E-car vs. combustion engine: the comparison

Without question, the coronavirus pandemic has set back the auto industry, in what should be a pivotal year for the e-car sector in particular. Still, electric vehicles can play an important role in shaping the future. Because from many sides it is demanded that the reconstruction of the economy should be done in a sustainable way.

While interest in electric vehicles has grown slowly but surely over the past decade, many preconceptions still persist that prevent potential buyers from making the switch to e-cars.

These prejudices usually revolve around the issues of cost, performance, charging and the actual environmental footprint of electric vehicles. In this article, we take a look at the most common concerns consumers carry around and see if they are justified.

1. Are electric cars as cheap as combustion cars?

E-car vs. gasoline car expenses: Comparison of costs per year - Wallbox Infographic

Some consumers have so far shied away from buying electric and hybrid vehicles because they assumed that they would be associated with comparatively higher costs. However, electric vehicles are now much cheaper to purchase than they were a few years ago and generally cost less to operate in the long run. In Spain, for example, the recommended list price for the SEAT Mii electric is only 17.900 €, and the Nissan Leaf, one of the most popular electric vehicles on the market, is available in Germany for 36.800 € (English comparison) available. Moreover, thanks to financial incentives in various European countries, up to 6.000 € of the purchase price is saved. As a result, many electric vehicles are already cheaper to buy than gasoline-powered alternatives. And even more when it comes to maintenance: A study conducted in the USA shows that an e-car owner saves an average of $632 per year compared to a driver of a gasoline-powered car. This means that after a few years, more expensive electric vehicles can be cheaper overall than their cheaper internal combustion engine counterparts (see chart above).

Where do these lower costs come from? In addition to the incentives already mentioned for buying an electric vehicle, e-car owners save primarily on gasoline and maintenance costs. Specifically, the lower cost per mile is reflected in the fact that electricity is cheaper than gasoline, which means lower fuel consumption costs. In addition, as described in an article by the United States Department of Energy, the maintenance costs of electric cars are lower because they have fewer fluids (oil and transmission fluid) that need to be replaced. Furthermore, electric vehicles consist of fewer wear parts that may require repair or even replacement. Finally, electric vehicles use a system called recuperation, in which kinetic energy normally lost during braking is stored and reused for propulsion. This also leads to the need to change brake pads less frequently over the years.

It is important to note that due to the higher weight and high torque, tire wear on electric vehicles can be significantly higher than on a gasoline or diesel vehicle. The battery may also need to be replaced once in the lifetime of the e-car, which can be associated with very high costs. However, most e-car batteries last ca. ten years, and experts explain that costs have already fallen sharply in the last. By the time a replacement is therefore necessary when buying a new car, a new battery will already be much cheaper. In addition, note that even the repair or replacement of an internal combustion engine can cost up to 10.000 €, that electric cars generally require less repair and are much cheaper to buy and operate.

2. Are electric cars as fast as combustion cars?

Many people associate the hum of the engine with pure power, and therefore make the false assumption that the quiet electric vehicles may come with less speed and less power. But the opposite is true. EVs accelerate faster than cars with combustion engine and are more than fast enough for daily use.

The reason? Electric motors are much simpler in design than internal combustion engines. As a result, e-cars have full torque almost immediately when accelerating from a standstill. Traditional internal combustion engines, on the other hand, take longer to transmit the power generated by the engine to the wheels because it has to pass through more moving parts such as the gearbox.

Of course, the simplified engine of electric cars also has disadvantages. Since most electric vehicles have only one gear, car manufacturers have to make a trade-off between fast acceleration and high top speed. This dilemma is comparable to the gear ratio of a one-speed bicycle: If the highest gear were set as the only gear, it would be more difficult to start, while in the lowest gear, rapid acceleration would only be possible with a great deal of effort. For this reason, many e-cars are compromised, often resulting in lower top speeds for electric vehicles compared to their gasoline-powered, geared counterparts. The top speeds of the most popular e-car models nevertheless exceed the speed limits on the roads in most parts of the world. Except for racers, the top speeds of electric vehicles are therefore more than high enough.

3. What about range?

Range of new e-car models compared to gasoline cars - Wallbox Infographic

According to a recent study, apart from price, the biggest concern of potential e-car buyers is so-called range anxiety, i.e. how far they would get on a tank of gas. Concerns in this regard can be addressed, however, as many newer EV models already achieve the range of an average gasoline-powered vehicle.

Because the performance of electric cars is getting better and better. Meanwhile, most electric models already manage a range of 200-490 km on one tank of gas. According to data from the WLTP test lab, newer e-car models such as the Hyundai Kona Electric (449 km), the Chevrolet Bolt EV (380 km) and the Kia e-Niro (455 km) can already boast ranges similar to an average gasoline-powered car. To illustrate these numbers concretely: So you would easily get from Brussels to Paris (316 km) or from London to Liverpool (350 km) without stopping to recharge. In addition, luxury cars such as the Tesla Model S Long Range can travel as far as 610 km on a full charge, making a trip from Barcelona to Madrid possible on just one charge. A report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (English article) also shows that car owners only drive between 40 and 90 km per day on average, meaning that even older EV models are capable of handling everyday journeys.

4. Are there enough charging stations?

Many people are also concerned about whether the network of e-car charging stations is dense enough. But in the end, this question is not that important. Because most people, as just mentioned, drive only about 40-90 km (English study) per day, which means that they can easily recharge at home overnight without having to go to a public charging station at all. Therefore, it makes little sense to compare the number of public charging stations with that of gas stations (English link).

In addition, the number of charging stations around the world is steadily increasing, so this argument will quickly become less important. In charging station maps such as Open Charge Map, PlugShare, Chargemap, or even Google Maps (English article), this is clearly evident. Studies also show that the number of public charging points in the EU in 2011 was still 2.379, but by 2020 it will already exceed 190.000 amounted.

Many governments and companies have developed financial incentives and programs to promote the widespread construction of e-charging stations and will probably continue to act in this direction. As explained in our article “How the Corona Era is Impacting Our Environment,” many groups and governments are striving to add a green touch to the rebuilding of the post-Corona economy. There is therefore a concrete hope that the e-car charging infrastructure will be improved and this opportunity will be used to create a more sustainable earth.

5. Is the charging process fast enough?

Another misconception among potential buyers concerns the supposedly slow charging process of electric vehicles. But since Stromers can be charged quite easily at home, once they arrive home they can simply be plugged in and charged overnight. This makes recharging much more practical and specifically means that with an e-car you can start every morning fully charged.

Technological advancements have also enabled electric vehicle charging times to be significantly reduced in recent years. A Nissan Leaf with a 30 kW/h battery can now be charged with a 22 kW charger in approx. 90 minutes to charge. And ultra-fast superchargers with a capacity of 150 kW or more are just coming on the market. That means electric cars will soon be able to be charged in minutes, not hours.

6. Are electric vehicles really the cleaner and greener choice??

There is also often skepticism about whether electric vehicles are really better for the environment. The short answer is yes, vehicles powered by electricity are indeed “greener” and an important building block on the road to a more sustainable future. For example, it has been proven that the electric version of an average mid-size car performs better than its gasoline equivalent in terms of air pollution (English article).

Because e-cars are powered by electricity, the environmental footprint of the driving process is better than that of a gasoline-powered vehicle. Of course, it is very important to ensure that the electricity used by the electric car itself comes from a clean energy source. This is possible with the help of smart charging technology, which allows electricity consumption to be aligned with the availability of renewable electricity, which varies by day or season.

Another frequently asked question deals with how environmentally friendly the manufacturing process of electric vehicles actually is. Studies have shown that over their lifetime, electric vehicles emit far fewer greenhouse gases than internal combustion engine vehicles. However, mining raw materials and manufacturing lithium-ion batteries creates waste and harmful emissions. Therefore, it is important to improve all processes of the entire supply chain and their impact on all stakeholders in order to make electric vehicles even greener.

Some positive developments can already be seen. For example, the production of lithium-ion batteries now already produces less than half the emissions compared to 2017(English article). Another aspect that could be improved concerns production sites and processes. If the batteries were made in Europe, for example, their carbon footprint would be lower, as the proportion of renewable energy used to power factories is higher in this country (English study). With better production methods and recycling processes, emissions could also be significantly reduced (English article).

There are also a growing number of initiatives looking at the reuse of e-car batteries after they have stopped working. For example, at the end of their useful life, which is still at ca. 70% lying capacity of an electric car battery is used and the battery gets a second life as an energy storage device. The recycling processes are also becoming more advanced, which means that the precious lithium and other metals can be recovered. Not only can harmful emissions be avoided, but the growing demand for raw materials can be curbed, leading to excessive resource depletion.

All in all, it’s clear that electric vehicles are the greener, cleaner transportation choice.

7. Are our power grids designed for electric vehicles?

is our grid ready for a full transition to electric vehicles

Some potential e-car buyers also wonder whether our power grids are ready to supply electricity to all future electric vehicles. But in reality, the many electric vehicles will not become a problem, but a solution for the grids, especially as we transition to more sustainable societies.

Yes, more electric vehicles also lead to a greater demand for electricity. But thanks to two innovative technologies, smart charging and bidirectional charging, the power grid will be able to withstand the increased demand without a major expansion of existing infrastructures. As we explained in our article “Smart charging: benefits for the power grid, businesses and e-car owners,” electricity providers can use smart charging to develop dynamic energy systems that include electric cars. Electricity demand can thus be shifted to periods of low demand and power does not need to be increased. Our article “Why electric mobility is the key to climate change” also shows how electric vehicles, combined with bidirectional chargers, have important storage capabilities. So that power grids focused on renewables are de-loaded rather than loaded. Thanks to the combination of both technologies, the burden on our current energy infrastructure can therefore be reduced. Electric cars can be charged overnight, for example, when demand is lower, and then the stored energy can be used to charge the home or sell electricity back to grid operators at peak times.

An electric vehicle is an investment in the future

Electric car sales in the first half of the year are down in all markets due to the corona virus. But interest in electric cars continues unabated. For example, in the UK, registrations of electric and plug-in hybrid cars have increased significantly (English link), although the total number of registrations has fallen to half of the expected figures. In the U.S., too, consumers are showing great interest in taking the step toward electrification, and not just as the first choice for their private cars. They are also calling for more investment in charging infrastructure, electric public transport and changes in taxation. The willingness of the public to support these changes will play a fundamental role in the transition to electric vehicles and the slow but sure farewell to cars with combustion engines. The choice is yours, and the decision is easier than you think. Because an electric vehicle can be just as practical, cost-effective and enjoyable to drive as a gasoline or diesel vehicle. In many cases, the electric car is even superior to the gasoline-powered car. And you are driving towards a more sustainable future.

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