The Truth about Electric Vehicles: Answers to FAQs

Controversial

Apr 27th, 2020

The Truth about Electric Vehicles: Answers to FAQs

The new car market hit a 17.9% slump in the March 2020 sales from last year’s data, marking the industry’s 24th month of negative sales growth in a row. Dissecting FCAI’s report, however, something interesting caught our eye.  

All market numbers were down, shown below as percentage change in sales from the same month in 2019:

  • Passenger vehicles (-24.9%)
  • SUV (-14.2%)
  • Light commercial vehicles (-15.5%)
  • Heavy commercial vehicles (-21.7%)

The devil is in the details, we've often heard, and that’s what we dug up. Breaking down the sales under each of these market segments, we were surprised that there were significant spikes in the sale of electric vehicles! The overall negative growth obscured the real score with the e-cars. 

EV sales picking up

While petrol- and diesel-powered cars suffered massive slumps, electric/PHEVs and hybrids had a boost in market performance. The year-to-date (YTD) sales figures doubled for the passenger non-private, SUV private, and light commercial non-private classes. Passenger private electric/PHEVs and hybrids, meanwhile, showed less than double YTD sales, but still an aggressive performance, nonetheless. 

Are we seeing a trend? Or is it too early to tell? In the past, EVs were viewed as a niche segment for those who could afford and were environmentally-inclined. Australians have taken the long route warming up to EVs. But when major brands like BMW, Nissan, and Volkswagen started joining the electrification game, we began seeing more and more ‘green cars’ on our roads. Finally, the e-vehicles have arrived. 

Are EVs really cleaner than fossil-fuel cars?

Not all EVs are created equal. How clean they are depends on how their batteries are charged. As long as the electricity you use to charge them is produced from fossil fuel (such as coal and gas), then you continue contributing to CO2 emissions. The cleanest EVs are those that use renewable electricity like solar power or zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells. 

So in Australia, how clean your EV runs depends on where you recharge it from. In Tasmania, a survey shows that 75% of EVs are powered from sources that are 66% renewable. The state hopes to attain 100% renewably-sourced electricity by 2020, and we see that it’s on track to meeting this goal. 

South Australia is another state that generates more than 50% of its electricity from renewable sources, courtesy of the Hornsdale Power Reserve, aka Tesla big battery. This facility is often referred to as the largest lithium-ion battery in the world, and an expanded capacity is in the works.

Electricity source for the rest of the country, however, especially Victoria, NSW, and Queensland, where most of the EVs are, remain to be charged from a predominantly coal-powered grid. 

What is the cost of running an electric car?

Usage charge or the cost of using electricity in the country ranges from 25-40 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on your location. A full charge on a small EV like Hyundai's Kona Electric would cost around $20 and translate to a cost per distance of $5 per 100km.

Compare this to the Kona 1.6 turbo petrol version, which consumes fuel at approximately 6.7L/100km. At $1.30 per litre of petrol, the usage cost for a non-electric Kona would be around $9 per 100km, roughly twice that of its EV sibling.  

How often do you need to replace the battery of an EV?

Much like your mobile phone’s battery, the one on your EV also loses its ability to hold a charge over time. One way to extend your battery's useful life is not to wait till it's fully drained before you recharge it. When buying an EV, compare the manufacturer's warranty on the battery. Two of the best battery warranties are from Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, which offer eight years or 160,000km and an 80% capacity beyond those thresholds.

Make sure to check on the battery’s life expectancy when you’re comparing specs between models. On the average, EV owners change the batteries of their cars every seven years.

What’s the average distance you can drive on a full charge?

The distance you can drive between charges, called the range, largely depends on the battery’s capacity, the size of the car, and how you drive. EVs vary in range, so this is another spec you need to consider. Also, the manufacturer’s claimed range will not necessarily be the same as the real-world range. A conservative expectation would be 85% of most range claims. 

For example, a single full charge on Volkswagen’s e-Golf will take you 200km, which is plenty to get around town and back. However, that’s not as competitive as Hyundai’s Kona Electric, which promises twice the fun with its 400-km range. 

How long does an electric car take to charge?

It depends on the battery’s capacity and where you charge it from. 

It would take over 30 hours for a Tesla Model 3 with a 75-kWh battery pack to fully charge from an outlet at home, while a lower-capacity battery requires less time. For instance, an e-Golf powered by a 35.8-kWh Li-ion battery would take less than 15 hours to charge completely.

However, an hour of DC fast-charging from a station gives the e-Golf an 80%-full charge. The Chargefox charging facility in Barnawartha, Victoria provides up to 350 kW, which results in less-than-an-hour of charging time for most EVs. 

Connecting to a household outlet takes longer because the output from a standard power point at home is only 2.4kW, and thus is slow-charging. If you plan to charge mainly from home, it would be a good idea to install a wallbox charger which provides power at a higher rate, sometimes as high as 22kW.    

Ambient temperature also affects how much electricity can be stored. Ideally, you should charge your EV at a temperature range of 20-25 degrees centigrade.

Are public charging stations accessible in Australia?

The country's 2040 electrification goal is a pretty tall order. There are only around 2,000 public charge points in the country currently, definitely not as plentiful as petrol stations.

The government and private initiatives to roll out this necessary infrastructure would hopefully accelerate the uptake of EVs in Australia. Last year, the government, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), has launched the country’s first ultra-fast charging network powered by renewables. Its 42 charging points located on interstate highways will connect major capital cities. 

Has Australia already made that leap towards EVs?

One of the barriers that have significantly slowed Australia’s adoption of EVs was range anxiety. People were not confident of the new automobile technology and its feasibility in the Australian setting. But all that are slowly changing with the intensified rollout of charging networks and the increased range in e-cars. 

Add to that the arrival of under-$50,000 models Hyundai Ioniq and MG's fresh ZS EV and the presence of over 20 models in the market. Indeed, these factors combined and reduced the barriers. 

Australia has no doubt been trailing behind in the EV world; but yes, we think it has taken the leap. 

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By JMSL