10 Myths About Electric Cars. Are Any Of Them True?

 

New ideas always make us nervous at first. Airplanes and automobiles were once considered dangerous but now are part of every day life. Electric cars are a relatively new idea. Some early adopters can’t wait to own one but the majority of people are skeptical.

Myths about electric cars
Credit: Wikimedia / Tony Webster – CC SA 2.0 Generic

If electric cars suddenly went mainstream, traditional auto makers and fossil fuel companies could lose a lot of business. Some of those companies are actively spreading misinformation in an attempt to slow the transition away from conventional cars. That wrong information becomes the basis of myths that can make people decide to delay buying an electric car.

Often, those myths contain a kernel of truth that has been distorted. Let’s take a look at the most frequent myths and try to figure out which are true and which are not.

Myth #1:  More CO2 is emitted during production of electric cars than regular cars.

Conclusion: True

Studies show that manufacturing an electric car uses significantly more energy than manufacturing a conventional car. Much of the difference is attributable to manufacturing the battery. Mercedes makes the B Class and the B Class Electric. About 45% of the emissions from the B Class Electric occur during manufacturing. For the conventional B Class, the number is only 18%.

So it is fair to say an electric car has higher emissions right up until it rolls off a dealer’s lot. But after that, the conventional car rapidly catches up and eventually passes the electric car in total lifetime emissions.

How much of a difference there is depends on the source of the electricity used to recharge the electric car. Using electricity from fossil fuel plants, the electric car will emit 25% fewer emissions during its lifetime. But if the electricity comes from hydro or renewables, is will emit 64% fewer emissions while it is in active service.

Myth #2:  Electric car batteries are a ticking environmental bomb.

Conclusion: False

Electric car batteries are largely recyclable and there is little chance they will simply be discarded in land fills at the end of their useful life as some fossil fuel advocates like to suggest. (And its not like burning fossil fuels hasn’t had some pretty disastrous environmental consequences over the past century and a half.)

There aren’t enough used electric car batteries for economies of scale to kick in yet, but many companies are experimenting with reusing the ones that are available for residential and commercial electrical storage. When a lithium ion battery is no longer able to power a vehicle, it still has about 80% of its power remaining. It just can’t charge and discharge as rapidly as it needs to for transportation use.

Myth #3: Electric cars create more particulates than conventional cars

Conclusion: False

The theory is that electric cars have heavy batteries. All that weight wears roadways faster, which puts more particulates into the atmosphere. The first thing you need to know is that there are two kinds of particulates — those less than 2.5 microns in size and those up to 10 microns. The small particulates can get into the lungs and actually cross into the blood stream. The larger ones cannot.

Virtually all particulates 2.5 microns and smaller come from internal combustion engines. None come from electric cars. Studies showing heavy vehicles cause more wear and tear to roads involve heavy trucks. The extra weight of a Volkswagen e-Golf (about 500 pounds) compared to a conventional Golf is too small to make any significant difference.

In addition, brake dust is the primary source of larger particulates. Electric cars use mechanical brakes far less frequently than conventional cars because they make use of regenerative braking, which recharges the battery when they slow down. That means they create far less brake dust. In fact, brake pads in electric cars may last 100,000 miles or more.

Myth #4  Electric cars cause people to stop using public transportation

Conclusion: False

This one is rather Euro-specific, as more Europeans commute using public transportation that Americans do. The analysis by Norwegian news site TU shows the number of people who buy an electric car and stop using public transit systems is quite small — on the order of 5%. In most of those cases, purchasing an electric car goes along with moving to a new home further from the city.

Myth #5:  Electric cars increase the total number of cars on the road.

Conclusion:  False

The data shows that most electric cars replace an existing conventional car. In about a third of cases, the electric car is the sole means of private transportation in the household. There may be some cases in which a single car family adds an electric car, but the vast majority of the time, the total number of cars in the household remains the same.

Myth #6:  Making electric car batteries harms the environment.

Conclusion: Partly True And Partly False

Making lithium ion batteries does require mining operations to acquire the raw materials. Mining operations of any type are not usually environmentally friendly. On the other hand, internal combustion engines fun on fossil fuels. Extracting oil from the earth introduces enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. My old Irish grandmother would say this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Myth #7  8. Electric car batteries have a short life span and are expensive to replace.

Conclusion: False

Real world data shows that there are Nissan LEAF automobiles being used as taxis that still have 75% of their battery capacity after 120,000 miles of service. Statistics for Tesla indicate about a 5% loss of battery capacity during the first 50,000 miles but only a further 5% loss over the next 150,000 miles. In sum, a Tesla owner can expect to have 90% battery life remaining after 200,000 miles of driving.

It is possible to replace portions of a battery without replacing the entire battery pack. And Nissan has just announced the price of a standard 24 kWh battery for the LEAF is $5,499 — about the same as replacing an internal combustion engine. They don’t always last forever either.

Myth #8:  Electric Cars Will Put Excessive Strain On The Electrical Grid

Conclusion: False

Most electric car charging is done at home using 3.2 kW of power. That translates to about 16 amps on single phase household current — less than an electric dryer or stove. A study in Norway finds that nation will have approximately 1.5 million electric cars on the road by 2030 and that the electricity needed to charge them will increase demand for electricity by only 3%.

Some remote sections of the grid may need updating, but the overall effect on the entire grid will be minimal.

Myth #9:  Electric cars don’t lower pollution, they move it from one place to another.

Conclusion: Partly true, partly false

The biggest knock on electric cars is that if they use electricity generated from burning coal, they are just taking pollution out of the cities and moving it to the suburbs where the generating stations are. Critics who rely on this argument ignore the fact that renewable energy is rapidly making coal fired plants obsolete because they are too expensive to operate.

Those critics also ignore the fact that an electric car is simply more efficient than a car powered by an internal combustion engine, which means fewer carbon emission in total regardless of where the  electric generating plants are located.

So yes, electric cars do shift some emissions from one place — usually a congested city with a smog problem — to another. But overall, total electric car emissions for an electric car are between 25% and 65% lower than a those from a conventional car.

Myth #10  Electric Car Owners Don’t Pay Their Fair Share To Maintain Roads

Conclusion: True

Maintaining roads, bridges and tunnels costs a lot of money. But Congress has not raised the federal gasoline tax, which is supposed to pay for such maintenance, in more than 30 years. It is obvious a car that uses no gasoline pays no gas taxes and therefore does not contribute to the highway trust fund.

But the issue is more political than the fault of electric cars. Politicians need to devise new methods of paying to maintain the transportation infrastructure. Fees based on overall weight are one possible way of doing this. In fact, Norway is considering a form of taxation based on weight at this very moment.

Another method is billing drivers for each mile driven. Combining the two results in the fairest way to adequately fund road maintenance but raises questions about privacy and government tracking of citizens. A way needs to be found to pay for our roads, but not by penalizing electric car owners.

The Take Away

So there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about electric cars but were afraid to ask. Is it true that electric cars contribute to global carbon emissions? Of course it is. Virtually every human activity does. But as the energy grid continues to get greener, manufacturing procedures get cleaner and battery recycling programs ramp up, the impact of electric cars will become less and less.

Now when someone tells you that electric cars are just as “dirty” as conventional cars, you will know how to tell them — politely, of course — that they don’t know their electrons from their molecules.

Source: This article is based on research reported by Norwegian news outlet TU. Please follow this link to find the charts and graphs that support the findings reported here.

Hat Tip to Leif Hansen






About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • MikeM

    Nice concise article.
    The only thing I would change would be in the heading to No10 :

    “Myth #10 Electric Car Owners Don’t Pay Their Fair Share To Maintain Roads”

    Conclusion: True and neither do Fossil Fuel car owners.

    • Jonny_K

      Even taxed as heavily as they are, big trucks still don’t pay for the wear and tear they exact on the roadways. The figures I’ve seen quoted are they cause 99% of the damage but pick up 35% of the tab. Your Google results may vary.

      • MikeM

        True, all that.

        My point would be that wear and tear is far from the whole story.
        As users of this infrastructure we all have a stake in its installation, maintenance, upgrades, access improvements, traffic management technologies, policing . . . . If I had the expertise I could probably go on and on.

        My point about Myth #10 is simply to (a) admit that currently EVs pay for none of that, and (b) gas taxes pay some but don’t even come close to covering it, so demonizing EVs on that basis is disingenuous.

        • Chris Coza

          As gas cars don’t pay for all the wear they cause to our roads. The balance comes from general tax revenue which EV owners contribute to. People who don’t have cars, benefit from the positive contribution our roads make to our economy. Yet they don’t directly contribute in the form of gas taxes either.

          • MikeM

            Sound arguments for sure.
            I’m afraid they would not go very far with a jury of EV haters though.

            I’m an EV owner (leaser actually) myself and I’m a bit smugly pleased that I don’t have to pay more for the privilege. This drives some fossil fuel burners apoplectic of course.
            The hammer will come down some some day soon though, as my state (OR) is toying with a road usage fee for all in place of the gas tax. Oh well!

  • RobSez

    I always find it funny how folks driving big heavy SUVs & trucks feign concern for the environment. Especially where it regards EVs. I get the particulate and ‘just moving pollution’ arguments on a regular basis. When I begin to explain the reality their eyes glaze over. All they know to do is believe and repeat the talking points they’ve learned. They literally can’t handle the truth.

    • kevin mccune

      One reason Diesels are being banned in Europe is the emission of nanoparticles,once in the body they can go anywhere in the body.

  • Jonny_K

    Myth #11 Electric Car Owners Have More Fun

    True, maybe not more fun than someone driving a Porsche at Laguna Seca but definitely more fun than someone driving some old fashioned something on the freeway.

    • Jonny_K

      Wait. I just read what I wrote. If it’s old fashioned enough it’s fun again. Five year old Camry: not fun. Fifty year old Mustang: Fun. Teslas, Volts, even Bolts. All fun.

  • mb

    Thank you for a great article Steve. To add to #9: by moving the pollution from the very inefficient ICE (imagine a 10 year old Chevy Tahoe or BMW 5-series) to a most efficient power plant, electric cars do lower emissions by a lot as you concluded. At that power plant it’s also much easier to filter out the most harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases. Did I mention the transportation efficiency of high voltage power lines of around 80%? Should we compare that to the big rigs hauling the gasoline to the pump? From an engineering point of view gasoline can never compete with electricity when it comes to efficiency so it is inevitable electric vehicles will replace ICE cars. Can’t go fast enough for me…

  • bioburner

    #10 is conditionally incorrect. A growing number of states are taxing EVs to replace the tax revenue lost at the gas pump.

  • Terry

    Here in Michigan, my vehicle registration went up $100 last year on my Miev for state road maintenance I’m not taxed at the pump, but they still get my money.

  • Don Denesiuk

    I have a few issues with this article.
    For #1 Battery production CO2 emissions can be largely offset by making the factory run on renewable energy as Tesla’s Gigafactory does.
    For #6 When’s the last time you heard of a Lithium, Nickel or Cobalt spill?
    For #10 Privacy? Weight is usually required for vehicle registration and is known from make and model, and some jurisdictions also require the vehicle mileage at registration time.
    Otherwise yep, the dinosaurs are lying to save their lives and the sooner they smell the coffee and get with the EV program the less painful the future will be.

    • Jodi Stark

      Just because there hasn’t been a Lithium, Nickel or Cobalt spill, doesn’t mean it’s not harmful for the environment. Also – the dam of a copper and gold mine tailings pond in British Columbia breached a couple of years ago and released water and slurry with years worth of toxic mining waste into a salmon-bearing watershed. This was indeed an environmental disaster.
      For the record – I am fully in support of a transition to EVs and believe that even despite the downfalls, weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels is critical.
      But I think we need to be real about the impacts they have so we can work to improve them, particularly in the mining of related metals.

  • Laurie P

    Great article. I would add to Myth 2 that if an EV battery is worn out for powering the EV, it can still be used to store solar power for a home. Called “second use batteries”. If you can store your own power, you don’t need to worry re if the electric company will buy your excess power from you.

    Storage of electricity from solar panels on your roof is being done in a number of places in the world. Joe Romm talks about it in 2016 talk on youtube: “Everything you know about climate change is outdated”.
    at 27:06 – 32:00. He says Nissan gives a 10 yr warranty for 2nd use of their N Leaf battery for power storage for $100/kwh.