How Do EVs Compare To Gas Cars?
24 April 2020
While there’s no doubt that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has set back the automotive industry in what was to be a crucial year for the electric vehicles (EVs) market, EVs have an important role to play in reshaping the future as many people are already lobbying for sustainable ways to rebuild the economy when the pandemic ends.
Although the interest in EVs has been growing steadily in the last decade, many prospective car buyers still have misconceptions that prevent them from making the leap to electric. These misconceptions typically center around cost, performance, practicality and the true environmental benefits of EVs. Here we take a look at the most common concerns that consumers face and review whether they are justified.
1. Are EVs as affordable as gasoline cars?
Some consumers have shied away from electric and hybrid models under the assumption that EV ownership comes with a hefty price tag. However, EVs are now much cheaper to buy and usually more affordable in the long-run. For instance, in Spain, SEAT’s recommended list price for its Mii electric is just €17.900 and the Nissan Leaf, one of the most popular EV models on the market, is available for €25.900. Moreover, you can save up to €6.000 on the purchase price thanks to several electric vehicle incentives available across Europe. This makes a lot of EVs cheaper than currently available fuel cars. Furthermore, EVs are also more economic to own than their gas counterparts. Research in the US shows that, on average, an EV owner saves $632 per year in operational expenditures compared to a fuel car driver. This means pricier EV models can still become more cost-effective than their cheaper gas counterparts within a few years (see graphic above).
So, what are the main drivers behind these savings? Well, besides the aforementioned EV incentives, it’s mostly fuel savings and lower maintenance costs. The first comes down to cheaper ‘fuel’ cost per kilometer, as electricity is cheaper than gas and EVs are more efficient than fuel cars. Second, the United States Department of Energy explains that maintenance costs are lower for EVs because they have fewer fluids (oil and transmission fluid) that need to be changed and far fewer moving parts that need maintenance or replacing. Finally, electric cars use a process called regenerative braking, which takes advantage of the kinetic energy that is usually lost and returns it to the battery. This also results in less frequent brake pad replacements over the years.
It’s important to note that the electric car’s heavier body and instantaneous torque mean that tire rotations and replacements may be required more frequently than with traditional cars. EV owners will eventually also need to replace their car’s battery, which can be costly. However, most EV batteries are expected to last around 10 years and reports show car batteries costs will drop significantly by the time you’ll need to replace them. Keep in mind that repairing or replacing the motor of a fuel car can cost up to $10.000 and, all things considered, EVs simply require fewer visits to workshops and are much cheaper to own.
2. Are EVs as fast as fuel cars?
Many people associate power with the deep sound of revving engines and mistake EVs’ silence to mean they are lacking in speed and performance. In fact, the opposite is true. EVs accelerate faster than gas-powered cars and have more than enough speed for every-day usage.
The reason for this is that electric motors are much simpler than internal combustion engines. Therefore, EVs can provide full torque — the force that drives the vehicle forward — from 0 kilometers, resulting in instant acceleration. In comparison, traditional combustion engines take longer to get engine-generated power to the wheels and might need to rev up in order to reach maximum torque. With traditional fuel cars, the power also has to go through more moving parts, like the gearbox, making them less efficient.
That said, the simplified motor of electric cars also has a drawback. As most EVs operate on a single-speed gear, car producers must compromise between acceleration and top speed. You can compare this dilemma to having to choose only one gear level for your bicycle — the highest one would make it difficult to get started, the lowest one would make it inefficient to go faster. As a result, many EV models opt for a balanced approach, which often means lower top speeds compared to their multi-gear, gas-powered counterparts. Still, the top speeds of the most popular EVs are eclipsing maximum speed limits allowed in most parts of the world, making them fast enough for any normal usage. So unless you’re a racecar driver, the top speed of your EV will be more than sufficient.
3. How does EV range compare to fuel cars?
According to a recent survey, the most common concern for potential buyers is range anxiety as many worry about how far EVs can travel. However, this concern can be put to rest as many newer EV models already match the range of an average gas car as performance keeps improving.
For instance, while an average gas-powered car can reach up to 482 km (300 miles) on a full tank, most electric models have a range of 200-490 km (124-304 miles) on a single charge. Based on WLTP-measured data, newer EV models such as Hyundai Kona Electric (484 km), Chevrolet Bolt EV (459 km) and Kia e-Niro (455 km) already offer similar ranges to an average fuel car. To put things into perspective, this means you could easily go from Brussels to Paris (316 km) or from London to Liverpool (350 km) without any stops for charging. Moreover, luxury cars such as the Tesla Model S Long Range can even go up to 610 km on a full charge, which puts a drive from Barcelona to Madrid in the range of a single charge. A report by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission shows that the average driving distance per day is between 40 and 90 km, making even older EV models capable of handling every-day distances.
4. Are there enough charging stations?
Many people are also concerned about whether the current charging network is strong enough to support EV driving. In reality, this question is actually less crucial than it seems. Most people drive around 40-90 km per day, meaning that they can simply charge at home overnight, without having to visit a public charging station at all. Since most gas-powered car owners don’t fill their tank at home, comparing the number of public charging stations to gas stations makes little sense.
Furthermore, with the amount of charging stations increasing rapidly across the world means this concern will only become less and less relevant over time. You can see these clearly in EV charging maps like Open Charge Map, PlugShare, Chargemap or even Google Maps. Research also shows that while there were only 2.379 public charging stations in Europe in 2011, the number jumped to over 190.000 in 2020. Governments and businesses have been rolling out incentives and programs to ramp up supply of charging points recently and this is set to continue. In fact, as our 'How COVID-19 Is Changing Our Environment’ article shows, with governments currently looking to rebuild economies following the COVID-19 outbreak, there is a huge opportunity to reinforce the EV charging landscape and create a more sustainable planet.
5. Is EV charging fast enough?
Another common misconception amongst potential buyers centers around the time it takes to recharge an EV. However, with EVs giving you the option to charge at home, you can simply plug in your car when you arrive home and charge it overnight. This makes charging an EV much more convenient and means your vehicle is fully loaded each morning.
Additionally, thanks to developments in technology, charging times have also improved significantly in recent years. For instance, you can now charge a Nissan Leaf (30 kW battery capacity) with a 22 kW fast charger in about 90 minutes. Moreover, ultra-fast EV chargers with capacities of 150kW or higher are just hitting the market now, meaning you will soon be able to charge any EV in mere minutes, not hours.
6. Are EVs really cleaner & greener choices?
There has also been some skepticism over whether electric vehicles are really better for the environment. The short answer is yes, electrified transport really is ‘greener’ and paves the way for a more sustainable future. For instance, it has been shown that in terms of air pollution, the electric model of the average midsize car outperforms its fuel-powered counterpart.
As EVs are powered by energy, driving them is more environmentally friendly than using gas cars. Of course, it's just as important that the energy used to power EVs comes from a clean source itself. As energy production from renewable sources typically varies by day or season, EVs offer another advantage. Smart charging technology allows us to align EV electricity consumption with renewable energy availability, which makes charging your EV even cleaner.
Another question focuses on the environmental friendliness of the EV production process. Research has shown that EVs produce far fewer emissions over their lifetime than gas-powered vehicles. However, the process of obtaining raw materials and manufacturing lithium-ion batteries does generate waste and harmful emissions. Thus, it will be important to continue making improvements across the entire supply chain, its processes and how they affect all stakeholders involved to make EVs even more eco-friendly.
Some positive developments can already be observed, with lithium-ion battery production today creating less than half the amount of emissions it produced in 2017. There is also room for further improvements to be made by looking at production locations and processes. For instance, batteries made in Europe would have a smaller carbon footprint, as they use greener sources of energy to power their production facilities. Adopting better production methods and recycling processes would also reduce emissions significantly.
What’s more, initiatives are also being put in place to address post-life battery usage. For example, batteries at the end of their life can be repurposed as energy storage solutions and still deliver up to 70% of their output. Recycling processes are also improving, meaning more companies are able to extract precious metals from batteries for reuse: this will not only avoid contamination but help curb the growing demand for raw materials that leads to overmining.
All things considered, it remains clear that EVs are the greener, cleaner transport choice.
7. Is our grid ready for a full transition to EVs?
Some people are also wondering whether our grids are prepared to power all the EVs of the future. In reality, EVs won’t be a problem but a solution for grids, especially as we transition towards more sustainable societies.
Yes, more EVs will mean an increase in energy demand. However, thanks to two technologies, smart charging and bidirectional charging, the grid will still be able to handle it without requiring expensive infrastructure upgrades. For instance, as we’ve explained in our ’Benefits of Smart Charging’ article, grid operators can leverage smart charging to develop dynamic energy systems that are connected to electric cars. This would enable us to shift energy demand resulting from car charging to off-peak hours, meaning energy capacity doesn’t need to be upgraded. Our article titled ‘Why Electrified Transport is Key for The Climate Transition’ also shows that with bidirectional chargers, EVs can provide important storage capacities to actually support renewable-heavy grids. By combining the two technologies, we can reduce the stress on our existing infrastructure. We can charge our cars at night when there is less demand and then use them to power our homes or the grid during peak hours.
Electric vehicles are future-proof
Sales across all markets are certainly taking a hit due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, reports show that interest in electric cars is holding up despite decreasing car sales. In the UK, electric and plug-in hybrid car registrations rose significantly even though overall registrations fell by close to half the expected numbers. Consumers are showing a profound interest in making the move to electric, and not just as a choice for a private car. They are asking for more investments towards infrastructure, public transport and changes to taxation. The public’s willingness to make these changes will play a fundamental role in phasing out fossil fuel cars in the long run. The choice is up to us, and the choice is easier than one might think. Electric vehicles can be just as convenient, cost-effective and a pleasure to drive as gas vehicles and, in many cases, even better. All whilst helping us move towards a more sustainable future.
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