Electric cars suck environmentally, economically, and aesthetically

Electric cars just aren’t worth it.

They suck in many different ways and not just in looks and performance, but also in the vast amounts of subsidies needed to build them.

For decades, the idea of the electric car has captured the imaginations of innovators – including Henry Ford and Thomas Edison more than a century ago. Celebrities, pundits, and political leaders alike have cast these vehicles as the apotheosis of an environmentally responsible future. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proclaimed that there will be a million electric cars on the Autobahn by 2020. President Barack Obama has likewise promised a million electric cars in the United States – but five years sooner.

Someday, the electric car will, indeed, be a great product – just not now. It costs too much; it is inconvenient; and its environmental benefits are negligible (and, in some cases, non-existent). 

Expect the Greens to promise to beat that.

Many developed countries provide lavish subsidies for electric cars: amounts up to $7,500 in the US, $8,500 in Canada, €9,000 ($11,700) in Belgium, and €6,000 even in cash-strapped Spain. Denmark offers the most lavish subsidy of all, exempting electric cars from the country’s marginal 180% registration tax on all other vehicles. For the world’s most popular electric car, the Nissan Leaf, this exemption is worth €63,000.

Yet this is clearly not enough. In Denmark, there are still only 1,224 electric cars. In Germany, car sales totaled 3.2 million in 2011, but only 2,154 were electric.

So failing economically and failing to excite the public so that they buy the over-priced useless things. They aren’t even good for the environment:

Costs and subsidies aside, electric cars have so far proven to be incredibly inconvenient. A BBC reporterdrove the 778 kilometers (484 miles) from London to Edinburgh in an electric Mini, and had to stop eight times to recharge – often waiting six hours or more. In total, he spent 80 hours waiting or driving, averaging just ten kilometers per hour – an unenviable pace even before the advent of the steam engine.

Electric cars also fail to live up to their environmental billing. They are often sold as “zero emissions” vehicles, but that is true only when they are moving.

For starters, the manufacturing process that produces electric cars – especially their batteries – requires an enormous amount of energy, most of it generated with fossil fuels. A life-cycle analysisshows that almost half of an electric car’s entire CO2 emissions result from its production, more than double the emissions resulting from the production of a gasoline-powered car.

Moreover, the electricity required to charge an electric car is overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Yes, it then emits about half the CO2 of a conventional car for every kilometer driven (using European electricity). But, given its high CO2 emissions at the outset, it needs to be driven a lot to come out ahead.

Proponents proudly proclaim that if an electric car is driven about 300,000 kilometers (180,000 miles), it will have emitted less than half the CO2 of a gasoline-powered car. But its battery will likely need to be replaced long before it reaches this target, implying many more tons of CO2 emissions.

A total fail environmentally:

In fact, such distances seem implausible, given electric cars’ poor range: the Nissan Leaf, for example, can go only 117 kilometers on a charge. That is why most people buy an electric car as their second car, for short commutes. If the car is driven less than 50,000 kilometers on European electricity, it will have emitted more CO2 overall than a conventional car.

Even if driven much farther, 150,000 kilometers, an electric car’s CO2 emissions will be only 28% less than those of a gasoline-powered car. During the car’s lifetime, this will prevent 11 tons of CO2 emissions, or about €44 of climate damage.

Given the size of the subsidies on offer, this is extremely poor value. Denmark’s subsidies, for example, pay almost €6,000 to avoid one ton of CO2 emissions. Purchasing a similar amount in the European Emissions Trading System would cost about €5. For the same money, Denmark could have reduced CO2 emissions more than a thousand-fold.

Worse, electric cars bought in the European Union will actually increase global CO2 emissions. Because the EU has a fixed emission target for 2020, it will offset emissions elsewhere (perhaps with more wind power), regardless of the type of car purchased: 38.75 tons of CO2 from a gasoline car, and 16 tons from the electricity produced for an electric car. But, while EU emissions stay the same, most electric batteries come from Asia, so an extra 11.5 tons of emissions will not be offset.

Enough of this blight…they should be scrapped, crushed and taken off our roads.


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  • Musketeer
  • PlanetOrphan

    Bring on Hydrogen fueled cars, and mine Jupiter !

  • blokeintakapuna

    If they hadn’t gone back to the future and found the Flux Capacitor…

  • Saccharomyces

    Hold on a second there Cam, I didn’t think you were a believer in human co2 emission caused global warming? In which case why rail against them on those grounds?

    If you’re worried about subsidies rest assured there are no subsidies here in NZ.

    I just don’t get your hatred of them. I (briefly) considered one for my wife, a perfect around town commute car. Unfortunately they are still pretty expensive here, so we decided against it. If you have faith in the market then just let them succeed or fail here in NZ on their own merits, there’s no need to call for them to be scrapped. (which would achieve exactly what?)

    I can probably tee up a drive in one if you like, they’re actually quite good to drive.

    • That is worth an article…Cam in an Electric Car….I’ll even put it in Truth…organise it, but it needs to be a decent go…like for a couple of weeks

      • Saccharomyces

        I’ll give it a crack, pretty slim chance for a period that long though.

        • Mr_Blobby

          Not a good idea you want somebody who is reasonable and unbiased.

      • Dave

        Cam try a modern european diesel. we use less than 5L / 100 km, and its a larger car, fast, brilliant handling and cheap to maintain! brilliant compared to the electric cars with huge battery costs just over the horizon!

        • Saccharomyces

          Modern diesels are fantastic, but there’re still significantly higher maintenance and fuel costs vs electric cars.

          • Dave

            Take the cost of maintaining and replacing the batteries and then properly disposing of the dead batteries. The economics whilst good, dont look that great after the batteries need replacing!

          • Saccharomyces

            Dave, the barreries are pretty much maintenance-free, with a life expectancy of about 160,000km. After that there are second-life options for them – they’re far from used up, just no longer suitable for the fairly extreme charge/discharge cycling that is required in automotive applications.

            As for the cost of replacing them, yes, at the moment that would be expensive, but who knows where battery technology will be in 10 years. I think, however, that the cost of battery replacement will represent such a major cost relative to the value of the car that the vehicles will be scrapped after that time. Who knows, there may be businesses who specialise in replacing batteries and reconditioning cars, a bit like an aircraft or boat getting an engine rebuild and refit, bringing it almost back to new….

  • johnbronkhorst

    The technology for cheap effective electric cars is a long way off. Fast charging, high capacity light weight batteries, low loss and light weight electric motors all need to be invented before they will be..

  • J.M

    We’ve had this discussion before. Electric cars as they are now are what you say they are, not much chop. However, like everything, technology will evolve to the point where they do compete and even outperform the conventional combustion engine.
    Patience dear chap.

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