drink oil, unlike some ICE cars
  • do not require coolant
  • do not require fuel

Teslas use electric motors that have two moving parts, and single-speed “transmissions” that have no gears. The company says its drive-train has about 17 moving parts compared with about 200 in a conventional internal combustion drive-train.

10 things that make electric-car maker Tesla special, MarketWatch, 2016-08-23

This means that the total cost of ownership for EVs is significantly lower than ICE vehicles.

If you are looking for a cheap, local runabout, then the first generation of Nissan Leaf (pre-2018) might be just right for you. Now that the second generation of Nissan Leaf has been released, the older model has started to flood the market, thereby pushing the price off a cliff. Do bear in mind that these models do have that slightly lower range we discussed before, however, if you utilise the above suggestions and plentiful charging stations, this is unlikely to hold you back.

Some examples that were available on Autotrader the the time of writing include,

Cars are, in general, a dumb thing to spend lots of money on as they depreciate faster than ice cream in a sauna.

Always get the minimum car that just about meets your needs so that you can put your money in to areas that can make you money. An EV can help you with this, because even if you spend a little extra on the purchase price to reduce the mileage, they almost entirely remove the biggest costs of owning a car – maintenance and fuel.

EVs are no better for the planet than ICE vehicles

This is a tough one, because there is no easy answer. Yes, most EV batteries are built from lithium right now, and lithium mining is not a pretty process, sometimes both ethically and environmentally.

If you are able to change your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint, particularly by switching to an EV, it is currently expected that this should more than offset the emissions caused by the process of producing that EV. That said, carbon offsetting is not the answer, as we need to eliminate our carbon emissions rather than trying to treat the planet like a CO₂ balance sheet. Nonetheless, doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Additionally, many manufacturers are also starting to think about what will happen to the vehicle once it reaches end of life. The Nissan Leaf, for example, is made from almost entirely recycled and recyclable materials, so when it does eventually reach that immortal charging station in the sky, its parts could be made into something else, rather than going to landfill. Perhaps even another Nissan leaf!

Another consideration is how often you change your car. If you buy a new car every two years, this has a huge environmental cost, as those resources need to be dug out of the ground, put together and shipped to you. If, however, you buy a car and use it for its entire lifespan, not only are you getting your money’s worth, but it also removes the need to make a new thing to replace a perfectly good existing thing. Don’t let the car industry persuade you that you have to upgrade to every new model, make do and mend!

Conclusion: it is just different

Ultimately, one needs to remeber that EVs are a different beast to an ICE vehicle. Not bad, just different. Once one can come to terms with this, an EV can really work for you.

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