They can’t go very far, charging takes too long, and it’s debatable whether or not they improve global warming. Several complaints have been leveled against electric vehicles. What follows below is everything you need to know about electric cars, from their service time to range, environmental impact, and much more.
How many electric vehicles are already on the road?
There were approximately 48 million passenger automobiles on the road in the United States in 2021, and of them, one million were electric vehicles. Traditionally, when people talk about “electric cars,” they’re referring to BEVs, or “pure” electric cars powered only by an electric motor and battery. However, “PHEVs,” or plug-in hybrids, are often included in these as well.
Those are vehicles that not only use an electric motor and battery but also carry a combustion engine. According to statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), “pure” electric cars are still far less common.
Number of electric cars is rapidly increasing
This makes BEVs somewhat of a rarity; in many developed countries, just one in a hundred vehicles is electric. But this is starting to change, thanks in large part to more sales caused by government subsidies and a wider range of models.
Car manufacturers such as Jaguar, Volvo, Bentley, and Ford intend to create solely electric cars by 2030, and they are transforming their manufacturing facilities. In Europe, the shift to electric cars is being pushed forward by the European Parliament, which will outlaw the production and sale of new combustion engines beginning in the year 2035.
After all, the EU has set a target of 2050 for reaching carbon neutrality. Since transportation is the third-largest contributor to global warming pollution (after the energy sector and industries), drastic changes are needed. Only by increasing the number of electric cars on the road will manufacturers be able to meet the ever-tightening CO2 restrictions for their fleets.
How do electric cars work?
The electric motor is small and simple in construction, and the electric cars do not need a gearbox, catalytic converter, or other internal combustion engine components such as an exhaust system, a timing belt, or an oil tank. Plugging an electric vehicle into a charging station allows it to draw power from the grid. They use rechargeable batteries to store the energy and use an electric motor to turn the wheels.
The onboard charger transforms AC current from the charge port to DC power for charging the battery. In e-cars, a DC/DC converter transforms higher-voltage DC to the lower-voltage DC electricity required to run vehicle accessories. To regulate the power of an electric motor, electronic controllers govern the flow of electrical energy.
The thermal cooling system keeps the electric motor operating temperature within 175°F to 210°F (80°C to 100°C). And the transmission is responsible for transferring mechanical power from the electric traction motor to the wheels.
How do electric cars drive?
Since electric cars accelerate quicker than typical fuel-powered automobiles, this makes them feel lighter to drive. Like an automatic gearbox in a combustion engine, the gas pedal is on the right and the brake pedal is on the left. Because electric motors can draw efficient power across a broad speed range, most modern electric vehicles don’t even use traditional gears. Starting from a stop is much faster than with a combustion engine because the full torque (power) is available at low engine speeds.
Also unique to electric cars is the reduced need for braking. When you let off the throttle, the vehicle effectively “brakes,” a process known as recuperation (or regenerative braking), in which the car’s engine transforms into a generator to convert the kinetic energy, from braking or thrust operation, into power for the battery. Electric cars are like driving bumper cars at a carnival.
A silent vehicle
For people who like to listen to their cars rather than drive them, electric vehicles are an undesirable alternative due to their lack of noise and vibration.
But electric cars will not make cities quiet either. Electric cars are required by law to have loudspeakers on the outside that make an artificial noise that can be heard by other drivers.
But at speeds beyond 12 miles (20 kilometers) per hour, the noise is no longer produced since the rolling noise of the tires is already audible.
The maximum range of an electric car
The size of the battery is the most important component in determining the range of electric cars; other factors include the vehicle’s weight, aerodynamics, and control system.
The average BEV range in 2020 was 220 miles (350 km). As of 2022, premium models with powerful batteries offer a range of 370 miles (600 km) or more. There are more moderately priced models, like the VW ID.3, that have a range of 335 miles (540 km). But an efficient diesel still easily breaks the 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) mark on one tank, and unlike electric cars, the full range of an internal combustion engine can be refilled in just a few minutes.
How durable is an electric car?
Unlike internal combustion engines, there is a lack of empirical data on how many kilometers an electric car will cover over its lifetime. An internal combustion engine is considered old after 125,000 mi (200,000 km), but depending on quality and care, it can also last 250,000 mi (400,000 km), which is about 8,600 hours of operation.
On the other hand, engineers are certain that electric motors can endure an amazing 30,000 hours of operation time, based on actual numbers from the industry. A good electric motor should last between one and two million kilometers. However, it is likely that automakers do not install the highest-quality parts for cost reasons, but instead design their electric motors for a typical service life.
The battery is the decisive factor in the service life
According to calculations, a car with a range of 280 mi (450 km) can drive 280,000 to 850,000 mi (450,000 to 1.35 million km) before the battery becomes too weak. Electric car manufacturers usually provide a warranty of 100,000 mi (160,000 km) or eight years on the battery; sometimes even ten. A new electric car battery is theoretically capable of 1,500 to 3,000 charging cycles.
But, there is a scarcity of long-term studies
However, there are still rarely any actual long-term tests that analyze the lifespan of electric cars. The dilemma: If you look at the progress of the previous few years, tested battery technologies will be outdated again within a few years.
In addition, an electric car battery requires maintenance every day. Severe discharge, very rapid charging, large power peaks due to strong acceleration, and extreme cold or heat may all shorten the battery’s service life in an electric car.
When looking for a used electric car, the buyers should focus on the battery (rather than the mileage driven, as is the case with a conventional vehicle) and ask questions such as the condition of the battery, how often it has been maintained, and how many charging cycles it has reached.
The charging problem
One common criticism of electric vehicles is that they need too much time to recharge.
There are over 50,000 public and partially public charging stations in many developed countries, around 20% of which are fast charging points. However, the charging infrastructure is primarily concentrated in metropolitan areas, and many communities, especially those in rural areas, do not have even a single public charging point.
More than 800,000 public charging points will be needed by 2030 in many of the developed countries, based on the assumption that around 15 million cars will then have electric drives in each of those countries. But the expansion of charging stations is not currently keeping pace with new registrations.
Aside from how slowly new charging stations are being built, another problem is that there isn’t a central map of the world that shows all the most recent stations and shows whether or not they are working.
Furthermore, there are several suppliers with whom you may need to register, vast discrepancies in charging speed, and unclear and sometimes absurd electricity pricing. Anyone who buys an electric car and plans lengthy trips needs to have a great deal of experience and patience.
The charging at home
But because electric cars need so much power, you shouldn’t plug them into regular home outlets unless you have to.
If you wish to charge a medium-sized 40 kWh battery, it will take around 17 hours at a typical power outlet. Most home power lines are not meant for such a power demand over such a long period. And in the worst scenario, an overload may lead to fires.
Because of this, it is important to have a wallbox installed in your home, not only because it is safer but also because it is more powerful. Models with 11 kilowatts are more than four times as fast as the average home socket, which means that a 40 kWh battery can be charged in less than four hours.
Special fast-charging stations are far quicker than standard charging stations; premium ones may charge at up to 250 kilowatts, which enables a range of 60 miles (100 kilometers) to be recharged in less than five minutes.
Currently, the majority of charging in electric cars takes place in private settings such as homes and offices, with just a small percentage using public charging stations.
Is there enough electricity for electric cars?
Infrastructure operators think that most developed countries could handle more than 10 million passenger cars right now. However, if around 50 million passenger cars were electric at the same time, the current power grid would quickly reach its limits in many countries, especially if many people charged their cars after work at the same time.
Yet, if we are all going to be driving electric in the not-too-distant future, we need to start expanding the power grid right now and build sophisticated charging systems that can communicate with each other.
How safe are electric cars?
Crash testing is now somewhat easier for modern automobiles from reputable manufacturers; the battery, which is usually situated beneath the vehicle’s underbody, is the focus of crash tests for electric cars.
This structure must be protected from deformation in an accident. Electric cars are usually safer than conventionally powered cars because of the improved crash construction to protect the battery in the vehicle.
The danger of electric car batteries
Due to the lithium-ion battery’s inability to be extinguished after it has caught fire, the only effective method of putting out a fire in an electric car is to cool down the battery with extinguishing water.
This takes hundreds of liters of water to extinguish a fire in a regular automobile, but thousands are required to extinguish a fire in an electric car, and the only way to do it is to saturate the battery.
However, the intensity of the fire is not determined by the engine itself but by the number and kind of combustible components installed; large vehicles with plenty of plastic burn with the highest intensity.
There is work being done to develop special equipment for electric cars that drives extinguishing water straight into the battery, and special fire blankets are also being devised.
However, studies done so far have shown that electric cars are not more prone to fires; in fact, the contrary is true. But, these studies are limited in scope, and it is reasonable to predict that issues may worsen as the car ages.
Risk of electric shock
Due to the potentially lethal nature of electric cars’ high-voltage systems, their components and cables are carefully shielded, and in the event of an accident, the power supply is automatically disconnected. Nevertheless, emergency personnel still require specialized training in the case of recovering passengers from an electric car.
There are rescue cards containing a blueprint of the automobile, which are designed to speed up the process of vehicle extrication. They can be obtained online from the manufacturer and fastened beneath the driver’s sun visor.
Are electric cars better for climate and the environment?
The life cycle assessment is the most highly discussed subject in the field of electric cars. After all, it is the foundation for the electromobility shift in many nations, including all subsidies, and infrastructure.
However, the computations are difficult, the parameters vary, and electric car models are often different from each other. The researches are likewise disparate, with critical elements often overlooked.
CO2 and equivalents
While the majority of greenhouse gases produced by an internal combustion engine originate from the exhaust, the majority of CO2 emissions produced by an electric vehicle come from the fuel mix used in electricity generation and battery manufacturing. But this is still considerably simplified.
Reports indicate that an electric car would need to be driven more than 120,000 miles (200,000 km) to be more climate-friendly than a similar combustion engine, but this does not account for the development, manufacture, or transport of fossil fuels.
Every new study indicates that electric cars are somewhat more efficient than the last one, and this is to be expected as battery factories get more productive, battery technologies become more compact, and manufacturers progressively use green electricity and use more climate-friendly materials.
The Worldwide Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a non-profit international organization that earned a reputation for revealing the Volkswagen emissions crisis in 2015, has computed the total amount of emissions produced by a vehicle during its entire lifetime.
Reducing emissions by a large margin
Assuming the current electricity generation fuel mix in Europe and registered vehicles, the ICCT estimates that fully electric compact cars, such as the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus, will produce 66–69% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable combustion engine. Furthermore, using only green electricity, such as that generated by a photovoltaic system, would result in emissions that are even 78–81% lower than those of combustion engine vehicles. Meaning that after 7,000 to 19,000 miles (11,000 to 30,000 km), they would have caught up with CO2-intensive battery production.
It is also estimated that an electric car with a huge battery would require even more than 125,000 miles (200,000 km) of driving under very poor factory conditions if, contrary to expectations, the electricity generation mix hardly improves it. However, this scenario is deemed unrealistic, and future plans such as the “second life” (see below) are not included.
What’s the deal with plug-in hybrids?
Sales of plug-in hybrids, in particular among businesses, have skyrocketed owing to government incentives.
Studies revealed that in practice, the consumption of plug-in hybrids was several times higher than electric cars because the electric drive was rarely used and rarely charged due to its shorter range. Especially as a company car, the plug-in hybrid came off very poorly against e-cars. This makes a more efficient, lightweight internal combustion engine more climate-friendly than plug-in hybrids.
Electric cars use rare earth elements
The electric motor is small and straightforward in design, and the electric car doesn’t require a transmission or catalytic converter, or other components common to internal combustion engines like an exhaust system, a timing belt, or an oil tank.
But the battery, which may add anywhere from 450 to 1500 pounds (200 to 700 kilos) to the weight of a BEV, cancels out the material savings in e-cars. Battery electric cars are already heavier than similar combustion vehicles, and the battery in particular demands raw materials that are regarded as crucial.
With the rise of electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries have become practically essential. In 2020, 90,000 US tons (82,000 metric tons) of light metal were mined globally, which is expected to double in the coming years. There is plenty of “white gold” available in the world; 14 million tons are stored in reserves in all countries. A single country with moderate lithium deposits like Germany (under the Rhine River) provides enough lithium to construct several hundred million electric cars alone.
Currently, four nations dominate the global market in lithium production: Australia, Chile, China, and Argentina. While lithium is mined in Australia, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia employ lithium-containing evaporating brine. Water is pumped from the subsurface into massive basins to conduct this.
Although little is known about the consequences, experts are concerned that vital fresh water may flow in those areas, hastening the drying out of already-dry fields.
However, lithium mining is also crucial, since chemicals used to dissolve the lithium may seep underground and pollute drinking water. Every 2,000 to 10,000 liters of water used for lithium-ion battery production include 22 pounds (10 kilos) of Chilean lithium.
Cobalt has been utilized in lithium-ion batteries since the 1990s; the two elements together provide a high energy density. Cobalt is also used in the metal and chemical sectors; in 2017, the battery industry accounted for over half of worldwide cobalt demand.
The majority of the world’s cobalt deposits are located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whereas Australia only has around 17 percent.
It’s no secret that the cobalt mining and production circumstances are regrettable.
Although batteries might potentially be recycled for their rare earth elements, recycling is now only playing a negligible role.
The environmental effects of batteries
The production of batteries is currently a dirty and energy-intensive industry, particularly if they are produced in China using coal-fired power, which more manufacturers are recently attempting to avoid. However, a significant amount of transparency and innovation pressure is building up in battery manufacturing that should have existed decades ago.
Critics of the electric car, in a manner analogous to those who argue that the combustion engine is preferable because of the climate balance, point to all these issues while ignoring the far more widespread negative effects of the oil industry on the environment.
The search for oil on land and in the oceans is a massive encroachment on the environment and, often, on human rights. And this is in addition to the regular environmental disasters caused by oil leaks.
Are electric cars healthier for humans?
Even though the electricity used to power electric cars still comes largely from fossil sources, emissions from the corresponding power plants do not generally take place in conurbations, which is a clear advantage of electric cars.
Even if the brakes of an electric vehicle are safeguarded by regenerative braking, the higher weight of e-cars still plays a role in tire wear. Brake and tire wear create greater fine particles than exhaust gasses. In fact, the majority of particle emissions originate from the abrasion of brake pads and tires, which also includes electric cars.
Anticipated improvements for e-car batteries
Alternatives to cobalt-based batteries
Lithium iron phosphate batteries are very durable and inexpensive, and the risk of fire is even lower. Tesla already uses them in their vehicles. However, they cannot match the performance of lithium-ion batteries.
Research is also being conducted into sodium-ion batteries, which don’t use lithium, cobalt, or nickel. And there are always new battery formulations being developed, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
The solid-state battery ushers in a new era
Solid-state batteries are similar to lithium-ion batteries in that the elements serve as the base, but in this case, lithium is in solid form. Since there are no flammable liquids, the solid-state battery is considerably smaller and lighter.
Therefore, a solid-state battery’s range could be double that of a lithium-ion battery and even surpass the performance of efficient diesel. While many researchers predict that the solid-state battery will be ready for series production in five to ten years, others are more pessimistic and still consider liquid batteries to be the measure of all things.
The middle North Pacific is home to the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a roughly 435-mile (7,000-km) long submarine fracture zone that might be intriguing for electromobility.
There, on the seafloor up to four miles (six km) deep, are manganese nodules—potato-sized assemblages of sought-after elements like manganese, cobalt, nickel, and copper. Countries get mining licenses for this zone, but before mining can begin, the effects on the environment still need to be studied.
Second life for e-car batteries
An electric vehicle requires a battery with at least 80 percent of its original capacity to continue to run normally. Therefore, whether a weaker battery might still be utilized (known as “second life”) is of great interest, especially in light of the low recycling rate and the considerable manufacturing effort required for batteries.
With typical use, an electric car battery actually wouldn’t need to be thrown away for more than 20 years. Researchers estimate that weak car batteries could still serve as electricity storage for another ten to twelve years, for example during energy surpluses in the power grid.
Why are electric cars so expensive?
Large electric cars, in particular, are significantly more expensive than comparable internal combustion vehicles. However, the price per battery cell has halved in the last seven years, and the price will continue to fall as battery production sites are expanded.
In fact, with incentives, buying an electric car may be less expensive than buying a comparable gas-powered vehicle today.
Not a viable option for everyone
Although electric vehicle ranges are improving, they are still not perfect for everyone; those who often commute long distances, such as business travelers, may find it more convenient to have a garage or driveway fitted with a wallbox rather than rely on public charging stations, which are still not as widespread as gas stations.
The impact of power and natural gas shortages on electric cars
The relatively low cost of operating an electric car was a major selling point until recently when electricity prices began to soar around the world, especially in Europe. This was due in part to the rising cost of gas, which has a domino effect on electricity prices. For instance, France has been exporting very little electricity due to maintenance and shutdowns at its nuclear power plants. Thus, when the price of gasoline is rising, the demand for electric cars is declining too.
An oversimplified example would be that if the price of gasoline is $2 per liter or $7.4 for a gallon in the United Kingdom and the gasoline engine uses six liters per 60 mi (100 km), a UK citizen would spend $12 per 60 mi.
In comparison, the electric version of the car uses about 19-kilowatt hours over the same distance. The average cost of electricity in the UK is $0.28 per kilowatt-hour. So it would be $5.3 for 60 mi (100 km). However, in August 2022, the kilowatt-hour price of electricity in Germany reached as high as 0.70 cents, and the price for 60 mi (100 km) was $13. The price per liter of petrol in Germany is $1.85, which means $11 per 60 mi (100 km) for a petrol car.
On the other hand, the cost of electricity and gasoline is a lot cheaper in the United States. For $4.1 per gallon ($1.08 per liter) and $0.104 per kilowatt-hour, these figures convert to $6.5 per 60 miles for a gasoline car and $2 per 60 miles for an electric car.
Europe’s auto industry groups are worried that this would slow down the introduction of electric cars by a lot.
What can people do about rising electricity costs or shortages?
- Power rates at charging stations may vary widely, and those at rapid charging stations tend to be the most expensive. However, certain tariffs have fixed pricing, so the cost of charging does not increase a lot even if electricity prices rise.
- Photovoltaic solar systems can store extra electricity, which makes them an especially good long-term investment for electric cars.
- If possible, charge your e-car at home at a low power level to protect the battery (less heat is generated) and the power grid while minimizing the charging cost.
In the long run, electric cars should become a vital element of a smart grid to absorb extra energy and release it when required; they are essentially large power banks that can be driven but remain stationary for 23 hours a day.
Experts say that if we could utilize the power stored in around 2 million electric vehicles, we would generate all the electricity produced from renewable sources in a developed country, at a predictable and cheap cost.
- Shirin Ali, “More Americans are buying electric vehicles, as gas car sales fall, report says”, 2022.
- Jeff McMahon, “Electric Vehicles Cost Less Than Half As Much To Drive”, 2018.
- Autocar, How much does it cost to charge an electric car?”, 2021.
- The Reuters, EU proposes effective ban for new fossil-fuel cars from 2035″, 2021.
- Rac.co.uk, “Vehicle exhaust emissions | What comes out of a car exhaust?”, 2021.