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What They're Saying About Electric Cars Now

Donate The arguments made by electric car haters no longer hold up. Time to upgrade  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Environment, General Science

Skeptoid Podcast #844
August 9, 2022
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What They're Saying About Electric Cars Now

Electric cars are still a relatively new industry, and like all new industries, it's had its growing pains. We have to do everything badly before we can learn to do it well, so many of the anti-EV arguments claimed by the electric car hater crowd have had a grain of truth to them. But over time, the reality of electric cars has progressed substantially, while the arguments against them have remained largely stagnant and have become obsolete. A particularly good place to find them is on Facebook, usually when any automotive magazine posts an article about an electric car. The comment threads stretch into the hundreds, and each of them is like a bingo card of obsolete anti-EV arguments that are 15 years out of date. Today we're going to take a deep dive into the true answers to some of the most common objections.

Beginning with:

"EVs are unaffordable for normal people."

Yes. It's a fact that the purchase price of an average new EV (Electric Vehicle) is about $10,000 more than the average for all new cars. EVs are newer and they have expensive components that are still new to the market and not yet fully commoditized the way internal combustion engines are. But note, this is a characteristic of things that are new, it's not unique to electric cars. Recall that when Toyota introduced the Prius, they willingly sold that whole first generation at a loss — a 1 million yen loss per car, or about $10,000, mostly due to the battery. They knew it was going to be necessary to push through the growing pains to get hybrid drivetrains established in the global supply chain. And now they are, and today nearly every model of car has a hybrid option available for a fair and appropriate premium.

The cost of EV batteries has been in decline ever since. When the GM Impact debuted in 1990, a battery pack cost $7,500 per kWh. By 2021, it was down to $105/kWh. The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that; it's back up to $160/kWh and is expected to continue that peak until the end of 2023. The projected decline doesn't even take into account new battery technologies that are always in development.

But what many forget is that purchase price is not the only expenditure. A 2020 study by Consumer Reports looked at resale value, maintenance, fuel costs, depreciation, and other factors. Its executive summary concludes:

Overall, these results show that the latest generation of mainstream EVs typically cost less to own than similar gas-powered vehicles, a new development in the automotive marketplace with serious potential consumer benefits.

Driven largely by the fact that most EVs have zero scheduled maintenance over the life of the car, and far fewer mechanical components that might break down, Consumer Reports found that the average EV costs just half of what the average ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) car does to service and maintain: 3.1 cents per mile compared to 6.1. This knocks $4,600 of that initial $10,000 purchase premium. Combined with the savings in fuel and other factors, an electric car is actually between $6,000 and $10,000 cheaper than an ICE equivalent, depending on the model.

"Charging stops take hours."

You always hear really long charge times being cited. One common metric is how long it takes to charge up to 80% capacity, but that's not the way you charge in the real world. Although you fill a gas tank to full, EV owners typically charge only as much as needed to get to the next stop. And that's almost always much less than 80% of the battery, so real world charging stops are much shorter than people think.

In October of 2021 when I did the Skeptoid Whistle-stop Tour of the United States, I drove a 2020 Tesla Model 3 AWD Long Range over 8,000 miles, visiting listener groups in 14 cities in 14 nights. 12-hour driving days were common, and thank Odin for Tesla's Autopilot. I wrote down the length of time I needed to charge at each stop. Most stops were between 7 and 12 minutes, and the longest single stop — which was in the middle of nowhere in Montana during blizzard conditions — was 23 minutes. I'd go inside to use the restroom or refill my coffee, and the car was almost always ready to go before I was. I don't know why, but people without any EV experience have outrageously exaggerated ideas of how long charging stops take. On a real-world road trip, they're realistically no longer than it takes to stop for gas if you're also going to go in and grab a snack or use the restroom.

But, of course, this is a personal anecdote so I do not offer it as data. So here is some data. According to a 2020 study by Charged Future, EV owners actually waste less total time charging than ICE owners waste pumping gas. The basic reason is that we don't all have municipal gasoline pipes coming to our homes, but what we do all have at home is electricity. Every EV owner who has a garage, or at least a private driveway, has a full tank every time they leave the house; so unless they take a long road trip, these drivers never have to stop to charge at all, ever. ICE owners all have to stop to pump after every few hundred miles, and in the aggregate, they waste more time.

In all, 70-80% of all EV charging in the United States is done while the vehicle is parked anyway at home or work. The other 20-30% is at public chargers, and much of that required a special stop and wasted time. But it's such a small slice of the pie that the ICE cars still spend more total time pumping.

"You're screwed if the battery dies."

Sure, just as an ICE car is screwed if it runs out of gas. But who is ass enough to drive someplace where they don't have the range and where there aren't any gas stations? Whether you're an ass isn't determined by what kind of car you have, so EV owners are no stupider than ICE owners. So running out of power in the middle of nowhere simply doesn't happen, and isn't a part of the EV experience. This is a false and made-up objection.

On my same Whistle-stop Tour I mentioned, I spent a couple days on a long highway where charge stations were 150 miles apart, and I got to one and the whole town had its power knocked out by the storm. You can laugh at me and the two other Tesla drivers who were stranded for half the day, but you can also laugh at the two hundred ICE drivers who were lined up for a mile waiting for the gas stations' power to come back on so they could pump gas.

When the power came back on, I was on my way after 15 minutes, while the vast majority of those ICE cars hadn't even moved up in line yet. The idea that EVs are susceptible to some imaginary failure of the infrastructure from which ICE cars are shielded is simply false. Pumping gas requires electricity.

"The battery has to be replaced every few years and costs $40,000."

No, they don't. EV batteries last just as long as, and are far more reliable than, car engines. You're no more likely to need to replace an EV battery than you are your V8. And even if you did, federal law in the United States requires EV batteries to be warrantied for 8 years or 100,000 miles, though California and some other states extend that to 10 years and 150,000 miles, prompting some EV manufacturers to do the same for all 50 states.

The whole premise is also false. EVs don't turn out to be lemons any more or less often than ICE cars. With more than a decade of data, Nissan looked at 400,000 Leafs in Europe and concluded that the oldest batteries should last 22 years. In addition, Tesla — which has also had cars on the road for over a decade — found that once you hit that 50,000 mile mark, you're only likely to lose an average of 5% of your range over the next 200,000 miles.

"The batteries are an environmental and humanitarian disaster."

There is a lot of criticism over the mining of the elements needed to make EV batteries. Lithium, the largest component, is more an issue of supply and demand and cost. It creates ugly open-pit mines but is not particularly dirty or destructive. Most lithium mining is in Australia, which complies very well with environmental regulations.

Cobalt, which is a much smaller component, has historically had the biggest humanitarian impact. Much of the world's cobalt — about three quarters — comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and for most of history cobalt mining was done via manual labor with terrible pay — charitably referred to as artisanal mining — thus many of the workers were children, in conditions that met no imaginable international standards.

Over the past decade or so, the picture has changed dramatically. Demand has surged to the point where child laborers can no longer meet it. About half of Congolese cobalt mines are owned by well-financed Chinese companies, and the vast majority of Congolese cobalt (about 80%) is now produced in mechanized open-pit mines with heavy equipment and not a child laborer in sight. However, cobalt is still profitable even for small mines, and so about 20% of Congo's cobalt is produced by artisanal mines doing things the old way. About 40,000 Congolese cobalt miners today are children, paid some $2 a day. That's a massive improvement over 10 years ago, but it's still obviously a big problem.

It illustrates why it's important to check in on this frequently, because it's such a fluid situation. Most purchasers of cobalt will not accept product if children were employed, and supply chain auditing companies have investigators on the ground throughout Congo reporting instances of child labor. One such company, RCS Global, is contracted by a number of Chinese refineries. In 2018 they found and reported three mines with child labor; since then, they hadn't found any as of a couple years ago. But with 40,000 child miners still out there, it's still a lot of work for a lot of auditors. It's another stark example of what happens with a new industry. New problems have to be solved, and it takes time. We shouldn't expect everything to be perfect from day one; and we just have to work through these problems to get to where we want to be.

"EVs pollute more than gasoline."

To compare how much greenhouse gases are produced by EVs compared to ICE cars, you have to look at the entire product cycle. Everything from the mining, the emissions produced by the mining trucks, through the life of the vehicle, and the recycling of its components. There are countless threads you have to follow to make sure you're finding everything.

Before the first Tesla hit the road, this objection was true. An electric car like the GM Impact, or the earliest hybrids like the first generation Prius, did indeed produce more greenhouse gases than conventional ICE cars. But that was because we were still accepting the fact that we had to do things badly in order to learn to do them well. And when the first Tesla hit the road in 2008 — and began driving — the equation was turned upside down. And ever since then, this has been a false objection. We did a complete Skeptoid episode on this in 2019, titled "No, Electric Cars Don't Pollute More", which you can refer to if you want all the details. The bottom line is that the lifecycle of the average electric car generates half as much greenhouse gas as the average ICE car. Most of that difference comes from the power generation. Even though we still have fossil fuel power plants, the economies of scale from one gigantic generator compared to a million individual car engines is such that EVs are twice as clean. That episode is loaded with authoritative references and citations.

There really aren't any sound objections left to electric cars in general. It's true that they're not for everyone; anyone without the ability to charge at home is probably going to be happier with a dino burner. But like all the factors in these equations, even that one is rapidly moving in the right direction. Unless you object to mind-numbing acceleration and torque, unless you object to whisper-silent cruising, unless you object to a total absence of tailpipe exhaust, it's probably time to put your anti-EV arguments out to pasture.


By Brian Dunning

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "What They're Saying About Electric Cars Now." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 9 Aug 2022. Web. 2 Dec 2022. <https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4844>

 

References & Further Reading

EVC. EV Consumer Behavior. Alexandria: Fuels Institute, 2021.

Gabbatiss, J. "Electric vehicles already able to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half." The Independent. ESI Media, 7 Sep. 2018. Web. 18 Jul. 2019. <https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/electric-cars-vehicles-greenhouse-gas-emissions-climate-change-co2-a8528006.html>

Harto, C. Electric Vehicle Ownership Costs. Yonkers: Consumer Reports, 2020.

Lawson, M. "The DRC Mining Industry: Child Labor and Formalization of Small-Scale Mining." Africa Program. The Wilson Center, 1 Sep. 2021. Web. 3 Aug. 2022. <https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/drc-mining-industry-child-labor-and-formalization-small-scale-mining>

Lee, A. "The Trouble With Lithium." Green. Bloomberg LP, 25 May 2022. Web. 3 Aug. 2022. <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-05-25/lithium-the-hunt-for-the-wonder-metal-fueling-evs>

Lienert, P., Carey, N. "Analysis: Soaring battery costs fail to cool electric vehicle sales." Business. Reuters, 20 Apr. 2022. Web. 3 Aug. 2022. <https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/soaring-battery-costs-fail-cool-electric-vehicle-sales-2022-04-19/>

Nealer, R., Reichmuth, D., Anair, D. Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave: How Electric Cars Beat Gasoline Cars on Lifetime Global Warming Emissions. Cambridge: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015.

Oreizi, D. "EV Charging vs Gas Refueling Comparison: EVs Take Less of Your Time!" Charging. Charged Future, 8 Jun. 2020. Web. 3 Aug. 2022. <https://www.chargedfuture.com/ev-charging-vs-gas-refueling/>

Reichmuth, D., Dunn, J., Anair, D. "Driving Cleaner: How Electric Cars and Pick-Ups Beat Gasoline on Lifetime Global Warming Emissions." Reports & Multimedia. Union of Concerned Scientists, 25 Jul. 2022. Web. 3 Aug. 2022. <https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/driving-cleaner>

Sanderson, H. "Congo, child labour and your electric car." Financial Times. The Financial Times Ltd., 6 Jul. 2019. Web. 3 Aug. 2022. <https://www.ft.com/content/c6909812-9ce4-11e9-9c06-a4640c9feebb>

 

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