A few years ago an electric car was just another old and crazy idea destined to entertain a close bunch of gadgetheads and receive a spot in the totallyabsurd archive and a shower of ironic laughter. Today it still is a crazy idea with the only difference that, once receiving substantial funding from world governments and the private sector, the electric car is now going to be a part of our lives – want it or not.
So, what is it all about? Is electric car any good? I’ve tried to sum up the main pros and cons of electric cars to help you decide if an EV is meant for you. In certain circles I am considered a sceptic that’s why I will start with cons.
Ah, wait a minute. Please note that the purpose of this article is not to scare you away, rather to encourage you to buy an EV. I’m just giving you all the facts – then you decide what to make of it.
Cons of Electric Cars
- Zero Emission Hype: many eco-bashers want you to believe that an electric car is a zero emission vehicle. Tell you what, it is not. Your electric car is as green as the electricity that powers it. If your energy provider operates a thermo-plant (coal, fuel) or buys electricity from abroad, your electric car may emit more grams of CO2 per mile than my Jaguar.
If it is a hydro-station that provides the energy, alas, you are again nowhere near your environmentalist ideals. Hydro-stations totally upset the subtle eco-system of a river. I bet if you let the fish choose, she would rather want you to drive a gas-guzzler than kill her spawn by installing another dam. I’m dead serious about this – hydro-electric stations should be abolished. Scroll down to the pros section for more info about energy.
- Infrastructure: Somebody will have to pay for installing plug-in points and specialized service centres. Ever wondered who will pay for that? You will – with increased electricity bills and higher taxes.
- Politics: Electric cars are sometimes being lobbied not because they want us to have a better life but partly because it is a good business. Many governments across the world want praise for creating new jobs and following the environmental guidelines. Who cares that it takes tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayer dosh to create each job in the electric car industry? Who cares that it easily equals the carbon emissions of a full car fleet of countries like Albania to build and operate a full-scale electric car factory?
- Expensive: a single-seater Tango – $108,000, two-seater Tesla Roadster – $100,000, Twike – a mere velomobile – $30,000. If the price of electric cars doesn’t fall big time, it will be nothing more than a rich-man’s toy.
- Low range: An electric car can go for no more than 80 miles on a single charge. Using the currently available battery technology and without an effective on-board electricity generation option it is unlikely we can raise the range to more than 150 miles. With features like these, an electric car will remain what it is now: an urban phenomenon. Do I need a car that cannot get me from the South coast to Scotland without a recharge? As much as I like the idea – I don’t. But that’s my personal and truly peripheral opinion. I would probably sing another tune if I lived in London or if I never had to travel to Scotland.
- Silence: An electric car might suffer from the Rolls-Royce effect (they are so quiet you cannot hear one approaching… in fact you can because the owner of the Rolls has put a Michael Ball CD on). It is not such a good thing being silent on the road, especially from the perspective of a drunken pedestrian. The electric car makers are considering the ways to make an EV noisier. A rattle fitted to a wheel? Have you been to Bournemouth ASDA store lately? Check their escalator, there’s this unbelievably annoying robot-woman’s voice screeching: “you are now approaching the end of the run-way”… That’s “health and safety” for you. We can use a similar system on an electric car. A built in i-pod would repeat: “a green-junkie is approaching in a latest-generation zero-emission urban vehicle.”
- Safety: You are carrying a potentially hazardous liquid under the floor. If the battery casing becomes ruptured, electrolyte could enter the interior. It’s not like the sulphuric acid we have in the Thames but still, if not washed away immediately, it could cause permanent skin damage and/or health issues depending on the electrolyte used.
- Limited source of lithium: The key material for the modern Lithium-ion battery is obviously lithium. It is difficult, expensive and carbon-consuming to extract lithium and when it is gone it is gone. There are very few places in the world where lithium mines can be installed and these places can provide us with the valuable source for a limited time. However, it is possible to create new generation lithium-free batteries.
- DIY: Forget about it. No more amateurish mechanic delights. You cannot do any maintenance on your electric car unless your surname is Tesla.
- Driveability: Some electric cars are slow to accelerate. However, this is more of an issue for the traffic-light racers (methinks thou belongst in jail) and it is an issue that is technically solvable. So, not really a con.
- Non-recyclable parts: when it comes to battery life, different sources give different figures. None can be taken too seriously because no electric car has been produced consistently enough yet. The estimate is anything between 40,000 and 200,000 miles. Both apex figures are very unlikely. 80 000 is probable, which means that an electric car’s life is some 7 – 8 years long. After that you just chuck it because the value of the vehicle will be much lower than that of a brand-new battery pack. But wait, can you just chuck any old electric car or get rid of it through a scrappage scheme? No, you cannot. Somebody will have to pay to recycle and/or store the hazardous parts – this somebody will be you and you’ll pay for recycling either via added price or increased taxes.
- Safety: regardless of what they say, small cars are more vulnerable than big ones. Electric cars are often constructed with a light structure to reduce weight, allow space for batts and increase the range. This approach can compromise safety. A proper car should have a crunch zone (something that absorbs crash energy), so basically it is a choice between “crunch zone” and “crunch bone”. Don’t be fooled by the fairy-tale that the car-makers sell small cars in order to provide you “with more convenient parking options for your 21st century urban life-style”. Small and simple cars are cheaper to make and they often provide the maker with a better profit margin.
- Blackouts: Although we keep introducing new ways to save energy, the fact is that there is not enough electricity to power our homes and businesses. Add electric cars on the grid and you get… blackouts. Are there any candles left at your local newsagent’s? I suggest you buy some.
Oops, I really didn’t want to paint such a black picture, especially as I support the human quest for a green motoring source. So, let’s look at the positive side now.
Pros of Electric Cars
- Money: In the current situation it is 5 times cheaper to operate an electric car compared to conventional cars. It will soon change for the worse but the electricity price will never reach that of oil. Even if you can save two thirds off your motoring bill, it is still a very strong argument in favour of an electric car.
- Preserve the history: By driving an electric car you help preserve the natural stock of fossil fuel. If more and more people switch to electricity, we will have the fuel to power our antique cars and drive them to your favourite shows even 100 years from now.
- Cheaper maintenance: An electric car has fewer components and electric motors are less prone to breakages if compared to internal combustion engines. It is cheaper to repair and you’ll spend less money on lube (no, this doesn’t have a dubious meaning!).
- Safety: No more fires. You don’t have to be afraid of being electrocuted, either. You will have fuses and circuit breakers taking care of safety. No really, have you heard about somebody killed by a trolley-bus? For those not knowing what that is: a trolley-bus is a result of romance between a tram and a bus. It’s been around since the 1950s and is extremely popular in ex-Soviet countries. So, yeah, it is not possible to be killed by a trolley-bus unless you climb on its roof and stick ya finger in a transformer.
- Safety: If constructed properly, an electric car is better at absorbing kinetic energy in an event of a crash. The batteries contain liquid and it will absorb part of the impact. However, if you’re driving a super-mini single-seater and have a high-speed crash, don’t expect the EV to spare your life – you’ll get squashed like a fly.
- Handling: some say that driving an electric car feels strange. Swap your limo for a mini (or vice versa) and you’ll feel strange too. It is certainly different but from many aspects – better. Batteries are usually installed under the floorpan right between the axles. That gives the car a low centre of gravity and improves roadholding at high speeds and sharp corners.
- History: Manufacturing and selling the electric car proved to be a viable business model in pre-Detroit America. Before the Big Three emerged, there were dozens of companies in the USA making or selling electric cars. One of the most prolific of them – Detroit Electric – managed to sell up to 2,000 electric cars a year during their golden era (between 1910 and 1920). Despite the fact that those cars had maximum range of only 40 miles, people were eager to buy. Why am I mentioning this? It gives you extra confidence if you can look back and derive lessons from a business that once was successful.
- Precedent: Electric cars are already being produced in millions. Whereabouts? On Mars? No, right here on Earth – the total production of electric cars in China, India and Japan is more than 20 million a year. There is no accurate figure for this – can be a bit more, can be a bit less.
- Somewhat greener energy: If you can track down the energy source of your provider and you learn that the majority of it comes from nuke or wind, you can actually reduce your carbon footprint by a certain amount by switching from gas to electricity. As many providers use a mixed source or even buy electricity from abroad, you can never be too sure.
- Long term economy: as I mentioned before, mass production of electric cars would shoot electricity prices through the roof. From the social perspective, higher energy bills would mean more responsibility in everyday use. It is estimated that an average British family can save a further 30% off their electricity bill by keeping switching the lights off, boiling only the amount of water they use etc. Besides, higher electricity prices would make the plonkers from local councils start moving their a**es and take care of street lights that are being left on during daylight hours.
Pros and Cons of Electric Cars : Conclusions?
I cannot make a decision for you. Having said all those nasty things about electric cars, I would still probably buy one as a second car if I had a large family or lived in a large city. My worry is that although many companies embark on electric car research/manufacture driven by genuine reasons, there are companies that try to overpromote electric cars for reasons no other than their own greed. So, be careful but approach the new ideas with an open mind.
Did you like the pros and cons of electric cars? Then please check electric car FAQ.