Electric Cars and Vehicles: Pros, Cons And Myths

VW ID Space Vizzion electric car

Introduction To Electric Vehicles (EVs)


Some of the advantages of driving electric cars are very obvious,  but there are many other benefits of EVs that may not seem as obvious.  We list below some of the reasons why owning a plug-in electric car is a better choice than traditional petrol or diesel cars that run on dirty fossil fuel via an internal combustion engine (ICE)


Environmental Benefit: Lower Air Pollution 


The dangerous level of air pollution in key metropolitan cities in India, like Delhi, have made headlines far beyond the boundaries of India.  In fact, in 2019, the significant level of air pollution in India became a regular news snippet across major global newspapers and magazines. 

Road transportation is a significant contributor to toxic air pollution, between 30% to 50%.  Toxic pollutants (particulate matter, ammonia, nitrogen oxide etc.) are released from the tailpipe of petrol and diesel cars that pollute the air in the immediate vicinity.  This release of pollutants is also known as emissions

Though these toxic pollutants have a detrimental impact on everyone, young children and the elderly are most vulnerable.  Both in India and in international markets the correlation between increased air pollution and higher health risks has now been comprehensively documented.  

Also extensively documented are the number of health cases and increased mortality as a direct result of air pollution as the respiratory organs are damaged.  

petrol car emissions
Tailpipe Emissions From Internal Combustion Engines (ICE)

Yes, you guessed it correctly, electric vehicles, like the best-selling Tesla Model 3, have zero tailpipe emissions.  As you will learn from the article of Type of Electric Vehicles, EVs encompass different types of e-cars.  However, the two most common types are plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).  

tesla model 3 electric car
The All-Electric Tesla Model 3 (credit: Tesla)

Battery-electric vehicles also know as all-electric cars have no tailpipe (exhaust).  In fact, the easiest way to recognise a pure electric car is simply to walk to the rear of the car.  If it has no exhaust, well guess what, it has no emissions, hence the expression zero-emission road transportation.  Pure electric cars therefore have the greatest benefit to communities as these eco-friendly cars help reduce air pollution significantly.  If we all drove all-electric cars, we could reduce air pollution by very meaningful levels, increasing the quality of health and lives of communities across many cities in India.  On a related point, measures like ‘odd-even’ adopted by the local Delhi government, though helpful, will not have the same comprehensive impact as zero-emission road transportation.  

Tesla Model S electric car
Tesla All-Electric Car

Some good examples of BEVs are the all-electric Nissan Leaf, the all-electric Renault Zoe, the all-electric Volkswagen e-Golf and the all-electric Tesla Model 3. Other examples of EV models are the all-electric MG ZS SUV, the pure electric Tata Nexon SUV, the all-electric Tata Tigor sedan, the all-electric Mahindra e Verito and the all-electric Hyundai Kona SUV.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), though not as environmentally friendly as BEVs, are still significantly better than petrol and diesel cars.  PHEVs use both an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric drivetrain.  Yes, these electric vehicles combine both, conventional engine technology with the latest power propulsion technology i.e. electric powertrains.  The result: significantly lower emissions compared to traditional diesel and petrol cars.   The reason for this is simple: PHEVs are capable of driving on ‘electric only’ mode for a certain number of kilometers i.e. zero-emission miles. During this time, the vehicle does not use the internal combustion engine for propulsion.  Therefore no toxic pollutants emitted when in zero-emission mode.  The range of the zero-emission kilometres for a plug-in hybrid electric car will depend on various factors to include EV battery size (kWh), regenerative braking, driving style etc.  However, most PHEVs should be able to achieve up to 50 electric zero-emission kilometres.  Perfect for city driving which is characterized by very short travel distances.  Some good examples of PHEVs that have sold well globally are the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the BMW i3 Range Extender and the BMW 330e.  

An electric car charging
An Electric Car Charging

So, bottom-line, if you care for the health of your family and yourself, you will be naturally encouraged to migrate to lower emission electric vehicles or ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs).  Depending on your needs and circumstances, either a PHEV or BEV will be more appropriate.  For avoidance of any doubt, avoid driving diesel cars that are the worst culprits in regards to air pollution.   


Lower Maintenance Costs Compared To Conventional Cars


This will come as a surprise to most people, but yes, all-electric cars have lower maintenance costs compared to PHEVs and petrol and diesel cars.  Again the reason for this is simple: pure electric cars do not have a tradition ICE engine and run only on batteries that store electricity.  Therefore, BEVs have far fewer moving parts compared to petrol and diesel engines.  Therefore, less can go wrong and the total life-cycle costs for maintenance is significantly lower for all-electric cars.  Of course, apart from the advantage of saving money, with driving pure electric cars, there is also the added convenience of not having to check on oil levels etc. on a regular basis.  Pure electric cars are truly so much more convenient to own and drive! 


Charging The Battery Of An-All Electric Car Is Much Cheaper Than Filling a Full Tank Of Fuel 


How often have you pulled up to a petrol station dreading the cost of filling a full tank of fuel.  Many of us in India end up filling only half a tank of fuel, just to reduce the pinch of refuelling a petrol or diesel car.  But of course, this is false economy and filling half a tank of fuel is not going to reduce the cost of driving a tradition petrol or diesel car! 

Moreover, fuel prices at petrol pumps have increased significantly since the liberalization of Indian in the early 1990s.  Today filling a full tank of fuel, depending on the type of ICE vehicle, can set the owner back up to Rs 5,000 if not more!!  

The advantage of a pure electric car is that you will never have to spend money on expensive fuel again.  Yes, you guessed it correctly.  Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) do not have a fuel tank!  Even better, you never have to stop at a petrol station in the summer heat, as in you pure electric car you will charge the battery overnight at your home.  Now that is what we call convenience! 

fuel price India
A Traditional Petrol-Diesel Filling Station

Like petrol and diesel cars, that come in different size of fuel tanks, pure electric cars come in different battery sizes also referred to as capacity (kWh).  Like in ICE vehicles, the larger the fuel tank, the greater the distance the vehicle can cover, similarly, in EVs, the larger the size or capacity of the battery, the longer is the zero-emission electric range.  Moreover charging an EV will only set you back Rs 200, significantly cheaper than filling a petrol or diesel vehicle.  


Zero-Emission Electric Cars Do Not Make Any Noise 


Indeed, when you start an all-electric car for the first time, you will certainly be confused as there is no ‘shuddering’ of the car body or noise from the engine, as is the case with petrol or diesel vehicles.   As you drive away and accelerate, electric cars do not make the familiar loud noise you detest and expect from petrol and diesel cars.  Yes it is true that the noise impact from roads in India is deafening, in particular the horns blaring, but added to that is the noise inside petrol and diesel cars from the loud engines.  With EVs you can reduce significantly the impact and assault from noise pollution when driving or being driven in an electric car.  Bottom-line you can hold a conversation in a car at normal decibel levels!  


Challenges Of Electric Driving 


Charging An Electric Car 


Much has been discussed in India and in international markets regarding charging infrastructure for electric cars or to be more specific the ‘lack’ of appropriate electric car charging infrastructure.  

This is a fair concern for all markets, and in particular, India, where electricity infrastructure is not at par with a number of leading global EV markets.  There are primarily three key destinations for charging an electric vehicle to include home charging, public charging and workplace charging.  

Tesla Public Charging stations
Tesla Public Charging Stations

Public charging infrastructure is still at very early stages in India and this will take time to develop.  By comparison, in the United Kingdom, public charging points have now surpassed the total number of petrol/ diesel refuelling stations.  In the UK public charging points are usually ‘on-street’ or strategically positioned on the highway, some even at existing petrol stations.  Workplace charging is different to public EV charging, in that, workplace charging are charging points dedicated to a specific workplace building.  In India, again, this infrastructure is at early stages.  

However, despite the lack of EV public charging stations in India, it is worth noting that EV drivers experience in international markets suggests that most electric cars are charged at home overnight.  Nearly 80% of EV charging is done overnight at home by EV drivers across several international markets.   In India, we also expect the see the same, as installation of home charging points increase. So bottom-line, EV charging though challenging in India today is not unsurmountable and it is only a matter of time before electric car charging points increase.  


Range Anxiety 


Closely linked to EV charging is the issue of ‘EV range anxiety’.  Simply put, range anxiety is the fear of running out of battery charge while driving i.e. just like running out of fuel in a petrol and diesel car.  

To a large extent, the issue of range anxiety has been blown out of proportion due to lack of sufficient information.  Again, if we look at international markets, in particular, Europe, it is interesting to note that the average distance per trip, is a mere 20 kms.  In fact, this is even the case in many cities (1st and 2nd Tier) in India.  We feel like we have travelled a far distance, because of the traffic and time to commute, but in actual fact we have not really travelled much.  The reality is that most drivers travel far less than they think they do!  

The latest electric cars will comfortably travel up to 200 kilometres on a single charge,   and in some case closer to 500 kilometres.  So the reality is that range anxiety is more a myth when it comes to electric vehicles.  The key in reducing range anxiety is making sure that the EV is charged on a regular basis, just like you would do with your smartphone.  For those very few times in a year you have to travel long distances then planning ahead is key to a successful journey. 

As an example an all-electric Nissan Leaf, which is an affordable mid-priced EV will travel up to 350 kilometers on a single charge, while a Tesla Model 3, a premium electric car will travel 400 kilometers on a single charge.  


Electric Car Costs Are High 


It is true, in that, compared to conventional petrol and diesel cars, electric cars can seem more expensive in terms of acquisition costs.  However, acquisition costs i.e. the cost of acquiring a car is neither a complete or full picture of the cost of owning a car.  

electric car finance costs

To truly compare costs of conventional cars to electric vehicles, all life-cycle costs should be taken into account for the duration of ownership of the vehicle.  This includes, cost for buying a car, maintenance costs, running costs, depreciation etc.  When all life-cycle costs are compared, the ‘traditional cars are cheaper’ argument is not as strong any more!  As mentioned above, some of the significant advantages of electric cars are the cheaper costs of maintenance and running. 


Conclusion


Though there are many other advantages of electric cars and zero-emission road transportation, the environmental benefits coupled with the financial ‘business case’, certainly positions electric cars as the better and more robust choice of road transportation.  Moreover, as the EV industry scales further, we expect to see retail process of electric cars to drop, further compelling the case of a shift to zero-emission electric driving. 


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Author

Ashvin Suri

Ashvin has been involved with the renewables, energy efficiency and infrastructure sectors since 2006. He is passionate about the transition to a low-carbon economy and electric transportation. Ashvin commenced his career in 1994, working with US investment banks in New York. Post his MBA from the London Business School (1996-1998), he continued to work in investment banking at Flemings (London) and JPMorgan (London). His roles included corporate finance advisory, M&A and capital raising. He has been involved across diverse industry sectors, to include engineering, aerospace, oil & gas, airports and automotive across Asia and Europe. In 2010, he co-founded a solar development platform, for large scale ground and roof solar projects to include the UK, Italy, Germany and France. He has also advised on various renewable energy (wind and solar) utility scale projects working with global institutional investors and independent power producers (IPP’s) in the renewable energy sector. He has also advised in key international markets like India, to include advising the TVS Group, a multi-billion dollar industrial and automotive group in India. Ashvin has also advised Indian Energy, an IPP backed by Guggenheim (a US$ 165 billion fund). He has also advised AMIH, a US$ 2 billion, Singapore based group. Ashvin has also worked in the real estate and infrastructure sector, to including working with the Matrix Group (a US$ 4 billion property group in the UK) to launch one of the first few institutional real estate funds for the Indian real estate market. The fund was successfully launched with significant institutional support from the UK/ European markets. He has also advised on water infrastructure, to include advising a Swedish clean technology company in the water sector. He is also a member of the Forbury Investment Network advisory committee. He has also been involved with a number of early stage ventures.

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