13 electric vehicle myths, busted

Moving Well | Toby Hagon | Posted on 09 July 2019

The myths and facts about electric vehicles.

Is 2019 the year of the electric vehicle? With the recent launch of the Hyundai Ioniq in Australia and the impending arrival of Nissan’s second-generation Leaf – both priced at below $50K before on-road costs – what was seen as a niche market for the rich and environmentally obsessed is suddenly a very real consideration for many of us. The scheduled launch of Kia’s small electric SUV, the e-Niro, early next year is also expected to reinforce the idea that battery-powered driving is in reach.

In fact, a recent RACV survey found that 47 per cent of members would consider an electric vehicle when buying a new car, while 8 per cent of respondents were actively looking at buying an electric vehicle.

Hyundai Kona electric vehicle

Are EVs really more environmentally friendly?

That depends where and how you recharge them. Use renewable electricity – such as solar from your rooftop, or from any power point in Tasmania (which is on track to have 100 per cent renewable-sourced electricity by 2022) – and there are no carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

But, in Victoria, about 85 per cent of electricity comes from CO2-intensive sources such as coal and gas. According to the Department of the Environment and Energy, that translates to 1.07 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity used. In an EV with an 80kWh battery that amounts to 85.6 kilograms of CO2.

To get a similar 350-kilometre driving range from a similar petrol-powered car you would need about 40 litres of fuel, which emits 92.4 kilograms of CO2.

So the electric car is just ahead, even in the land of dirty electricity.

There’s also a broader debate about the environmental cost of sourcing materials, shipping vehicles and recycling older cars. That’s cracking the proverbial can of worms, albeit one many car makers are addressing, with plans to be CO2 neutral within decades.

How long do the batteries last?

Like all batteries, those used in electric vehicles degrade over time, reducing their ability to hold charge. However, they’re designed to last much longer than those in your smartphone or laptop.

EVs also don’t use the entire capacity of the battery – again to extend its life.

Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz both offer an eight-year, 160,000-kilometre warranty on their batteries, guaranteeing at least 80 per cent of the original capacity after that time.

Are EVs cheaper to run than petrol cars?

Electricity typically costs about 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on what deal you’ve sourced and where you live (country areas can cost more).

On a small EV such as the Hyundai Kona Electric that translates to $19.20 for a full charge claimed to take you 450 kilometres. Away from the laboratory the range may be closer to 400 kilometres, so around $5 per 100 kilometres.

Assuming an average petrol price of $1.40 each 100 kilometres in the petrol version of the Kona (claimed consumption of 6.7L/100km for the 1.6 turbo engine) will cost more than $10 per 100 kilometres if we make the same assumptions that the official fuel figures are optimistic.

Those figures suggesting EVs cost about half as much to power as petrol cars are in keeping with comparisons on other models. 

EVs are really seen as a technology purchase today, like the desire by many to get the latest iPhone.

Can I charge it at home with a normal power point?

Yes, but very slowly. A household power point puts out 2.4kW of power, which for an 80kW/h battery, such as you’d find in a Tesla, means 33 hours of charging. A 40 to 65Kw/h battery, like the Kona’s, would take about 15 to 24 hours to charge. Fitting a 15-amp outlet would bring the time down to around 11 to 17 hours.  

Smaller batteries, such as those used in PHEVs (with, say, a 12kW/h battery) can be charged in about five hours, although the electric-only driving range may only be about 30 kilometres.

Wallbox chargers priced at around $2000 typically provide between 7.5 and 22kW of power, significantly reducing that charge time and making overnight charges feasible.

How far can you drive between charges?

As with petrol-powered cars, that depends on the size of the car, the capacity of the battery (or fuel tank) and how you drive it.

Most full EVs are targeting a range of at least 400 kilometres, although those figures are derived from government standards that usually aren’t representative of what you’ll achieve in the real world; you can usually knock about 10 to 15 per cent off the claims. That said, some EVs claim a range of more than 500 kilometres.

The outside temperature can also reduce the driving range because some electricity is used to heat or cool the batteries, in turn sapping energy that would otherwise have been used to power the car.

Will an EV last longer than a petrol car and need fewer repairs? 

Electric motors don’t usually require regular maintenance and should easily outlast other components of the car. But items such as the batteries will degrade over time, potentially leading to big replacement bills – although that’s likely to be at least a decade or more into the car’s life.

Other wearing items such as windscreen wiper blades, tyres, brakes and suspension components will also need checking and replacing periodically.

Hyundai Kona Electric 2019

Hyundai’s new Kona Electric.

Hyundai Ioniq

Hyundai Ioniq.

Do they hold their value longer than petrol cars?

Short story, no, at least according to Ross Booth, general manager of valuations experts Redbook.com.au.

He says for the vast majority of models, EVs hold their value worse than petrol, diesel and hybrid-powered cars in the Australian market. He blames this on various factors, including the low demand for EVs, something that flows through to the used-car market. And the fact most people won’t pay a premium for an EV also affects what most will pay in the used market.

“EVs are really seen as a technology purchase today,” he says, likening it to the desire by many to get the latest iPhone.

The exception, he says, are Teslas, which have genuine appeal in the used market and hold their value well – thanks to limited supply controlled closely by factory-owned dealerships.

Ross believes the resale value of other EVs will improve over time, in much the same way that second-hand hybrid vehicles now command similar prices to their petrol counterparts. But he says that could take as long as 10 or 15 years.

How accessible are public chargers?

Public charging stations are nowhere near as prolific as petrol stations, although there are more being opened every month.

Governments, businesses and the RACV are installing charging networks on major routes, including the Hume Highway north of Melbourne.

There are various websites and apps – including Plugshare – that provide regularly updated information on charging locations.

How long do they take to charge?

It depends on the power of the charging station, how much electricity the car can accept and the ambient temperature. Batteries don’t like extreme heat or cold (20 to 25 degrees is considered ideal) so in certain circumstances the car’s computer will reduce how much charge the car can accept.

Further complicating things is the throttling back of charging power as the battery approaches its maximum levels, something controlled by software in order to prolong the life of the battery.

That’s why many brands quote charging times for an 80 per cent fast charge; that 80 per cent charge can be done at full power, but beyond that it may take an hour or more to top up the last little bit.

That said, most modern EVs can be charged up to 80 per cent within about 40 minutes, provided you’re using a DC charger that delivers the car’s maximum charging capacity. AC chargers used at home are much slower than you’ll find at a charging station and will usually require a few hours or overnight. 

Solar powered charging

How fast are fast chargers?

How fast an EV charges depends on the car and the charging station. The more power flowing into the batteries, the faster it will charge.

The recently installed Chargefox charging station the RACV has invested in at Barnawartha, north of Melbourne, can provide up to 350kW of electricity. 

While there are no EVs currently on the market that can accept that rate of charge (the upcoming Mercedes-Benz EQC is limited to 110kW, for example), this extra capacity will cater to future EVs.

For now, the Mercedes-Benz EQC would take roughly 40 minutes to charge from 10 per cent to 80 per cent at that Barnawartha DC fast charger, for example. However, charge the same car at Chargefox’s plugs at the Cunningham Pier in Geelong and you’re looking at almost eight hours. That’s because the Cunningham Pier charger feeds in an AC current at 22kW, but the EQC is limited to an AC charge power of 7.4kW. 

What’s the cheapest electric car on the market and will prices come down?

The cheapest all-electric car on the market currently is the Hyundai Ioniq, at $45,490, plus on-road costs. That’s about $4500 less than the Nissan Leaf that goes on sale in July. 

Electric cars have already been getting cheaper, although the cost of the batteries means they are still far more expensive than equivalent petrol-powered cars.

All major car makers are predicting costs will come down, although none will put a time frame on when they will be more affordable than regular cars. 

There’s also a catch. The boss of Mercedes-Benz, Ola Kallenius, recently warned that petrol vehicles will soon start costing more to reflect the additional hardware and development required to have them meet stricter emissions regulations.

Can EVs accelerate as quickly as petrol cars?

Electric motors can deliver their maximum torque (or pulling power) much quicker than a petrol or diesel car, making for quicker initial acceleration.

Some electric cars also accelerate faster than a petrol alternative. And all electric cars currently on sale perform comparably to petrol vehicles up to freeway speeds. However at freeway speeds, most EVs are set up so that acceleration is not as potent and EVs typically have lower top speeds than cars with internal combustion engines.  

Do all electric vehicles run only on electricity?

Er, no. The generally accepted definition of an electrified vehicle – a definition accepted by most car makers and both major Australian political parties – includes three main types.

The first is obvious, referring to cars that run only on electricity.

The second is for plug-in hybrid vehicles, which can run for short distances (usually about 40 kilometres) on electricity alone but have a petrol engine used either for better performance and/or charging the batteries, much like an onboard generator.

The third type of EV is fuel cell vehicles. They have a hydrogen fuel tank and perform a chemical reaction in the fuel cell to create electricity, which then powers an electric motor/s. The hydrogen is used instead of batteries.