Why your next car should NOT be electric

Whaaaat? Am I gone crazy? Did I sell out to Big Oil ?

None of the above, but realism IMHO always trumps ideology

I have been using the title above for quite some time in answering questions people ask me because I hate hype, even when it supports my point of view, and I feel right now there is just too much electric hype.

Denying that EVs have problems leads to disastrous results, such as 20% of buyers going back to ICE.

The reasons people go back to ICE

In my opinion there are three, two of which actually boil down to the same.

IMMATURE TECH – The first is that the technology is immature: although electric motors have been around longer than internal combustion ones, the passenger car use case is very different from, say, the power tool use case or the forklift use case: for one please remember that what has been around for over 100 years is the electric motor and NOT the lithium-ion battery and certainly not the control electronics which govern the transfer of energy.

To my knowledge we still don’t know why some high-voltage batteries die, why the 12V service battery gets drained, issues I have tracked in nearly every electric car brand which get resolved sometimes by resetting the system, sometimes by updating the software, sometimes by replacing the high-voltage battery altogether.

This problem is compounded by the fact that maintenance organizations have very shallow expertise, leaving clients a bit stranded and maybe in a bind: when a power tool battery dies, you swap in a new one and you’re good to go. When your car dies when you’re 400 km away on a business trip, you’re not going to be a happy camper!

A mass-market product, by definition targeted to a mass audience (which currently couldn’t tell a DC charger from an AC if their life depended on it) should be far more inexperienced user-proof than it is today, reminding me of the time when updates to system software in a computer were messy affairs involving tapes, disks and requiring a lot of experience, a far cry from the single-click automatic updates that are ubiquitous today.

INSUFFICIENT CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE – I have written so many times on this topic, it feels I am repeating myself. No doubt, the growth in charging infrastructure is lagging behind the growth the EV stock in general, and some countries are worse than others.

This is in part fueled by the CPO themselves who keep throwing AC and DC chargers in the same bucket as if they were interchangeable: people read that there are tens of thousands of chargers in country X but when they stop at their local supermarket for the first time they get a rather rude awakening, when they discover that to charge 100km they should shop for three or four hours!

I will try to synthesize my POV on infrastructure with two short statements:

  1. AC charging is for the long stops, i.e. during the night
  2. During the day’s short stops, the only infrastructure that matters is Fast DC

Once you start to separately account for AC and DC stations like the very different animals they are, you start making sense of data. Of the many charts I have used to illustrate this fact (mainly in Italian, sorry) I think this (taken from this post) demonstrates how different countries in Europe stack up:

while this (taken from this other post) shows how things are evolving in Italy, while other countries are even worse due to much larger EV stocks.

You may wonder why on Earth do CPO’s even bother installing AC stations and the answer is simply the cost: while an AC costs a few thousands, a Fast DC costs at least 10 times more.

WRONG EXPECTATIONS – this is the third reason, which I have come to identify thanks to several years of volunteering on Facebook groups to support new electric drivers. One of the most frequent questions is:

“Why is my consumption so high?”

Digging a little further, you discover that the thing which worries newbie drivers is not so much the absolute consumption, but rather its variability. My Hyundai Kona is among the most efficient EVs on the market, yet its range varies from 350 kilometers driving in winter at highway speeds to over 530 driving in the city during the spring. The difference is huge and people can’t quite understand why.

In reality, variable consumption (and therefore range) is nothing new: data in crowdsourced consumption database Spritmonitor show huge variability in consumption data for the same internal combustion car. How comes that for ICE cars this is not an issue?

Well, simply put, because it’s only a minor nuisance; if your tank is low, you stop as a gas station fill it up in three minutes and off you go. With an EV, it’s an altogether different ball game as you first have to find one (and as we’ve seen above, there’s not enough of those which really matter i.e. the Fast DC type), then you must stop for at least thirty (not three) minutes if not more.

All in all, you’re much more likely to experience inconvenience over this variability with an electric rather than an internal combustion car. Of course, addressing the second issue goes a long way towards fixing the third, and that’s why I said they are tightly connected.

Conclusions

So here is my conclusion: despite being a staunch supporter of electrification, when someone asks for my advice whether they should buy an EV for their next car, the first question I always ask is whether they can charge at home: for those who can (assuming they have made a sensible choice for the battery size) charging sessions OOH (out-of-home) will be few and far between, no matter how large their yearly mileage: I drive about 50,000 kilometers per year, yet I charge OOH maybe once or twice per month.

The scarcity of stations will only rarely be a problem (if ever), while someone who has to look for somewhere to charge their car on a daily basis will be much more easily frustrated.

In the current supply scenario where sales are supply-constrained and you have to wait months for the delivery of your brand new EV, there is no need whatsoever to force the EV choice down the throat of a buyer which has a less than ideal profile.

Given the immense need for electrification education, each new electric driver ideally should be an ambassador for a smooth, hassle-free driving experience.


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