Electric vehicles are touted as the future of driving. Less polluting than their fuel-powered predecessors and more cost effective to run, EVs are becoming more affordable, mainstream, and efficient all the time. Where batteries in early model EVs allowed limited range, which fell markedly with time, battery technology is improving every year, covering greater distances with a single charge, and retaining the bulk of their power. But are electric cars genuinely more eco-friendly? And will they really cost you less than their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts over time? Here’s everything you need to know before you zoom into the future.
Eco, or no?
Driving an EV prevents dirty exhaust emissions from polluting the air but charging one from our coal-loving energy grid still leaves a stain on the environment. And what about the impacts of nickel and cobalt mining, to produce its battery? And the GG emissions created during its manufacture?
A University of Toronto study, commissioned by the Wall Street Journal, found that building a Tesla Model 3 generates 65% more emissions than the manufacture of a petrol-powered Toyota Rav4, thanks to the metals mined for its lithium-ion battery. It’s when these vehicles hit the road that the Tesla earns its eco cred.
Needing zero petrol and oil refills, the Tesla produces only 34% of the Rav4’s emissions. At 20,600 miles (33152km), the EV and gas guzzler have amassed roughly the same number of emissions, but it’s here that Tesla leaves Toyota in the dust. At 100,000 miles (160,000km), the Rav4’s emissions are 77% greater.
Of course, this is just one study, and the greenness of an EV is variable, depending on the make, the abundance of renewables powering your electricity grid, and how you choose to charge your car.
Car makers are innovating ever more eco-friendly methods to produce their EVs. The interior of the Mazda MX-30 Electric is comprised of recycled and bio-based materials, while the Nissan Leaf’s interior and body makes use of recycled materials, too, like second-hand car parts and appliances, and even plastic water bottles. As mentioned, EV batteries are getting more powerful all the time, giving you greater range from a single charge.
Battery charging with renewables will ensure that your EV drive is greener. Consider purchasing green energy from your provider or talk to your solar company about using an array of rooftop solar for charging. As renewables continue to carve out a greater chunk of the grid, charging your battery will become more eco-friendly with time.
Going the distance
If you regularly drive long distances of 200km plus, you may need to think twice about an EV, particularly when buying used. Newer models offer impressive driving range, but early varieties featured limited capacity, which will have decreased with regular use and exposure to the elements.
Though their rollout is gathering pace, charging stations are sparser in regional areas, so factor in the places you travel to regularly and whether you can re-juice with ease. Buying an EV as your home’s second vehicle will dissolve any range anxiety – use the EV as your daily runabout and your petrol-powered car for long distances, until the charging situation improves. Alternatively, consider hiring a conventional car for the odd road trip.
Most Aussies drive 40km or less each day, a distance easily covered for the life of an EV, even factoring in natural battery decline. Many models are guaranteed to retain 70% capacity after eight years, which for average use, would mean charging two or three times a week as the vehicle ages, rather than once.
As you’ve likely discovered with everything from plastic-free lunchboxes to eco fashion brands, the upfront cost of going green can sting. Ladies and gents, on the “cheaper” end of the spectrum, we bring you the Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Ioniq at the low, low price of just $50,000. Ouch! Thinking about a Tesla Model 3 to seriously up your hipster credentials? You’re looking at a not-so-cool $66,000.
But just like thrifting can pick you up some bargain eco fashion and household finds, there are workarounds. As the popularity of EVs surges, growing numbers of new models are pushing down the price of second-hand. You can pick up a used EV for under $20k, but you’ll want to read through to the end to ensure your fresh, green wheels are the only things getting taken for a ride.
Looking at the economy of new EVs over the life of the vehicle, the University of Toronto study cited above found that, at 100,000 miles, the cost of owning the Model 3 and Rav4 were roughly the same, factoring in running and maintenance costs. At 200,000 miles (322,000km), the average car lifespan, the Model 3 is only slightly more affordable to run.
The hugely variable costs of petrol and electricity mean that EV ownership can be more, or less, economical, depending on your location. When, where and how you charge an electric car can hugely sway the cost. Relying on fast-charging stations will skyrocket your running costs, whereas investing in home-charging equipment and re-juicing at off-peak times can save you as much as 30%. Charge your EV with solar and your running costs can be ten times cheaper than powering a petrol guzzler.
The cost of a home charging station is another consideration, coming in at roughly $1000. If you don’t have access to secure parking though, home charging may not be possible or ideal. A home charger plugs into your EV and will charge the battery to full capacity in about eight hours. Fast-charging stations, on the other hand, can give you 80% capacity in under an hour.
Looking to the future, electric cars are slated to become cheaper to own and run than ICE vehicles by 2027, driven by tightening regulations on emissions and wider use of renewables. If cost isn’t a consideration and you’re buying new, springing a few thousand extra for an EV is no big thing. It might not save you as much as you’d expected over the life of the car, but the savings to environment will be enormous. If demand for conventional cars remains unchanged, we will breach the emissions targets set in the Paris Agreement. These targets are essential if we’re to reign in global average temperatures to no more than two degrees higher, by 2050.
New, or second-hand?
If your budget is limited but you’re looking for a greener drive, a used EV is your best bet. Given the newness of EVs in the Aussie market and their small market share, turnover is quite low and used EVs can be hard to come by. EV take-up is rising rapidly, and availability is set to soar over the next few years but for now, be prepared to hunt down your EV like a prized truffle. Keep your eye on nearby dealerships, CarSales, Gumtree, the Good Car Company, Tesla’s website and auction sites, Pickles and Manheim.
If you think you’ve found the one, there are a few important considerations, over and above the standard elements you’d check for in a used car, like mileage, rust, tyre health and safety ratings.
Battery health is a big one and is hugely variable, depending on how an EV has been stored, driven, and cared for. A used EV should come with a battery diagnostic report, and a quick check of the car’s onboard computer will confirm its data. You’ll want to think twice if the battery is functioning at less than 80% of its original capacity.
Test drive your dream car for as long as possible to confirm the purported range, remaining close to a charging station while you do. If it’s not living up to the seller’s promises, but the coverage is adequate for your needs, negotiate a better deal.
Next on the list is the warranty. Usually, EVs have a separate warranty for the battery and the car. An eight-year warranty on a new car battery is the standard, the remainder of which should pass to the next buyer when sold. If buying an early model EV with a small battery pack, be mindful that battery power can stoop to painfully low levels, and not qualify for replacement. Remembering that most manufacturers guarantee their batteries to retain 70% of their original power at eight years, an early Nissan Leaf only provided 120km of range brand new. After eight years, this could have dipped to 84km, and the battery would not be warranted for replacement.
Finally, you’ll need to check the servicing requirements of the warranty and whether you can service the car locally. EVs have fewer moving parts and don’t need servicing as often, but it’s vital that you can service the car appropriately, should any issues arise.
What about the drive?
For the car lovers, this is perhaps the most important factor. If you’re a rev head, who loves the grunt of an engine under your seat, you’ll be surprised to find that EVs make for a smooth and eerily quiet drive, which may take some getting used to.
But the trade-off is instant torque - put your foot down and experience an instant surge of speed and power. EV drivers report smooth, effortless handling around bends and corners. EV batteries are often located in the floor of the car, which makes for outstanding balance and weight distribution.Provided you’re an astute buyer and do your due diligence, there is nothing to lose and plenty to gain from investing in an EV as your daily runabout. While buying new will give you superior battery quality and driving distance, most used EVs will breeze through the standard Aussie driver’s 40km a day, for the life of the car.