Good for the environment, great fuel economy, helpful for climate change, etc, etc... But what really is the story with electric cars? Here are ten things we think you should know:
Range - is it a reason to be anxious?
The infamous range anxiety is a much-talked-about topic for electric vehicles. Let's start from the very basics - first, the kilowatt-hour is the unit measure of battery size. Each unit can result in up to 8km of driving for the most efficient battery-electric vehicles (BEV) on the market. The typical BEV on sale in Ireland in 2022 comes with a battery pack sized from 50 to 80 kWh. For example, the 60 kWh Hyundai Kona BEV has a range of about 484km. The Irish driver travels about 50km a day on average, thus, the battery provides almost 10 days of driving for the average driver.
This range drops as the battery ages over the years for which it is guaranteed and beyond. A further drop in the range can be expected due to the use of heating, air-conditioning or defrosting on cold, hot, or damp days. Thus the range in several years' time will be lower in adverse weather conditions, but will still have several days of driving for the typical driver. Even better, many vehicles now use heat pump technology to heat up the vehicle. These heat pumps require less energy than traditional heaters and so the range is less impacted in poor weather.
How long will the batteries last?
Battery life is improving as we learn more about battery science. The typical car manufacturer guarantees the battery for 7 or 8 years, and we can expect to see battery guarantees of up to 10 years coming soon for some BEV models. Some batteries for hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV) come with a 15-year guarantee. The key to battery life is not to overcharge or over-discharge the battery. Positively, the Irish climate doesn't have the kind of temperature extremes that would further reduce the life of the battery.
Are BEVs more expensive to buy?
In general, BEVs are more expensive than the equivalent conventional petrol or diesel vehicle. The BEVs are made more affordable in Ireland with government grants of up to €5,000 for vehicles priced up to €60,000. Vehicle registration tax (VRT) relief is additionally available on BEVs, but with limits kicking in at €40,000. A €600 grant is available for the EV charger. Value-added tax (VAT) at 23% is additionally part of the price of all new cars in Ireland.
Are BEVs more expensive to run?
A typical BEV driver can save about €100 every month by charging the vehicle with cheaper night-time electricity when compared to a diesel or petrol car. While the electricity can be relatively pricey at high-power public chargers, the cheap-rate night-time electricity at home enables serious savings to be made on fuel. Depending on how much you drive, the increased cost to purchase the BEV will likely be offset by the cost savings to fuel the vehicle over the decade or longer that the vehicle is in operation. Additionally, EVs also benefit from the lowest road tax.
Maintenance and service - do they need a special mechanic?
Yes, you must go to trained mechanics for service and repairs as battery and hybrid cars have powertrains that are quite different from conventional cars. Fitzpatrick's Garage will have the highly-trained mechanics and technicians which your car requires. Maintenance is actually less of a factor for the BEV as it has fewer moving parts than a conventional vehicle, making it easier to service.
One of the wonders of electric cars is regenerative braking. When you lift your foot off the accelerator pedal and onto the brake, the motor swaps directions and starts to put energy back into the battery. When this process kicks in, you can feel the car start to slow down. It’s a different sensation in each car that has this function because manufacturers can program how much regenerative braking occurs when you lift off the pedal. All cars still have normal brakes, so if you push the pedal hard enough then the hydraulic system will kick in to get you stopped quickly (depending on your speed). So, it's quite likely that you don't use the actual brakes at all. This saves a lot in terms of wear and tear on brakes, and creates free energy for the battery.
Power - are electric cars as powerful as electric? Can it tow a trailer?
One of the great things about an electric car is its acceleration. The 0-60 can be extremely fast and is thrilling for many drivers.
Many EVs are not designed for towing, but some are. Be sure to check that the model you choose can tow, and also how much can be towed.
Hybrid-electric vs mild hybrid?
The hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) features two energy sources on the car; a battery with an electric motor and a high-efficiency petrol engine. The battery and the electrical system enable the engine to run in the most efficient mode, thus maximising the range and minimising the carbon emissions. The electric system can propel the car so the car can drive quietly in electric mode for several km when it is inefficient to use the engine.
Mild-hybrid vehicles are similar to conventional diesel and petrol vehicles in using an engine to propel the vehicle. The standard car has a 12V lead-acid battery, whereas the typical mild-hybrid operates with a lithium-ion battery at 48V. This technology enables the car to operate more efficiently and emit less carbon than a conventional vehicle, but it does not propel the vehicle.
What is a plug-in hybrid car?
A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a hybrid vehicle with a relatively large battery which can be plugged in, just like a BEV. The battery is typically sized such that the driver can travel that 50km average daily drive completely on the battery. The vehicle can use the engine for longer drives while staying electric-only for shorter drives. Drivers need to charge the vehicle daily in order to get the full environmental and financial benefits. That should be easy - no driver wants to pay a fortune for petrol when they can use cheaper electricity. The cost per km when driving using nighttime electricity is about 2c while driving using petrol is almost 9c.
Are EVs really better for the environment?
Fuelling a vehicle using electricity in Ireland results in much lower carbon emissions when compared to combusting a fossil fuel. On the other hand, the manufacturing of the vehicle internationally results in much higher carbon emissions. Overall, when the global emissions of manufacturing and fueling are considered, EVs emit less carbon for the typical driver. BEVs with smaller batteries have lower global emissions than those with large batteries. BEVs with large batteries have similar global emissions to PHEVs, while HEVs have higher again, with conventional petrol and diesel being the highest. Diesel cars can also struggle with toxic emissions in urban environments,
Other environmental concerns are the material sourcing, manufacturing emissions, sustainability and recyclability of EVs, and in more recent times, the ability of the grid to supply electricity. These problems are complex but are all being addressed and we can expect to see significant progress in all these areas in the next decade.
When will I be able to afford an EV?
As you can likely see on the road today, many people in Ireland can already afford a used or new EV. However, the EV market is not yet at the level of being able to present affordable options across all sectors of the car market. In the short term, Covid has played havoc with the supply chain and many manufacturers are struggling to meet the demand. Many of the largest car manufacturers have only introduced EVs very recently, and these will need a number of years to develop full supply chains and manufacturing to drive down the cost of the vehicles.