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OWOE - Transportation - Are all-electric cars likely to become the future of transportation?
  Figure 1 - Electric vs Gasoline Vehicle Characteristics
Figure 1 - Electric vs Gasoline Vehicle Characteristics
Figure 2 - Total Cost of Ownership - EV vs. ICE (2020: Tesla)
Figure 3 - EV shares of new 2019 vehicle registrations by metropolitan area (IHS Markit)
Figure 4 - Government targets to phase out new internal combustion engine cars (Coltura)
Video 1 - We Had Electric Cars in 1900... Then This Happened
Video 2 - Tesla Model 3 vs Toyota Camry; True Ownership Cost Comparison
Are all-electric cars likely to become the future of transportation?
Topic updated: 2022-02-23

Although Electric Vehicles (EVs) were once the preferred form of motor vehicles, sales of EVs peaked in the United States in the early 1910s, and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles have been the dominant source of transportation since. See OWOE: What are the different varieties of electric vehicles?. Video 1 includes an interesting history of EVs and postulates on reasons why ICEs won the early battle over EVs to dominate the market.

Traditionally, EVs have suffered from several critical disadvantages over ICE vehicles. Figure 1, which is now several years old, compares some of the features of a BEV versus a gasoline powered vehicle. With recent advancements in technology the gaps shown here are rapidly closing:
  • Limited range. Due to the low energy density of the first batteries used for powering EVs, early vehicles were limited to a range of about 100 miles per full battery charge. For example, the Nissan Leaf was the first mass market EV introduced in 2011 with a range between 73 and 109 miles, depending on test. But range has increased dramatically since then. In particular, the Tesla Model S 90D achieved a 303.2-mile range per the EPA's 2016 Green Vehicle Guide, breaking the 300-mile ceiling for an EV for the first time ever. More recent models from Tesla and other EV manufacturers are approaching 400 miles.

  • Battery recharge times. EVs can take significantly longer to recharge compared to the relatively fast process of refueling a gas tank. Using a 120V power supply (i.e., plugging into a typical house electrical system), an hour of charging will give only about 4 miles of range. A 200-mile recharge would take about 50 hours or 2 days. An upgraded 240V power supply will give approximately 30 miles of range for an hour of charging. A direct current (DC) fast charging station gives 60-90 miles for a half-hour, except for the Tesla vehicles which are capable of 170 miles for a half-hour. The new Tesla V3 charging stations which were introduced in 2019 (and available for use on Tesla vehicles only) can provide up to 15 miles per minute, meaning that a 200-mile recharge would take about 13 minutes. But it should be noted that this comparison does not account for the fact that for the vast majority of EV rechargings, one would simply plug the vehicle in at night and be ready to drive in the morning, i.e., about a 2-minute activity for the driver.

  • Scarcity of public charging stations. This, too, is rapidly changing as EVs begin penetrating the market. Tesla began building a network of 480-volt DC fast-charging stations in 2012, and as of December 2021, there were almost 3500 stations globally. ChargePoint is the largest and most open charging network in the world, with more than 20,000 locations. Even big oil companies are entering the market, with Shell Oil Comany's Recharge Solutions operating 8,000 charging points in Europe and even converting old gas stations to EV charging hubs with coffee shops and convenience stores.

  • Cost. Historically, EVs have been quite expensive compared to their ICE counterparts, primarily driven by the cost of rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries. Although the cost of batteries has dropped dramatically over the last few years, the purchase price, which is the primary driver for US car buyers, is still higher than a similarly sized ICE vehicle. However, the real economic comparison should be on what is called the total cost of ownership (TCO), which includes purchase price, fuel, maintenance and insurance costs over the life of the vehicle, and resale value. Recent data (2020) from Tesla (Figure 2) and InsideEVs (Video 2) show the Tesla Model 3 TCO after 5 years at about 55 cents/mile, compared to the comparably sized and best selling Toyota Camry at about 50 cents/mile and the luxury brand BMW 3 Series at about 80 cents/mile. The bottom line is that the consumer can get a luxury class vehicle for only 10% cost premium over a more standard vehicle and help save the planet at the same time.
According to the EIA, Americans owned about 70,000 EVs and 104,000 Plug-in Hybrid Electrical Vehicles (PHEVs) in 2013, or approximately 0.07 percent of the 226 million registered vehicles in the United States. A game changer in the industry was the entry into the EV market of Tesla Motors. In 2013 Tesla began sales of its Model S sedan, which was acclaimed by automotive critics for its performance and design. Tesla initially focused on high performance vehicles that were stylish and fun to drive. After creating excitement in the market, they turned to producing a mass market vehicle than could compete with gasoline powered cars on price, the Model 3. Although still a very small fraction of all automobile sales, sales of electric cars have been steadily increasing. In 2018 the US surpassed 1 million BEVs on the road, and at the end of 2021 that figure was 2.3 million and approaching 1% of all registered vehicles. Figure 3 shows the EV share of new autos purchased in 2019 by state. Areas across the West Coast tended to have the highest electric vehicle purchases, with California accounting for almost half of the nationwide total.

Several years ago, there was a wide range of scholarly views on whether EVs represented the future of transportation. However, as of 2022, EV costs are approaching competitiveness with ICEs, but with superior performance, lower operating cost and significantly less air emissions on a miles-driven basis to contribute to pollution and global warming. And with battery prices continuing to fall, the point where an EV initial cost becomes less than its comparable ICE vehicle is quickly approaching, which will eliminate the biggest hurdle to widespread adoption of EVs. In recognition of this, every international automaker is introducing battery cars, and some companies have set dates for when they will produce only "electrified" cars (battery electric vehicles and hybrids). Forbes October 2021 article summarizes every automaker's EV plans through 2035 and beyond. Adding to the momentum are the countries and regions that have passed legislation to ban the sales of ICEs. Figure 4 shows the status as of June 2021 with Western Europe, Canada, and California the leaders of the movement.

And finally, the public is quickly accepting the fundamental fact that EVs are critical to ensuring sustainability of our environment and planet, a concept that has been very well presented by Autotrader in their in-depth article "Driving ethically: Understanding the sustainability of electric cars". It includes interesting facts and figures such as:
  • 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help the environment
  • Shifting to electric reduces a vehicle's overall lifetime Greenhouse Gas (GHG) footprint by as much as 37%
  • A survey of 18,000 drivers found that 47% are considering an electric vehicle for their next car
Given all the facts, the question becomes not "if" EVs are the future of transportation, but "when" that future will arrive.

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