Electric vehicles are continuing to march along the ‘S’ curve of adoption toward inevitably replacing the internal combustion engine. Why inevitably? Because they are simply superior in every aspect except price, and that drawback too is also disappearing quickly. Soon, they will be better in all respects.
First, a definition. Electric vehicles currently come in three flavours: Hybrid (a small battery that helps the engine when the engine is least efficient – think a Toyota Prius), Short range pure electric with a gas engine for longer trips (think the Chevrolet Volt), and pure electric – battery only (think any Tesla, Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt). This article will discuss only pure electric vehicles, because that is where the market is going. In my opinion, the other two will last only temporarily in the market.
Let’s look at pros and cons of pure battery electric cars:
Best driving experience – Super fast acceleration with amazing handling due to the weight of the battery being so down low and optimally distributed. For acceleration, you simply cannot beat the instant torque of an electric motor. Most folks who buy an electric car will ‘never go back’ for this reason alone. My advice: don’t test drive an electric car unless you are prepared to buy one, because it will the ruin the experience of whatever you drive now.
Safest Cars – The battery packs add a rigidity that cannot be matched for side impact, and the lack of an engine up front means the crumple zones are massive and optimized. The heavier weight makes electric cars especially good in the winter muck. If safety is a priority, there are simply no safer gas cars to compare to.
Highest reliability – A typical gas car has 2000 or more moving parts. An electric car has about 20. Electric motors have proven that they can drive a car more the 1,600,000km (one million miles!).
Cheapest to run – Do your driving at about a quarter of your gas charges for a typical Ontario resident.
Cheapest Maintenance – There is nothing to maintain. Take it in once a year if you want to change the cabin filter. There are no oil changes and no lube jobs. The only thing you need to do is keep the windshield washer fluid topped up. Even the brakes may last the life of the car; they are hardly used since the motor runs as a generator recharging the battery to slow you down. If I owned a lube shop today I would sell it while it was still worth something. The same goes with car dealerships, which make most of their profits on repairs.
Latest technology – All cars these days are as much about computers as mechanical devices. Electric cars are test beds for the latest self-driving and convenience technology. The auto-pilot technology from Tesla is already over twice as safe as human driving is, as has been proven with over a billion kilometres driven using it. My car is six years old and it get internet-connected updates monthly. Amazingly I am still getting new features 72 months after I bought the car.
Convenience – It literally take about ten seconds to plug it in or unplug it. Every morning you have a full ‘tank’. You never have to go pump gas again standing in the cold.
Resale – Now that they have been around for a while it has become clear that electric cars command premium resale values. This is because they cost so little to run, and there are many consumers who want to get them but cannot afford the initial cost.
Clean – No pollution comes from driving them, especially in Ontario there more than 90% of our electricity is not carbon based. If you care about clean air or global warming, electric cars are the way to go, even if your region’s electricity is sourced from coal. Imagine what Toronto would be like with crazy clean air.
Up front purchase cost – Electric cars have relatively high initial purchase costs. The recent removal of the purchase subsidy in Ontario did nothing to help that; it should have been phased out rather than stopped abruptly. Given all the pros that cost premium is well worth it for many buyers. Much of that cost is of course in the battery. For example, a Tesla Model 3 with a 75kWh battery (which could run your house for a few days) probably cost Tesla in the neighbourhood of $9,000 to make today (~$120/kWh). Most experts think at about $100/kWh, electric cars will cost the same as an equivalent gas car. When is that projected to occur? 2021 or 2022. Once that occurs this last con will be a pro – electric cars will start to become cheaper to buy! Leasing or financing a car helps with that higher purchase price.
My wife and I drive a lot. Kids’ activities, vacations and commutes add up to a total monthly driven distance of over 6,000 kilometres. If we each had a gas car that averages 6L/100 kilometres (which would be pretty efficient cars) our monthly fuel bill would be about $375 (with gas at $1/L). The monthly cost to charge our performance electric cars (one is an SUV the other is a full-size sedan) is less than $100. Our maintenance costs have been close to zero (one car has 188,000 kilometres and the other has 54,000 kilometres). That is not to say they have been 100% reliable – mine was a very early model but any repairs (my charger port door broke for instance) have been covered by warranty.
Here is a further real incentive to go electric. If it is true that electric cars will reach cost parity with gas cars around 2021-2022, then the adoption rate is projected to skyrocket (everything is in its favour). For reference, the Tesla Model 3 is now the 10th best-selling car in the US, and it is number one if you multiply the number of cars sold times the average selling price in the second half of 2018. If you buy a gas car in 2019 and want to sell it in 5 years, well, the resale value is going to be practically nothing. In order to convince them to spend money in the future on gas and maintenance, you will have to ‘compensate’ the purchaser with a much lower price compared to a used electric car that costs a fraction to run. I believe, and the trends are clear, that we are past the time to outright buy a gas car – you will hate the depreciation when you go to sell it. Very few people understand that today. If you cannot afford an electric car today, consider only leasing a gas car so you do not have to try and sell it in the future.
The recent Detroit auto show was all about electric car announcements. There is a reason GM closed its Oshawa plant. Gas sedans have no future. GM knows they have to focus on electric. Soon gas SUVs and trucks will have no future. It is disappointing that Ontario will barely participate in the revolution – many have seen this future for years and appropriate investments could have been made. The truth is the workers at the GM plant should have been lobbying for an electric car to build years ago.
Still don’t believe the revolution is coming? Consider these facts:
- The biggest market for electric cars is in China where horrific smog is driving policy. There are already many huge Chinese electric car companies that you have never heard of. Much of the world’s future battery manufacturing is being built there today. Similar to never having built out connected phone line infrastructure but instead going straight to cell phones, China will not develop gas powered cars for export but go straight to electric, where they can compete with a new technology. Look for Chinese electric car brands to come to North America.
- A number of European countries have mandates to sell no new gas cars after 2030. The German manufacturers (VW, BMW, Mercedes) are now investing heavily in electric.
- Almost 50% of new car sales in Norway are now pure electric. Good luck trying to sell a used gas car in Norway now.
- Despite what many think, no ‘breakthrough’ in battery technology is needed. The relentless year after year single-digit percentage improvements in cost (due to volume manufacturing) and battery cell performance (due to tweaks in the chemistry) alone will make electric cars affordable.
The auto industry is already at the start of this massive change. The twin revolutions of electric propulsion autonomous driving mean it is highly likely that some famous brands will not survive the near future. New companies will take their places. It is important that consumers understand what is coming and protect themselves from waiting too long and end up owning a gas-powered financial lemon.