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Electric Cars

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are finally starting to catch on -- the last few years have seen a big increase in EV sales.

 

In 2022, almost 6% of all new cars sold in the US were EVs, amounting to about 800,000 cars. Worldwide, 2022 EV sales were 14% of all new car sales, or about 10.5 million. Impressive numbers.

We became part of the 2022 EV sales statistics with the purchase of our Kia EV6, pictured here, in June of that year.

A lot has been written about EVs in these last few years so I thought I'd offer my opinion as well. Being a tech geek that likes to write, my comments will discuss the technical aspects of driving an EV, the charging experience, and my overall ownership impressions.

 

So, let's dig into the various aspects of EV ownership. Yes, this may be a bit long and detailed, but after reading this, you should get a fair appreciation for the advantages of an EV over gasoline cars.

Road Trips

Probably the biggest concern that non EV owners have when considering an EV is the so-called range anxiety especially on a road trip -- not having enough power to complete a trip and getting stuck somewhere. There's some validity to that concern but it's really not as bad as some are making it out to be. We've been on multi-thousand mile cross country road trips in our EV and never ran out of power or even came close.

It's true there's far more gas stations than public EV chargers, but it's not like there are no public EV chargers. On our road trips, we've found EV chargers every 50 to 100 miles along the interstate highways. And with a range of around 250 to 270 highway miles per charge for our EV6, that gives us a comfortable margin between chargers. New public EV chargers are being added and discussions are now taking place that will allow non-Tesla EV owners to charge at Tesla's vast charging network. In short, the public charging situation isn't bad and it's getting better by the month.

We like to have some leeway so we typically charge every 120  to 150 miles or so. If that sounds like a lot of stopping, well, consider that 150 miles is around two solid hours of non-stop driving. Most people want to stop at least that often to stretch, use the bathroom, get a bottle of water, snacks, etc. So adding charging to that stop isn't a big deal. And since it's just a partial charge, it doesn't take very long. Really, who among us regularly drives 200+ miles without stopping?

Goodbye Gas Stations

We have not bought gasoline (in the US anyway) for over a year as of this writing. A weekly to bi-weekly habit that I've had since I was 16 years old, well over a thousand times by now -- buying gasoline -- is over. Just like that. I have to say, it's a profoundly strange and welcome feeling. This is an effect of EV ownership that I never anticipated. Being immune to gasoline price hikes is pretty dang nice, too.

Less Maintenance

It's hard to overstate how care-free EV ownership is regarding periodic maintenance (to say nothing of actual repairs) compared to a gasoline vehicle. Here's a (partial?) list of vehicle maintenance items that we no longer have to perform since buying our EV.

  • Oil changes: An oil and filter change costs between $40 and $100, every 5000 to 7500 miles, depending on vehicle.
     

  • Engine check: While "tune-ups" in the classic sense aren't usually needed on modern vehicles, it's still wise to check various engine and ignition components periodically. That includes spark plugs, fuel injectors, pumps, filters, valve timing, etc. This service can cost between $100 to $500 or more depending if things need replacing.
     

  • Fluid check-up and flushes: Engine coolant, transmission, rear-end. All these parts need to be checked periodically and for some of them, flushed and refilled. Transmission flush costs $80 to $250. Rear-end is $70 to $150. Radiator $130 to $210.
     

  • Various belts: Most modern vehicles now have a single serpentine drive belt that should be changed every 60 to 100k miles. Cost can be upward $200 or so. Timing belt has a similar change interval but can cost a bit more to replace given the additional labor complexity.
     

  • Fuel filter: Change interval varies widely, check your owners manual. Cost can be upward $225 if you take the car to your dealer.
     

  • Brake pads and resurfacing rotors: A brake job can run between $250 to over a $1000 depending on what all needs to be done. Figure on the lower end of that range for a pads-only replacement brake job. But if rotor replacement is necessary due to warping or excessive surface wear that cannot be dressed on a lathe then the cost could exceed a $1000. Rotors can be expensive!

EVs have brakes, too, but they last a lot longer. More on that below.

EV "Regen" Braking

So EV brakes last longer? Why is that?

An EV can slow down in two ways. One way is by pressing on the brake pedal like you would in any car. A set of calipers clamp down on a metal disk located on the axle at each wheel and thus slows the car. This is called friction braking.

The other way is called regenerative braking and that only happens in an EV or hybrid. Regenerative braking is a wonderful EV feature that does two cool things that friction brakes cannot do.

  1. Regenerative means the electric motor is also a generator. When the EV is slowing down via regenerative braking, the kinetic energy that would have normally been wasted as heat using friction braking is instead converted back into electricity by the motor and stored in the battery. So the very act of braking actually recharges the battery by a small amount. Not much, but it's something.
     

  2. Regenerative braking doesn't use the friction brakes. So to the extent that you can slow down using regen braking only then you are saving the wear and tear on the traditional friction brakes.

Even better, the brake pedal on most EVs is smart and use blended braking. That means when pressing the brake pedal gently, as if coming to a nice, controlled stop, the EV will fully utilize regenerative braking first. The friction brakes are invoked only if you are braking strongly such as a radid slow-down or emergency stop.

In normal driving, even in stop and go city driving, it's entirely likely you can complete the trip without the friction breaks ever engaging. Imagine that! It's possible that your friction breaks could last the life of the car, never needing replacement. In fact, the friction brakes are used so seldom, most EVs have a programmed cleaning protocol where the friction breaks are periodically used instead of regen braking to help keep the rotor and pads clean of rust and other debris.

1-Pedal Driving

Because EVs have regenerative braking, that enables a new way to use the accelerator (can't call it the "gas" pedal, lol).

Normally, in an gasoline car, when you lift up on the gas pedal, you start to gradually slow down due to the engine drag and drag from wind and road resistance. This much you already know.

But in an EV, lifting up on the accelerator can invoke automatic regenerative breaking without touching the brake pedal. Most EVs let you set how strong this lift-off regenerative force is from none (pure coasting) on up to strong called 1-pedal mode (and several steps in between).

In 1-pedal mode, you can let-up the accelerator and bring the car to a complete stop without ever touching the brakes. And, yes, the brake lights do come on. By moderating how much you let-up the accelerator, you are controlling how strongly the car slows down.

 

On my Kia EV6, lifting completely off the accelerator in 1-pedal mode produces a fairly strong deceleration effect. Stronger than what one would normally command from the brake pedal under non-urgent conditions. This gives the 1-pedal driver a wide range of braking power from gentle to strong, allowing one to pretty much never need to move the foot over to the brake pedal. (But not foot-stomping emergency braking -- for that, you need the friction brakes)

This is the one feature that I thought I've never use before actually driving an EV. Now I love it and use it exclusively in city driving.

Instant and Strong Acceleration

I think it's fair to say that most of us like to "punch it" occasionally. Maybe we're trying to get up to speed on a short highway entrance ramp, need to pass someone and get back over quickly, get out of a tight jam, or just want a little thrill when the light turns green.

EVs are the clear winner here. Most pedestrian EVs can out-accelerate all but the fastest common-brand sport cars. And some sporty EVs that are designed to emphasize speed will out-accelerate all but the fastest specialty super-cars.

Why is that? (Note: This is a simplistic explainer. Gear heads may nit pick on what I have to say.) Gasoline engines have what's called a power band. That's a range of engine speeds (in RPM) where it delivers the most torque (a measure of rotational strength that pretty much means power). Below that power band, like when idling at a red light, the engine isn't nearly as strong. It has to ramp up to its power band to reach maximum torque. That takes a second or two.

Now add a transmission to the mix. Because gasoline engines have a comparatively narrow power band, a transmission is required to allow the engine to stay within its power band as the car continues to speed up. Those gear changes, either manual or automatic, takes time. Not much mind you, modern automatics are pretty fast. But it's not instant. Changing gears increases acceleration time, even if by a tiny bit.

Also, gasoline engines are less efficient. The faster they ramp up and the faster they run, the less efficient they are. More fuel is wasted and not translated to output motion. That, too, increases acceleration time.

Electric motors are different. They kind of have a power band but not in the same way as a gas engine and it's wider, reaching all the way down to zero RPM. Electric motors are also far more efficient. A far greater percent of input energy potential is translated to output to the wheels.

None of this is to say that EVs can outrun gasoline sport cars in a contest of top speed. Top speed is not where today's EVs shine, although that's changing with new motor technology. But they can definitely out-accelerate most gas cars on a 0-60 MPH contest.

But how important is top speed anyway? What difference does it make if one car can only do 120 and another can do 150 or whatever? These are speeds you can only do legally on a closed track. No one other than a dedicated sport car enthusiast will ever do that. So, a tiny number.

Handling

EVs are heavy, no doubt. The battery pack in the EV6 is 816 lbs which is pretty typical. But that weight is close to the ground giving an EV a low vertical center of gravity. And that weight is nicely centered on a 2D horizontal plane as well helping to avoid a front- or rear-heavy car. That's an important characteristic for good handling. The car may "feel" heavy (because it is), but it's sure-footed and well-balanced nonetheless so there's no body leaning or roll and has excellent tire grip.

 

I had an occasion to perform an evasive hard right maneuver to avoid someone that quickly jumped into my lane and I was quite surprised and pleased at how well the car reacted.

Very Quiet

Here's a list of what contributes most of the noise in a typical gasoline vehicle. Obviously, this can vary widely between different types of vehicles (sedans, sport cars, pickups, minivans, SUVs, etc). None of these components are present in an EV with the possible exception of the fan and cooling system on some models.

  • Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), 22 to 30%

  • Exhaust system, 25 to 35%

  • Intake system, 5 to 15%

  • Fan and cooling system, 7 to 15%

  • Transmission, 12 to 15%

Lacking these sources of noise in an EV, other items start to surface as the dominant noise makers. That mainly includes tires and wind noise. Since these noises are now more apparent, EV makers are focusing on how to reduce them. Sleek, aerodynamic designs help lower wind drag/noise and advanced tire tech like sound-deadening foam inserts and specialized rubber compounds are being developed.

The end result is a car interior that's notably quieter than most gasoline cars. It might not be quieter than some luxury cars but it'll sure beat the average car on the road. Our EV is the quietest car we've ever owned.

Gasoline vs Electric Efficiency

I already discussed why EVs accelerate faster. That's partly due to electric motor efficiency. That also translates to lower "fuel" costs as well. It's tricky to discuss EV fuel economy, both in terms of raw efficiency and cost, compared to gasoline because all the units are different.

The engines used in most regular cars and trucks deliver only around 30% or so of gasoline's energy potential to the wheels. That other 70% is wasted mostly as heat (from the engine block and out the tail pipe), drive train friction and inefficiencies (more heat), and a little bit as unburned hydrocarbons due to incomplete combustion. That's a lot of potential energy wasted as heat and not productively used.

EVs, on the other hand, are around 80% or even 90% efficient -- upward 3x or 200% higher. That means most of the electricity drawn from the battery is converted to output to the wheels. That's a huge increase in efficiency.

With gasoline, we have MPG and $PG. With EVs, we have miles per kilowatt hour (m/kWh) and cost ($/kWh). Add to that the widely disparate efficiency figures between gasoline and EV cars.

This can make it difficult for normal people to quickly and easily mentally compare between EV models or EV to ICE car efficiency. So the EPA came up with the term MPGe (Miles Per Gallon equivalent). It lets you quickly determine how efficient a particular EV model is compared to a similar gasoline powered car in terms of type and size. It's not a perfect indicator but it's good enough for making casual comparisons.

Here's a link to an MPGe explainer on Car and Driver.

Cold Weather

♫ Baby, It's Cold Outside

EV antagonists love to go on about how much worse an EV is in cold weather. It's true that range suffers when it's cold out. But the thing is, that's true of ICE vehicles as well!

Yes, the efficiency percentage drop when driving in cold weather is greater with an EV. But that's because the EV is so much more efficient to begin with.

The cold weather penalty isn't as dramatic with an ICE vehicle because there's already an efficiency penalty regardless of weather! Simply meaning that an ICE vehicle, even when operating at ideal temps, is already significantly less efficient. Adding in cold weather therefore introduces a smaller penalty.

So it's rather duplicitous to claim that EVs are "inferior" because of the cold weather penalty when an ICE car is less efficient in both cold and warm weather.

Towing

This is not an anti-truck rant! Just some facts and commentary on towing.

From much Googling on the topic, I learned that only about 25% or so of pickup truck owners tow something more than once a year. So around 3/4ths of truck owners tow once a year, or less. And since the vast majority of the towing that does happen is with a pickup or larger truck, then the percent of all people (including those that don't own a truck) towing more than once a year is even less. I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that many (most?) non-pickup owners have never towed anything. So towing is not a concern for most people.

As with cold weather, much is made of the fact that EV efficiency plummets when towing something. But again, this is true for ICE vehicles as well.

e.g. The Ford F-150 pickup with a 3.5L ecoboost V6 engine, a pretty popular vehicle, normally gets around 24 MPG on the highway under ideal conditions. When towing, that drops to between 8-14 MPG (so, 1/3rd to just over half as efficient) depending on various factors including weight of trailer, speed, inclines, aerodynamic qualities of the trailer, etc. Point is, efficiency suffers when towing, regardless if the tow vehicle is gas or electric.

I ain't gonna lie though. Filling up with gasoline on a road trip is quicker and much easier than EV charging especially when towing because EV charging stations aren't generally pull-through like gas stations are. But from a pure efficiency standpoint, the penalty difference is minor.

But that really only matters when towing outside your local area. For local towing, less than 100 miles or so of total driving in a day, a full battery will easily suffice. And by charging at home, you'll save a ton of money by not buying gasoline especially when towing. Towing in local city driving conditions wastes even more fuel, getting on the low end of the MPG estimate. If you do a lot of local towing, say are you a contractor hauling a trailer, the amount of money you can save on fuel with an EV like the F-150 Lightening could be quite significant.

Charging at Home

In the computer world, a "killer app" is an application that is so incredibly useful that it, all by itself, could make owning a computer worth it. For the personal computer, that killer app was Visicalc, the first spreadsheet program, introduced in 1979, and predecessor to Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel.

One of the "killer apps" or maybe "killer feature" to owning an EV is the ability to "refuel" at home. By charging at home, you'll never again need to visit a gas station unless you just gotta get some lottery tickets or beer. If you drive a lot, you can leave home each day with a "full tank" never stopping for gas. Let that sink in for a minute. I'll wait...

Charging at home also gives you an incredible cost per gallon equivalent of gasoline. Here's a real-world example of what it costs per mile in "fuel" to drive my EV.

In city driving, my EV gets upward 4 m/kWh if I'm not hot-dogging it. Using an estimated cost basis of 12 cents per kWh for electricity in my town, my cost works out to 3 cents per mile.

The great majority of my driving is in the city*. A gasoline car about the size of my EV should get around 25 MPG city, more or less. At $3.75 per gallon of gasoline (avg cost in my town Columbia, MO, as of this writing), a 25 MPG car would cost 15 cents per mile. That's 5x more per mile than the cost to drive my EV, making the gasoline cost equivalent to drive my EV about 75 cents per gallon. That's late 1970's prices there! Woot!
 

For our friends outside Columbia who get their power from the Boone Electric Coop (BEC), their overnight off-peak rates as of this writing is 4.9 cents per kWh. Using the math above, their gasoline cost equivalent is about 31 cents per gallon. 31 Cents! Less than 1/10 the cost per gallon gasoline equivalent as of this writing. That's early 1960's prices.

In the 22 months we've owned our EV, we've saved about $2,000 by not buying gasoline based on our significantly below average amount of driving. And that figure does account for the money spent on electricity. Not bad, eh? For people that really rack up the mileage, they could save several thousand bucks per year by not buying gasoline! What could you do with an extra two or three grand per year? Over ten years, you could easily save upward $20k not buying gasoline. Higher mileage drivers even more, perhaps $30k? More? The math is simple and doesn't lie.

* The city/highway efficiency ratios are flipped for an EV. We're all used to our gas cars getting better MPG on the highway. But for an EV, it's the opposite. Highway efficiency for my EV6 is about 10% lower and that's mostly due to wind drag.

 

Wind drag at highway speeds is a problem for gas cars, too. But city driving is even worse in terms of efficiency due to how gasoline engines work. That's why gas cars get better MPG on the highway, even with that added wind drag.

Gas-Electric Hybrid

One answer to range anxiety is the gas-electric hybrid. There are two flavors: One is the PHEV (Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle) and the other is just HEV (no plug in capability; on the fly charging only). The promise with a PHEV is that you can drive a shorter distance (say, 40 to 50 miles) on all-electric then switch automatically to gasoline for longer trips. To the extent the PHEV owner's daily driving is mostly satisfied with electric power from home charging then they'll use very little gasoline over time.

If an HEV can't be plugged in, then what's the point? Good question! The point is that the electric motor provides the motivation exactly at those times when a gasoline engine is at its worst efficiency. Such as stop and go driving or accelerating to a higher speed, etc. The battery pack for this use need only be a few kilowatt hours of capacity, less than even a PHEV.

 

The PHEV "dual fuel" capability is an advantage for care-free road tripping. Another advantage to the hybrid is that more hybrids can be made from the same number of batteries thereby providing a faster route to lowering carbon emissions. That's because the battery pack in a PHEV is much smaller, averaging about 15 kWh in capacity vs. 83 kWh for a full BEV (Battery-only EV). HEV batteries are smaller still.

But that's just a stop-gap in my opinion. We need to reach tailpipe carbon-zero for automobiles -- not merely carbon-reduced.

Furthermore, a PHEV has all the disadvantages a gasoline engine and its attendant ancillary components . IMO, that's a significant detriment. And apparently most EV buyers feel that way, too. Most shoppers that are considering an EV want battery-only, not a hybrid.

Environmental Concerns

Pure EVs, of course, produce no tailpipe emissions. There's no tailpipe in the first place. But what about mining all the metals needed to make the batteries? Of course it's true that mining such metals imposes a carbon footprint. But that extra carbon is significantly more than negated over the life of the car because, once built, the car, again, emits zero tailpipe emission.

And those metals only have to be mined once. After a hydrocarbon is burned, that's it, it's life is over. New hydrocarbons must come from crude oil that's "mined" (pumped) from the ground and refined into gasoline.

 

When an EV reaches end of life (old age, wrecked, whatever) the batteries themselves are mostly recyclable. Approx 80 to 90% of the components in an EV battery can be recycled and used to build a new battery pack. It's true that we aren't recycling them today at the rate we need to but that's not an intrinsic deficiency of the technology. Those are policy and business decisions that will develop as both supply and demand increase.

But even before they are recycled, an EV battery pack can be reused by serving a second life in a grid-tied storage array, "power wall", or similar use. That's because a battery pack that might not have enough capacity for EV use (where energy density is paramount) can still have plenty of life remaining where energy density isn't as important. Grid-tied storage is useful on solar or wind farms to store electricity generated while the sun shines or the wind blows for use when they're not shining or blowing.

"What about the electricity used to charge the car? That's not green."

OK, let's talk about that. To the extent that fossil fuel inputs are used to generate electricity, then yes, driving an EV is less green than it could be, but it's still greener than burning gasoline.

Here's why: To the extent that fossil-fuel power plants are combined cycle (capturing heat otherwise lost in smokestack exhaust) then efficiency can increase from 33%-43% to upward 60% or so. That's already better than the 30% or so efficiency of most gasoline engines.

 

But it doesn't stop there. With each passing year, more and more of our inputs are renewable such as wind, solar, and other tech being developed. As these non-carbon inputs to electricity generation increase then the greener that EV charging becomes.

 

e.g. For 2022, approx. 22% of the inputs to electricity generation were renewable. If you include nuclear, which isn't renewable but still emits no carbon at the point of generation, then non-carbon inputs reach 40%. So, even today, 40% of the electricity used to charge an EV came from not burning fossil fuels. As that number rises, the better it gets.

And yes, we need to expand the grid to handle all this promised EV charging in the coming years. Not just for EV charging but also for new homes, businesses, and data centers (a biggie). And we're doing exactly that. Grid expansion projects have been and are ongoing as I write this. It'll take time but we're getting there, day by day. Is expansion happening fast enough? Probably not. But that's mostly a policy problem, not a defect in the technology.

Even if "being green" doesn't interest you (but, really, why wouldn't it?), I believe I've made a good economic and performance case for owning an EV aside from any "pesky" environmental reasons. Just the savings and convenience alone of charging at home and not buying gasoline (that killer app) should be convincing.

EVs Aren't Particularly Cheap

EVs as a class of automobile tend to be more expensive but they are coming down in price and will continue to do so as they become the norm. Even today there are less expensive EVs to be had. Here are three under $30k as of late 2022.

  • Chevy Bolt, small 4-door sedan, est. range 259 miles, starting at $27,495

  • Chevy Bolt, small 4-door SUV, est. range 247 miles, $28,795

  • Nissan Leaf, small 4-door sedan, est. rage 149 miles, $29,135 (at 149 mile range, this is more of a city/commuter car)

Here's an article on Car and Driver listing 10 lower cost EVs, the highest of which is $42,785 and dropping to under $30k. $42k ain't bad and is on par with average ICE prices.

As EVs become more and more common, a healthy used market will develop, bringing affordable used EV ownership to more people. Don't let the word "used" scare you, either. Because of Tesla, we have a little over ten years of EV battery longevity data to analyze and the results are quite encouraging.

You can google "ev battery capacity over time" (no quotes) and see many articles. But the upshot is that for most people, the degradation is of tiny to no consequence. It's certainly not a reason to avoid buying an EV new or used.

There are also federal tax incentives for buying an EV that can knock up to $7,500 off the bottom line. Some states or local power districts may have additional incentives.

Politically Divisive

I guess no well-rounded discussion of EVs would be complete without at least mentioning the elephant in the room. Somehow, EVs, of all things, have become yet another litmus test of political leaning.

A couple of the many examples...

  • A recent CNN poll reveals that 71% of Republicans would not consider an EV compared to 17% of Democrats.

  • A study by UC Berkeley that examined DMV new car registrations nationwide at the county-level in the 10 year period between 2012 and 2022 found that about one-half of EV sales occurred in the 10% most Democratic counties and one-third in the top 5%.

I'm not getting into the tall, tick-filled weeds exploring why. I'm not even sure I know all the dopey, uninformed reasons though I have a good hunch as to some of them.

Except for this last section, this entire article simply discusses the pros and the relatively few cons of EV ownership based on factual articles from reliable sources and my own pretty solid understanding of our mechanical world and how things work. In light of these facts, I find it pretty incredible that someone, in what could only be described as a paroxysmal fit of misguided political allegiance, would reject EVs for reasons that are clearly not true.

Enough said on that.

Closing Comments

No one, not even EV evangelists, are claiming that switching to a EV doesn't entail some new learning and new practices. But far too much is being made of those minor difficulties as though they were major struggles that hardly anyone could manage. That's just not true. Most people could make the switch quite easily. Some edge cases may be tougher. But as EV choices improve and the charging network continues to develop, those cases are becoming easier.

The biggest convincer for buying an EV is to simply visit an EV dealer, or ask an EV-owning friend, and drive one.

I will never go back to owning a gasoline car. My only regret is waiting as long as I did to buy an EV in the first place.

kia ev6 blue on transparent.png

Kia EV6

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