17 February 2022   By: Toby Hagon

We help you separate fact from fiction on the most hotly debates aspects of electric cars.

For many people, electric cars prompt many questions, debates, assumptions, misconceptions and even fears – not just about costs and range, but also about their impact on the environment, support and charging infrastructure.

So, we’re going to help you separate EV fact from fiction.

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They’re not really sustainable if you’re charging them from the electricity grid which still relies on coal-fired power stations.

Electricity created through fossil fuels such as coal, gas or diesel results in the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful emissions. So while an EV is not emitting any CO2 as it drives, if the place that created its electricity is using fossil fuels there will be CO2 emissions attributable to the electricity generation source.

But it’s worth putting that into perspective. In 2017 the Department of Energy and Environment estimated that for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated in WA, about 700 grams of CO2 was produced.

An EV typically uses between 12 and 25kWh of electricity per 100km, which translates to between 8.4kg and 17.5kg of CO2.

Most petrol-powered cars use between 6 and 12 litres of fuel per 100km and each litre produces 2.3kg of CO2. So, over the same 100km, a petrol-powered car produces between 13.8kg and 27.6kg of CO2.

Diesel vehicles typically sit between EVs and petrol vehicles in terms of their CO2 emissions over a given distance, however diesels do generate other, more toxic emissions such as oxides of nitrogen and fine particulate matter.

In the five years since 2017, the WA grid has become significantly cleaner, and this will continue. In 2017 the 12-month average for electricity generation across the South West of WA was 49 per cent coal, 41 per cent gas and 8.5 per cent wind, and for 2021 that average was 44 per cent coal, 34 per cent gas and 19 per cent wind across the year.

By the end of the year, the second largest battery in the country will be storing excess solar electricity at the decommissioned Kwinana Power Station.

Of course, using rooftop solar directly or utilising an energy plan that only supplies green electricity can lower CO2 released from energy generation to zero.

Electric cars are too expensive to buy.

EVs have fewer moving parts and are mechanically far less complex than vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE).

But batteries are expensive and can account for tens of thousands of dollars of manufacturing costs for an EV.

Car makers and major battery manufacturers are working to lower manufacturing costs. In 2010 a single kilowatt-hour of battery capacity cost more than $US1200, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). For an EV with an average 60kWh battery capacity that’s $US72,000 in batteries alone.

By 2021 BNEF estimated that the cost of manufacturing lithium-ion batteries had fallen almost 90 per cent, to $US132 per kilowatt-hour. Yet that is still almost $US8000 in manufacturing costs for the average EV.

That is the biggest reason EVs can cost upwards of 50 per cent more than a comparable ICE vehicle.

But prices are coming down, with a 2021 BNEF study predicting parity between EVs and ICE vehicles around 2027.

That parity will partly come about by the increasing manufacturing costs of petrol and diesel engines as they are engineered to meet stricter global emissions standards.

Some state governments are already offering financial incentives to purchase an EV, something that has further reduced the price premium.

While the Western Australian government currently offers no incentives to purchase an EV, it has committed to ensuring at least 25 per cent of its own vehicle fleet is electric by 2025/26.

The uptake of EVs by governments and corporate fleets does mean that eventually those vehicles will enter the used car market as more affordable options.

Lithium batteries are dangerous and can catch fire.

It’s true that battery packs can catch fire – but so can petrol and diesel.

However, whereas a petrol fire is dangerously intense but usually for a relatively short period of time, EV batteries can continue to combust well after the initial impact or malfunction, and are usually far more difficult to extinguish than liquid fuel fires.

This brings unique challenges for emergency services, but they’re challenges that are on the radar of those who are designing the vehicles and dealing with crashes.

EVs are designed with solid crash structures surrounding the battery packs to reduce the chance of the components being damaged or rupturing. The software controlling EVs is also designed to instantly shut down cells in the event of a potential issue or after a big impact, reducing the chance of a fire.

Like the vast majority of new cars, electric cars also routinely score the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.

They’re not really sustainable because of the resources used in manufacturing the batteries.

Lots of raw material goes into a lithium-ion battery, although you may be surprised to learn only about 1-2 per cent of it is lithium. But with an average EV having hundreds of kilograms of batteries – often more than half a tonne – it’s an energy-intensive process mining the materials, which include aluminium, graphite, nickel, copper, manganese and cobalt.

While some resources are utilised by both internal combustion vehicles and EVs to manufacture components such as suspension parts, brakes and chassis structures, some of the rare earth materials needed to make batteries are expensive and difficult to mine.

That’s one reason car makers are reducing or in some cases eliminating the use of cobalt.

Extensive work is also being done on EV battery recycling to ensure the components that go into a lithium-ion battery can be used beyond the life of the EV they were originally fitted to. Many of those materials used to manufacture a battery are still valuable and recoverable once it has spent a decade or more in an EV.

Compared with an ICE car, an EV still has a cradle-to-grave advantage. A WA government report titled “A guide to Electric Vehicles” states that over the entire life cycle of the vehicle – from its production to its use – an EV has lower greenhouse gas emissions that an ICE vehicle.

The batteries don’t have a long lifespan.

The technology in an EV battery is the same as that used in a laptop or mobile phone.

However, there are many more smarts designed to make EV batteries go further, including having their own dedicated temperature control systems. In extreme heat or cold they can heat or cool the batteries to maintain an optimum temperature to extend longevity.

EVs also have advanced software that monitors every cell to ensure it is within its optimum parameters for voltage and temperature.

Also, EVs don’t use the entire battery capacity, typically eliminating the very top and bottom. So, when an EV says its battery is 100 per cent charged, it’s not, and when an EV says it’s flat, it’s also not. It’s all about extending the life of the batteries.

That’s why car makers can offer big warranties on their batteries. Most provide at least eight years and 160,000km of warranty coverage and typically guarantee between 70 and 75 per cent of the battery’s original capacity.

They’re only economical to run if you have solar panels to charge them.

Not true at all.

Household grid electricity in WA costs about 30c per kilowatt-hour. So an economical EV would cost about $3.60 to travel 100km while a larger, faster one might cost $7.50.

Considering an economical petrol-powered car such as a hybrid uses about 5 litres per 100km and a thirsty one might use more than double that, it would mean the price of petrol would have to drop to around 70 cents per litre to match the energy costs of running an EV.

With fuel costs the way they are, EVs typically cost less than half what a petrol-powered car does to travel the same distance.

Anyone able to recharge from home solar or using free public chargers can lower those costs to zero.

Of course, when considering your household budget and the potential benefits of an EV, you’ll need to take into account the upfront costs.

They don’t have a big range on one charge.

The real-world range of EVs has been increasing as battery technology has improved and most brands are now targeting a distance between charges of 400-500km.

There are still some EVs that only have a real-world range of about 200km, but these are a rarity these days.

Many can go 500km and most soon-to-arrive models will have more than 400km of realistic range. Some newer EVs are targeting 1000km or more.

However, whereas a petrol or diesel car typically travels further on a freeway than it does around town, EVs are opposite.

Most EVs do their best work in the suburbs, where they can utilise regenerative braking, which reverses the flow of electrons in the electric motor to help slow the car and generate energy when decelerating. There’s less chance for regenerative braking on a freeway and the energy required to overcome aerodynamic drag means EVs may experience a shortened range at 100km/h-plus than they will pottering around town.

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Traditional ICE engines are getting more fuel efficient, so why bother?

Internal combustion engines have been getting more efficient for more than a century. But even the most efficient still lose about 60 per cent of the energy in their fuel as heat.

An electric vehicle, on the other hand, uses about 90 per cent of the energy in the battery to move the vehicle, however EV batteries are far less energy dense than liquid fuels.

EVs also have the advantage of not producing any harmful emissions when in-service, whereas ICE vehicles produce many.

Many car makers have reduced or ceased development of engines due to the cost and complexity required to make them meet stringent emissions regulations in places such as Europe and America.

In short, it will cost a lot more to make an ICE slightly cleaner whereas EVs today are producing no tailpipe emissions.

The maintenance costs are higher

This is incorrect.

Electric motors have substantially fewer parts than internal combustion engines, and EV motors and drivetrains need less maintenance throughout the life of the vehicle.

Most EV batteries have liquid cooling systems, and that fluid must be replaced periodically. But it’s a lot cheaper than the cost of tuning, spark plugs, filters, oil and more.

That said, EVs still need regular maintenance for perishable items such as suspension and steering components, auxiliary (12V) battery replacement, wiper blades, air-conditioner servicing, cabin air filters and fluid top-ups.

Brakes also need to be checked, although because EVs utilise regenerative braking – often using the electric motor to slow the car rather than the brake pads – they typically wear a lot slower than they do in an ICE vehicle.

EV tyres can cost more because the large battery packs mean EVs are usually heavier than their ICE counterparts and the near-instant torque delivery puts additional wear on the rubber.

But, generally speaking, EVs cost significantly less to maintain than ICE vehicles.

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They don’t hold their value as well as traditional ICE engine vehicles.

It’s true second-hand EVs never used to be hot property, mainly because the technology was advancing so quickly. But EV residual values have been improving as charging infrastructure improves and more people are willing to consider a switch to electric; coupled with the lengthy wait times for new vehicles at the moment.

Late in 2021 the most affordable Tesla had a forecast residual on cars less than 12 months old of 103 per cent. In other words, you potentially could have made a profit from one, something some owners have done.

That’s a rarity and most EVs will depreciate in line with regular cars. But most are now holding their value as well as or slightly better than comparable ICE cars.

I have to buy an expensive charging device to charge it at home.

It's certainly an option but not essential.

Portable charging cables are supplied with most new EVs and can be plugged into a general power outlet. It’ll be a slow charge, but if you’re driving less than 50km a day it should be fine.

A home wall box charger, as it’s known, can be worth it for the convenience and faster charging speeds. Most will supply 7.4kW of power, which is more than three times what you get from a regular powerpoint. Others are capable of 22kW, although most people will never need that much power, because a 7.4kW unit will easily charge all EVs overnight.

Most wall boxes typically range from about $950 to $2500, depending on the building and level of installation difficulty.

We’re also starting to see the emergence of connected chargers, which can communicate with the electricity grid. They aim to source electricity during times of low demand, such as in the middle of the night.

Some EVs even have the smarts to send excess electricity a household storage battery or back to the grid, potentially selling it during peak times and buying it back soon after at a lower rate. Others can be used as a power source to charge other things, like an electric bike.

EVs take a long time to charge even on the fastest chargers.

It’s true that charging from home can take 24 hours or more if you have an EV with a large battery capacity and it is completely flat and you are only using a household power point. But fit a wall box charger and even the largest of EVs will have a full battery from flat from an overnight charge.

Remember, too, that most times when you’re charging at home it’s likely to be a top up rather than a full charge.

Faster DC public chargers can provide up to 350kW of power – about 150 times more than you get from a regular home powerpoint.

It’s up to the car how much of that charge it accepts, which depends on the car’s onboard charger capacity and other factors such as temperature. But some EVs can add upwards of 300km of range in as little as 20 minutes.

There aren’t many charging stations around WA.

Most cities and towns throughout WA have somewhere to charge a vehicle, even if it’s just a power outlet in a motel carpark or shopping centre.

You can do an online search for charging locations or use apps such as PlugShare.

The RAC Electric Highway® currently offers 16 locations across Perth and the South West, including 13 ultra-rapid and fast DC charging stations.

In total there are now 33 publicly accessible ultra-rapid and fast DC chargers across WA, as far north as Paraburdoo, as far east as Caiguna and as far south as Pemberton, as well as hundreds of publicly accessible chargers. And the number continues to increase.

As part of the WA government’s Electric Vehicle Strategy, there are plans for a fast-charging network allowing travel between Perth, Kununurra, Esperance and Kalgoorlie.

Fitting a charger can be difficult and/or expensive in apartment blocks.

Nowadays, many modern apartment buildings are being designed with their dedicated parking areas to include EV charging outlets. However, if this isn’t the case with older dwellings, there are a handful of companies that provide installations, ranging from a few hundred dollars to $5000 or more depending on the size of the charger, available space, electricity access and many other variables.

EVs are slow.

Err, no. Definitely not.

Most EVs accelerate as fast or faster than a petrol or diesel car. And because you don’t have to wait for engine revs to rise, they have much swifter responses to any push on the accelerator pedal.

Combined with strong initial torque – or pulling power – it means EVs typically feel zippier than ICE alternatives.

About the only area an EV doesn’t perform as well as an ICE car is at high speeds (well above 100km/h). So if you want a car to thrash around a race track then many petrol cars will do a better job.

But if you just want a car to drive around town or cruise on a freeway then an EV will rarely be left wanting for performance.

EVs won’t tow my boat or caravan.

Forget what Scott Morrison said about EVs ending the weekend. It simply isn’t true.

Some EVs today can tow more than two tonnes and there are large utes (or pick-up trucks) in America that will be able to tow more than a Toyota LandCruiser.

Sure, the options are limited today in Australia for EVs that can tow, but they’re coming.

And rest assured they’ll have no issue shifting your Jayco.

The biggest challenge for EVs with towing will be how long they can do it for. EVs use a lot more electricity when you’re carrying a load, so an EV with an unladen range of 500km might drop to 200km or less when towing.

So covering big distances will be a challenge until more fast charging networks are put in place.

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