Electric cars offer a range of financial, performance and environmental benefits when compared with internal combustion engine vehicles.
So what are the advantages of electric cars? They are often:
- Cheaper to run.
- More convenient to own.
- Soon to be cheaper to buy or lease.
Electric cars are greener
Electric cars are greener than petrol or diesel cars by a number of key measures, with the exception of the carbon intensity of the manufacturing process (although this will change as economies of scale are achieved through mass production).
Electric cars are far more energy efficient (85-90% efficient) than internal combustion engine cars (17-21%), which means that they use less energy to get you from A to B.
Less energy used means less produced, which in turn means less CO2 emissions produced by non-renewable energy sources and the wider energy supply chain.
However, it is often claimed by sceptics that electric cars just move the pollution to the power station; it’s called the “long tailpipe theory”.
To an extent this is true. But it fails to note that pretty much all power stations are greener than internal combustion engines in terms of energy and carbon efficiency.
The mix of power generation we actually use to charge electric cars in the UK (which includes wind & solar as well as power stations) is far greener than an internal combustion engine and getting greener all the time.
Electric cars have zero exhaust emissions, which means they do not emit any harmful exhaust gases or soot in densely populated areas. Likewise, with coal now becoming a small part of the power mix, very little air pollution at all is released from modern power generation.
In contrast, the exhaust emissions from vehicles with internal combustion engines is a significant source of CO2 that contributes to global climate change and air pollutants that harm people’s health at a local level.
Air pollution is often described as a public health emergency, with urban air pollution for many UK towns and cities well above safe limits and not improving. It is clear that road transport is the primary contributor of harmful gases and particulate matter and that electrification is a key part of reducing this.
Tip: Harmful air pollutants are a combination of gases (like NOx and CO) and particulates, found in soot from (particularly diesel) combustion, but also tyre, road, brake and engine wear. Electric cars still release particulates from tyre, road and brake wear, but brake wear is much reduced because of regenerative braking. If air pollution remains at high levels after all vehicles are zero emission (a big if, because a lot of progress will be made), the tyre and road surface industries will be targets for improvements.
It is true that building an electric car currently is more carbon intensive than building a traditional car; mainly due to the electricity used in the manufacturing process of lithium ion batteries.
However, as economies of scale improve and renewables power more of our factories, the total carbon emissions per vehicle will decrease. There’s a general strive among manufacturers to develop new ideas for a carbon neutral future. Well-known car brands like BMW and Tesla and the Volkswagen Group have made impressive commitments to a cut and off-set emissions, and Swedish EV brand Polestar has gone even further and promises to produce a “truly” carbon zero car by 2030 – without relying on carbon offsetting.
Life time emissions of an EV are already around three times lower than these of an an average new internal combustion engine vehicle and even now, it only takes an EV roughly 2 years to overcome the production deficit. Of course this situation will continue to improve as the grid gets ever greener.
Electric cars perform better
Contrary to the cliche, electric cars are fundamentally superior to combustion vehicles in terms of power, torque and acceleration. On the whole they handle better too, due to their low centre of gravity with their heavy batteries mounted in the chassis.
To give a bit of detail on quite how spectacular electric car performance can be, here are some impressive demonstrations:
- Tesla Model X beating an Alfa Romeo 4C sports car in a drag race, while towing and Alfa Romeo 4C sports car.
- A clip of the unearthly acceleration of the Tesla Model S Plaid (0-60mph in 1.99 seconds!).
- Volkswagen I.D. R trying to beat the Pike’s Peak hill climb electric car record. And actually setting a new all-powertrain, all-time record over 15 seconds faster, which still hasn’t been broken again!
But of course, even the Nissan LEAF offers great around town nippiness. Instant torque from zero revs make all electric cars great fun to drive.
Yes, for long distances on the track, combustion engines are still winning for the time being, their hugely energy dense petrol giving them better range, but this will likely change as energy density in batteries continues to nudge upwards.
And anyway, vanishingly few of us ever take their car on the track. We want our performance to nip away from the lights, safely overtake and enjoy a (responsible) brisk drive in the countryside. In all of these roles the electric car is winning.
Tip: When choosing between an internal combustion engine vehicle and an electric car you may have to sacrifice performance. But only if you choose the car with the internal combustion engine.
Electric cars are cheaper to run
Depending on your electricity deal at home and how efficient your electric car is, the cost of charging an electric car is between 1-10p a mile. This equates on average to ~£1,200 a year in fuel savings by driving electric.
There are other great cost benefits as well; find out what you could be saving on the maintenance cost of an EV.
Electric cars will soon be cheaper to buy
Probably the biggest barrier to people getting in an electric car is their cost, which is primarily because of the cost to make the electric car’s battery.
Thankfully it is also the area where arguably the most progress is being made. With battery costs falling at circa 20% per year, we will soon reach a point where a full battery electric car is the same price to buy as an equivalent petrol car.
Shortly afterwards it will become even cheaper. It’s around this point that we expect mass adoption to hit, as discussed by Pod Point CEO Erik Fairbairn and Robert Llewellyn from Fully Charged.
Until then, drivers are able to make use of the financial benefits of electric cars in the UK through government grants and tax benefits.
Tip: In Norway electric cars are often as cheap, or cheaper to buy than internal combustion engine cars, due to tax incentives. Despite other barriers (limited range of early models, infrastructure challenges, one of the world’s least hospitable environments for electric motoring) more than half of Norway’s new cars are electric.
Electric cars are more convenient to own
If you own a petrol or diesel car, your car is definitely not fuelling itself while you read this. If you own an electric car, it may well be.
Our cars are parked 95% of their life. One benefit of electric vehicles is that you can make use of that time to put energy into them at their destination, rather than detouring to a petrol pump to wait to fuel and pay a fortune.
Now electric cars are available with ranges of 200-300 miles, if you are able to charge at home or work, each time you get back to your car in the morning or evening you will likely find it full. It is hard to explain what a quantum leap in convenience this offers until you try it.
Tip: Pre-heating is one of the true convenience wins of electric car driving. You won’t fully understand convenience until you have walked to your pre-heated, fully charged car on a freezing day!