UPDATED 9 February 2022: Electric vehicles are cited as a great leap forward for private transport, compared with internal combustion engines. Certainly, they are emissions-free if the electricity is from renewable energy but they still take up road space, consume scarce natural resources and require urban planning that accommodates cars above other forms of transport such as bicycle paths or walkways. Here is one view that looks at some of the negatives that need to be part of their assessment.
Australians have a reputation for being early adopters of new technology.
According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) nearly 1.045 million new vehicles were sold in 2021 sales – a 14.5 per cent increase on the previous year. Of which, only 5491 (1595 passenger cars and 3509 SUVs) were fully electric vehicles. While this is a 191.1 per cent increase on 2020, it represents just 0.49 per cent of the total market share.
Critics say the figures are inaccurate because Tesla, the largest battery electric vehicle (BEV) retailer in Australia does not report its sales numbers to the FCAI. This might be because Tesla does not see itself as a car company, as some observers assume, but might also be due to an alleged dispute over membership fees for the chamber. The irony is that government uses the official FCAI figures to forecast infrastructure requirements like recharging stations, so Tesla appears to have been doing itself a disservice in that respect.
However, the Electric Vehicle Council of Australia’s (EVCA) latest report released on 31 January revealed that there were around 24,000 new registrations of electric cars nationwide in 2021. More than four times the official FCAI statistics. The EVCA asserts that it has finally secured exclusive access to Tesla’s Australian sales figures.
But this too may not be accurate. One website, Drive, suggested Tesla had inflated their Australian new car sales by 25 per cent.
National Exchange of Vehicle Driver Information (NEVDIs) data showed that only 12,000 Teslas were registered on Australian roads in 2021 rather than the 15,054 claimed.
This raises questions of transparency and accountability at a fundamental level. For an industry that wants to be taken seriously by consumers, it does not offer much in the way of trust.
The EVAC states that Australia is lagging globally because a lack of government support. Is that the complete story or are there other underlying reasons driving consumer reticence?
The entire policy debate surrounding BEVs in this country has devolved into an argument about subsidies and lack of charging stations. Yet there has been very little public exploration of the current limitations of fully electric vehicles besides “range anxiety”.
Life cycle costs are still big
Being an emerging technology, the life cycle costs are still only beginning to be evaluated and documented. Tesla states that 100 per cent of its lithium-ion batteries are recycled with none entering landfill but where is the lithium originally sourced?
Lithium is now considered to be white gold and is mined in Argentina, Australia, China, the USA and Chile. NS Energy Business notes that world’s largest lithium deposits exist underneath the Salar de Uyuni salt flat, in Bolivia.
Similarly, proposals have been submitted to mine in Portugal. Both Bolivia and Portugal have suspended the permit process due to considerable environmental impact concerns from direct excavation but also from the significant risk to ecosystems, as a result the brine extraction.
Of course, not all batteries are recycled. Those involved in accidents are prone to almost unquenchable inflammation.
Chevrolet recalled more than 140,000 Bolts manufactured since 2017, following Hyundai’s recall of over 80,000 Konas and Ioniq BEV models because they posed an unacceptable threat from storage combustion.
The percentage of events that triggered the replacements was small and arguably BEVs are safer than internal combustion engines (ICEs) but the risk is considerable due to the extreme intensity and duration of Li-ion blazes, which are capable of incinerating a house during an overnight garage recharge.
The premium price, on top of a comparable ICE model, to assume these risks as an early adopter in Australia is a minimum of A$16,000. The ABS recorded in December 2020 that the average road user drives 12,000 km a year.
Michael Slezak at the ABC reported that a buyer would have to first invest in solar arrays on their home rooftop then double the national average vehicle kilometres travelled to recoup the additional capital expenditure incurred through savings in operating expenditure over five years.
So it is unsurprisingly that we are only seeing those luxury brands on our local roads and why they are being championed by the affluent.
This contradicts the EV industry’s selling point that range anxiety is simply not an issue because we are reassured that we mostly make short trips. A driver can’t be completing consistently small excursions and doubling the national average vehicles kilometres travelled simultaneously.
Range anxiety is either a real-world concern or BEVs are currently overpriced, if we exclude uncosted ICE damage to the environment, as an end-use alternative, that is, getting safely from A to B.
When recharged from renewable energy resources, BEVs are far less polluting than ICEs but they are not entirely the sustainability sensation that is being marketed.
In many respects they behave just like conventional cars by incurring almost identical environmental and social impacts. [Exluding polluting from fossil fuels – Ed]
They take up the same space on the roads
EVs occupy the same three spaces per vehicle (commencement, journey and destination) with an equivalent impact on urban form, bitumen road retains its solar radiation absorption profile regardless of what type of powerplant drives over it (heat island effects), personal injury (being run-over by a BEV will hurt just as much), competitiveness with more sustainable transit alternatives (for example walking, cycling, light and heavy rail) and congestion costs.
And then there’s range anxiety
Neil Winton of UK car review website WintonsWorld tested official range claims of 15 models of EVs in 2021. He revealed that real world performance often varied considerably – between -5.3 per cent and -32 per cent depending on the model from the world harmonised light-vehicle test procedure figure.
Furthermore, BEVs tend to behave the opposite of internal combustion engines (ICE), with respect to fuel efficiency. While petrol/diesel vehicles improve their range on a highway cycle, BEVs ordinarily incur a cruise penalty. As such, maintaining consistently high speeds on freeways will consume power faster, as the graph below created by A Better Route Planner, a blog for enthusiasts, illustrates.
This is due to the absence of regenerative braking that recharges the battery in stop/start traffic and the consequent increase in wind resistance. From the Model X data, it is evident that there is a sweet spot around 30-40 mph (50-60km/hr) to maximise range.
WintonsWorld found that cruising on the highway reduced four of the tested vehicles’ range by around 50 per cent. Seven other cars had their endurance limited by more than 30 per cent.
A similar highway study was undertaken by InsideEVs in America this year. It tested 24 models and drove them at a relatively fixed 70 miles (112.65 kilometres) an hour. Importantly though the American study benchmarked their range against the US Environmental Protection Agency standard not the WLTP, so the percentage variations are not comparable with the UK results. However, InsideEVs revealed that the cruise range at 70mph was far more favourable than that experienced in the UK investigation.
For example, the Polestar 2 achieved 226 real range miles in the US but only managed 110 miles in the UK. Similarly, the Nissan Leaf completed 190 miles in the US but just 102.1 miles in the WintonsWorld test on a highway cycle (see table below).
|Electric Car tests Range Claims vs Outcomes||WLTP Range Claim (miles)||US EPA Range Claim (miles)||WintonsWorld Highway Cruise Range||InsideEVs Highway Cruise Range (approx. 70mph)|
|Audi E-tron 95 kWh||241||204||138.7||188|
|Polestar 2 78kWh||292||233||110.0||226|
|Nissan Leaf 62kWh||239||215||102.1||190|
Of the two tests, only the above three models could be identified conclusively from the data, as possessing the same battery pack to permit relatively direct comparison. Clearly, underlying conditions varied between the US and UK tests. Temperature, wind speed/direction, vehicle speed, climate control, terrain and tyre pressure will all influence range.
Nevertheless, it is precisely this uncertainty that is of a concern to potential customers; with the US EPA, WLTP, WintonsWorld and InsideEVs offering entirely different results on how far an owner can expect to get in a particular model at any given speed. It’s not just a matter of driving holidays. Australian city dwelling commuters can log a lot of motorway miles.
This year Australia will witness dozens of new BEV models being released by major manufacturers. EVs are certainly the near to medium future of private cars but they are not yet the mature technology that Australians so rapidly embrace.
On closer examination, the sales statistics, range claims and estimated cost savings appear wildly variable. To most Australian consumers, the numbers still don’t add up.
Compounding range anxiety is that when the driver needs to urgently “refuel” from a comparatively rare, dedicated DC charger (level 3/mode 4 AC), it may be out of order or occupied. The alternative is the more abundant AC chargers, which are often located in carparks but these are exceedingly less efficient and therefore more time consuming (1hr will add 40-100km).
Most people in a detached home with a garage will recharge overnight from a wall plug (Level 1/Mode 2 AC) for those short commutes. This though does not afford those living in terraces or apartments without a carport much comfort. Indeed, many local governments in pursuit of sustainability goals have enforced planning restrictions on parking in new commercial and residential towers.
There are apps and online maps to find the public charging points but it’s still a little like playing Pokémon Go.
[Range anxiety is strongly disputed among many observers including from commentators to this article. We know we need more charge points but owners of EVs generally report positive experiences. We also acknowledge that our editing processes should have picked up the lack of positive mention that EVs have no or low carbon emissions in operation. However, we agree with this opinion piece that EVs otherwise present as many problems that need to be solved that related to all private cars, including their embodied carbon – Ed, 9 February 2022]