Electric Vehicles Series

Why Electric Vehicles?

The Ultimate Guide to Pros and Cons in 2021

Devon Sydney
44 min readFeb 25, 2021

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Electric Vehicles, or EVs, are a charged (ahem) space. There is a spectrum from ‘Tesla fanboys’ to ‘oil company shills’ and everything in-between. Propaganda and misinformation for and against EVs are broadly shared online. I attempt a balanced, rational and critical look at the space to enable informed and intelligent decision-making. I’ve provided links to useful resources along the way, including primary sources and studies, videos, and articles to allow you to go as deep as you’d like.

Click here for an interactive table of contents to get your bearings.

This is a long post! I dove into the research and tried to cover all the important aspects of the conversation. If you're interested in a particular area please just skim directly to it and consume in bite-size chunks.I take pride in my work and want to improve it over time, so if you find mistakes or have suggestions please let me know. Note that numbers and facts are constantly changing so may be out of date below. Numbers and facts are accurate to February 24, 2021.

We will compare electric vehicles with traditional gas and diesel-powered vehicles. We look at economics, performance, safety, maintenance, environment, cool capabilities and future potential.

In later posts, we will go into history and politics, deeper dives on technology (including fuel cells and autonomous vehicles), and look at industry players.

Electric vehicles use electrical power instead of gas or diesel to rotate their wheels.

We will focus on consumer light-duty cars and trucks, but much of this applies to semi-trucks, motorcycles, and even to boats and planes. We won’t cover all of this complex space, but you should come out with a general overview.

There are 5 important groupings of vehicle:

Internal Combustion Engine Vehicle (ICEV)

The car roughly 99% of the world drives today, which burns gas or diesel to generate power.
Not Electric.

Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)

Simply an ICEV that also has an electric motor and batteries. The vehicle generates electricity to charge batteries, and the electric motor can share the task of driving. It cannot be plugged in, and cannot be driven without gas or diesel in the tank. The electric motor shares the task of driving and only sometimes drives without the ICE running (usually only at low speeds). It’s best to think of these as traditional gas or diesel vehicles with better range, efficiency or performance delivered by an electric motor and batteries. It does not have meaningful long-term impact.
Only Partially Electric.

Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

Similar to a hybrid, except the batteries can be plugged in to charge. If there is not enough energy in the batteries it switches over to combustion. As long as this vehicle is used within its electric range, you can drive it without burning gas or diesel, so it has real potential for impact.
Only Partially Electric.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)

Has an electric motor only (no combustion engine) and is powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells output no emissions while generating electricity, and are refilled with liquid hydrogen as a fueling station. Hydrogen can be produced with zero reliance on fossil fuels.
Fully Electric.

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

Has an electric motor (no combustion engine) and is powered by batteries. This is the end goal of any full transition to electric, as it can result in transport with zero reliance on fossil fuels.
Fully electric.

We will focus most discussion on battery electric vehicles. The real world is more complicated and there is also value in pursuing partially electric vehicles, at least in the short term.

By-The-Numbers

Electric Vehicles are Coming. About 1% of global car stock (7.2M cars) went electric from 2010–2019. In 2019, 2.1M electric cars were sold, or ~2.6% of global car sales. BEVs alone account for 4.8M vehicles now. The growth trend appears to be accelerating, increasing to 4.2% of sales in 2020. Numbers in this paragraph refer to passenger light-duty BEVs and PHEVs.

At their simplest, electric vehicles convert stored electrical energy to wheel motion. The overview below skips many technical details. A separate post will go into a much deeper dive on these topics.

Energy Conversion

Direct current from the energy source is converted to alternating current (AC) electricity using an inverter. The electricity generates rotation in an electric motor using a variety of different motor technologies. Rotation from the motor goes through a single-speed transmission or gearbox to reduce rotation speed and multiply torque to the wheels. Traction control is provided by a differential. The gearbox and differential make up the drivetrain.

Rotational energy can be converted back to electricity using regenerative braking. When an EV needs to slow down, the electric motor operates as a generator and rotation in the axles generates electricity in the motor and also slows the vehicle down. This electricity is stored in the battery for future use.

Energy Storage

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) store energy in a battery pack (with thousands of individual batteries) that are charged from the electrical grid at charging stations or at home, or from regenerative braking. The electrical output from the battery pack is direct current (DC).

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) store energy in liquid hydrogen tanks. Fuel cell stacks are made up of hundreds of individual fuel cells. These hydrogen fuel cells use an electrochemical reaction to convert liquid hydrogen (H₂) and oxygen (O₂) into electricity, with water (H₂O) as the main output. The electrical output from the fuel cell stack is in direct current (DC).

Supercapacitors store smaller amounts of energy and complement primary energy storage. Unlike batteries and fuel cells, they rapidly and efficiently charge and discharge. This is useful to deliver quick power during acceleration and also to capture more power during regenerative braking, reducing load and wear on the battery pack or fuel cell stack.

Software & Control

A motor controller is the hardware “brain” that adapts current and voltage levels to get specific speed, power and torque. Vehicle management software is used to manage electrical charging, energy conversion, and drive systems. Autonomous control software coupled with sensors can allow for vehicles to be driven with reduced or even zero human intervention.

Much of the discussion on electric vehicles comes down to ‘cost vs. environment’. People tend to accept the potential for environmental benefit long-term but are worried about the high cost of buying now. In reality, there are many more factors competing between EVs and ICE vehicles. We’ll dive into those in this section.

We won’t go into as much detail on fuel cell electric vehicles as they have many special considerations when discussing advantages and disadvantages. This will be covered in a separate post.

Economics

The most important factor for many consumers purchasing a vehicle is cost. So, let’s dive in and look at whether EVs or ICEVs are cheaper.

Total Cost of Ownership

Calculating true costs is a complicated and political space. The most honest analyses aim for a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), sometimes called a Levelized Cost of Driving (LCOD). These try to include as many real-world factors as possible. They can include average driving patterns, purchase price, maintenance costs, driving costs and more. Every cost analysis will use different methodologies which can affect conclusions, so be sure to understand the assumptions and data sources each analysis uses.

Purchase cost is the all-in price of purchasing the vehicle, including all taxes and incentives. Electric vehicles are relatively new, and the competition is not as fierce as the traditional car market. Also, the costs of developing the new technologies needed in EVs is high. These factors translate to generally higher purchase cost. PHEVs (like the Toyota Prius) tend to be the lowest cost EVs. FCEVs are expensive today, with only 3 available in the US (only in California) and the cheapest costing over $50,000 USD.

Maintenance cost includes any costs to upkeep the vehicle (whether related to the electric components or not). EVs have far fewer moving parts and consumables (like oil and filters) and regenerative braking (which can help any electric vehicle including HEVs) extends the life of brakes significantly. This all translates to lower maintenance costs.

Driving costs are the cost per distance to drive the vehicle. This would be the cost of gasoline for ICE vehicles, cost of electricity for BEVs and cost of hydrogen for FCEVs. BEVs have the lowest driving costs (~$0.06/mile), then gas (~$0.13/mile), and FCEVs cost the most ($0.21/mile). FCEV prices come from California as they are not available in most localities.

Other costs can include a gamut of other fees, like insurance, taxes, registration fees, and even emissions testing, and vary highly depending on where you are.

Now that we understand what goes into calculating Total Cost of Ownership, let’s look at some current analyses:

  • Consumer Reports (in USD) showed that although EVs typically cost more to purchase, the lifetime ownership costs were much lower. Most EVs offered savings from $6,000 to $10,000. This analysis adjusted for currently available federal incentives. Reliability surveys showed that BEVs and PHEVs saved 50% on repair and maintenance costs over the vehicle life. BEVs were estimated to save 60% on fuel costs as compared to average ICEVs in their class. The analysis compared the 9 most popular EVs to each of the best-selling, top-rated and most efficient ICEVs in their class. They found new EVs typically cost less over their lifetime than similar gas-powered vehicles, “a new development in the automotive marketplace with serious potential consumer benefits.” They further found that 5- to 7-year-old used EVs had 2–3X more cost savings. [Consumer Reports, 2020]
  • Self Inc. (in USD) concluded that TCO over the life of an EV is cheaper than a gas vehicle. However, it also shows that the TCO/year for gasoline cars is cheaper when including purchase cost. They spread out the purchase cost over the first 6 years of ownership. They included fuel, energy, mileage, insurance, EV incentives, taxes, registration fees, maintenance, emissions tests and more. The average cost of an EV was $9,406/year when including purchase price, and then drops to $2,722 afterwards. The average cost of a gasoline vehicle is $7,952 each year and then drops to $3,356 afterwards. [Self Inc, 2020, additional commentary at Green Car Congress]
  • The Canadian Energy Regulator (in CAD) concluded that the purchase prices of EVs are more expensive, but the driving and maintenance costs are cheaper. They state that if technology continues to improve, purchase costs will fall to the point where they are comparable or even lower than that of equivalent ICE vehicles. This would result in a LCOD that strongly favors EVs. For cars, the LCOD is slightly cheaper for EVs, with EVs costing $0.33/km and ICEVs costing $0.34/km. For trucks, the reverse is true and the LCOD is slightly cheaper for ICEVs, with EVs costing $0.44/km and ICEVs costing $0.42/km. [CER, 2019]

In general, it looks like EVs cost more upfront than ICE vehicles, but their maintenance and driving costs are lower. If EV purchase prices continue to drop as expected, we are at an inflection point and EVs will be cheaper in every way than ICEVs in the very near future.

I recommend reading the source reports for all sorts of interesting details. You can also do your own comparisons with the Alternative Fuels Data Centre Vehicle Cost Calculator [US Department of Energy].

Resale & Depreciation

I often hear anecdotal claims that EVs depreciate less than ICEVs. The hypothesis is that a lack of competition and low supply paired with high demand should result in high priced in the used market. This appears to only be true for Tesla. Consumer Reports [2020] found that both BEVs and PHEVs are expected to depreciate at the same rate as ICE vehicles in the same class over the first five years of ownership. iSeeCars [2020] analyzed 6.9M car sales and showed that all EVs except Teslas depreciated faster than cars overall. The Tesla Model 3 was particularly impressive as the lowest depreciating car overall, only dropping 10% in value over 3 years. This may be a signal of extra high demand for this car. With more competition and availability of vehicles one would expect deprecation rates to return to normal levels.

Subsidies & Incentives

Most countries or regions offer financial incentives to buy EVs. They can be tax credits, tax write-offs, rebates and other incentives. They vary based on the locality and properties of the vehicle.

Subsidies and incentives get raised all the time as arguments against electric vehicles, with the claim that EVs wouldn’t happen without government help. In reality, new industries and technologies typically need subsidies to get over the initial research and development (R&D) costs before demand rises, and EVs are no different. We need to have an honest discussion about how much we should subsidize EVs as well as associated industries like battery manufacture and charging network construction to accelerate development. We also need to consider how much we currently subsidize fossil fuels and ICEVs and by what mechanisms.

Performance

People care about performance. There are entire media organizations built around ICEVs performance, and now EVs are stepping into their ring. We’ll look at efficiency, range, acceleration, top speed, power, torque, towing, payload, charging and cold climate operation.

Reliable and consistent lists comparing car performance are hard to come across. Inside EVs regularly updates this useful comparison of EV range, acceleration, top speed, pricing and more.

Efficiency

EVs are inherently more efficient. EVs convert over 77% of electrical energy to power at the wheels. Gasoline ICEVs only convert about 12%–30% of energy in gasoline to power at the wheels. It is also important to note that EVs do not consume energy while stopped or ‘idling’ (other than for accessories like lights, heating, air conditioning or music).

Vehicle efficiency is measured as miles-per-gallon (MPG) or the equivalent in electricity (MPGe). From fueleconomy.gov (US official source for fuel economy), comparisons of the top-performing cars (looking at combined city/highway efficiency) in the past 5 years (2016–2021):

The top BEV is >3.5X more efficient than the top ICE vehicles, and >2X more efficient than HEVs. The top PHEV has quite a good efficiency, but only when plugging in and using batteries.

An interesting difference is that while most ICEVs are more efficient on the highway, most EVs are more efficient in the city. This is mostly the result of recapturing energy during start-and-stop traffic.

Range & Range Anxiety

Range Anxiety is when you are afraid your EV will run out of charge during a trip. Since empty EVs cannot be easily recharged on the side of the road this is a valid situation to avoid at all costs. Jerry cans can’t be filled with electricity. The reality is most people do not often drive far. In the US, the average daily urban commute is under 40 miles and the average daily rural commute is under 50 miles. 95% of trips are under 30 miles, 98% of trips are under 50 miles and 99% of trips are under 70 miles. For daily driving and most single trips, range anxiety should not be a concern. However, this does not mean having lots of range is a waste. Many people want to go on long road trips, and the higher range makes the experience much nicer and reduces the number of stops required. I personally go on multi-thousand km trips and only want to stop every 400–500km.

EV ranges are increasing quickly. In 2011, the median EV range was 68 miles (109 km) and the maximum range was 94 miles (151 km). By 2020, the median had increased 3.8X to 259 miles (417 km) and the top had increased 4.2X to 402 miles (647 km). Between 2013 and 2019, the average EV model range almost doubled. Gas vehicles have higher ranges, with a minimum range of 224 miles (360 km), a median of 418 miles (673 km) and a maximum of 792 miles (1275 km) in 2017. Diesel vehicles have even higher average ranges of 550 miles (885 km).

Power & Torque

EVs and ICEVs generate power and torque very differently. One of the largest advantages of EVs is that they produce torque instantaneously and consistently. ICEVs produce ideal power and torque over small ranges (normally 2000–4000 rpm). This is why an ICEV uses a transmission to shift gears to stay within this sweet spot. In general, EVs tend to have less power, produce more torque, and are overall heavier vehicles.

Acceleration

One of the timeless measures of cars is acceleration. It is most often measured as 0–60 mph (or 0–97 km/h) times, but quarter mile times and 0–100 mph times are also used. Outside the US, 0–100 km/h times are used, which are very close to 0–60 mph times.

Since EVs produce instantaneous torque, they have an advantage against ICEVs in takeoff acceleration. The use of supercapacitors, which are capable of very fast discharge, help get even quicker acceleration. To compare the quickest EVs and ICEVs in the world, we look to Wikipedia’s article list of fastest production cars by acceleration:

  • In the 0–60 mph, EVs and ICEVs are tied for the quickest. The 2020 Tesla Model S Performance w/ Ludicrous Mode is tied with the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon (only 3300 produced) for the quickest car at 2.3 seconds to 60 mph.
  • In the quarter mile, full EVs don’t perform as well but are still very fast. With a one foot rollout allowed, the 2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo S is 14th on the list at 10.3 seconds, almost a full second behind the first-place 2018 Bugatti Chiron Sport ICEV at 9.4 seconds. From a standing start, the same Porsche moves up to 11th on the list at 10.5 seconds, behind the first-place 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder (which is a HEV) at 9.81 seconds.

For a more relevant comparison to the non-supercar consumer, Consumer Reports [2020] Table C.1 looks at EVs and ICEVs in several vehicle classes. They selected the most popular BEVs and PHEVs in each class, and compared against four different ICEVs; the most efficient (including HEVs), the best-selling, the top-rated and one with similar performance (not the best performing). Specs shown include price, efficiency, range and acceleration:

Table C.1 Selected Vehicle Characteristics from Electric Vehicle Ownership Costs, Consumer Reports [2020]

It can be seen that for all classes where available, the most popular BEVs are quicker than the best-selling and top-rated ICEVs. For luxury classes the performance difference is bigger.

Top Speed

Although a classic metric in the supercar and performance junkie world, top speed is not as relevant to the average driver. All mainstream EVs being sold can go beyond top speeds allowed by law outside portions of the German Autobahn. However, it is true that top speeds of EVs are generally lower than ICEVs. Amongst current models:

  • The 2021 Chevrolet Bolt is the slowest with a top speed of only 90 mph (145 km/h).
  • The top end 2021 Teslas are fastest, with the Model S Plaid at 200 mph (322 km/h), the Model X Plaid at 163 mph (262 km/h) and the Model 3 Performance at 162 mph (261 km/h).
  • The 2021 Porsches are slightly behind that with the Taycan Turbo at 161 mph (259 km/h) and the Taycan 4S at 155 mph (249 km/h).

Plenty of ICEVs can go faster than 200 mph. Then there are supercars designed to break speed records. The fastest production vehicle in the world is the 2017 Koenigsegg Agera RS at 277.87 mph (447.19 km/h), although only 25 were built. Most cars designed for record-breaking top speeds are very low run and not-practical for mass production, with none having production runs of more than 300 since the 1980s. Tesla intends to compete with their new Roadster claiming to have a top speed of over 250 mph.

Towing & Payload

How much a car can carry and tow is important, especially for large trucks and SUVs. Although there are no large electric trucks or electric SUVs on the road, they are coming soon with deliveries of the Rivian R1T expected in June 2021, the Rivian R1S in August 2021, the Hummer EV in late 2021 and the Ford F-150 Electric and Tesla CyberTruck in 2022. Since none of these large trucks and SUVS are on the road in customer hands, we will also include the smaller Tesla Model X in our comparison.

  • Tesla Model X has a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs
  • Rivina R1T has a towing capacity of 11,000 lbs
  • Rivian R1S has a towing capacity of 7,700 lbs
  • Tesla Cybertruck: payload of 3,500 lbs, towing capacity 7,500–14,000lbs (depending on trim)

There is reason to be skeptical of any of these claimed payload and towing capacities, and it will be interesting to see how these trucks and SUVs do in the critical hands of consumers. At the very least, anecdotal evidence shows towing a trailer appears to reduce range of EVs quite drastically. In principle, regenerative braking may work even better with the extra weight of a trailer behind the vehicle which could offset some range loss.

Charging Speeds

EVs need to be recharged instead of filled with gas or diesel like ICEVs. Charging speeds depend on both the car and the charging method.

The types of charging and their speeds:

  • AC Level 1 charging uses 120V, the standard residential outlet in North America. This method adds 4–5 miles range per hour, or up to 40 miles in 8 hours, and is best suited to nightly charging at home.
  • AC Level 2 charging uses 200-240V (standard residential or commercial outlet in most of the world or upgraded residential outlet in North America). This method adds 10–25 miles range per hour, or up to 180 miles in 8 hours.
  • DC Fast Charging uses grid power passed through an AC/DC inverter and then directly into the EV battery pack, bypassing the car’s charger. DC Level 1 supplies up to 80 kW at 50–1000 V. DC Level 2 supplies up to 400 kW at 50–1000 V. These methods add roughly 50–170 miles in only 30 minutes, and is the practical way to make road trips further than the vehicle range. Fast charging strains the battery so should be avoided when not needed.

When looking at the numbers from the range section, we saw that 95% of trips are under 30 miles and could be covered by 6 hours of the slowest AC Level 1 charging, and 99% of trips are under 70 miles and could be covered by less than 3 hours of AC Level 2 charging. The average daily urban commute of under 40 miles could be handled by AC Level 1 charging overnight and the average daily rural commute of under 50 miles could be handled by two hours of AC Level 2 charging.

ICEVs have the convenience advantage of being fillable in less than 5 minutes. Some EV proponents argue that stopping for 30 minutes after driving hundreds of miles is desirable, but it is undeniable that for long road trips, ICEVs can save you significant chunks of idle time. This should be balanced with the fact that ICEVs always need to be filled regularly, even if you only do short daily trips. EVs don’t ever have make charging station stops unless you want to go beyond your range in a single day.

Fast Charging

The majority of charging is done at home and is simple and straightforward. But what about on the road? The availability, compatibility and reliability of the network of fast charge stations for long trips leaves a lot to be desired and can add to driver anxiety.

Lower speed AC Level 1 and Level 2 are widely available in public parking spots, such as at malls and offices. But these are intended to slowly charge while you use nearby facilities, not to give range boosts needed for a longer trips. For that you need to find a DC Fast Charger. Since Tesla has the most stations and the high average chargers per station, they have vastly more chargers than anyone else in the US:

DC Fast Chargers providing over 50 kW in North America [2020]

To put it bluntly, the overall experience of fast-charging electric vehicles sucks. You must first find a charging station that works with your vehicle. Different stations have different speeds and you might not know until you show up. Many stations have few stalls and if someone is there you have to wait for them to finish. Sometimes charging spots simply don’t work. The logistics of charging is chaotic. Filling and payment processes differ depending on both the cars and the stations. Different apps or charge cards are needed. Pricing is non-standard and confusing to consumers, with rates either by kWh, kW or minute and some including session fees or monthly account fees.

Further complication is added by multiple non-interchangeable charging standards for DC Fast Charging. There are three main plug types; CHAdeMO, CCS and Tesla. Japanese EVs mostly use CHAdeMO, US and European EVs mostly use CCS and Tesla uses their proprietary standard.

Charging station maps are available for US/Canada from the US Department of Energy and Chargehub, and for Europe from the European Alternative Fuels Observatory. EV manufacturers often display maps of charging stations and their speeds in the car and can navigate you to them when needed.

There is so much opportunity to improve the experience of fast charging electric vehicles. Anecdotally, Tesla has the best experience, but even Tesla drivers have to step out and use the broader network if no Superchargers are nearby or available. In an ideal world, chargers would be widely available, EVs would be compatible with all stations, app experiences would be similar and straightforward, payment and pricing would be transparent and charging wouldn’t be stressful or annoying at all.

On the contrary, Gas stations are consistent, quick, and reliable, and we basically don’t think about them. This is a huge convenience for the driver. Gas and diesel are widely available. And while fuel blends may vary slightly, everyone shows up at a station expecting to be able to fuel their car. There are rare exceptions when the station is empty or the pumps are down, but then there’s usually another pump or station very nearby. Stations have high throughput so even if many people come to fill up at the same time, lines go quickly. No accounts or apps or special plugs are required. Pricing is standard and payment easy. In general, you don’t need to plan ahead unless you’re way off the beaten path, and even then you’d have to ignore warning signage to get into trouble.

Cold Weather & Range

EV range is drastically reduced in cold weather, due to energy required to heat the cabin and heat batteries to ideal operation temperature. ICEVs make use of their plentiful waste heat from the engine to heat cabins, and range isn’t significantly impacted by cold weather. Consumer Reports [2019] found that EV range was roughly halved in very cold temperatures (0 to 10° F, or -18 to -12°C). In a larger (but milder) test, the Norwegian Automobile Federation (NAF) [2020] found in temperatures from 3°C down to -6°C (37°F down to 21°F) that range dropped on average 18.5%, with the worst car dropping about 30%. AAA [2019] found that operating at 20°F (-6.7°C) resulted in range dropping 41%.

Charging speed is also negatively impacted by cold weather. Manufacturers advise either driving to warm up the batteries or preconditioning the car to counteract drops in charging speed.

Most EVs use electric (resistive) heaters to heat the cabin. Using heat pumps should increase the real-world range that EVs get, especially in cold temperature, and manufacturers are starting to use them.

Safety

The design of EVs gives many inherent safety advantages. Most of this is due to the lack of an engine and associated parts and having battery pack and other components sit low in the vehicle chassis.

Safety Ratings

Regulatory bodies are responsible to rate vehicle safety on many different factors. CleanTechnica [2018] reviewed government safety ratings in the US, Europe, Australia, and Japan, insurance data from the IIHS and vehicle fire data. They found that overall electric vehicles are safer. We will dive into specific reasons for better safety performance below.

Traction Control

A major advantage of EVs is the possibility of simpler and more responsive traction control. Most can operate with an open differential, which is cheaper and simpler than a limited slip differential often found on ICEVs. The reason EVs have an advantage over ICEVs when using an open differential because they can provide instantaneous torque, and can also precisely control rotation speed, torque and power from the motor. Both EVs and ICEVs also make use of anti-lock braking systems which pulse the brakes electronically to increase traction. Combining with software algorithms allows an EV to optimize traction to all drive wheels.

Once you look at triple or even quad-motor designs (like in Rivian R1T and R1S), the potential is for near-perfect control of each wheel independently and will blow all current traction control systems out of the water. This even enables crazy features like tank turn by spinning one side backwards and one side forwards.

Crumple Zone

In a front end collision, components enter the passenger compartment causing injury and death. In ICEVs, the engine bay is full of heavy components such as the engine block and transmission. EVs have more empty space in the front end. The front of the vehicle still houses the motor and inverter, but these are much smaller and sit lower down. Much of the front area is a void (sometimes referred to as a frunk).

This extra void acts as crumple zone, resulting in less penetration of the passenger compartment and lower risk of injury and death.

Center-of-Gravity (CoG) & Structural Rigidity

An ICEV has a heavy engine and components in the engine bay. An EV has the heavy battery pack sitting low on the floor, and the motor, drivetrain and inverter low near axle height. EVs have a lower center-of-gravity (CoG) than similar ICEVs. Having a low CoG increases handling and responsiveness and reduces the risk of flipping.

Having heavy battery components spanning the floor of the vehicle increases it’s structural rigidity, which makes for better safety in side impact collisions and reduces the risk of flipping further.

Battery Fires

One of the most emotional headlines about EV safety is around battery fires. Fires are visceral, and nobody wants to picture burning to death. When reviewing the data, it appears that this risk is low, with fire involved in 2.6% of HEV fatalities and 4.4% of ICE vehicle fatalities.

We need to step back and compare to ICE vehicles, which have tanks of combustible materials on board at all times and which are responsible for many deaths. For ICEVs, fires originating in the engine area were involved in 34% of all deaths and fires originating in the fuel tank were responsible for 14% of all deaths, with data from 60,000 annual crashes between 1999–2013 in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Electric vehicle fire showing exposed battery cells

EV fires are inherently different from gasoline and diesel fires, and responding in the same way risks injury or death to the first responder and occupants. In EV fires, the battery pack cannot be easily sprayed with fire suppressant and can re-ignite even days later. This means that once a battery pack ignites, it is more difficult to put the fire out.

There is legitimate cause to be concerned that firefighters and first responders have the special training and equipment to respond to accidents involving EVs.

There is much than can be done to improve the fire safety of EVs, including improved standard battery designs with liquid cooling, fire walls to isolate battery cells, underbody protection and advances in battery chemistry. Manufacturers are at different stages of adoption of these approaches.

Misleading Safety Claims

Tesla was facing claims of “sudden unintended acceleration” where the car would accelerate without the driver pressing the pedal. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found no evidence of sudden unintended acceleration, but instead that all crashes were due to pedal misapplication.

Maintenance

One of the most touted claims for electric vehicles is that they are lower maintenance. I want to start right off by saying EVs still need maintenance! There are many issues that can arise with the electrical systems and other parts, and these are very complicated machines. However, it is fair to say that some of the inherent maintenance issues with ICEVs simply don’t exist in the EV world.

Simpler Operation with Fewer Parts & Fluids

EVs have simpler mechanical operation and require fewer parts and fluids. One way to describe an ICE is that it starts with combustion and almost every part after fixes the resulting problems, such as reducing vibration, smoothing output, balancing, dissipating heat, or changing motion from linear to rotational. Electric motors start with a rotating magnetic field, which generates less friction, heat and vibration and is already rotational. As a result fewer parts and fluids are needed for operation.

ICEV overview of component:

Gasoline vehicle cutaway
  • Internal Combustion Engine: The most obvious part not needed in an EV. ICEs are much heavier (~180 kg) than electric motors (~32 kg). The engine has pistons connected to a counter-weighted crankshaft to convert up-and-down linear motion to rotational motion. Additionally a camshaft is used to open and close valves to allow air to enter and exhaust to leave the combustion chambers. A flywheel is used to smooth inconsistent output from the independently firing pistons.
Internal Combustion Engine
  • Multi-Speed Transmission (manual or automatic): ICEVs only generate good power and torque over a small band of rotation speeds, so a complicated transmission with multiple gears are required to operate across a wide range of speeds. A clutch is needed to decouple the drive axles from the engine while changing gears. In a manual (or standard) transmission, gears are changed by depressing the clutch with a foot and manually moving a gear shift lever. In an automatic transmission, this is all handled by the vehicle, but still requires an internal clutch mechanism.
  • Differential: Most ICEVs make use of a complicated limited slip differential, since a buffer is required between the engine and the drive axles.
  • Starter: Since ICEs are not self starting, they require a way to start rotating. Ironically, an electric DC starter motor is used.
  • Engine oil system: ICEs require oil lubrication to reduce friction on the moving parts in the engine and dissipate extreme heat in the engine, this is stored in an oil pan at the bottom of the engine and is distributed around the engine by an oil pump through a series of valves and an oil filter (which needs to be regularly replaced).
  • Engine cooling system: ICEs require liquid coolant to dissipate the heat. This coolant is stored in a coolant tank and distributed through the engine block with a coolant pump and a series of hoses and valves. The coolant is cooled using a radiator mounted at the front of the vehicle. Note that EVs need to cool their batteries and motors, but there is far less heat generated overall.
  • Alternator and battery: ICEVs have electricity requirements for the starter motor, lights, electronics and sensors, music and more. An alternator is a type of electric motor used to convert rotational energy from the engine to electricity, which is stored in the 12V starting battery.
  • Air intake and exhaust system: To allow for combustion, air is needed. Air is taken from outside through pipes into air filter (which needs to be regularly replaced or cleaned) into the engine. After combustion, exhaust air is drawn out of the engine, routed through a series of pipes, a catalytic converter to remove pollutants, a muffler to reduce the noise and finally out into the air.
  • Prop Shaft: The prop shaft is a driveshaft used to move the rotational output from front to back or vice-versa. They are used in front-engine rear-wheel-drive (RWD) vehicle, a rear-engine front-wheel-drive (FWD) or any all-wheel-drive (AWD) ICEVs. They often occupy a ‘tunnel’ that juts into the passenger compartment. The middle passenger in the back seat of a car with this tunnel will feel the reduced leg room. For EVs, the motor/inverter are placed in line with the drive axles, so the only EVs that could require prop shafts would be AWD vehicles with only one motor, but I could not find any manufacturers that use this design, as it is better to just put an additional motor for the extra wheels being driven.
  • Fuel Tank: A place to store all your gas or diesel. One advantage is that as you use it your vehicle gets lighter, while in an EV the battery pack weighs the same full or empty.
  • Various Fluids: To make all of the systems above work smoothly, we need fluids to both lubricate to reduce friction and dissipate heat. We need engine oil, transmission oil and engine coolant. All of these need regular replacing and can leak or burn off.

EV overview of components:

Electric vehicle cutaway
  • Motor and Inverter: The power output in an EV comes from the inverter and motor combination, as we discussed in the technology section. The output is smooth and precisely controllable rotational motion without the need for any of the extra mechanical parts found in an ICE.
  • Single-Speed Transmission: Since EVs generate torque instantaneously and consistently, and have high maximum spinning speeds, EVs can get away with a single-speed transmission which is far smaller and simpler than the multi-speed transmission in an ICEV. Note that some EVs still choose to have multiple gears to optimize acceleration and top speed, such as the 2-speed Porsche Taycan gearbox.
  • Open Differential: EVs only need simple and cheap open differential and provide traction control by varying the speed, power and torque of the electric motor and through anti-lock braking.
  • Charge port and charger: A charging port is used whenever adding energy to the car from outside. An onboard AC-to-DC charger is needed to convert AC power to DC power to charge the batteries (at home or at AC charge points). The charger is not used when directly connecting to DC Fast Charging stations.
  • Battery Pack: The heart of the energy storage of an electric vehicle is the battery pack. It has no moving parts and is typically build into the subframe of the vehicle. It requires protection, fire walls, and coolant channels to dissipate (or provide) heat to the battery pack.
  • Fluids: EVs still need some lubricants, such as inside the rotating components of the motor and coolant for the motor and battery packs. However, these systems rotate smoother and generate less heat so these fluids do not need to be replaced as frequently and are less likely to leak.

Battery Life & Degradation

Batteries degrade over time. Geotab did an analysis of over 6000 EVs, and found high levels of sustained battery health, and that most batteries are on target to outlast the vehicles. Batteries can be degraded by overheating and extreme cold, frequent fast-charging and operating at near-full or near-empty capacity.

There are many approaches that increase the longevity of a battery pack:

  • Thermal management to avoid overheating, such as liquid cooling.
  • Avoid extreme cold, and pre-condition the battery pack (basically pre-heating) before driving.
  • Avoid extreme heat, and park in the shade wherever possible.
  • Minimize DC fast charging, using it only for road trips.
  • Avoid operating at near full or near-empty. Manufacturers build buffers of battery charge both below 0% and above 100% for this reason. In addition, many manufacturers let the owner set a charge limit which can be over-ridden when extra charge is needed for longer trips.

Brake Longevity

One of the main advantages of regenerative braking is that brakes are used far less than in an ICEV. This reduces pad wear and increases their life. Interestingly, new problems arise as a result:

  • The adhesives holding the pads together break down over time. This is not normally an issue with traditional brake pads because they need regular replacement due to wear.
  • Since EV brake pads are used less, they accumulate corrosion from moisture. A traditional brake pad heats up, dissipates moisture and rubs rust off the pad face.

At least one brake pad manufacturer has come out with special pad designs for EVs taking these problems into account.

Ease of Repair and Right-to-Repair

Electric vehicles require different skillsets to repair than an ICEV. Most importantly, high voltages and currents from battery packs can kill a person working on an EV without proper protective equipment and training.

Manufacturers (especially Tesla) have been reluctant to allow or enable third party mechanics to repair their vehicles, and also do not want people working on them at home. However, the constrained competition results in longer wait times, and third party repair shops tend to be more expensive than their ICEV counterparts for similar repair jobs.

The ‘Right to Repair’ movement is fighting for consumers and third parties to be able to repair their cars, with access to service manuals, diagnostic tools, ability to source parts and training.

Environment

As we have seen, there are plenty advantages to EVs even before considering the environment. The environment is a massive and complicated and political topic. We will discuss air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, electricity generation, and battery materials, disposal and recycling.

Air Pollution

Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas, gasoline and diesel produces air pollutants, which are materials that negatively impact humans and the environment. Common pollutants that can come from ICEVs:

  • particle pollutants (PM₂.₅ or PM₁₀, depending on size in micrometers)
  • lead (Pb)
  • nitrogen dioxide (NO₂)
  • carbon monoxide (CO)
  • sulfur dioxide (SO₂)

These pollutants contribute to respiratory illness and death, visible smog, acid rain and depletion of the ozone layer. We have had some successes reducing air pollution. The most famous example is the Montreal Protocol, a plan to phase out various chemicals that created the hole in the ozone layer. This hole is now closing. Other strong environmental controls including the addition of catalytic converters resulted in a reduction of acid rain and smog. And phasing out of leaded gasolines drastically reduced lead pollutants.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are a subset of air pollutants that contribute to the greenhouse effect which traps heat in our atmosphere and contributes to global warming. They are sometimes referred to as global warming emissions or simply emissions. Calling a car clean or dirty refers to its GHGs emissions.

The main GHGs are:

  • carbon dioxide (CO₂)
  • methane (CH₄)
  • nitrous oxide (N₂O)
  • fluorinated gases (CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs)

CO₂ is the biggest component of GHGs, and all GHGs are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (t CO₂-eq).

Carbon Capture

Carbon capture is a way to capture carbon dioxide (CO₂) to limit or reduce it in our atmosphere. It has potential to make both ICEVs and EVs cleaner. It comes in two main styles:

  • Post-Combustion Carbon Capture is what most people mean by carbon capture, and it makes up the majority of all carbon capture in use today. It can be used to capture CO₂ waste from any industrial processes such as cement production, therefore making the industrial process net neutral for CO₂. Importantly for EVs, it can be used to generate electricity from fossil fuels with no CO₂ emissions. Importantly for ICEVs, it can eliminate CO₂ emissions generated during production of gasoline or diesel fuels.
  • Direct air carbon capture removes CO₂ out of the atmosphere and is therefore net negative for CO₂. If we use this captured CO₂ to make hydrocarbon fuels to burn instead of gasoline or diesel, then we can offset CO₂ emissions from the tailpipe. That is, if we burn fossil fuels we got out of the ground, we are adding CO₂ to the atmosphere, but if we burn fuels we made using CO₂ we took from the air, we are just putting it back and won’t increase CO₂ levels.

It should be noted that carbon capture is not intended to remove any of the other pollutants or GHG emissions aside from CO₂.

Life-Cycle Emissions

EVs produce lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than ICEVs. For many years, people claimed that this was not the case, but the numbers are clear.

The chart below from the International Energy Agency [IEA] compares the types of vehicles with their life-cycle GHG emissions. The emissions are broken up by:

  • Vehicle Components and Fluids: Similar across all vehicles except FCEVs, which generate more emissions.
  • Vehicle Assembly, Disposal and Recycling: The same across all vehicle types.
  • Vehicle Batteries: Battery manufacture emissions estimates included a relatively clean process such as Europe (shown in solid green) and added the extra emissions from a relatively dirty process such as China (shown in hashed green). If the world improves to current European standards the hashed green area would disappear.
  • Well-to-tank: For ICEVs, the emissions from gasoline or diesel production. If carbon capture is used, these emissions can be eliminated. For EVs, the emissions are from electricity production. If the grid uses entirely clean sources, these emissions can be eliminated. For FCEVs, this represents the emissions from hydrogen production. If electrolysis is used, these emissions can be eliminated.
  • Tank-to-wheel: No emissions are generated by EVs during the conversion of electricity to motion. For ICEVs and partially electric vehicles this represents the tailpipe emissions due to combustion in the engine.
IEA, Comparative life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions over ten year lifetime of an average mid-size car by powertrain, 2018, IEA, Paris

The strongest takeaways from this chart:

  • EVs are not totally clean, but they have potential to be far cleaner than ICEVs. Even if we eliminate well-to-tank emissions, EVs still generate GHG emissions from initial vehicle manufacture, battery manufacture and final disposal. EVs would still emit ~10-14 t CO₂-eq, or roughly 30–40% of the ~34 t CO₂-eq emitted by today’s ICEVs.
  • HEVs and PHEVs perform comparably with BEVs. This implies that from an environmental perspective we should continue to develop HEVs and PHEVs in parallel with development of new BEVs (which cost more to develop). If PHEVs with adequate range for most trips are developed, they may rarely use fuel, if ever. It should be noted that as the grid gets cleaner BEVs will get better much faster than HEVs.
  • FCEVs have the highest emissions from their initial production.
  • ICEVs cannot eliminate most (~70%) of their emissions. They will always generate emissions in their engines and output it from their tailpipes. However, they can reduce well-to-tank emissions through post-combustion carbon capture. They can also offset tank-to-wheel emissions by burning fuel from direct-air carbon capture.

Dirty Electricity Sources

EVs are only as clean as the electricity you use to power them. If you burn coal to generate electricity to charge your vehicle you simply do not have a zero emissions vehicle. It could even be thought of as a coal-burning vehicle. But how dirty would it actually be?

To compare emissions between EVs and gasoline vehicles, the Union of Concerned Scientists first calculated the emissions generated by charging and driving the average EV in regions that use different mixes of generation sources (coal, hydro, nuclear, wind, solar) as identified by the EPA. Then, they converted this number to MPG for an ICEV with the same emissions. That is, to be as clean as the average EV, an ICEV would have to be at least as efficient as shown on the map below:

Union of Concerned Scientists, May 2020

As we saw in the efficiency section, the best gasoline ICEV on the market in the past 5 years is the 2017–2021 Mitsubishi Mirage at 39 MPG, which is therefore cleaner only than an average EV in HIOA (O’ahu, Hawaii) and ties for cleanliness in the MROE (Midwest Reliability East). For a gasoline ICEV to be cleaner than an EV, it would need to get ridiculously high mileage of 122 MPG in California or 231 MPG in New York. When the same calculations were done for the most efficient vehicle, the 2020 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus, the numbers were more stark. The EVs smash the gasoline cars in every region and are way cleaner. Gasoline cars would need to achieve 49 MPG to compete even in the worst region of O’ahu, Hawaii.

From the report, 94 percent of people in the US live where driving an average EV produces less emissions than a 50 MPG gasoline car. It is clear that EVs are cleaner than electric, even when including emissions from the generation source. As the grid gets cleaner and EVs get more efficient, the gap will only widen. Even old EVs already on the road will get cleaner.

For a similar analysis in Canada, see the Canadian Energy Regulator market snapshot. It is interesting to compare Alberta (mostly coal-fired power at 900 grams GHG/kWh) to British Columbia (mostly hydro power at 11.7 grams GHG/kWh) to see how EVs are way cleaner than ICEVs with a clean electricity source. On the contrary, in Alberta the Honda Civic ICEV outperforms 5 BEVs and 3 PHEVs, and produces 25% less emissions than a Tesla Model X. This shows that ICEVs can be cleaner than EVs when powered by a dirty electricity source.

Clean & Stable Grid

To make EVs truly zero-emissions we need to move towards a fully clean and stable electrical grid:

  • generating electricity with clean or renewable energy sources such as nuclear, wind, solar or fossil fuels with carbon capture
  • integrating storage in the grid using batteries to prevent blackouts and brownouts when the intermittent energy from wind and solar is not available
  • connecting far away regions with a network of high-voltage DC lines to stabilize the grid so that regions can send power to each other when needed
  • implementing a carbon tax to incentivize development of clean or renewable energy and to reduce emissions. We will go into carbon taxes in a separate post.

Grid improvements are a huge and complicated topic of their own and we won’t dive any deeper at this time.

Battery Materials

The battery pack in an EV is large and needs a variety of raw materials. The most common battery currently used in EVs are Lithium-ion. Depending on their design, they use various mixes of lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, aluminum, iron, graphite, copper and more. Batteries currently consume more than half the global production of lithium and cobalt.

Cobalt, Human Rights & the Environment

The most problematic source material for lithium-ion batteries. Cobalt is expensive to mine, and half of the global cobalt reserves and 70% of today’s production are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The artisanal mining practices face serious human rights and environmental issues originally highlighted by Amnesty International [2016]. Because of the cost, human rights and environmental issues, battery manufacturers are trying to reduce the amount of cobalt per kWh. But at the same time, battery pack sizes are increasing and more cars are being produced. The result is that cobalt requirements for EVs will increase in the coming years.

Battery Recycling and Disposal

It is expected that the global demand for all batteries (not just for EVs) will increase by 5- to 17-fold over the next 20 years. Recycling can significantly offset the need to mine these materials. The Union of Concerned Scientists [2021] estimated recycled materials could meet 30–40% of the US demand for EV batteries by 2035. Today, recycling only makes up <10% of the demand for EV batteries and should be scaled up.

When battery packs are no longer of use in an EV (which requires high-performance) they may still have a “second life” sitting stationary for at-home storage or for commercial grid stabilization.

The issues surrounding batteries including source material availability, cobalt mining issues and quickly increasing demand may seem overwhelming. But we can do better.

Cool Capabilities

Electric Vehicles are a fundamentally different approach to driving, and this opens up things that are just not possible on ICEVs, or that are easier to achieve in EVs.

Regenerative Braking

When an electric vehicle needs to slow down, it doesn’t need to use brakes. Instead of using electricity to drive rotation in the axles, the motor operates as a generator and uses rotation in the axles to generate electricity. Since it takes work to generate electricity, this slows down the rotation of the wheels (to the limit of the motor’s power), similar to how disc brakes use friction to slow down the wheels. The energy generated by regenerative braking is stored for use in driving later and increases the range of the EV. Regenerative braking can generate wheel-to-battery energy at up to 80% efficiency, and with another ~80% efficiency to use it to drive results in a net efficiency as high as 64%. Note this is compared to an efficiency of 0% without regenerative braking in traditional vehicles, as the energy is fully lost to the brake pads with heat, friction and noise.

Regenerative braking also enables “one-pedal driving”. Brakes are only typically needed for sudden stops and coming to complete stops at intersections, destinations, or in traffic. That is, brakes are only needed when the motor does not have enough power to reduce the speed of the car quickly enough. Much of normal driving does not engage the brakes, and this also greatly reduces wear on brakes as discussed in the maintenance section. You can also get higher extreme braking performance because you use both the brakes pads and regenerative braking at the same time to slow the car down.

Note that since HEVs cannot be plugged in, regenerative braking is the way they generate and capture electricity. So an HEV can be thought of as a conventional ICE vehicle with regenerative braking.

Aerodynamics

The aerodynamics of an EV are very important for range. Energy is wasted overcoming the aerodynamic drag of any car. So any improvement to aerodynamics will waste less energy and increase range.

EVs do not require a large radiator like ICEVs use to cool their engines, and they do not require an air intake like ICEVs need to generate combustion in their engines. This means significantly less air needs to be slowed down, which adds drag to the car. This is why the front of an ICEV has a much larger ‘grille’ area and air intake holes. Note that EVs still have to cool batteries and provide air conditioning which both require small radiators.

Hyundai Kona (ICEV) vs. Kona Electric (EV) front grille. (Car and Driver, 2020)

There are also opportunities to eliminate classic drag components like door handles and side view mirrors (although eliminating mirrors may require new regulations that allow cameras instead). These opportunities apply equally to EVs and ICEVs.

Noise

At idle and low speeds, EVs are quieter than ICEVs. Since no exhaust emits the sound of combustion from inside the engine, this makes sense. However, at higher speeds (above 20–30 km/h) wind resistance and tire noise quickly dominate, to the point the difference would be unnoticeable. Overall, stoplights and local traffic could end up noticeably quieter, but faster roads would sound roughly the same as they do now.

Quiet cars have a downside as well in that they pose a risk to pedestrians, cyclists and the blind. Too-quiet cars are required to emit warning sounds at low speeds to reduce this risk.

Storage Galore

EVs have more storage options than ICEVs due to parts taking up less space, in particular an emptier front bay and the lack of a driveline found in many ICEVs.

Storage space in the front end is typically referred to as a frunk (‘front trunk’). This is excellent storage for light-weight items like groceries, clothes or emergency supplies. It is not recommended to use a frunk for heavy storage as this reduces the safety bonus of having a large crumple zone.

Rivian R1T trucks have an innovative gear-tunnel behind the rear bench seating to store long items like skis, surfboards, and golf clubs.

Rivian R1T gear tunnel (11 cubic feet) that spans the width of the vehicle.

Electricity On the Road

Since your EV has a giant onboard battery pack, it can be used when not driving to provide off-grid power to all your devices. Some manufacturers are now including 110V plugs to allow any home accessory to be plugged in. This allows for tools to be used as a job site, or music and lights for a party or appliances for cooking.

EVs can also keep the cabin heated or cooled without having to idle the engine like in an ICEV. The most practical use of this feature is to get the car toasty warm in your garage before taking it out on a cold winter day, which is not possible with an ICEV due to the exhaust and risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. But this also enables fun safety features like ‘dog mode’ to keep the car at an safe and ideal temperature when leaving your dog (or child) on a cold or hot day. Or a ‘camper mode’ so you can sleep warm in the car on a cold night or connect a tent to the end of the vehicle and pump climate controlled air in.

Tesla ‘camper mode’

Always Improving

Since EVs are driven to a large degree by software, they can be improved over time and the updates can be sent to the car over data networks. These updates have had meaningful real-world impacts to performance. There have been several examples of this from Tesla, reducing braking distance by nearly 20 feet, increasing power by 5%, or adding 15 miles to range.

Future Potential

Just for fun, let’s brainstorm cool things that become possible. If you have ideas, drop them in the comments and I’ll add them here.

Grid Stabilization

This actually has enormous opportunity. Our electrical grid doesn’t have a lot of built in storage, which makes it prone to blackouts and brownouts. EVs could act like micro-storage for the grid. When plugged in, they could be used to power your home or the grid in a blackout. You could also sell electricity back to the grid at peak times in the day and charge back up at night when electricity is cheaper. Some customers may be opposed to this, due to potential wear on the battery, but on the other side having your car generate income counteracts the normal ‘car as a depreciating asset’ model we’re used to.

Supplementary Solar

Most EVs don’t have solar panels. The sun’s energy is nowhere near enough to offset normal driving requirements, but getting a bit of free range from the sun would be nice. Toyota is testing a Prius prototype that is estimated to provide ~28 mi / 45 km per day range while parked or ~35 mi / 56 km per day while driving. Tesla estimates the Cybertruck could get 15 mi / 24 km per day from solar covering just the flat truck bed portion. Overall, supplementary solar could be useful for off-grid camping, and could provide enough energy to support all your cooking, heating, lighting and music needs while off-grid.

Car-to-Car Charging

The only company I’m aware of that does this is Rivian, and it makes sense for their overlanding use-case, where if you run out of juice deep in the backcountry a tow is unfeasible or expensive. If this becomes a standardized feature across manufacturers it could allow ‘boosting’ drained EVs enough to get to the nearest charging stations.

Road Charging

This one is crazy sounding, but future roads could have electrical lines run under them to allow wireless induction to charge cars driving on them. This has even been tested. In dense cities, this could allow lightweight vehicles with very small battery packs to get around. On longer routes, it could be used for short stretches to provide range boosts to all vehicles and reduce the need to stop to charge.

There have also been proposals for embedding solar panels in roads, but I remain skeptical.

Cars Re-Imagined

EVs have stoked competition with ICEVs, and making the world rethink what a car is. Competition drives innovation. Many features developed for EVs can be taken by ICEVs to make them better. And we also want innovation to come from ICEVs back to EVs. This is not a zero-sum game and we want both to improve in parallel. Some places both EVs and ICEVs can improve:

  • Autonomous driving cars (we will be doing a separate post on this)
  • Hidden door handles and side mirrors
  • Better air suspension systems
  • Independently steering wheels
  • Improvements in hydraulic roll control. Basically a hydraulic motor in the middle of the sway bar that can either generate roll or suppress it. Note that some high-end ICEVs already have this, like the Porsche Cayenne.
  • Deep water submersion, like how the Rivian R1S can wade to 3 feet depth. It is even claimed the Cybertruck can “float for awhile” but that remains to be seen.

So, are Electric Vehicles or Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles better?

I started this with an open mind. I was ready to be convinced that EVs are fatally flawed, slow, dirty, dangerous, and the tech is unproven. I took negative arguments in good faith, steel-manned those arguments and dove deep on details. EVs are not problem-free. We need to improve them in serious ways. But the makings of a near-ideal transportation system are there. And in the end, my conviction is strong that Electric Vehicles are better than ICE Vehicles. And they’re getting better.

We must not discount ICEVs. There is opportunity for innovation. They still make up 99% of cars globally, so we should work to make them as amazing as we can. With promising technologies that convert CO₂ in the air to clean fuels, ICEVs can even be part of the solution for our environment.

EVs are cheaper. Some EVs cost more than their in-class ICEV competitors up front, and lower class EVs are not quite cost-competitive yet. However, all classes cost significantly less to drive and maintain. Electric vehicle technology is getting cheaper quickly and we are at the threshold where soon EV will be cheaper across all classes. Electric vehicles are better. And they’re getting better.

EVs perform better. EVs are already more efficient, faster, quicker and generate more torque. Some performance records are still held by ICEVs, but EVs will soon absolutely dominate ICE. And we need major improvements to the fast charge network speed, availability and reliability. Finally, EVs can be improved through software updates and existing cars can get more performant for free. Electric vehicles are better. And they’re getting better.

EVs are safer. EVs are already better across most safety metrics, and have potential to get even safer. There are far fewer engine bay parts to smash into the passengers, they have a lower center of gravity, a stronger structure to fight side impacts, and are less prone to flip. The possibility of battery fires needs to be taken seriously even though gasoline and diesel fires appear more common and deadly. New technologies will make EVs less prone to fire, and fire fighting teams are getting the training they need. Electric vehicles are better. And they’re getting better.

EVs are lower maintenance. Since they have fewer moving parts and fluids, and lower impacts on those parts, it is easier to keep EVs in working order. Although battery packs degrade, they will likely outlast the life of the vehicle. Repair has its own inherent problems, with danger of electrocution and lack of availability of mechanics. More training and support for third party repair shops would be a welcome improvement. Electric vehicles are better. And they’re getting better.

EVs are cleaner. Even if you get your electricity from dirty sources, EVs have fewer emissions and are cleaner. Batteries can be recycled or reused for home or grid storage and stabilization. Battery recycling is not done enough and needs to be scaled up drastically. There are legitimate and disturbing concerns about battery mining practices. The industry needs to fight for better practices and also reduced reliance on these minerals through development of new battery technologies. Finally, carbon capture should be developed to make ICEVs cleaner in parallel. Electric vehicles are better. And they’re getting better.

EVs are cooler. Regenerative braking. Frunks. Extra storage capacity. Idling without using energy. Remote electrical power. Software updateable. Heat and cooling while off or indoors. And the future looks promising. Stabilizing the grid while plugged in so your car makes you money. Supplementary solar. Car-to-car charging. And more. Electric vehicles are better. And they’re getting better.

The future of transport is here. And it’s electric.

Thank you for sticking with this huge deep dive. I am working on several follow-up posts, and am excited to share them with you soon!

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Devon Sydney

Tech entrepreneur, with an aim to change the energy industry.