Answering Some Electric Vehicle Myths and Questions

There is hardly a question that electric is the future as far as transportation is concerned. Everyone knows how our addiction and obsession with cars is bad for life on our planet with the ever-increasing numbers of them burning up our atmosphere with all their fossil fuel emissions, which makes the electric vehicle (EV)-adoption not just a requirement but a necessity. The biggest stumbling block to this, however, is not what is cited to be limits in their technology but the mindset of the people. The Indian public in general still consider electric to be marginal tech that is too impractical and under-evolved that has no chance of challenging the established might of fossil fuel-powered cars. Most people consider all the noise made by governments and activists on EVs of no chance of translating into practical action in the real world. This overall overwhelmingly negative perception of electric mobility in India, however, is typical of the same resistance to change and adoption of new technology that had been recurring throughout history. And it is no same in the case of EVs.

As far as Indians are concerned, their encounter with the electric kind was always mostly limited to this guy.

Isn’t it cute?

Universally ridiculed and despised, this little “electric quadricycle” is still what comes to the minds of most Indians when they hear “electric car” (the Smart is another one), and as such is the source of most of the myths circulating about vehicles powered by rechargeable batteries. Its small size, associated fragile “plastic toy” looks, lack of space and extremely limited range and speed have all stuck, making all electric vehicles seem impractical toys, best suited for grandma to go buy milk. These myths have endured, even after electric vehicle technology has long since surpassed traditional petrol and diesel vehicles in almost all departments. But most of these advances are lost on Indians.

A lot switch to electric happens in the west as people are genuinely concerned about the environment, but Indians, having only recently discovered the wonder that is the personal car are in no mood to let that dream go for what they believe to be some lofty ideal. A lot of people unfortunately see “go electric” campaigns as some kind of conspiracy to tie them down to “low-grade” vehicles. And this “EV-hesitancy” is boosted by gigabytes of misinformation and myth. In this chapter we bust some of the most popular myths about electric vehicles and lay down the reasons why your next car should be a battery powered purely plug-in electric

The switch to electric is necessary, to primarily reduce fossil fuel burning, global warming and climate change and to also introduce efficiency in transportation. But still, even as electric, cars remain the most inefficient way to move people. It still requires the most effort per person per kilometre which if were to be utilised as intelligent mass transit could move more people even faster with the same effort.

Our very own! Gorgeous, isn’t she?

Myth: Electric Vehicles are Limited by their Short Range

No, not anymore. Range anxiety is a thing of the past. Gone are the days when a full charge could give you only a tour of your local layout. Today, most electric cars, even the entry-level ones, guarantee 250-300 kilometres on a single charge. Yes, after taking into account real-life conditions. The likes of Tesla can go up to 550 km. What most people do not realise is that how little they drive everyday. Most commutes are in the range of 50 kilometres a day. It only feels longer because you are stuck in traffic. Once fully charged, you will typically have enough charge to last a week. And this will only get better with evolving battery and power management systems.

Charging is getting better too. EVs today do not have to have dedicated charging points as they can be plugged into any convenient wall outlet. Charging can happen anywhere, at office, at the mall, at a restaurant parking (availability of charging points can even be a selling point for businesses). Most charging will happen at home when your car is parked for the night, anyway. Some electric scooters even come with portable batteries that you can take out to recharge. A traditional wall outlet can fully charge your EV in around 4-6 hours. Fast DC chargers (public charging points) can deposit 90% of charge in less than an hour. Porsche even promises to fill 80% in 15 minutes! The day when you can charge your car faster than your mobile phone is not far away. Then there are some wonders like regenerative braking: the motor will feed charge back the battery when you press the brake pedal or if you even take the foot off the accelerator. If you are driving in Bangalore you probably will never have to charge at all! :)

Myth: Electric Cars Cannot Match the Performance of Petrol Cars

Electric cars are slow? Really? Where have you been? Diesel and petrol cars are painfully outdated compared to EVs. Their performance and instant torque are among the biggest selling points of electric vehicles. Not only are Diesel and petrol cars are painfully outdated compared to EVs they feature power and torque in multiples of that of comparable fossil fuel cars. Don’t you dare to challenge even the lowliest EV at a traffic signal. When the light turns green, the EV will just, vanish. Like the Roadrunner. It will be a speck far ahead in the distance before you can even manage to get your dinosaur even out of first gear.

At 2.28 seconds 0-100 kph, the Tesla Model S P100D is the second quickest production car on the road today after the Porsche 918 Spyder. Yes, that beats all the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bugattis and Koeniggseggs, at a fraction of the price. Even regular electrics like the lowly little Renault Zoe can accelerate from 0 to 100 in 13.5 seconds. If you think that’s a lot, that is also what an average small sedan takes. The new Nissan Leaf, the Maruti Swift of electrics, can beat a Mercedes E220 without breaking a sweat. The Chevrolet Bolt can do 0-100 in 7 seconds while any Tesla can send a whole contingent of Supercars scrambling for their money on any given Tuesday.

A reason for this myth of the “feeble EV” is the diminutiveness associated with of the battery as a power source, as it lacks the “grunt” and “punch” or the general masculine characteristics associated with “power”, like noise, vibration and so on. Does not matter. Electric cars deliver their power seamlessly and directly from the motor to the wheels with nearly no loss while fossil cars need to make it go through crankshafts and belts and gears, losing half of it in the process. In EVs, you just press then pedal, and the torque is instantaneous. You just, go. Oh, and the most powerful car in the world is surely going to be an electric one, and it will in all possiblity be Indian.

Just for the record: The internal combustion engine is the most ridiculously inefficient machine ever. Just 20% of all energy produced by the IC engine is converted into motion, the rest is lost as heat.

215 hp is an Audi A4 3.0 TDI V6. Most common cars in India output power in around the 80-90 hp range.

Myth: Electric Cars are Fragile and Require Perfect Environments

Haha, No. When KSRTC recently launched regular electric bus services and a couple of buses ran out of charge en route, there appeared comments that claimed how sending them out on Kerala’s broken two-lane highways was stupidity, because, apparently, EVs can run only under the perfect conditions that are flat and even, impeccably maintained city roads with no gradients or potholes, and that they cannot handle tough road and driving conditions because they are such gentle, fragile creatures, unlike their big, brash, burly diesel cousins who can go anywhere and conquer anything. Not really. If anything, it is actually the other way around.

Electric cars have much better torque and all-powered wheels with variable power delivery as per terrain requirement which make them much more adept at tackling off-road conditions than fossil fuel vehicles. Those who claim EVs cannot drive through waterlogged roads or heavy rain while fossils can, do not know anything about water or vehicles in general. Electric cars can actually drive through much deeper water than what fossil cars can. The maximum water petrol and diesel cars can take is only upto their bumper level because their engines need an uninterrupted supply of air to burn their fuel. Once the water goes above gearbox level, you are in trouble and once it reaches the air filter you are done for. EVs with basic (standard) waterproofing can run upto their pillars in water because they do not need to breathe. The only thing you will have to worry about is getting your feet wet.

I have heard people say car motors will “short out” in the rain. Hilarious. Dude, we conquered that problem like a hundred years ago. Ever heard of submersible pumps? Hell, if that was the case, the entire Indian Railway network would come to a sizzling halt at the first drizzle!

Yeah, its a Jaguar, but still.

Myth: Electric Cars are Costly to Buy and Maintain

No. They are not. Yes, electric cars have higher sticker prices. However that makes no difference because after a couple of years, that money will pale in comparison to what you will be spending in maintaining your dinosaur, a very complex contraption of thousands of interconnected moving parts which require constant attention and servicing. Electric cars, on the other hand, have a battery, two to four motors, brakes, suspension and steering and associated electricals. They do not have cylinders, pistons, camshafts, heads, valves, spark plugs, air filters, crankshafts, fans, fanbelts, radiators, pipes, hoses, transmission systems, gearing, exhaust systems, and their thousands of auxiliary parts. They do not need servicing, decarbonisation or oil change, and their transmission does not slip nor do their filters or spark plugs need cleaning.

And well, yes, you do not have to pay for fuel anymore. Granted, you will pay for electricity, but a full charge of your medium-sized EV at around 30 kWh (~300 km) will cost you some Rs.150 (in Kerala). You will have to pay around Rs.3000 for the same distance in petrol for any commuter hatch at Rs.100/litre. So, you are paying Rs.15000 a month right now on dead dinosaurs. That kind of money can buy you two years of commute in an EV! Give or take another lakh on maintenance and in around 3-4 years you will have made your money back. And no moving parts mean no wear and tear (except for the tyres), and over-the-air software updates will only mean that your car will get better as it ages. How cool is that? And well, new tech is always expensive, which will get cheaper as they get more popular and economies of scale kick in.

Myth: Electric Vehicles Still Pollute Indirectly!

If you are worried about generating pollution indirectly, please quit driving altogether and take the train. Or go live in a cave. They say that electricity is generated by burning coal, and more EVs mean more coal burning and more pollution. This is the biggest myth of them all. Electric cars do not produce anywhere near the pollution as their fossil fueled cousins that directly emit noxious gases through their tailpipes. The amount of particulates released by burning coal to power an EV to one kilometre is by many, many magnitudes less than tailpipe emissions produced by a car running one kilometre.

Well, the share of electricity generated by fossil fuel-fired plants has been decreasing over the past four years while renewable sources are increasing, and today contribute 34% of all electricity generated in India. For instance, While solar energy produced 3 GWh electricity in 2013, it today contributes 30 GWh and is growing. But we all pollute, even if we weren’t buy electric cars, but when you do things like charging your mobile phone or turning lights on or reading blog posts on how electric vehicles will save the environment. You pollute twice when you use an air conditioning or a refrigerator. As for the “cars have gotten less polluting over time” argument falls flat as any such improvement is set off by the sheer number of vehicles on the roads. Manufacturing pollution for EVs is less than ICE cars because they simply have less number of parts! No engine block, transmission, fuel or exhaust system at all! That leaves the battery.

If you do not want to indirectly pollute and pay for electricity as well, you can convert your home to completely solar-powered by making an initial investment. There are numerous agencies who will do that for you. You can disconnect from the grid altogether or even sell electricity to providers, not to mention power your car for free, forever using the panel. No pollution, no fossil fuel, no cost. And you will never ever have to pay another penny for owning your car. Ever.

Some Other Arguments

  • Empty battery packs will litter the landscape! Cue toxic polluted environmental catastrophe! Lithium-ion battery packs are almost fully recyclable (why do you think dealers are ready to pay for your used mobile phone?) Even then, most companies guarantee 8-10 years for their EV battery packs. Most people change their cars in three years. Lithium battery pack recycling will be a major industry in the coming years.
  • The battery pack needs to be regularly replaced at enormous cost! No. See the point above. Most manufacturers guarantee 8 years life for their batteries while you won’t even use your car for that long.
  • Battery packs explode! A tank full of petrol won’t? When was the last time your phone or laptop exploded?
  • Battery packs are not suited for extreme weather! The country with highest adoption of electric vehicles is Norway, which is not exactly a tropical paradise.
  • Electric vehicles don’t look good!

Are Electric Cars are “Inconvenient”?

What if I told you that Electric vehicles are actually far more convenient than fossil fuel cars? EVs can be completely independent of any external factor when it comes to fuel. You can generate all the electricity you need to power your car, forever, at your own home. When was the last time you dug crude up from your backyard and refined it in your home-made refinery to power your pickup truck of freedom? Electric cars are wrongly perceived to be “inconvenient” only because of the competition is very visible and ubiquitious – petrol pumps are present every three kilometres. The unimaginably complicated economic, infrastructural, technological and geopolitical dance that enables the journey of oil from out under the sand to the nozzle of the fuel pump is so-well orchestrated and choreographed into invisibility that the ordinary person thinks it is all automatic and it just “works”. It works only because the oil industry ensures the smooth supply of petroleum products across the world so that they can keep ruling the world. It will take only a small bit of instability at any single point in this supply chain for the entire apple cart to be upended.

The increase in numbers of electric vehicles will also improve the charging network in a virtuous cycle, supplanted by generous government support. EV companies will also pitch in, just like Tesla has built its supercharger network followed by other manufacturers. Charging infrastructure is poised for a massive increase, and that alone will change EV fortunes in India.

“Still, Electric Vehicles are not Suited for a Country Like India”

A long time ago when I was in college, I enrolled with an Airtel distributor to try and sell prepaid mobile connections to government employees. It turned out to be extremely difficult proposition. The concept of prepaid was only a couple of years old and there was hardly any mobile network outside cities and towns and handsets costed quite a bit. People would question the point of taking a connection given these shortcomings and even said things like, “why carry an additional burden? The landline does the job fine.” and so on. Just five years later, everyone had a mobile phone. Going still back into the past, when fossil fuel automobiles started taking over from horses (and, well, electric vehicles) a hundred years ago, people must’ve said:

These automobiles are impractical and will have only limited use. What when they run out of gas on the way? Gas stations are present only in big cities and how are they going to get it delivered everywhere? How will they make profits? A horse only needs water and grass/hay which is present everywhere!

No machine, howsoever convenient it might appear, can replace the emotional factor of a horse!

Electric vehicles are at the same point as the prepaid connections of 2003 and the fossil fuel car will soon be the horse.

Mahindra is one of the greatest pushers for electric vehicles in India

The adoption history of all new tech is somewhat the same. This “EV-hesistancy” is only the routine manifestation of standard Indian pessimism. The general human tendency is to view the emergence of anything new with great suspicion, and meet any upset (creative destruction) to the present order with great resistance. There also is the fear factor from people realising that they invested spent of much of their life savings into a technology that is being rendered obsolete. As adoption increases, all these EV shortcomings will get resolved by sheer demand. Electric vehicle technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the past five years, and it won’t be very long before we see an electric car that will do 1000 kilometres on a 30-min charge. Anyway, as mass adoption of EVs reaches critical mass in few years, it will become only more obvious that owning a petrol/diesel fueled car makes no sense, and most people will wonder why they were using those polluting, inefficient, money-draining vehicles for so long. Some starting quirks will always happen, like KSRTC’s buses running out of charge (it hasn’t happened since) but there is no stopping this revolution. The future happens without most people even realising it, and here, that future is electric.

Guess what else is an electric vehicle? :)

It is a no-brainer that public transport should be wholly converted to electric vehicles. Even with the higher procurement costs, the cost of public transport can be drastically brought down with EVs as fleet operating costs decrease.

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