Top 10 Electric Car Myths, Busted
Electric vehicles (EVs) have seen vast improvements over the years, mitigating many of the concerns shoppers have had about them in the process. Worries about range, reliability, charging infrastructure, and even production have been addressed in some way, with few reasons remaining to keep an EV off your consideration list. Still not convinced? We’re here to help debunk some myths around these all-electric rides.
1 – EVs don’t have enough range
When EVs first hit the mainstream market, their range was a concern since they had small batteries and there weren’t many places to charge them. These two factors have changed significantly, and only a few pure EVs deliver less than 200 km of range (for those keeping score, that’s the MINI Cooper SE with 177 km and the Volkswagen e-Golf with 198 km).
Back in 2016, Statistics Canada reported that the average one-way commute to work in Canada was 22.8 km, which means even those limited-range EVs should work without regular charging overnight or at work.
2 – EVs are only good in the city
Many believe that EVs are best suited for city dwellers, who make quick trips and don’t need to worry about range, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Those in the city might not even need a car most of the time, having access to public transit and other commuting options like biking. Making EV life even more difficult in the city, it’s hard to find chargers at most condo or apartment buildings, not to mention the scarcity of parking in urban environments, with or without an EV charging station.
According to Daniel Breton, President and CEO at Electric Mobility Canada, the most important question for EV buyers is, “Can you plug your car in at home or work?” If the answer is no, Breton suggests a hybrid may be a better choice than an EV, as you aren’t inconvenienced when looking for a place to charge. “Most people who buy an electric car don’t live downtown, they live in the suburbs or [greater] region.”
Indeed, EVs make a lot of sense for those in the suburbs, who don’t get the same public transit options and can install chargers at home. They can also access charging stations at parks, grocery stores, malls, and service stations much more easily than those in the big city. “Most people have garages or driveways in the suburbs,” Breton says. “To say that EVs are best-suited downtown – it’s not true anymore. It was true a few years ago because the vehicles had poor range, but nowadays considering the evolution of technology, EVs are very well suited for most people [not in the city].”
3 – The battery will degrade and become useless
Some drivers worry that the battery in an EV will degrade over time the same way a smartphone battery does. Electric vehicles indeed use similar batteries as smartphones, but they have drastically different operating conditions, as well as different software to manage the batteries, which makes all the difference.
When it comes to lithium-ion batteries, letting them completely drain before fully recharging them speeds up the degradation process. It’s even more damaging if the battery is left at zero state of charge for a prolonged period. However, EVs have a few safeguards in place to prevent premature wear.
While smartphones are forced to squeeze every last bit of juice from their miniscule batteries, EVs have a bit more room to provide a power reserve. Like the fuel gauge in a conventional vehicle, when an EV reports zero per cent charge, there’s really about 10 or 15 per cent left. Unlike with a conventional vehicle, however, drivers generally can’t tap into this reserve to eke out a few more kilometres. This is to prevent a truly empty battery and delay any battery degradation. Conversely, topping up the battery to 100 per cent when it’s not needed can degrade battery performance as well, and there are charging limits that owners can set to let their batteries last longer.
Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) published a paper that highlights the mistakes in studies that downplay the positive impact EVs have on the environment and emissions reductions, and one of the key issues is that many studies underestimate the lifespan of the batteries that fuel them. Studies have assumed that batteries would last only 150,000 km, a far cry from the usual lifespan of combustion engines (especially diesel vehicles, which can easily last over 300,000 km, according to research cited in the TU/e paper). However, this data was never confirmed. Today, real-world use shows that batteries can probably last over 500,000 km, while the TU/e paper suggests a lifespan of 450,000 to 1.35 million km for an EV with a range of 450 km per charge.
One final piece of the puzzle when it comes to battery life is temperature. Extreme temperatures, especially when they get hot, really hurt the lifespan of the battery, and many newer EVs have active cooling to help keep them happy. One comprehensive study from fleet management company Geotab says that the average rate of degradation is about 2.3 per cent annually, but that can be reduced to 1.6 per cent through good climate conditions and charging practices.
To help put customers at ease, automakers provide thorough warranties on the battery with at least eight years or 160,000 km in most cases compared to the average 100,000 km for an internal combustion powertrain, so those worried about premature battery wear have nothing to fear.
4 – EV components are wasteful and are difficult to recycle
That leads to the next myth: that EV batteries can’t be recycled or that it’s too expensive or harmful to do so. When a battery requires replacement, it’s not completely useless, and there’s still a lot of energy storage capacity left in it – just not the kind that works for powering an electric vehicle anymore. In fact, energy companies are deploying former EV batteries in energy storage solutions, typically for use with solar panels or wind turbines. General Motors (GM), Nissan, Hyundai, and BMW have all been working towards recycling and finding a new life for those batteries.
For example, Hyundai has partnered with various power generation and supply companies to “maximize value and eco-friendliness of EV batteries, including reuse of batteries that are no longer useable in vehicles in diverse applications such as Energy Storage Systems (ESS); and battery recycling that extracts economically valuable metals such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt,” according to a recent press release.
Additionally, the components that make up a battery like lithium can be recycled and used in new batteries, creating a closed loop and limiting waste. Further evidence backs this up, as new reports are suggesting that 97,000 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries were recycled in 2018, enough to put to rest the myth that EV batteries are non-recyclable.
5 – The battery mining industry is exploitative, and resources are limited
Lithium, one of the major components found in EV batteries, is found on five continents. Like any mined resource, it can exact harsh tolls on the environment. However, it is pretty easy to find, and can be recycled.
Past studies that suggest battery production has a high environmental impact used old and exaggerated numbers. The TU/e report also highlights this as a common mistake that early studies make about the EV industry’s environmental impact. Older research suggested that battery production emits 165 kg of CO2 per kWh of battery capacity, but this was based on a highly controversial study from 2017. Today, smarter engineering and the proper scaling-up of production has lowered this number to an average of 75 kg/kWh, and there is still room for improvement. Cobalt and other metals useful to battery production can be a bit more limited, though they, too, are recyclable.
There have also been concerns that certain mines exploit children to meet demand. Fortunately, automakers have been paying attention, and companies like BMW are buying cobalt from mines with ethical labour practices, rather than dealing with intermediaries who are difficult to hold to account. Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford, Daimler, BMW, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo Cars have all pledged to find ethical sources of the materials they use in batteries.
Furthermore, some of the big battery producers like Panasonic are working hard to reduce their needs on cobalt for future batteries, perhaps even cutting the metal out of the battery entirely.
6 – The electric grid is just as dirty
Some aren’t convinced of the environmental benefits behind electric vehicles, suggesting we’re just shifting emissions away from the tailpipes and towards electric power plants. While this used to be true, sustainable electricity production is now more readily available, and those sources are becoming cleaner.
This stands in stark contrast to how oil is sourced and transported around the world. Wars have been started over the oil trade, oil pipelines are environmentally damaging, and new ways of sourcing fossil fuels like fracking are also damaging the environment.
New research is showing that the production of gasoline and diesel results in more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than previously thought. Based on the environmental impact of producing fuel, the TU/e report estimates that gasoline cars, in addition to their tailpipe emissions, are responsible for an additional 30 per cent of GHG emissions, while diesels add 24 per cent more.
On the other hand, nuclear and hydroelectric power generation are found throughout Canada and are far cleaner than oil production, while wind and solar energy are rising in popularity. Public charging stations often feature solar panels as well, helping to keep their electricity clean and sustainable.
7 – Gas-powered vehicles are getting more efficient
With features like cylinder deactivation and automatic engine start-stop, as well as new 48-volt electrical systems, it’s fair to say that gas-powered vehicles are getting more fuel-efficient. Automakers are also turbocharging engines to keep some power in those smaller and efficient vehicles.
However, while new vehicles are more efficient, car buyers are buying more and more SUVs and crossovers, which are bigger and less efficient.
In recent years, only two cars have shown up in the top ten best-selling vehicles in Canada the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. The remaining vehicles on the list are all crossovers or pickup trucks – hardly the poster children for improved fuel economy.
Furthermore, in comparison to EVs, gas engines are simply less efficient. Some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles end up converting a maximum of 40 per cent of the available energy stored in gasoline. This figure even includes features like regenerative braking with a hybrid-electric setup. Everything else is lost due to factors like heat, friction, and parasitic losses.
An EV on the other hand has far less to lose. The efficiency of an electric car is about 60 per cent, and that doesn’t even include the recuperation potential from regenerative braking. When that’s part of the equation, EVs are closer to 77 per cent efficient at converting their electrical energy to power at the wheels. With such a vast difference in figures, it seems unlikely internal combustion engines will ever reach the efficiency of EVs.
8 – EVs are too expensive
There are more choices and competition in the EV market now, with fairly affordable options from automakers like Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, and Volkswagen. While it sounds silly to call a vehicle that has an MSRP of about $45,000 “affordable,” there are federal and provincial incentives to help shave some of that price down. The federal government can provide up to $5,000 in incentives depending on the vehicle, and automakers are providing very competitive lease rates for EVs as well.
Quebec and British Columbia have their own approach to incentivizing EV sales, and these stack on top of the federal rewards. B.C., for example, offers up to $3,000 in rebates for the purchase of battery-electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; if the vehicle has less than 85 km of range, the incentive is reduced to $1,500. B.C. also has a trade-in or scrap program that can reward up to $6,000 if you move up into a new EV, or $3,000 for a used EV.
Quebec also offers several incentives to promote EV ownership, with up to $8,000 for the purchase of a new EV, or $4,000 for the purchase of a used one. Quebec also provides some rebates for the purchase and installation of charging stations, not just at home, but at work and apartment buildings.
These incentives add up, and if you have a charger at home or work, that also helps to mitigate the cost of ownership. It’s also worth pointing out that most EVs don’t require as much maintenance as gas-powered cars. The cost – and time commitment – associated with services like oil and filter changes, spark plugs changes, timing chain work, and more are all gone with a purchase of an EV. While you’ll still have to replace regular wear-and-tear items like tires and brakes, an EV’s brakes get some help from regenerative braking systems, which will extend the lifespan of the pads, saving you money on maintenance.
9 – Switching to EVs won’t make a difference in the long run
Electric vehicle skeptics are wary of seeing any kind of tangible results regarding the use of cleaner and greener forms of transportation. The reality is that significant differences will be felt in the long run. Improving air quality will go along way towards improving our health. A study called Clearing the Air led by the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) and Environmental Defence and authored by a team of researchers at the University of Toronto’s Transportation and Air Quality Research Group looked at the health and cost impact to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) if there were more green vehicles on the road.
The study suggests that if the GTHA could make all of its public transit busses EVs, it would prevent 143 premature deaths a year due to health complications caused by air pollution. This change would also save the government $1.1 billion in social benefits a year. The study also showcases the difference by switching to a 50 per cent gas and electric mix of passenger vehicles (157 deaths prevented and $1.2 billion saved) as well as switching to cleaner long-haul truckers (275 deaths prevented and $2.1 billion saved). If 100 per cent of passenger cars were EVs, the results would be 313 deaths prevented and $2.4 billion saved.
These concerns aren’t trivial. Air pollutants contribute to significant health issues, including heart and lung disease. The switch to a greener fleet of vehicles around a metropolitan location can help to prevent deaths and sickness, saving some money in the process.
10 – EVs aren’t safe
There have been concerns voiced in the past about whether electric vehicles are even safe to use. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), there have been plenty of highly ranked electric vehicles. The Tesla Model 3 and Audi e-tron have both received the highest rating possible from the IIHS, with Top Safety Pick+ awards, while the Chevrolet Bolt and BMW i3 both received the second-highest honours, the Top Safety Pick award.
Skeptics may worry about driving a vehicle with a heavy battery full of harmful chemicals, but many automakers treat the battery placement the same way they would treat engine or fuel-tank placement. Audi explains that the e-tron houses its battery in a frame with an internal honeycomb structure that separates battery cell modules and helps to dissipate energy.
Like any other vehicles, though, EVs have seen their share of recalls. The Hyundai Kona Electric was recently recalled following a total of 13 fires that they suspect may be the result of a defective battery. The recall impacts a total of 25,564 Kona EVs globally, while a software glitch with the new Polestar 2 has seen 2,200 models recalled as well, to get updated software which will prevent the car from losing power while driving. In the past, the VW e-Golf and Fiat 500e have seen similar recalls.
Electric vehicles have seen steady innovation over the years. As a result, many issues that plagued earlier models are no longer a concern. Of course, as with anything new and unknown, first impressions are everything. Current EVs, despite improving upon virtually aspect of their forebears, still have to overcome outdated fears and widespread misconceptions. Now that you know the truth behind the myths, why not check out an EV and see for yourself how far they’ve come?