Washington, DC, USA - January, 31, 2020: Man driving Tesla car. Inside cabin view.
Photo: Evgenia Parajanian - stock.adobe.com

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. 

Consumed power, range, speed and temperature data from 805 Teslas compiled by A Better Route Planner

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 OutcomesWLTP Range Claim (miles)US EPA Range Claim (miles)WintonsWorld Highway Cruise RangeInsideEVs Highway Cruise Range (approx. 70mph)
Audi E-tron 95 kWh241204138.7188
Polestar 2 78kWh292233110.0226
Nissan Leaf 62kWh239215102.1190

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]

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  1. Seems to me that the top 5 selling cars in Australia list includes 3 diesel 4wd utes. (Toyota, Ford & Mitsubishi) The top spec of these utes costs more than a Tesla Model 3. So does that not suggest that most people don’t want to drive an EV? That price for some is not a factor? Now I don’t have a ute, but most of the young families in my street do and they also own camper trailers/caravans or speed boats. EV will simply not tow these. Most tests (find them on You tube) find that range falls by around 66% once you connect a van to the back. I don’t personally understand the ute popularity but it is what it is. I have an older ICE that will last for years more plus a motorcycle. By keeping our existing cars for years more we slow down the process of digging up the world for materials.

  2. An interesting article, but no mention of the elephant in the boot of your Tesla;
    – the fuel.
    If the electricity is grid generated it may be produced from coal.
    If the charging station is in a remote location it may be producing power from diesel, or old cooking oil.

  3. I must say that I am really not sure of the point of this article? It seems very much aimed at what isn’t right about BEV’s for Australians. It also seems to assume that it is only the elite that adopt them.
    Transport is a major part of climate emissions and for me this was a tangible way of addressing this for my family. I work in sales and regularly drive to Newcastle and Canberra from Sydney. I’ve done this over the past 5 years in an EV. I stretched hard to make it fit as I wanted to be the charge I wanted to see in the world and I wanted to be an advocate for others.
    This article seems about putting fear into the market by highlighting perceived issues: “capable of incinerating a house overnight while charging”. This is true of any vehicle, including the lawnmower and adds nothing to the actual debate. We have a massive existential issue to solve and it is this kind of apathy that is stopping Australian’s from doing their bit, It’s called Global Warming and its a global issue.

    1. We ran the story because we believe that EVs might be better than ICEs in terms of pollution but other than that they present the same problems as other cars.
      And agree we should have made clear the positive about no pollution, if the charge is from renewable energy. We’ve now amended the article, to reflect poor editing process on our part. And we note the update.

  4. EVs might be the future of cars, but cars aren’t the future.

    Cities cannot continue to widely embrace single-occupancy vehicles. The OECD rejects the notion that EVs will save us, concluding that incremental change (i.e. transitioning to EVs) within an unsustainable system (i.e. private car ownership and dependence) will fail to reduce emissions anywhere near enough.

    People who claim to care about transport emissions need to grapple with their own behaviours (i.e. driving choices, total VKM, large homes in sprawling suburbs, etc.) rather than their choice of driving product. It’s an uncomfortable reality, which is why so many continue to hope that EVs are a silver bullet.

  5. I’m a long term EV owner and range anxiety is a myth. Even at 110 kph you can easily drive for 3 hours by which time it’s time for a break anyway. The only real weakness of EVs is that they are problematic if you don’t have an off road carspace to charge

  6. “The numbers don’t add up”. Well, they never did. Some drive Corollas, some drive Mustangs. Same purpose, wildly different costs. Emotion rules purchasing decisions… we need more sour tastes associated with ICE…

  7. Obviously not written by an EV owner.
    We bought an EV, having never had a large mortgage and surviving on one wage or equivalent most of the last 30 years. Plenty of ways to save money through lifestyle choices and then spend big on lowering emissions and pollution. It’s our one and only car.
    The first year we drove from Ballarat, Victoria to the Daintree and back, no range anxiety required. We’ve gone all over Victoria, across to South Australia a couple of times. We’ve not been plagued by “limitations”.
    In addition –
    “A 2021 white paper published by the International Council on Clean Transportation compared the lifetime carbon emissions, both today and in 2030, of mid-sized vehicles in Europe, the US, China, and India across a variety of ­powertrain types.
    The study found that all-electric vehicles in Europe produced 66 to 69 per cent less carbon-dioxide emissions than comparable ICE vehicles. In the US, a typical EV produced 60 to 68 per cent less emissions over its lifetime.”
    No one thing is ever going to be a single solution to any problem. There is never going to be a magic bullet.
    EVs can be part of the mix of the many things that will need to be done to reign in climate change.

  8. We are creating yet another environmental disaster with unrecognised consequences. And the forces of power conspire to keep the truth from us that WE MUST CHANGE everything. Please, all, take a good look at the truth. Bright Green Lies a good place to start…

  9. I cannot agree with most of the assumptions and claims in this article. Other data would easily show that BEVs beat ICE vehicles on almost every metric.
    Charger deployment will increase as EVs arrive. No surprises there. It is more than adequate currently from my experience. I’ve owned electric cars for 3 years and I’ve only had to wait a few minutes for an empty bay, once. Most of my charging is done using solar at home and many others (but not all of course) will be able to use similar strategies, which are good for the grid and environment. One of my only concerns remaining is making sure Governments and charging companies only use renewable energy but that is improving. “A whopping 75% of electric cars in Australia are charged almost exclusively with renewable power, according to an informal poll conducted by Future Smart Strategies managing director and electric vehicle advocate Professor Ray Wills.”
    Yes EVs are currently more expensive but that’s like any new technology as the S Curve begins. Interestingly you also get a lot more technology and safety in EVs so if you value your life/family, I think even the current premium is good value for money. My car is constantly monitoring four different views when I drive, and I (as a human) can only see one at any point in time, so the future for car safety is finally looking more positive. Tesla openly publish their safety statistics via a quarterly reports and the data is amazingly positive. http://www.tesla.com/en_AU/vehiclesafetyreport Consider also EVs cost about 75% less to run (charge) and have 80% less moving parts (so maintenance is cheaper).
    In less than 5 years time, EVs will be much cheaper than ICE cars and given the existing EV benefits, few if anyone will be buying petrol-fuelled cars and ICE resale values will be awful.
    In my experience, range anxiety disappears after about 4 weeks after ownership. You just plan any long trips more precisely. I’ve never heard of anyone running out of charge yet. Consider that most EVs built after 2025 are likely to have over 1,000km of range so range anxiety will only be experienced by those in ICE cars. Yes the ranges quoted by some EV manufacturers need to move to a new real world test metric, but they have improved and will continue to. And when the ranges are a minimum of 900km or 1200km, no one will care. We forget ICE cars went through all these concerns but us westerners we no longer ride horses to the shops each day.
    Also don’t forget that self-driving functionality is improving weekly and within 2 years Tesla expect to offer a robotaxi service in parts of the USA and within 10 years we should see that worldwide, so fewer cars and car parking will be required. The future is looking bring on the back of EVs. They are an easy solution to a big part of our currently unsustainable transport system IMHO.

  10. Do some real research and you will find that EV’s are vastly more friendly to the environment. Enviromental concerns over mining of lithium and cobalt pale into insignificance if you look into the effects of the petroleum industry. Try one….you’ll love it!

  11. There’s an equivalent for each one of these points for ICEs – just without the greenhouse gas emissions that are killing off our collective future. Official fuel consumption guidance is meaningless and can’t be relied on by consumers. ICEs also face long delivery delays, price hikes, diminishing choice (try ordering a manual diesel!). ICEs also take up the same space on the road. And what’s the lifecycle cost of an ICE, hmm? Where do all the materials come from? What this feels like is someone ignoring all the problems that ICEs are inflicting on the world, and denigrating the only viable solution in sight. How does that help again?

    1. We own an EV. Wouldn’t go back to an ICE. I’d be surprised if anyone who has driven one would. They’re just so smooth to drive, and quiet (although not silent). Yes it’s more expensive than an ICE, and it was a stretch for my partner and I. We made it more affordable for us by hire purchasing over 7 years & $0 upfront on 3% interest. We have always held onto our cars for 15 years or so to minimise the impacts form embodied energy in the manufacture. I understand that some people can’t afford the premium, but many can. Yes, we did spend another $17,000 on PV & a 20kW battery, which means we never charge from the grid. We were always going to do this, regardless of whether we bought an EV. We’re encouraged to see that electricity cost is coming down and people without access to PV & batteries can purchase renewable energy. I suspect that the take up of EV’s will promote more demand for green power.

      The daily commute for us is 45km. We don’t feel range anxiety. In fact, on a daily basis it’s more range “range relief”. What I mean is that since the investment (considerable) into the home battery, we just charge the vehicle everynight until it’s full for the next day. Same as chargeing the mobile phone, although many more watts…

      It’s like being able to refuel from home and setting off with a full tank of petrol at the start of every journey. I do miss the banter with the petrol station attendant about whether I’d like to purchase a chocolate bar for an extra $1.30 though…