Electric vehicles (EVs) are huge news, with nearly all auto manufacturers pivoting to produce new EV models as quickly as possible. But is this all investor hype, or are EVs really the next big thing for car buyers? If you’re window-shopping a new vehicle, you probably want to know the electric cars’ pros and cons in the real world. Setting the hype aside and using impartial facts, here’s an honest look at if an EV is for you.
Pros of electric cars
Electric cars offer numerous potential benefits both for the environment and the consumer. Here are a few of the highlights.
One of the big pros of electric cars is that EVs can scoot. They’re actually fun to drive. This may come as a surprise when you see compact hatchbacks like the Chevy Bolt, and assume that it’s no quicker than its gas counterpart, the Chevy Spark. However, the Bolt runs 0 to 60 in 6.3 seconds, while the Spark needs 10.8 seconds. While the Bolt is impressive for the class, the Tesla Model S is flat out remarkable, sprinting to 60 in just 2.3 seconds. When a seven-seat electric sedan can out-accelerate a $400,000 Lamborghini, you know the future of performance is electric.
Low center of gravity
Keeping with that EV performance theme, electric cars benefit by having a battery stuffed below the floorboards. This lowers the vehicle’s center of gravity compared to an upright gas engine. A lower center of gravity helps in high-speed handling (picture a nearly on-the-ground Formula 1 car), but it also helps prevent rollovers. This one provides safety along with the extra fun.
Driving an EV for the first time is a little strange, as most drivers are used to subconsciously gauging speed by engine sound. EVs aren’t totally silent, but they are noticeably quieter, inside the cabin and from the sidewalk. This lets you listen to music with more clarity, have a conversation with a passenger at a lower volume and has the potential to lower noise pollution in a city.
Vibrations are the enemy of a comfortable ride. You expect a $100,000 luxury car to ride smoother than a $13,000 economy car, and engineers make it happen. EVs make vibration-reduction easier, as the engine isn’t constantly firing off explosions in the combustion chamber, so there are no vibration forces to disrupt the cabin. This is why even Bentley and Rolls-Royce are planning EVs. Silent and smooth is the new form of luxury.
No tailpipe emissions
Running your gas- or diesel-powered vehicle in a closed garage is a bad idea, and potentially deadly. On the other hand, turning on an EV in a closed garage is entirely safe. The difference comes from the lack of tailpipe emissions. Since EVs lack a tailpipe, there are no direct emissions at the street level. This means the air in congested cities gets cleaner every time an EV replaces a gas car.
Can use renewable energy
The US energy grid is getting cleaner every year, and now 94% of people live where an EV achieves lower emissions than a gas car getting 50 MPG. With the average gas vehicle reaching only 25 MPG, the potential emissions reductions are huge. You can search by your state at the Department of Energy website, where it shows residents of Oregon (high on renewable energy) with EVs emit only 1,934 pounds of CO2 per year, compared with 11,435 pounds for a gas vehicle. That’s a sizable difference. You’ll earn bonus green points by adding solar panels to your roof, for convenient charging even during a power outage.
Cheap to fuel
One of the main benefits of electric cars is that EVs are cheaper to fuel, since the average cost of an electric kWh is cheaper than gasoline performing the same amount of work. As of this writing, a gallon of gas averages to $2.11 nationally, while an “eGallon” of electricity providing the same mileage is only $1.21. This means saving thousands of dollars in fuel costs over years of ownership. Driving an EV is like having a large discount automatically applied every time you refuel.
Cheap to maintain
With fewer parts, EVs are cheaper to maintain. Maintenance from oil changes, brake pads and routine servicing all add up to the real and sometimes hidden costs of car ownership. With no oil, the seasonal oil change charge goes away. The same is true for spark plugs, coil packs and air filters. With regenerative braking, even an EV’s brake pads last longer. Consumer Reports stated EV owners can expect to save $4,600 in maintenance over the life of the vehicle.
Never have to go to a gas station
“Please enter ZIP code.” “Do you want a car wash?” “Receipt yes/no?” Gas stations are terrible sometimes. Maybe you have to go out of your way, or they’re in a sketchy location, or you’re worried about a scammer sticking a card skimmer into a legit pump, or maybe you’re simply tired and want to go straight home. With an EV, you not only never need gas, but unless you’re taking a long trip you’ll never have to stop at a gas station again. Want faster Level 2 charging at home? A 240V wall outlet can be installed for a little over $200.
Cons of EVs
While there are a lot of pros to EVs, there are also some real potential downsides to electric car ownership. Have a look and see if any of these won’t work for you.
“Range anxiety” is the primary reason potential buyers cite as a reason they aren’t interested in buying an electric vehicle. The average EV range is only 195 miles on a charge, while an average 25 MPG gas car has a range of around 350 miles on a standard 12 to 16 gallon fuel tank. While Americans drive an average of under 30 miles a day, some drivers need many more miles than an EV can provide.
Longer refueling times
How long does it take you to get gas? Five minutes? If you’re looking to refill quickly and get on your way, you’re out of luck with EVs. If you have a 240V charger, you can charge a Tesla Model X from empty to full in 10.5 hours. If you come home at 9 p.m. and have to leave for work at 6:30 a.m., you don’t have enough time for a full charge. If 110V is your only option, you’ll need about four days. While faster charging stations exist, they’re not available for home use.
Higher initial cost
If range anxiety doesn’t drive buyers away, then the price tag probably does. EVs are still more expensive to purchase new, thanks to higher construction costs and limited sales figures. For example, the Fiat 500e MSRP of $33,210 is twice the base price of a gas 500, at just $16,495. You can save money over time, but in the case of the Fiat, you’ll need several years to make up the difference.
Higher environmental impact during construction
Sure, EVs create less on-road pollution, but environmental costs during construction are much higher. EVs require more materials to manufacture, from water and aluminum to cobalt and lithium. Looking at a life cycle assessment, basically a cradle-to-grave examination of EV environmental impacts, EVs are 2.2 to 3.3 times as resource intensive as a similar size gas combustion vehicle.
Coal can power the charging process
There are pros and cons of electric cars on the environment. This is because the US energy grid uses a mix of different sources for power, with 23.4% coming from coal. When you plug into a wall outlet or charging station, it’s not necessarily from a clean energy source. Green energy varies greatly by the state or region, and in some areas where coal generates a lot of electricity, an EV can emit more CO2 annually than a hybrid.
Not everyone has a garage
Most apartments don’t have a garage, meaning you inconveniently run an extension cord out to your parking space, or use expensive pay chargers. Half the convenience of EVs is the ability to never visit the gas station again, to charge any time you’re home. If you can’t charge at home, that means much more inconvenient, out-of-the-way charging. Your limited options mean hunting for a more expensive charging station.
Limited charging infrastructure
There are 168,000 gas stations in the USA, compared to fewer than 30,000 charging stations. EVs are fine for getting around the coasts and large population centers, but a road trip can take only one route through Montana. If road trips are your thing, you have to plan ahead rather than just setting out on I-90.
Lower resale value
If you are put off by the high purchase price of an EV, you might consider buying a used one. Most EVs suffer high depreciation, making them a great deal on the used market. EVs lose an average of 56.6% of their value in three years, while the average for most vehicles is only 38.2% over the same time. This depreciation is great for the used car buyer, but makes EVs a poor deal for the first owner. The cost savings versus depreciation hit makes buying a new EV quite a complex math problem.
No heavy duty options yet
Need to tow? The Tesla Model X is your best bet, limited to a small truck’s towing ability of 5,000 pounds. The Cybertruck and electric F-150 promise more capability, but are just prototypes at this writing, and there’s no electric F-350 replacement even on the drawing board. EVs just aren’t up to the task, yet.
Few things are as subjective as style, and that’s especially true of vehicles. Most manufacturers are still putting EVs like the Leaf, Bolt, and Kona in the chubby hatchback class, which few buyers find attractive. Even the BMW iX has (to some) a cringe-inducing exterior. With fake grilles and awkward proportions, EVs are the hybrids of 15 years ago, announcing their “look at me being green” presence on the street. Even high-end manufacturers like Tesla, Polestar, and Lucid have their detractors, simply based on looks.
The bottom line
EVs definitely have their pluses, and they’re getting better every year. However, electric cars pros and cons show they still aren’t the ride for everyone. If the EV’s range meets your needs, and you have a way to charge at home, odds are you’ll enjoy EV ownership. If you tow, regularly take long trips, or don’t have many options for charging, you might want to stick with gas for now.