Electric Cars: Myths vs Facts
This is a big one. Brace yourself. I’m going to talk about the top EV myths I hear about the most often.
Takes Too Long To Charge
“I can gas up in 5 minutes, but it takes hours for an EV.”
While that’s technically true, it’s not taking into account how your fueling pattern changes with an EV. In an ICE car, you drive until your tank reaches a point that it needs more gasoline, say 1/4 tank. Then you make a detour to a gas station and spend 5 minutes fueling up and then go along your way.
If you're an EV owner and have a dedicated parking spot, like a garage, that has a place to plug in, you can do that every night when you get home. No detour, no waiting until you have a 1/4 tank left, you just plug it in every night, or every few nights. The next day when you get up to drive to work or run errands, you have a full tank ready to go. No waiting at a gas station. No fumes. No detours. It’s a completely different fueling pattern.
Driving long distance might take a little longer, but again, not as much as you might think. For instance, while driving from Boston to upstate New York to visit my parents (roughly 380 miles or 611 km) I pass 10 Tesla Superchargers. My car has a range of 310 miles fully charged, but let’s knock that down to 250 miles to account for things like cold temperatures or inefficient driving. I’ll only need to make one stop during that trip to fuel up, and in the 20 years I’ve been making this drive in ICE cars, we always stop somewhere to eat lunch about half way into the trip. If we spend 30-45 minutes to stop, eat, stretch our legs, and charge at a Supercharger, we’ll have more than enough to get to my parents house. Since we’ve always made food and pit stops like this in the middle of the trip to eat and gas up, there really isn’t a change to the total drive time. Again, it does take longer than gassing up, but your car can charge without you there, which leaves you to take care of other errands at the same time.
The one area where the “I can gas up in 5 minutes” starts to gain some real truth is for folks who don’t have a dedicated parking spot in an apartment building or a garage at home, where they can’t plug in every single night. This is really for people who have to park on the street. They need to find alternative ways to power up and depending on where you live and work, this is something you’ll need to figure out if it can work for you. In my area, many companies have installed EV charges in their office and business parking lots, so you can charge your car up while at work. Or charge up your car at the grocery store while you shop. Again, multitasking that saves you time over a gas station, but it really depends on where you are. There are still areas that may not have widely distributed public EV chargers yet, so street parking EV owners will have a bigger challenge and it may not work well for you day to day. But I think you’ll be surprised at how many public stations there are, and you can find out by using apps like PlugShare, Open Charge Map, or ChargePoint, and in Europe Chargemap.
And finally there’s increased investment worldwide on building out DC fast charging locations. Many public chargers are either Level 1 or Level 2 AC chargers, which range in charging speeds from a few miles added per hour to 30+ added per hour. Level 2 is what you see most often in public locations. With DC fast charging, which is similar to Tesla Superchargers, you can get rates of up to 9 miles per minute.1 Those networks are getting built out quickly with over 2,000 sites in the United States so far, and even more available in Europe.2 And there are 350kw fast chargers starting to open up, which can charge around 20 miles per minute.3
Can’t Drive in a Blackout
“What happens when the power is out? I can still gas up my car.”
In the United States the average custom er experiences 1.3 power interruptions that account for four hours during the year.4 And that’s including major events that knock the power out. Obviously, your mileage will vary depending on where you live.
I don’t know anyone that keeps their gas or EV nearly empty until they need it, so you’d have whatever is in your car when the blackout happens. For most EV owners, that will probably be a fairly full battery. If you talking about those blackout averages, then there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. If you’re talking about something more catastrophic, where power could be out for days, then everyone will be affected because gas stations may not have power for the gas pumps. In those situations, you wouldn’t be driving around like normal, you’d be driving to get to safety and would have to plan accordingly. Again, extremely rare.
Batteries Don’t Last
“The batteries don’t last long and are super expensive to replace!”
This one is a resoundingly false from all my research. Many people compare the longevity of their cellphone battery to the longevity of an EV battery, which is apples and oranges. You might notice significant degradation on your phone in a few years, but not so in an EV. They have different battery chemistry, different use cases, and charging patterns. Nissan Leaf taxis have been shown to have 75% of their battery capacity after 120,000 miles (193,000 km) of service.5 Tesla’s show an even better longevity with 5% loss after 50,000 miles (80,000 km), and another 5% after 150,000 miles (241,000 km). With the average U.S. driver going about 13,000 miles per year, and owning a car on average for 7 years6 you will not even come close to needing to replace the battery on a new car. Not to mention that most EVs come with an 8 year or 100,000+ mile warranty on the battery. The average usable lifespan of the battery will extend way beyond that point.
But how much does it cost? In 2012 it was reported that a Tesla Model S 85 kWh battery cost $12,000 to replace.7 However, lithium ion battery price per kWh has been declining rapidly from around $400 per kWh in 2012 to around $150 per kWh.8 Tesla has publicly stated that it’s trying to get a to a $100 per kWh very soon, which will drive the battery pack price down even further.9 Given how quickly the prices are dropping, and the fact that you wouldn’t have to worry about an out of warranty battery for 8 years, the cost isn’t going to be anything to worry about when you project prices out 8 or more years.
EVs Aren’t As Clean As You Think
“EVs put out more carbon to produce than gas cars.” “You’re powering your EV from a coal plant, so you aren’t saving anything.”
This one is complex because there is a little truth in those statements, but they’re completely out of context. You need to look at the full lifecycle of a car from manufacturing, to use, to disposal.
Let’s start with manufacturing. The Union of Concerned Scientists completed a thorough study10 that showed an 84-mile range EV results in about 15% more emissions during manufacturing than a gasoline vehicle, and a 250 mile range EV comes in around 68% in higher emissions. It all comes down to the size of the battery pack.11 As crazy as that 68% higher may sound, it’s quickly overshadowed by a gasoline car as soon as it’s driven off the lot ... well, not right off the lot, but within 18 months of driving. The EV will result in 53% lower overall emissions compared to a similar gasoline car.
So how do we get to that 53%? Let’s look at the well-to-wheel emissions, which accounts for extraction, processing, and distribution of the primary energy sources that the vehicles use.
All of this really comes down to your electricity source, which is fairly easy to find out if you don’t already know. Depending on where you live this can change drastically. Looking at data from the U.S. Department of Energy, in Massachusetts we’re 69% natural gas, 16% nuclear, 8% renewable (solar, hydro, wind), and 4% coal ... and a few other random things round it out. A gasoline car produces 11,435 pounds of CO2 equivalent each year vs. an EV in Massachusetts at 3,533 pounds of CO2 equivalent each year. If you take a step back and look at the national average, EVs step up slightly to 4,453 pounds of CO2 equivalent per year. Move to a state like Missouri, which is 80% coal, and EVs produce 8,135 pounds of CO2 equivalent per year. Still better than gasoline cars, but nothing close to what we’re seeing in states like California at 1,974 pounds of CO2 for an EV each year.12 Even a purely coal electricity driven EV will pollute less than an average conventional gasoline car over its lifespan.13
It’s the emissions saved from using the car day to day that pull EVs way ahead of gasoline cars, and as more states and countries move into cleaner electricity, those numbers will continue to improve over time. Norway is nearly 100% renewable energy right now. And some surveys have shown that between 28-40% of EV owners have solar panels on their homes, like I do.
And finally, the end of life of these cars. Lithium ion batteries can be recycled, which will keep hazardous materials from entering the waste system. Some car companies, like Renault with their Zoe EV in Europe, are taking degraded batteries and repurposing them into their whole home battery storage system.14 Tesla already has partners for recycling spent battery cells, but is planning to build out it’s internal recycling system to make all of the Gigafactories a closed loop system. It’s not only good for the environment, but it also makes financial sense because they can recoup a lot of valuable materials without having to dig for more.15 In the end, both gasoline and EVs put out just under one ton of CO2 during disposal.
Not Enough Range
“They don’t have enough range. You can’t make long trips.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation shows that Americans drive an average of less than 40 miles, or 64 km, per day.16 A Nissan Leaf has a range of around 150 miles or 240 km, a Chevy Bolt is around 200 miles or 320 km, and the long range Tesla Model 3 is around 300 miles or 480 km. Any of those EVs are more than enough for your daily drive without any worry of range. And as I mentioned before, if you’re plugging in at home at the end of the day, you never have to worry about range the following day either.
But what about longer range trips. Well, according to data from the good old Department of Transportation here in the U.S., 98% of all single-trip journeys were under 50 miles. Trips over 70 miles in length account for just one percent of all single-trip journeys. And if we only account for more rural travelers, who drive longer distances than urban travelers, it’s still 95% of all trips being under 50 miles. And when looking at all drivers and the average round trips, 93% drive less than 100 miles round trip a day.17
For the more rare, genuinely long range trips, which I do myself a couple of times a year, something like a Nissan Leaf may not be practical. Fast charging locations off a highway might be able to charge you up in 30-60 minutes,18 but with a range of 150 miles you’d be stopping for 30 minutes every 125 miles or so. If I were driving to my parents house, which is roughly 380 miles away, I’d be stopping three times in a Leaf, but with cars like the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt, and upcoming Hyundai Kona, I’d only be stopping once. That’s same number of stops, and the same length of stop as I would do in a gas car. And if you combine EVs longer ranges we’re seeing today with the faster charging networks being rolled out, this is even less of a problem.
EVs Are Expensive
“They’re too expensive. You’ll never see the savings in gas.”
Yes, right now EVs are more expensive upfront. And yes, many EVs on the market are more in the luxury price point. At least right now, but that’s changing quickly. This is always how new technology and manufacturing works. In the beginning it’s very expensive to produce, which means the luxury markets tend to get access to the new, cool tech first. As manufacturing yields better results and efficiencies are made, they can produce more for less cost per unit, which drives the cost down and out of the luxury market. Tesla is transitioning through that phase right now with the model 3. Their first cars would run you close to six figures, but today they’re edging closer and closer to the target of $35,000 for the short range Model 3. The Chevy Bolt is already available for around $30,000, and can sometimes be found for less. The Hyundai Kona, a CUV that I’m genuinely excited for, is due out next year here in the U.S. for $36,000. With or without a tax rebate, EVs are rapidly hitting prices that the average consumer can afford. In a couple of years we may be seeing cars in the mid $20,000 range, which is where the upcoming VW ID Neo is rumored to be, not to mention the used market that will grow over time.
An EV in the United States on average costs half as much to run as an equivalent gasoline car. Based on a University of Michigan study, they found EVs to cost roughly $485 per year vs. $1,117 for gas. Electricity prices tend to be more stable and easier to project over time than gasoline prices, which can fluctuate wildly. Being more predictable makes EVs easier to budget for.19 Then there’s the maintenance costs. With fewer moving parts, exhaust system, less wear on brakes, smaller and more efficient cooling system, no oil, no engine air filters, timing belts ... you get the idea ... the cost of maintaining an EV is lower than a gasoline car too. How much less? That’s very hard to estimate given the wide variety of gasoline cars and their reliability, but it is less.
Will you come out ahead vs. a gasoline powered car? It depends on what cars you’re looking at. Comparing a Tesla Model 3 long range AWD to a Toyota Camry isn’t a exactly apples to apples, but if you’re looking at spending about $30,000 on a car regardless of the type of engine, then you can easily say that a $30,000 EV will cost you less than a $30,000 gasoline car over time. But it all comes down to whether or not that $30,000 EV has the looks, features, and build quality you want.
“You’re driving a bomb on wheels!”
I’ve gotten this basic statement a few times since I started my channel, and I hate to break it to you, but every car on the road is a bomb on wheels. Gasoline isn’t exactly fire friendly.
The biggest problem with the “EVs catch on fire” myth is that it’s being perpetuated by the media because it’s sensational. It’s newsworthy because Tesla cars and other EVs are still rare, and events like the Samsung Galaxy exploding batteries didn’t help matters. When one catches on fire it’s a news event, but when a gasoline car catches on fire it barely gets a mention ... and only then if it’s blocking traffic. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stated that the risk of fire on:
“Lithium ion battery systems are anticipated to be somewhat comparable to or perhaps slightly less than those for gasoline or diesel vehicular fuels.”20
There’s a car fire in the U.S. about every 1-3 minutes, which totals about 174,000 vehicle fires a year. With there being so many fewer EVs on the roads, it looks like there's virtually no fires in comparison. From a CNN Money article: “Tesla claims that gasoline powered cars are about 11 times more likely to catch fire than a Tesla. It says the best comparison is fires per 1 billion miles driven. It says the 300,000 Teslas on the road have been driven a total of 7.5 billion miles, and about 40 fires have been reported. That works out to five fires for every billion miles traveled, compared to a rate of 55 fires per billion miles traveled in gasoline cars.” It’s still very early, so in time we’ll get better data around the fire risk, but it’s been grossly overstated in the media up to now and blown out of proportion.
You’ll have to excuse me while I get on a tiny soapbox here. This wasn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s some of the most common comments I’ve received since I started the channel. Many of these myths have been perpetuated by the media, pushed by oil companies, and even by car manufactures themselves. If you haven’t watched the movie, “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” I recommend you give it a look ... some of this has been around a long time.
EVs are still in the minority, and until you experience driving and living with one yourself, it can sometimes be hard to wrap your head around how different from gasoline cars they are, and yet ... the same. Charging behavior can’t be mapped to how you’re accustomed to fueling a gasoline car. The idea EVs pollute as badly as gasoline cars from production through use is one that’s been floating out there for years.
The transition off of fossil fuels has finally started and isn’t going to stop this time. There’s too much momentum behind it around the world, and the technologies making it possible are becoming cheaper every day. No matter your political persuasion, worldview, country of origin, this transition makes sense for personal finances, for business opportunities and job growth, for energy independence and national security. It just makes sense, but right now we’re in a period of transition and there’s a natural lack of understanding because this is all still new. And that leaves open a gigantic opportunity for fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
None of what I’ve said should be taken as, “get out there and buy an EV now.” EVs are still on the expensive side of things, and it may not make financial sense for you right now. You may still have a perfectly good working car that has many years ahead of it. Be pragmatic about it, but when it’s time to purchase a new car, you should give serious consideration to an EV. There are many exciting, and more affordable options on the way.
1 Electrify America https://www.electrifyamerica.com/about-ev-charging
4 According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration data from 2016. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=35652
9 https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/09/100-kwh-tesla-battery-cells-this-year-100-kwh-tesla-battery-packs-in-2020/ and https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/electric-vehicles/electric-cars-battery-life-materials-cost and https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/09/100-kwh-tesla-battery-cells-this-year-100-kwh-tesla-battery-packs-in-2020/
12 The U.S. Department of Energy provides a really good breakdown by each state what the CO2 production is for each vehicle type. https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.html
13 From the Union of Concerned Scientists study, “When driving a BEV recharged from the cleanest regional grids in the United States, these extra manufacturing emissions are offset within the first 15,000 miles of driving, or in just under one year for the aver- age driver. On the dirtiest grid they are offset within 39,000 miles, or in less than three years for the typical vehicle owner.” https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/electric-vehicles/life-cycle-ev-emissions