- Is everything you've heard about electric cars really true? (image: Nissan UK)

Debunking the biggest misconceptions that stop you buying an electric car

Is everything you’ve heard about electric cars true?

2y ago


The problem with having a fascination with internal combustion engines is that when something different came along, something silent and frugal, most of us just didn’t want to know… me included.

I’m not asking you to embrace electric vehicles but instead I’m here to challenge some of the misconceptions surrounding them, and here they are:

Nobody buys them anyway

For many people today’s electric cars remain an uncommon sight but take a look at market trends or the sales figures that surround such vehicles and you’ll realise it’s different story altogether. In 2015 there were one million electric vehicles on the world’s roads globally. The following year that figure had doubled.

Cars like BMW's i3 are no longer such a rare sight (Image: BMW)

Cars like BMW's i3 are no longer such a rare sight (Image: BMW)

Globally speaking, the two main electric car markets are China and the United States while Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom are now reporting substantial sales.

Government grants and tax breaks towards electric vehicles, combined with rising fuel costs and pressure from environmental groups mean the switch to electric is speeding up rapidly.

They’re no good for those who drive longer distances

Range anxiety is a very real concern for owners of today’s electronic vehicles but it’s one that is improving rapidly thanks to advancements in battery technology.

We aren’t yet at a point where the average electric car will come close to the range of an internal combustion car or hybrid, and once an electric car’s battery is depleted it will of course take a lot longer than simply refiling a fuel tank.

Tesla’s recently released Model 3 gets closer to this than anything before it. If you choose this car with the long-range battery option you’ll get a claimed 540km (334miles) from a single charge of its 75kWh battery. Hook it up to one of Tesla’s superchargers and the company claim it’ll gain 270 km (170miles) in range available after just 30 minutes. Charge it at home though and you’ll be looking at gaining more like 14% charge per hour.

Tesla still leads the way when it comes to range, desirability and performance in general (image:Tesla)

Tesla still leads the way when it comes to range, desirability and performance in general (image:Tesla)

Chevrolet’s Bolt – or the Opel Ampera-e for European readers – holds similarly impressive figures with a confirmed 238 mi (383 km) range and a fast charging option that claims to supply 80% of the battery’s charge. The 41kWh verison of Renault’s Zoe (ZE40) is also known for going far from a single charge with a real world range of around 306km (190 miles).

It’s worth noting that most of the electric cars already on the market will deliver significantly less impressive stats than the figures above. Most of today’s popular models deliver a range of 75-120 miles (121-193km).

The improvements to the range of these cars is something that is mirrored by infrastructure improvements. Governments are setting aside vast amounts of cash to rapidly increase the amount of charging points available to motorists. Just one example is the IONITY charging network, which will see 400 universal fast charging stations across Europe thanks to a collaboration from four of the world’s largest car companies – Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW.

The batteries used in electric cars will die, and fast

The other hot topic surrounding batteries is of course their life expectation. Just how long can an owner expect from the cells that power their vehicle? It’s a valid concern too, especially when you consider that a replacement battery pack can cost the same as the value of a used electric car.

Let’s take Nissan’s Leaf as an example. A replacement Leaf battery will exceed £5,000 / $6,499, though owners can expect a rebate of around a fifth of that cost in exchange for the vehicle’s original battery

According to ValuePenguin, a survey of 564 Nissan Leafs showed that on average Leafs had lost one of their twelve bars of battery capacity, and had done so after being driven just under 26,000 miles at an average of 2.7 years of age.

Surveys have found that the Nissan Leaf battery has impressive longevity (image: Nissan)

Surveys have found that the Nissan Leaf battery has impressive longevity (image: Nissan)

For owners of an early Leaf (with the 24 kWh battery) that would represent a drop of 12 miles from the original 80 mile range figure. On a more modern Leaf with the larger 30 kWh battery, the same time frame would remove 19 miles from the vehicle’s original 130 mile range.

By the fifth year of ownership most Leafs were reporting a battery capacity of ten out of twelve bars. Manufacturers are fully aware that batteries are still a sticking point for certain potential electric car owners and that’s why you’ll find they are nearly always protected by lengthy and comprehensive warranties.

Ultimately though, modern EVs have simply not been around long enough and produced in quantities high enough to accurately know the true lifetime of certain batteries, which leads us nicely on to the next point.

They’re incredibly expensive

To put it bluntly, used electric cars have some of the worst residuals ever seen by the motor industry. Their limited range, questionable batteries and general unpopularity have made them a potential bargain among frightened consumers.

Buying new still represents quite a premium over regular ICE vehicles but it’s a cost that could still make sense. Examples of Nissan’s Leaf or Renault’s Zoe and Twizy models can be had for little more than £5,000.

Renault's Zoe could make for a sensible used purchase (image: Renault)

Renault's Zoe could make for a sensible used purchase (image: Renault)

Tesla has so far managed to remain an exception from this but then again Tesla has managed to do what most brands could not and that’s make electrification trendy. After all, this is a brand that was recently voted the coolest of all motoring manufacturers by teens and millennials.

Then there’s also the point that it may be worth spending more money in the first place. According to a study conducted by Applied Energy, an academic journal covering research on energy engineering recently found that owning a pure electric car in the UK was cheaper than diesel, petrol, hybrid alternatives.

The Bottom Line

Electric cars are not perfect but they’re certainly misunderstood. If one thing's for sure then they aren't going away anytime soon – whether you choose to embrace them or not is another thing entirely.

For a closer look at what electrified motoring may be like in 2037 head along to my last DriveTribe post.

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Comments (63)

  • Ive said it before and I'll say it again, Electric cars aren't the future, that spot is reserved for Hyrdrogen Fuel Cell technology, electric cars are a phase, when the day comes where hydrogen can be extracted easier and it becomes more mainstream, then I have a feeling we will be saying goodbye to the electric car, also great article I'm not completely against the electric car, it's just not the 'saving grace' that the motor industry and governments are deeming it, also I can't help but notice the amount of pollution that comes from power plants (and I know there are wind farms and stuff) but the bulk of the power comes from the grid which in turn comes from a massive power plant... There a good idea but in the real world there not practical enough, until they can charge from 0-100 in the same time it takes me to fill up and pay at the station then they aren't the future, just a partial solution.

      2 years ago
    • Hydrogen cannot be extracted from anywhere Chris. It has to be produced and it requires a horrendous amount of energy

        2 years ago
  • Battery cycle life and residual value of the car are just not acceptable.

    You forgot to say that batteries are eco monsters, very far away from the eco image the marketeers give them: a lot of pollution to produce and dispose of them... For 5 years life!

    Li-ion tech is just not good.

    We need another battery tech... Which we don't have yet!

      2 years ago
    • Batteries last a hell of a lot longer than 5 years. I haven't read an article yet that had said anything about a battery that has actually had to be replaced.

        2 years ago
    • They will eventually have to be replaced anyways, and recycling/disposing of them is a pain. I'm not against EVs but they are just a temporary solution, nothing more, unless a new battery tech is discovered.

        2 years ago
  • We keep hearing and reading that there is going to be new and improved battery technology.

    I have heard that for over a decade. It is true that the price has dropped significantly in that time, but the energy density has not greatly increased.

    Lithium Ion batteries have about 500 kJ/kg.

    Gasoline has about 44 MJ/kg.

    So even allowing for 90%+ efficiency from the electric motor, compared to about 35% at best for a gasoline one, there is still a huge gap (note that the battery is in kilojoules and the petrol is in megajoules).

    I think that hybrids are currently the way to go as they can capture some waste energy when breaking.

      2 years ago
  • "Electric cars are not perfect but they’re certainly misunderstood. "

    But, Oliver, you've just affirmed most of what people are saying, justifiably, about current ( no pun intended) EVs. One can sugar-coat it to oblivion and they still look unreliable, inconvenient and expensive compared with "analogue" cars. You may have mitigated some of the concerns with workarounds but debunked any misconceptions? You haven't even proved there are any.

    Admittedly, the battery longevity issue isn't provable either way yet but encouraging people to ignore legitimate concerns about the *known* characteristics of lithium ion cells is a little rash. Tesla's labs claim to have come up with a solvent that stops anodes producing as much CO2 (and the cathode absorbing it until saturated with the product of this reaction and ruined), a major cause of premature failure in cells whether used or not, but that isn't in production yet. Dendrite formation both at high temperature and charging sub zero hasn't even been looked at and we *know* the faster you charge a cell, the shorter its useful lifetime so the Leaf is a bad example as the average Leaf owner is charging overnight from a low (relatively) current outlet.

    The bottom line is scepticism. Membraneless flow cells, H2 fuel cells, alternative ICE, all look more promising than lithium ion but none of these are as potentially lucrative, easy to track for road pricing or assured to require owners to replace expensive bits on a schedule as EVs. I, for one, suspect this is the primary motivation. I hope for everyone's sake that I'm completely wrong.

      2 years ago
    • Hey Matt,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You're right, the title is a little off for me, on reflection I'd have ran with something different. Totally accept your points on the Nissan batteries but I'm sure you'll appreciate that it's currently...

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        2 years ago
  • Having read this I believe at this point in time they aren't too misunderstood. Okay that you believe that the sales are going great with Less than 6000 sold in the Netherlands from 31-dec-2016 till 31-okt-2017 that is fine though most would not agree.

    Second you say they are incredibly expensive. With is a bold statement when you did bring in multiple countries. Of which Norway has its prices for electric cars lower than the fossil fuel cars.

    So for the next article try to get the numbers behind the articles you used. They might not be based on the latest information. And be a bit carfull making statements. Specify the research subject with each individual statement.

      2 years ago
    • Daan, my point labelled 'THEY’RE INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE' leads into a paragraph explaining that used electric cars can actually be very good value. I wasn't aware of the extent of the subsidies for such vehicles in Norway so thanks for...

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        2 years ago
    • Yes indeed that's why I would say you could in future articles make clear where you got information from. Then we can't really criticize but maybe begin some friendly discussions.

        2 years ago