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.
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 input 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 ownership concern that non EV owners fear 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. This really is an over-sold concern. 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 major highways. And with a range of around 250 highway miles per charge, that gives us a comfortable margin between chargers. New public EV chargers are being added every day and discussions are now taking place that may 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 week.
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, 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 (well, in the US anyway) for over a year as of this writing. A weekly or bi-weekly habit that I've had since I was 16 years old -- buying gasoline -- is over. Just like that. I have to say, it's a profoundly strange and at the same time a 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 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 $35 and $75, every 5000 to 7500 miles.
Engine check: While "tune-ups" in the classic sense aren't usually needed on modern vehicles, it is 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: Power steering, brakes, 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.
Drive and timing 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.
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 nearly $1000 depending on what all needs to be replaced. 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 can hit upward $1000 or more. Rotors can be expensive!
EVs have brakes, too, but they last a lot longer. More on that below
Less to go Wrong 💀
Going hand in hand with the less maintenance advantage is the overall fewer moving parts. Most gasoline engines and drivetrains have over 2,000 moving parts. Most EV drivetrains have fewer than 25. There are simply far, far fewer parts to break or need maintenance.
Electric motors are far simpler than gasoline engines, usually with only one main moving part. EVs have no multi-speed transmission.
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 attached to the axle and thus slows the car. This is called friction braking.
The other way is called regenerative braking and that only happens in an EV. Regenerative braking is a wonderful EV feature that does two cool things that friction brakes cannot do.
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.
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. Most EVs have blended braking. That means when pressing the brake pedal gently, as if coming to a nice, controlled (non-emergency) stop, the EV will fully utilize its regenerative feature first. The friction brakes are invoked only if you are braking strongly such as an emergency slow-down or 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, the car actually has 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 completely off the gas pedal, you start to gradually slow down due to the drag from the engine and drag from wind and road resistance. This much you already know.
But in an EV, lifting off 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 very 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, are 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, probably, than what one would normally command from the brake pedal under non-emergency 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 we all 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 like the Challenger, Mustang, Corvette, etc. And some sporty EVs that are designed to emphasize speed will out-accelerate all but the fastest specialty hyper-cars costing deep into 6 and 7 figures.
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. 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.
Electric motors are different. They kind of have a power band but not in the same way as a gas engine and it's much wider, reaching all the way down to zero RPM. Electric motors are also far more efficient. A greater percent of input electricity is translated to output motion.
None of this is to say that EVs can outrun gasoline sport cars in a contest of distance and top speed. But they can definitely out-accelerate most gas cars.
EVs are heavy, no doubt. The battery pack in the EV6 is 816 lbs. But that weight is very close to the ground giving an EV a low center of gravity. That's an important characteristic for good handling. The car does feel "heavy" because it is, but it's sure-footed nonetheless with wide tires, AWD, no body leaning or roll, and excellent road grip.
I had an occasion to perform an evasive hard right maneuver avoid someone cutting into my lane and I was quite surprised and pleased at how well the car reacted. I did not expect such a heavy car to obey my evasive steering input with the immediacy and surety that it exhibited.
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, trucks, minivans, etc). None of these components are present in an EV with the possible exception of the fan and cooling system on some models.
Engine, 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 includes tires and wind noise. Since these noises are now much more apparent, EV makers are focusing on how to reduce those noises. Sleek, low drag, aerodynamic designs help lower wind noise and advanced tire tech like sound-deadening foam inserts and specialized rubber compounds are being designed and tested.
The end result is a car interior that's notably quieter than most gasoline cars. It might not beat an S-class Mercedes noise-wise, but it'll sure beat the average car on the road.
We love the quietude when we're on a road trip. No having to talk-over the noise of a typical car. We can have a nearly normal volume conversion almost as if sitting in the living room at home. We love that.
Fuel Economy ⛽💲
We already discussed why EVs accelerate so much 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.
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.
The gasoline engines used in most regular cars and trucks are only around 30% efficient. That means some 70% of the energy potential in the gasoline goes out the tailpipe unused as heat and unburned hydrocarbons.
EVs, on the other hand, are around 80% efficient. That means 80% of the electricity is used to create rotational energy in the motor. That's a huge increase.
This all makes it pretty difficult for normal people to quickly and easily mentally compare EV to gasoline 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 close enough to make back-of-the-envelop comparisons.
Here's a link to an explainer on Car and Driver.
Charging at Home 🔋
One of the best reasons to own an EV is the ability to "refuel" at home. This is the killer app, so to speak. By charging at home, you'll never again need to visit a gas station unless you just gotta get some lottery tickets or cigarettes.
Charging at home gives you an incredible "exchange rate" on the 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 about 4 miles per kWh of electricity. Using an estimated summer/non-summer combined average of 12 cents per kWh for electricity, my cost is 3 cents per mile.
The great majority of my driving is in the city. A gasoline sedan about the size of my EV should get around 25 MPG city, more or less. My EV is a 5-door hatchback with AWD. At $3.75 per gallon of gasoline (avg cost as of this writing), a 25 MPG sedan would cost 15 cents per mile. That's 5x more per mile than the cost to drive my EV, making the gasoline cost equivalent about 75 cents per gallon.
In the 14 months we've owned our EV, we've saved about $1,500 in gasoline equivalent cost. Not bad, eh? The more you drive, the more and faster you save by not buying gasoline.
And by charging at home, I can leave the house every day with a "full tank" if I want without stopping to buy gas. How convenient is that?
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 HEV (no plug in capability, on the fly charging only). The promise here is that you can drive a shorter distance 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 only then they'll use very little gasoline over time.
That "dual fuel" capability is definitely an advantage for care-free road tripping. Another advantage to the hybrid is that more hybrids can be made from the same quantity 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 of having a gasoline engine. IMO, that's a significant detriment. And apparently most EV buyers feel that way, too. Most shoppers that are considering an EV want a BEV, not a hybrid.
Environmental Concerns 🌳
Pure EVs, of course, emit zero tailpipe emissions. But what about mining all the metals needed to make the batteries? It's true that mining such metals imposes a heavier carbon footprint, making it greater than that for a gasoline powered car. But that extra carbon is significantly more than offset over the life of the car because, once built, the car emits zero carbon.
And once that car 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 inputs and needs 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 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 so paramount. Grid-tied storage is useful on solar or wind farms to store electricity generated while sun shines or the wind blows for use when they're not shining/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 that it could be, but it's still way greener that gasoline. With each passing year, more and more of our inputs are renewable such as wind, solar, and other renewable tech being developed. As these non-carbon inputs to electricity generation increases then the greener the EV 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. That number will only rise.
And yes, we need to expand the grid to handle all this promised EV charging in the coming years. And we're doing exactly that. Grid expansion is ongoing as I write this. It'll take time but we're getting there, day by day.
Even if "being green" doesn't interest you, I believe I've made a good economic and performance case for owning an EV aside from any environmental reasons. EVs cost less to maintain, far less to fuel, and are way more fun to drive.
EVs are Expensive 💲
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.
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.
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 little to no consequence. It's certainly not a reason to avoid a used EV new or used.
The biggest "convincer" for buying an EV is to simply visit an EV dealer 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.