Exploring Electric Vehicles
Electric / Zero-Emission Vehicles are undeniably the wave of the future. The UK and Europe have already passed rules banning the sale of new internal combustion engines, ICE, starting in 2030 - so it's just a matter of time before they are the majority if not the only vehicles on public roadways. (If this makes you sad, please head over to RSC Motors so you can enjoy the Old-School Fury of their naturally aspirated, internal combustion engines, while you still can.)
Much has been written about EVs, including a great recent head-to-head by Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained that you can see here.
What I will focus on this month is a primer of a few key differences between EVs and conventional ICE or hybrid-powered vehicles as they affect the driving and ownership experience. These relate to:
EVs weigh more, i.e., they have more mass than their conventional ICE counterparts. Why is this? Batteries are heavy. Just to get 100 miles of range in an ultralight car can mean hundreds of pounds of batteries.
Despite all this weight, EVs are still dramatically more efficient than their ICE counterparts - even when you account for original power source (fossil fuels, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear) and for the transmission losses inherent in delivering power through cables to your home, workplace, or charging point.
Where weight makes a big difference is in handling and braking, as you might recall from last month's Porsche Primer. More mass means more kinetic energy once you're moving - which requires a lot more energy to turn or stop. Which means more force is involved, which means bigger brakes and tires to do the same job as a comparable ICE vehicle. This also means more cost to replace these larger parts when the time comes. For most drivers, this mass can often suggest a sense of solidity. For committed enthusiasts, it generally suggests less agility.
EVs have limited range, but so do ICE cars - so why the big deal? The fundamental differences at this point in time are the relative incompleteness of electrical charging infrastructure for EVscompared to gasoline or diesel for ICE vehicles and length of time to recharge.
The driving range of current EVs is generally between 200 and 400 miles. At very low battery levels, it can take 30 minutes to get an 80% charge at a fast charging station - but these are not that common yet. Well that 80% is now good for only 160-240 miles. Plus, frequent use of fast charging stations can reduce battery life. Yes, battery life - if your smart phone no longer holds a charge like it used to, imagine this now in your car. So you can see that long car trips are probably going to be more challenging in an EV.
Where EVs really shine is in the city where short distances are well within their ranges, frequent slowing means more regenerative braking, and owners may be able to charge at home or work to stay "topped up", and charging points are more accessible. Additionally, regardless of the source of electrical energy powering your vehicle - you will have no particulate emissions where you drive your car.
What about charging at home? A basic outlet can require over ten hours fully to charge an electric car. Can't I install a higher-capacity charging point? Possibly. But as I found out in my own neighborhood, our garages are too far from our houses' central power supply to be able to run a 240V line to support a Level II charging point. So for many owners that means planning to charge the car overnight at a minimum.
Another strong plus for EVs is that they are incredibly simple. The motors themselves simply spin and drive the axles. They don't need fuel injectors, gaskets, bearings, or seals. Which also means you never have to service those parts that aren't there in the first place. Need a fuel pump? Nope. No fuel.
They also don't need transmissions, most of them are direct drive. No transmission also means EVs dispense with another major system that would otherwise have substantial maintenance and service requirements. Consumer Reports recently estimated that EV buyers can save up to $4,600 over the life of their vehicle versus a comparable ICE vehicle.
This is the original whole purpose of an EV - increasing efficiency and/or reduced emissions. But like any vehicle, there are models and driving methods that are more or less efficient. For example. if you buy a large 5,000 lb SUV, you're going to need a lot more electricity to get the thing rolling - which means lots more batteries, and as we saw earlier, a lot more weight. To compare EVs head to head, and to their ICE counterparts, you can visit EPA's comparison site here.
One last matter I need to address before closing: Quality Control. At the risk of triggering one of the most passionate user bases of perhaps any product, I would suggest that any prospective owner look carefully at overall vehicle assembly issues, odd faults (like this), and major system reliability concerns before making an EV selection.
Now you might ask - is this the time to switch to an EV? Well, despite being a confirmed petrolhead (yes, I said "petrol") - I do think the time is coming, at least for me. I will lament the loss of driving feel in other fora (like here), but mobility has already changed. Past tense. And I find EVs a lot more fun than ICE cars with increasingly small engines and laggy turbochargers (more on that phenomenon in last month's blog).
Just check out this piece in Road and Track for what the present state of automotive enthusiasm already looks like.