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Fleet Alliance tackles 10 EV myths
Electric cars are becoming an increasingly common sight on the road. In 2022, electric cars (EVs) outsold diesel vehicles, taking over 16% of the new car market.
Thanks to advantageous running costs, electric cars are proving extremely popular with business users and fleets – last year Fleet Alliance sold double the national average of electric cars. So EVs are making a real impact on society as they glide by in near silence.
But as electric cars become increasingly visible on the streets, and conversations start about whether to change to an EV or not, it’s little surprise that myths start to circulate about how green EVs really are.
While we wouldn’t deny that the truth is complex surrounding this issue, as a company committed to helping fleets electrify, and a member of EV100 – a global initiative of companies that are committed to accelerating electrification – we felt that some of the criticisms and doubts raised over the role of EVs and how clean they really are needed addressing to provide clarity.
While EVs are no silver bullet for climate change, there are significant benefits in running an electric car over a petrol, diesel, or hybrid model. As such, they represent a key part in the overall plan to reduce the worsening effects of climate change.
Here, we run through some of the criticisms often levelled at EVs – with some fact-based answers.
The electricity used to charge EVs is ‘dirty’.
First, we should remember that electric car emissions are zero at the tailpipe. There isn’t a polluting exhaust responsible for respiratory and heart conditions for those exposed to the running of petrol and diesel cars in urban environments.
But while it’s important to have zero emission running, it’s also important that the electricity being used is from renewable sources.
An electric car charged from renewable energy is much cleaner than one charged from the UK’s average electric mix. Many utility companies offer renewable energy to homes which can be used for home charging, and many of the rapid charging providers for charging on the go do the same.
But it’s also true that EVs powered by the UK’s National Grid will see true fuel emissions vary throughout the year. Coal power is rarely used in the UK, but gas-fuelled power stations are. For the month of December, according to the National Grid, 35% of electricity was generated from gas, 30% from wind, 16% from nuclear, and everything else is less than 10% of the mix. A little over half of the electricity generated came from zero carbon sources, and the peak was almost 90% of the mix.
As the National Grid continues to decarbonise, not only is an electric car greener in terms of ‘fuel’ production than a carbon burning petrol or diesel model, but it will get progressively greener as time goes on.
Battery manufacture is concentrated in China where coal is extensively used in the process.
Currently, battery production is largely based in China. But that is changing rapidly as the rest of the world catches up. Production in the USA and Europe produces cleaner batteries by virtue of a less carbon-intensive electricity mix. China’s grid is coal heavy compared with other nations, but it is also getting greener as it introduces renewable electricity generation.
The batteries themselves are also improving in terms of the energy required to build, and the amount of energy they can store.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has calculated that total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of EVs are, on average, around half those of internal combustion engines, with the potential for low-carbon electricity to lessen this by a further 25%.
Electric cars might not pollute at the exhaust, but they produce more particulate emissions because the cars are heavier.
Electric cars are typically heavier than a comparable petrol or diesel counterpart.
For example, a Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI (petrol) has a kerb weight of 1,340 kg, while a Volkswagen ID.3 (electric) with the mid-sized 59 kWh battery weighs 1,812 kg – a difference of just over 470 kg.
This is not an insignificant difference. Think of it as carrying an additional four adult passengers. Volkswagen’s battery weight – typically 400-500kg depending on size and capacity – is a reasonable average for the market.
As such, EVs do weigh more, but the increase in particulate matter is negligible, and often a decrease in the real world.
Electric cars usually run low-rolling resistance tyres to help maximise range and minimise noise, and these create less particulate matter – tiny bits of rubber as they wear down – than grippier, lower profile sportier tyres.
As for particulates from braking, EVs are significantly better thanks to the benefit of regenerative braking.
Regenerative braking happens when you lift off the throttle of an EV an electric car will invert its electric motor, reversing flow into the battery. The effect is to create additional braking.
It means that brake wear is significantly lower compared with conventionally fuelled vehicles, to the extent that some manufacturers are bringing back lighter weight drum brakes for the rear axle on EVs.
The main impact that weight has on EVs is on efficiency. An EV with a smaller battery will be much more efficient than one with a large battery pack. But since an electric motor produces no particulate matter, and an internal combustion engine always will, an EV will always produce less in terms of particulate emissions.
Because electric cars are heavier, they are more dangerous in accidents.
Cars, in general, are increasing in weight as the trend towards SUVs and crossovers continues. This, combined with ever increasingly strict safety standards, mean that all cars are getting heavier. EVs are no different.
However, thanks to these stricter safety standards, deaths from road traffic incidents are relatively level across recent years and dropping gradually.
The UK Government’s statistics show that as of June 2022 there were 1,760 fatalities from road traffic collisions for the prior 12 months. That’s a 4% decrease for the same period to June 2019 – the last pre-pandemic figure.
There is nothing to suggest that electric cars are inherently more dangerous to other road users, simply because of their weight. Indeed, the high level of accident avoidance and proximity technology in EVs means there’s more capability for EVs to avoid collisions in the first place.
Electric cars cost more to buy and lease but as they are driven less it makes them even more expensive.
Electric cars do usually cost more in terms of OTR price and in terms of their monthly lease rental.
But on a whole life cost comparison (aggregating every cost the car will incur over a fixed period of time and miles) EVs are less costly to run thanks to reduced maintenance and the cheaper cost of using electricity, particularly when the car is charged at home.
However, any suggestion that EVs are driven less is incorrect.
According to the latest set of MOT data to the end of 2021, electric cars covered an average of 6,431 miles a year; diesel cars averaged slightly more at 6,700 miles; while petrol cars had a significantly lower average – just 4,290 miles a year.
Electric cars are still only used as the second car.
When electric cars first arrived on the market a decade ago, many were used as second cars, even though this often saw them cover a higher mileage than the “first” car.
With EVs ideally suited to regular zero emission short trips – school run, supermarket shopping, commutes, and so on – electric cars quickly took the role of the main runabout, leaving internal combustion power for those occasional longer trips.
Now, with longer ranges available in electric cars, they are activiely replacing petrol or diesel cars as the main car, thanks to the high uptake of EVs by company car drivers and the increasing availability of EVs on car salary sacrifice schemes.
Lower running costs, even considering increases in domestic and commercial electricity costs, mean it remains cheaper to run an EV than a petrol or diesel car.
Electric cars will deplete resources of rare minerals because they require large amounts for the batteries and motors.
It’s true that rare earth materials, or Rare Earth Elements (REEs), are used in the manufacture of electric vehicles. But they are used in very small amounts.
According to the University of Strathclyde, two REEs are predominantly used in building electric cars – Neodymium (Nd) and Dysprosium (Dy). Neodymium is used in permanent magnet electric motors, while Dysprosium is also used in motors but it’s a minimal amount relative to Neodymium.
Depending on how quickly electric vehicle uptake accelerates, the required total amount between 2016 and 2050 varies dramatically, from 260 tonnes and 39 tonnes for Nd and DY respectively for “business as usual” to 11,347 tonnes and 1,782 tonnes respectively for “aggressive” uptake.
As such, there are plans to enforce the recycling of REEs to at least 70% of the total used by 2030, compared with the 1% seen in 2018.
As for other materials used, such as cobalt, nickel, and manganese, these are found in rechargeable battery cells for everything from mobile phones to electric ferries. Increase in demand is soaring as the world expands its reliance on both technology and electric transportation. EVs will contribute to this, but research from Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews in 2021 shows that there are enough resources available for a global shift to electric transportation, as long as significant battery recycling is carried out.
EVs are responsible for ethical problems associated with cobalt mining – such as child labour.
There are ethical considerations for the extraction of raw materials required to build any car, whether EV or not.
It’s true that there have been many reports of the use of child labour in certain countries, as well as poor environmental practices.
There is no accurate data to show what effect EVs have on this, however there are enough reports to make it worrying for EV users.
Nevertheless, car makers are tackling the issue: Mercedes-Benz already has initiatives in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and India to combat child labour used in rare earth mining.
The global Rare Earth Industry Association seeks to establish best practice for rare earth extraction, while car makers such as BMW and Nissan are eliminating rare earths altogether in their electric motors. Other manufacturers are following the same route.
Pundits suggest electric car sales will dominate within a few decades – but the reality is they won’t.
Everything is pointing to electric car sales dominating within a few decades. And the reality is that they will.
The UK government, as well as the European Union, have brought in laws that will ban the sale of new petrol or diesel cars, which in the UK’s case is 2030. In Europe the cut-off date for petrol and diesel cars is a little later – 2035 – but in reality, most manufacturers will have pivoted to EV manufacture in advance of that point.
As well as this, EVs are continuing to scale the sales charts. Pure-electric cars accounted for 16.5% of new car sales in 2022 according to statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), up from 2021’s 12% market share.
Fleet Alliance is also seeing significant growth in its electric fleet. It now represents 33% of all orders, double the national rate, as we help companies meet their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies.
Electric cars are not the magic cure to the world’s climate troubles – there are plenty of issues with them.
EVs will become more efficient, and they are starting from strong foundations already.
For example, driving ranges on a single charge are improving, and developments are seeing fewer materials used in batteries for greater energy density. Another 10 years’ development – such as the introduction of solar electric vehicles by 2025, or solid-state batteries – will see more efficient and better EVs still.
What also cannot be underestimated is the positive impact on local air quality, an area that ICE vehicles cannot and will not be able to compete.
So EVs are not perfect – yet. But the technology is developing at pace at a time when ICE technology has peaked.
EVs will only get better and further reduce their total environmental impact – which is already less than ICE cars – over an increasingly shorter period of time.
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