Electric cars are not all bad. But neither are they all good.
The problem is that most Americans – who have never driven an electric car – are mostly unaware of the bad, having been told almost nothing except the good. This is not unlike being told that sugar tastes good – without being told that too much sugar can give you diabetes, too.
What is good about electric cars?
Well, they are extremely responsive – a better way to convey the meaning of “quick.” Even the ones not specifically designed to be particularly quick – such as Nissan’s Leaf and the Hyundai Kona electric I recently reviewed (here). Both get to 60 in about 7 seconds or so, which isn’t incandescently quick. Most run-of-the-mill family-type cars with four cylinder gas engines get to 60 in about the same 7 seconds or so.
But EVs like the Leaf and Kona electric are remarkably responsive, in that when you press down on the accelerator, they accelerate with an immediacy that is a function of electric motors not needing time to spin up to the point at which they make peak power. Electric motors make peak power immediately. Also, there is usually no transmission in between the motor and the wheels, which are directly driven by the motor. And there is no slippage – as would be the case with a clutch and is always the case with an automatic, which has a fluid coupling called a torque converter that allows the engine to freewheel while the engine is in gear and the vehicle isn’t moving.
So, the electric car is more responsive – and more efficient, in the sense of power delivery. They also have fewer moving parts, not having engines with pistons and valves and crankshafts (to name just a few of the parts within an engine and not counting all of the other parts inside the transmission, whether manual or automatic).
The EV is also very quiet. So quiet, in fact, that the government has mandated that EVs be fitted with a device that makes noise when they are being operated at low speeds – as in parking lots – so that people walking in the vicinity can hear it approaching.
And – the big one – EVs can be “fueled” (recharged) at home, eliminating the need to stop at gas stations – or pay $5 per gallon for gas.
So much for the good. How about the bad?
If you make frequent use of the EV’s responsiveness, you will shortly have less of it available to use as using it frequently will rapidly deplete the EV battery pack’s charge. The same is true of load – as for example pulling a trailer with an EV. Or carrying a load of something heavy in the bed, if the EV is a truck.
This is the paradox of electric cars – and trucks. Use it – and lose it.
They have tremendous power locked up in their high-voltage battery packs and monster torque immediately available, courtesy of their electric motors. But applying full power to the motors depletes the batteries so quickly you can literally see it happening, in the form of the range indicator telling you how little you’ve got left. A Tesla Plaid – the quickest Tesla, which can accelerate to 60 in less than 3 seconds – rapidly loses its ability to accelerate at all if that capacity is tapped repeatedly. Puling a trailer with an EV can reduce its range by 40 percent or more. Same as regards loading an electric down with a bed-full of rocks.
Weather – and use of electrically powered accessories such as the heater and AC – also negatively affects how far you can drive an EV.
Therefore, to get the advertised range out of an EV, it is necessary to drive it gently, which renders the EV’s responsiveness something akin to a piece of cheesecake you dare not eat more than a small bite of every now and then.
With electric trucks, the problem is worse – because the whole point of owning a truck is that it is capable of doing work. If it’s not, then what is the point of owning an electric truck?
It’s akin to a bodybuilder whose muscle are for show.
The above wouldn’t be a problem if EVs could be quickly refueled – and fully recharged.
It is not a problem for a “gas hog” car or truck because they can be back on the road – with a full tank of gas – in just a few minutes. It is a problem for electric vehicles because they take hours to get back on the road – if you are recharging at home, where the “fastest” charging option is 240 volts.
About 9.5 hours for the Kona electric I wrote about the other day.
If you are on the road, you can charge “faster” at a 400-plus volt commercial “fast” charger, but it still takes 30-45 minutes to recover a partial charge – 80 percent, not 100 percent, in order to not overheat the battery pack and possible damage it (or set fire to it which high-voltage EV batteries are more prone to than gas-burning combustion engines).
That means you have 20 percent less range, after waiting 30-45 minutes for a “fast” charge. And that means having to stop sooner for your next charge. You will have even less range if you use the heater – or the AC – even if you don’t use the responsiveness.
And if you don’t have a home – if you live in an apartment – where are you going to plug your EV in for a slow charge?
EVs do have fewer moving parts than gas-engined (and transmission’d) cars. But they also have more battery – and replacing an EV’s battery pack can cost more than replacing a combustion-powered car’s engine and transmission. It is also more likely that you’ll have to replace the EV’s battery at some point sooner than either the engine or the transmission in a combustion-powered car.
Engines and transmissions also eventually wear out, as all things eventually wear out. But batteries wear out faster, especially if they are used regularly. This is another paradox-liability of electric cars. Batteries last longest when they are used the least. When they are kept mostly charged up rather than heavily discharged – and then subjected to repeated high-load recharging, as at a “fast” charger.
What is good about capacity that waxes when used?
And what good is not having to buy gas when you’ve just paid twice as much to drive an EV? Even “inexpensive” models like the Leaf and Chevy Bolt cost about $10,000 more than non-electric equivalents, such as the Nissan Versa. And the EV is likely to cost more – to recharge – as demand for electricity waxes while generating capacity wanes. Here we arrive at another paradox-liability of EVs. That being, the more of them on the road, the more expensive electricity is likely to become – and not just for recharging electric cars.
Electricity already powers much of everything else – such as the lights (and AC) in your house. There isn’t much reserve capacity available for anything else. Without an increase in generating capacity to match the increased demand for electricity from all those EVs coming into service there will inevitably be more cost for electricity, applied generally.
Expect your power bill to go up even if you don’t own an EV. And if you do own one, expect to pay more electricity, in addition to all the other ways you’ll be paying.
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