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Electric vehicle realities

Electric vehicle realities

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I’ve published two videos on electric vehicles after my test of a Hyundai Kona EV for ten days, following on from previous electric vehicle tests. This has meant many hours of research, during which I’ve found there’s a lot of misconceptions, with many people predisposed to take a negative view of EVs based on Old Mate Research.

Conversely, some pro-EV people will take any fact or viewpoint that isn’t absolutely pro-EV and try and argue it away whilst claiming if only we all drove EVs the world’s problems would be solved, and any problems with a move to EVs are trivial.

So now I’ve upset both sides of the argument, there’s a middle ground, and that’s what I’m trying to address in my videos below. Here’s some things I’ve learned, and most are explored in the two videos below:

  • Realistically, if you just do daytrips and around-town errands or commutes, you can do all your charging at home off your standard 240v. Many owners never use anything else. So public charging is much less of a problem that first thought.
  • If you do need to go further afield, DC fast chargers are becoming ever more plentiful. But, interstate trips in an EV are simply not yet as quick and easy as an ICE trip. EV enthusiasts would beg to differ, but they’d have plenty of time to think about it during their trips. The longer the trip, the more remote and the heavier the load, the greater the difference between EV and ICE. So a Tesla driver that stops once for a supercharger on a freeway isn’t really any slower than an ICE if the latter has a long stop, but towing up the Birdsville track is a different story. As someone that used to do regular Melbourne-Canberra runs at the speed limit with aircon or heating on with a 15m stop, using a range of long-distance driving techniques…that can’t yet be done in an EV. Of course, EV owners would say I need to stop longer anyway therefore no problem, an example of EV-centric thinking. But what if there are two or three drivers sharing the drive, or the chargers are busy, or you feel like a stop where’s there’s no chargers? The stops on a long trip should be dictated by the need of the driver, not the machine, and right now, that’s not the case with EVs.
  • Towing. I have towed with a Tesla, went very well…briefly. Right now, EVs are no good for towing as very very few are rated, and their range suffers greatly. Many of my readers/followers/viewers own drive and tow long distances, as do I – I write this in a caravan I towed from Melbourne to NSW, a journey of 9 hours I did on a single (long-range) fuel fill, so this is important to us. However, if the likes of Atlis and Rivian come good on their promise, towing with EVs may become practical.
  • Charging an EV at home for the long-term may well, and should for safety, involve installation of dedicated charging equipment (EVSE).
  • EVs are great as around-town cars; no need to visit servos, easy to drive, far rather have an EV runabout than ICE.
  • But they’re still not cost effective compared to ICE cars for the majority of owners. The price difference is often far too great for comparable models, and the lower run costs don’t make up the difference unless you factor in pro-EV assumptions such as hugely better resale for EVs than ICE, lots of EV-friendly mileage, or zero-cost electricity which usually ignores the cost of infrastructure such as solar to get that low cost. But, it’s getting closer and closer. EVs won’t need to sell for the same buy price as ICE to be a better 5-year ownership cost because their run costs are much lower – fuel and servicing, so the longer you own your car and the more mileage you do, the more cost-effective an EV becomes (explored in video below).
  • It doesn’t matter how ‘dirty’ the electricity is, the modern EV is still better for the environment. In short, petrol/diesel requires a lot of effort to extract, then transport, refine, transport again. Also, ICE cars don’t convert much of the energy in a given quantity of fuel to propulsion – an EV converts around 85% of its energy to propulsion, an ICE only around 25% as a lot of the energy is lost in heat, and some more in friction due to all the moving parts. An EV also recovers energy through re-gen when slowing which greatly helps its energy efficiency. So, even in coal-powered China EVs come out ahead. I might do more on this later.
  • Tech changes…you can’t compare a first-gen Nissan Leaf of 2010 (117km range) with a 2021 Hyundai Kona EV (484km range) any more than it’s fair to compare an aged LandCruiser 60 Series with a modern 300 Series. But wait…the time between the two is different! Yes, that’s because EVs are changing more rapidly than ICE, so we’re at the point where every new release is a big improvement on the previous.
  • Batteries are getting better; Tesla and others are looking at lifetime batteries, no replacement, and ‘lifetime’ means at the moment 8 years or 240,000km with 70% capacity (Tesla), and in the future, up to 1.6 million km. How many modern ICEs are going to last that long without major rebuild work? None, I’d suggest. And then, recycling. This is one area the EVs haven’t been great, but that’s improving quickly too. There is also tech like battery management systems which ensure the battery is operating in the right temperature zone and that prolongs its life. The Kona battery (see videos below) is warranted for 8 years.
  • If you run an ICE for 200,000km you won’t need to replace the engine…but you may well need to rebuild it, and will certainly have replaced many parts of it along the way. Starter motor, alternator, spark plugs, fluids, belts, pulleys, tensioners not to mention the transmission. With an EV any battery replacement cost would be nothing, then a lot in one go, whereas with ICE the component replacement costs are smaller but more frequent.
  • Fuel security. Australia has around 2 weeks worth of fuel at any one point. Basically, we are entirely reliant on a steady stream of oil tankers arriving at our shores. All an enemy need do is stop those tankers and we’re stuffed. Electric vehicles would mitigate that risk.
  • We won’t “brown out” the grid if “everyone suddenly switches to an EV”. Firstly, EV adoption won’t happen overnight, secondly it’s easy to schedule charge EVs overnight when it’s off-peak and there’s surplus capacity. And, Australia’s total electricity consumption is reducing over the last few years.
  • Half of the world’s lithium is mined in Australia, not overseas. Historically, the process hasn’t been very environmentally friendly but that’s changing. If you were wondering about slave/child labour, that’s cobalt in Africa…and things are changing there too.
  • Copper production is critical to EVs as copper is one of the best conductors – an EV uses more than double the copper of an ICE, according to Reuters, or three times according to other sources. EV charging infrastructure also relies on copper, so there’s got to be enough supply to meet demand. I’m not clear on whether that’s possible or not.
  • Many people say EVs are complex. No, they’re not…they’re far simpler and even have fewer computers than any ICE vehicle. Much less to go wrong. It is modern cars that generally are complex, not specifically EVs. There’s a LOT of complexity in the modern ICE just dedicated purely to emissions controls; think EGR, DEF, cats, idle-stop and more, let alone the massive complexity of the ICE itself.
  • Australia has a lot of off-street parking which is ideal for charging EVs as the cable doesn’t get in the way of the public, as compared to European city or even suburb dwellers. However, for inner-city residents at-home charging is a challenge. I would find it a major pain to own an EV if I couldn’t charge it at home whilst I slept.
  • One of my readers commented that EV owners wouldn’t check tyre pressures as there’s no air hose at EV charge points. Well, the average ICE driver doesn’t check them either, but that said…I think adding an air hose to public chargers is an excellent idea!
  • EV enthusiasts claim EVs are fun to drive. I’ve been thinking about this and there will be a video on the subject shortly. I had a good chat with David Tracy about it and we agreed EVs can be fun, but in a different way to ICE.
  • “But transport is only 24% of the world emissions, and cars are only 13%” or similar. Sure, it’s wrong to claim that if we switched to EVs overnight the world’s problems would be solved, far from it, despite what the EVangelists claim. But every little bit helps, and cars tend to pollute where humans live, with consequent effects on health. So the effect of reducing car emissions is, from a health perspective, greater than the percentage of emissions would suggest.
  • What about hydrogen? That’s got a lot of advantages relative to electric, namely lower weight, greater range and quicker refuelling so is arguably the future. But, chicken-and-egg…there’s no hydrogen infrastructure, so few cars. I think that we’ll start to see hydrogen used in trucks which work from a night base, and that’ll expand to interstate trucks, and then beyond to cars.
  • Did you know? Around 1% of the new cars sold in Australia are electric, but in Norway it’s more like 75%.

And think about this. We’re switching from petrol chainsaws and mowers to electric, and from cord power tools to cordless. I never want to use a petrol chainsaw or mower again, and no longer own either. All that is driven off improved battery technology, and cars are no different.

Here’s a look at EV vs ICE using the Kona as an example, complete with cost comparison:

And this one takes a look at EV charging.

Some notes from a Kona owner:

  • There is a small aftermarket frunk for the Kona;
  • A spare wheel can be made to fit (not supplied as standard);
  • He says his range decrease is more like 10% (this is not what I’ve found or the car itself suggests).

Finally, Tesla recently set the first official EV lap record at the Nurburging. In this video I compare that lap against the one set by a pre-production Porsche Taycan, and a BMW M5 CS to give an ICE comparsion.

Worried about EV 4x4s? Watch this:

Robert Pepper Automotive journalist specialising in 4X4s, sportscars, camping and future tech.

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