Top 10 electric vehicle myths busted

Globally, electric vehicle (EV) uptake is booming, thanks to the huge progress in EV innovation, range and affordability in recent years.

In Australia the revolution is also underway, but slower to take hold. While EV technology and infrastructure is now at a point where mass uptake is possible, myths around EVs still persist and muddy the waters for consumers.

Below, we’ve gathered the top 10 EV myths and uncovered some surprising truths, using facts and figures to help ensure Australians can make a more informed choice around EV ownership.

Myth #1: Not enough driving range

The average driving distance from a single charge of an EV currently available in Australia, is more than five hours of continuous driving per day. The average Australian household owns more than two cars, and completes about one hour of continuous driving - or 38kms - per day. This means EV driving ranges are more than enough to fulfil our everyday driving needs, assuming drivers are recharging vehicles overnight.

EV technology is continually improving, along with vehicle range. The minimum range available from a pure EV in the Australian market today is estimated to be between 130km and 160km. At the other end of the spectrum, the Tesla Model S can travel 632kms on a single charge.

For those wanting to travel even longer distances (and charge less), plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs) might be a suitable option. PHEVs combine a petrol engine with  electric motors and a rechargeable battery.

The Mitsubishi Outlander, which is available in Australia, is a PHEV which automatically selects a drive mode based on your driving conditions. This gives you the best of both worlds: allowing your short range driving to use pure EV, and long range driving to use hybrid technology.

An alternative to pure EVs and plug-in hybrids and pure EVs is range-extended EVs, which are pure EVs with a back-up petrol generator. The BMW i3 has a 200km range on a standard battery and a 350km range when used with a range extender.

Myth #2: Charging takes too long

With EV technology continually improving, charging times are falling rapidly. From empty battery to fully charged now takes most EVs between six to 10 hours (using residential AC charging), making overnight charging ideal. For non-fully depleted batteries, charging times are much shorter.

Pro tip: The key to efficient EV charging is to top up the battery every day or two, rather than waiting for the battery to be fully depleted.

For those needing to top-up batteries on the go, DC fast charging is a gamechanger. At DC fast charging stations EVs can be charged to 80 percent capacity in around 20 minutes. There are currently 29 public fast charging stations around Australia. Tesla also offer superchargers which can  add 270 kms of range to Tesla vehicles in only 30 minutes.

Power levels is one reason charging times may differ. Commercial chargers often run on higher kilowatts than residential chargers, delivering a faster charge. But EV owners can also speed up home charging times by installing a dedicated charging unit connected to a higher kilowatt power supply.

Myth #3: Too few places to charge EVs

EV owners are discovering that charging during non-use periods (ie. overnight or while at work) is sufficient for everyday driving needs. 

However, as EV uptake increases globally, charging infrastructure is also making its own quiet revolution. Check out this interactive map by Plugshare which tracks the expanding public and private charging stations around the world, including in Australia.

An ever expanding network of public charging infrastructure also ensures those without access to home or work charging can own an EV, as well as offering convenience and road trip charging to all EV driver.

Local governments are also helping to improve EV charging infrastructure. For example in the inner-north area of Melbourne, Victoria, Moreland City Council has installed six publicly accessible charge points. The Council also has four EVs in their fleet.

Over the other side of the country, Australia’s first ‘electric highway’ has opened in Western Australia with a corridor of fast charge stations allowing EV users to travel from Perth to the south-west regions of Western Australia.

Myth #4: Expensive to buy

Not strictly a myth if you only take into account upfront purchase costs - as opposed to total costs of vehicle ownership, as EVs in general are more expensive to buy than comparable conventional fuel vehicles.

However, the main driver for this cost difference is the costs of batteries which is plummeting, falling by an average of 14 per cent per year between 2007 and 2014.

Bloomberg predict that by 2025, the total cost of EV ownership will fall below that of conventional fuel vehicles.

Mitsubishi, Mercedes, Audi and Volvo also produce PHEVs available in Australia, with prices ranging from AUD$45,000 for the Mitsubishi Outlander to AUD$100,000 for the Volvo XC90 SUV. Another option for lower-cost EV ownership is to purchase a second-hand EV.

More dramatic cost reductions for lithium ion batteries are expected as several companies rapidly scale up production.

EV affordability improves as the market grows, due to economy of scale. Early adopters in some countries are encouraged to accelerate this process through incentives, which help to reduce the initial upfront cost of purchasing an EV. In the UK, buyers receive a one time premium of GPB$4,500 (AUD$7,500) for the purchase of pure EV passenger vehicles.

In the US, up to USD$7,500 (AUD$10,000) in federal government tax credits is available for EV owners, while many states have additional subsidies ranging from USD$1,000 to USD$6,000 (AUD$1,300 to AUD$8,000). In China, exemption from acquisition and excise tax provide an incentive to the equivalent of USD$6,000 to USD$10,000 (AUD$8,000 to $13,500) per vehicle for EVs and PHEVs.

Myth #5: Expensive to run

When calculating total vehicle ownership costs, it is important to consider all costs of owning and running an EV compared to a conventional vehicle, including purchase price, distance travelled, fuel costs, maintenance (including for engines, brakes, exhaust systems etc.), depreciation and insurance.

EVs benefit from not requiring oil changes or maintenance for exhaust systems and studies show that this can help reduce car maintenance costs by 35-46% over time.

EV charging from public stations is often free or very cheap. An average EV costs around
AUD$4.50 in electricity charges to travel 100 kilometres, compared to AUD$16.65 for the average petrol car in Australia.

AGL Energy recently announced AUD$1 a day ‘all you can eat’ EV charging for AGL customers with an AGL digital meter. The electricity supplied to the EVs under the offer would also be fully carbon offset.

Many countries offer incentives for reducing the long term costs of owning an EV such as tax deductions, exemptions, bonus payments and premiums. Currently, incentives are aimed at reducing the higher upfront and ongoing costs of an EV until price parity - which, it is estimated, will be achieved in early 2020. In Australia, in the ACT and Victoria, EV and hybrid owners receive stamp duty or registration discounts.

Finally, EV drivers with solar power can charge their EVs off their solar for minimal if not no cost, while others can take advantage of Time of Use tariffs to charge at very low off-peak rates.

Myth #6: EVs are inferior performers

Even more modest EVs can accelerate faster than many conventional vehicles, delivering full force in rotating the car’s wheels (or in more technical terms, ‘torque’) as soon as the vehicle starts moving. Conventional vehicles don’t reach this amount of force until their engines rev to higher.

EVs reach 100 per cent full force to rotate wheels instantly, giving them much faster acceleration than petrol and diesel vehicles.

The FIA Formula E Championship began in 2014 and is a class of auto racing that uses only electric-powered cars. An average Formula E car can accelerate from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in three seconds, with maximum speed of 225 kilometres per hour.

The Tesla Model S P100D the fastest accelerating production car ever manufactured, able to reach 100 kilometres per hour in just 2.6 seconds. It is also the longest range EV available.

Some EVs also boast similar performance features to sports cars. For example, batteries can be placed at the bottom of the vehicle, resulting in a lower centre of mass, and improving cornering performance and safety.

Myth #7: No one is buying EVs

Global EV uptake is growing rapidly. In 2011 45,000 EVs were sold, in 2014, 300,000 - a 566 per cent increase.

This pattern is reflected around the world. In Norway, EV ownership represents close to 20 per cent of all vehicles. In China, the country enjoyed an influx of 83,000 electric passenger vehicles as well as 230 million electric bikes and 36,500 electric buses in 2014.

Uptake in Europe is expected to increase sharply in the coming years due to the EU’s combined EV target which equals around eight to nine million EVs on the road by 2020.

In Australia in 2015, 942 fully electric vehicles were sold. While this is a small percentage of the 1.1 million-plus cars bought by Australians in the same period, one forecast has estimated EV uptake to reach over 2.85 million or 17.7 per cent of all vehicles on the road by 2036. Major factors expected to drive this include falling battery prices, improved model choice and support from government and industry to remove barriers to EV uptake.

While these numbers are impressive, many believe the real number of EVs on the road (both globally and in Australia) are much higher, as some EV manufacturers such as Tesla choose not to publicise sales data.

An industry collaboration, convened by ClimateWorks Australia, produced The Path Forward for Electric Vehicles in Australia discussion paper, aimed at driving the uptake of EVs.

Key recommendations from the report include focusing on measures to increase demand, awareness and value of EVs in Australia, for example, coordinating and incentivising infrastructure deployment, fuel consumption labelling and as well as additional financial incentives.

Myth #8: Not any better for the environment

The transport sector is one of the fastest growing sources of emissions in Australia, increasing 47.5 per cent since 1990 and projected to rise a further six per cent by 2020. However if Australia were to shift to 100 per cent EVs, operating on renewable electricity, this would eliminate 6% of Australia’s greenhouse gases.

Depending on the source of electricity, state or community plans for shifting to renewables, and type of vehicle, carbon dioxide produced from powering an EV from the grid can be less than the carbon dioxide pollution produced from using petrol to power conventional vehicles. An EV charged from a renewable power source produces almost zero emissions.

The positive impacts of this are not just limited to the environment; reductions in conventional vehicle use have also been found to improve urban air quality and reduce traffic noise.

Replacing conventional vehicle use with EVs can help to lower emissions, and increasingly a number of manufacturers are also moving to manufacturing processes which have less impact on the environment. For example the BMW i3 (made in Germany) is manufactured using wind and hydroelectric power. The vehicle itself is also up to 95 per cent recyclable.

Myth #9: Batteries are no good

Battery technology is evolving at a rapid pace. While many people assume EV batteries have similar lifespans to car batteries - around five years - new research indicates EV batteries have significantly longer lifespan. Need some extra comfort? Many vehicle manufacturers are now offering warranties of up to 10 years for EV batteries.

Sticking to modest estimates, however, we can safely assume over a 10-year period, battery effectiveness is likely to only reduce 15-25 per cent and can be repurposed to use as home energy storage for another 10 years. After this time batteries are also almost completely recyclable.

The sky appears to be the limit for battery innovation. The BMW i3’s batteries can be recycled for static use at home. Their recently announced Energy Storage System (ESS) contains a voltage converter and power electronics to maintain a secure connection between the ESS, home wiring and renewable energy sources meaning they can draw power from the grid to recharge when electricity rates are low.

GM and Nissan have formed a partnership to research second-life uses for EV batteries, including the possibility of batteries being used as back-up generators for hospitals.

Myth #10: EVs will overload the grid

Bloomberg estimates that by 2040, EVs will use 1,900 terawatt-hours of power globally, which equates to about 10 per cent of all global electricity produced in 2015.

Most concerns around the potential impact of EVs on Australia’s electricity grid are based on worries the grid will be overloaded during peak demand.

Peak demand occurs when demand for electricity spikes, for example in the early evening when most people arrive home from work, or when a large section of the population use air conditioners at full capacity during a heatwave.  However EVs are often charged at home during off-peak periods (for example overnight).

Another approach is the use of ‘smart charging’. Rather than charging at fixed times, smart charging switches on as soon as the grid load falls to an acceptable level such as during off peak hours, but still ensuring that the car is charged up and ready to go by morning.

In addition to these approaches, our electricity system is continually being upgraded to meet growing demand due to increases in population and use of appliances. Increase in demand from EVs can be factored into this maintenance and upgrading schedule.

This content was created on behalf of the EV Council by ClimateWorks Australia, supported by ARENA.