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Much fanfare has been made about how electric vehicles (EV) will save the planet and rescue us all from imminent doom like some kind of four-wheeled electro-Superman - a slightly unreasonable expectation.
Despite the many pros, though - zero tailpipe emissions thanks to ditching the internal-combustion engine (ICE) in favour of a battery-powered electric motor, instant torque, a quiet cabin - EVs aren’t without some flaws, and there are a few disadvantages and problems with electric cars that you should be aware of if you’re thinking about getting behind the wheel of one.
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The biggest worry people tend to have when it comes to EVs has to do with ‘range anxiety’ - the creeping fear that your EV will run out of juice before you can find a suitable place to recharge the battery.
It’s an understandable concern: Australia is a very large country, and currently the EV infrastructure here isn’t where it needs to be in terms of supporting EVs to take long-distance drives.
Having said that, EV range is improving: the Tesla Model S has an estimated range of 652km (ICE vehicles, on average, have a range of 400km to 800km, although some larger vehicles can go over 1800km on a full tank), and moves are being made by several companies to create an EV battery that can generate a range of over 1000km.
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Temperature sensitive batteries
EV batteries are a lot like Goldilocks’ taste in porridge - too hot or too cold gets the big thumbs down, whereas somewhere in the middle is about right.
Extreme heat can speed up the degradation of an EV battery pack, whereas extreme cold can negatively affect the vehicle’s range.
That results in having to be more mindful of what temperatures your EV is exposed to, as blaring heat from the sun or frigid conditions are only going to do damage.
Battery fires are harder to extinguish
First, the good news: EVs are far less likely to catch fire than ICE vehicles, with a recent report from Tesla revealing its cars are 11 times less likely to catch fire than ICE vehicles.
EVs also take longer to catch alight, giving passengers more time to get a safe distance away from the vehicle.
Where EV battery fires get tricky is for firefighters: they are harder to put out when compared to fires in ICE vehicles, and may require larger amounts of water, or even a special fire extinguisher, to be effectively quashed.
New solid-state batteries are currently under development for EVs use non-flammable electrolytes, which will eradicate the risk of battery fires altogether.
A major drawback to EVs is how long it takes them to charge. Whereas filling your ICE vehicle’s tank with petrol takes mere minutes, charging an EV can take much longer - 15 minutes to 48 hours - depending on which type of charger you’re using (Level 1 AC trickle charging using a domestic socket, Level 2 AC fast charging, or Level 3 DC rapid charging).
No standard plug
Which brings us to the next point: there is no universal standard when it comes to plugs, in the same way that the nozzle on a petrol pump is the same regardless of what petrol station you visit (although obviously diesel and petrol are different).
Besides figuring out what charger is compatible for your EV, you also have to figure out what cables and adapters you may need.
Currently, there are a few types: Type 1 AC (also known as J1772 or SAE J1772), Type 2 AC (also known as IEC 62196 or a Mennekes plug, which is as close as Australia comes to a standard plug), CCS2 (Combined Charging System), CHAdeMO, and a proprietary Tesla plug that is capable of Level 1, Level 2, and Direct Current Fast Charging (DCFC).
Yes, it all sounds confusing, but with a bit of research, you’ll be able to get your head around which plug is which.
This is an obvious one: EVs are a fair bit more expensive than ICE vehicles at the moment for a variety of reasons (car companies trying to recoup research and development costs, lack of meaningful government incentives to encourage uptake, costly battery packs), which is a barrier for a lot of consumers.
Price parity between EVs and ICE vehicles is expected to occur in the next five or so years, making EVs more accessible, thanks in part to the cost of battery packs dropping, and an increase in EV models hitting the market.
Not as green as you’d think
EVs, with their delightful zero-emission tailpipes, are almost certainly better for the environment, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100 per cent carbon neutral.
Unless you’re charging your car with renewable energy generated by wind or solar, you’re likely using electricity that’s been generated in a power plant emitting CO2, and the production of EVs also involves the releasing of carbon emissions.
Not that car companies aren’t working on it: Polestar, Volvo’s EV performance-car division, has announced plans to manufacture the world’s first carbon-neutral car by 2030, and several other car companies have announced plans to go completely carbon neutral in the coming years.