Are electric cars an economical and ecological alternative?

Electric cars are in fashion. The rise in oil prices a few years ago led several car companies to start developing different alternatives: more efficient models, with lower consumption, hybrid and electric vehicles, using batteries or fuel cells.

The success of Nissan Leaf, one of the pioneers in this field, coupled with the celebrated launch of Tesla 3, puts the focus on electric vehicles, which are regarded by many as the future of the automotive industry.

What advantages do they offer?

Ecology is one of the issues most cited by supporters of these vehicles. The electric car does not use fossil fuels, but electricity (another question that should be considered is how this electricity has been produced, although the user could also look for a 100% green marketer).

Therefore, they are more environmentally friendly, as they do not emit harmful gases. It is estimated that approximately 80% of urban pollution comes from vehicle exhaust pipes. Some cities promote this aspect, allowing electric vehicles to park in regulated parking areas free of charge.

In addition, they are much less noisy than diesel and gasoline vehicles, resulting in less noise pollution (some experts argue that too much silence can be dangerous, as it could cause blind or simply distracted people to run over, and so it has been proposed in the United States that they make noise when driving below 30 kilometres per hour).

As far as power is concerned, electric models have nothing to envy from their combustion counterparts, but, in addition, they are much more linear in their delivery, so that, although the maximum power is the same, the electric offers it at any range of revolutions (although, depending on the models, the brands can make some electronic adjustment to achieve, for example, smoother starting).

Due to this operation, electric vehicles do not need gears (although some manufacturers are considering including a gearbox that could provide a little more autonomy, in addition to making the transition easier for drivers accustomed to it).

Thanks to this feature, the engine can be decentralized and placed on each wheel, so that the hood space could be used for other purposes. In addition, the cooling and oil systems used in combustion engines are avoided, thereby reducing maintenance costs. They also spend less on brakes, because they use a regenerative braking system, which allows the retention of the engine to be used to brake and partly recharge the battery.

Engines are more efficient. Electric cars have an efficiency of around 90%, much higher than 25-30% for combustion vehicles.

In this way, the cost per hundred kilometres travelled by a petrol vehicle can be 7 euros, or 5 euros in the case of diesel, while, in the case of electric vehicles (despite how expensive electricity is), it can be around 2 euros, or even be around 1 euro, if the recharges are made with hourly discrimination rates.

What are the drawbacks?

The technology used by these vehicles still has a long way to go before they mature. Although it has come a long way in recent years, it still presents some problems, especially in relation to the batteries they use.

Range: Some cars in the medium-high segment already have a range of between 300 and 400 kilometres (which would make it possible to use them as the first vehicle), but most of the most affordable electric cars are between 150 and 200, which is a considerable limitation. It is to be hoped that, in the future, the use of new materials will make it possible to substantially increase the mileage achieved by these vehicles.

In addition to the lack of autonomy, there is also a shortage of recharging points. It is still much easier to find a petrol station than an electric charging point.

Charging time: today, recharging the battery is still a very slow process: with fast recharging (the one we would normally do on the more powerful recharging posts), it takes about half an hour, for a charge between 80% and 100%. If recharging takes place at home, it can take between 6 and 8 hours (a faster system can be installed at home, at a cost of between 600 and 1,500 euros). This inconvenience can cause problems if we need to leave urgently or if we are in a hurry and cannot wait.

The life of the battery itself: although the batteries of electric cars are very robust and are usually guaranteed for many years (between 5 and 8, depending on the brand), they are not exempt from failures or performance losses. Replacing a battery can be very expensive (between 5,000 and 6,000 euros for a mid-range vehicle).

There are brands that offer an intermediate solution: you buy the vehicle, but the battery is rented, so if it breaks down, the user receives a new one. The disadvantage is that you have to make a monthly payment while you own that vehicle, which can be between 50 and 200 euros, depending on the mileage you do (as a guideline, about 79 euros per month for 12,500 kilometers per year).

The price: in principle, the electric ones are more expensive, as they have lower productions and the technology is not completely mature. However, with the subsidies to the purchase of these vehicles, the difference is quite small, and you have to make other accounts, depending on the use we are going to make of the vehicle (for the savings we get in consumption), whether or not we rent the battery, and so on.

Taking into account all these aspects, the divergence with combustion vehicles can be reduced even more, and even, in specific cases, be more economical.

On the other hand, there are no specialised workshops for this type of vehicle, which forces us to depend on the brand for maintenance and/or repair.

To sum up

Electric vehicles represent a greener alternative for travel, as they are cleaner and more efficient, but it is not valid for everyone, as their autonomy is limited and their recharging is slow.

As for the economic aspect, they have a much lower cost per kilometre traveled, and in some aspects may have cheaper maintenance, but there are other elements that still play against this option, especially batteries and dependence on the brand. If only this aspect is taken into account, the user has to do a lot of counting to calculate what is best for him in his case.