Betting on Electric Cars may not get you very far, because they can’t

Think electric cars are the solution for a greener future? Automologist MAC will convince you otherwise. 

I recently came across a brilliant piece of Pathé News from the 1960’s that proudly announces the arrival of electric cars. You have to be British and my sort of age to be able to remember Pathé News, but these were short news clips aired in cinemas before the TV had become a ubiquitous staple of our homes. Towards the end of the film and in wonderfully ‘clipped’ English tones comes the prediction that “In the next few years, there is the prospect of seeing millions of them on the road”. Have a view:

I am so very glad that the politicians of the day didn’t believe the hype as the current batch do or by now, combustion cars would have been banned and we would all be in cars that severely lack range. The fact is that since the 1960’s, we have only managed to double the capacity of the batteries that are being developed for use in cars, and whilst I am sure that there is scope for improving this dramatically in the next few years, it still will not be enough to give us the sort of range that would convince us all to convert over to EVs. Forget the manufacturers’ claims when it comes to range, by the way. UK’s What Car magazine found the Nissan Leaf to have a range of 70 to 80 miles, and not the 125 that the manufacturer claims.

Then there is the life expectancy of the batteries. Not long by all accounts, although mostmanufacturers won’t put a number on this. Basically, if you go out and buy a Nissan Leaf in the UK, the sticker price does not include the batteries. Instead, you will be offered the choice of leasing them for GBP90 per month or buying them outright for about GBP5,000. The length of time these batteries survive depend a lot on how you use them, how many times you charge them, etc. But it would seem that by the fourth year, you can expect to have lost about 40% of your range. So, if your daily commute is less than 50 miles there and back, you will be okay; otherwise, you will need to fork out another GBP5,000 for batteries.

At the moment, there is a fierce debate on just how green electric cars are, with some, including me, arguing that all we are in effect doing is moving the point of pollution. Currently, most of our electricity comes from non-renewables and should we all switch to electric cars, there would need to be a massive global increase in generating capacity if we are just simply going to actually reduce pollution. However, you have to get past just the emissions argument and look at the overall environmental damage caused by electric cars before you make a final decision. Electric cars need to be light and thus are made of loads of exotic materials that are also very rare. So rare that they are in fact known as rare earths and only exist in minute quantities in a few places on earth. So you have to move a lot of earth with great big diesel-powered diggers to get to these precious metals. Once you are there, workers dig a hole, fill it with ammonium sulphate, suck out the resulting sludge which is then put through two acid baths, and then baked in a coal-fired kiln, leaving us with enough residue to power our cars. The toxic chemicals are dumped back into the ground.

All we are doing is shifting the point of pollution and hoping that the environmental impact will stay over in China where most of the rare earths are found, or over in the Congo where 60% of the world’s cobalt is. This, though, is short sighted. The policy needs to be on the reduction of personal travel and the uptake of mass transit systems, and for goodness sake, will someone invent a better battery, please.

Both Electric car on the streets of Australia when petrol was rationed during the WWII.


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