As electric vehicles (EVs) gain popularity, they also garner criticism. Here, we debunk the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding electric cars, ranging from reasonable to the downright bizarre.
With the emergence of electrified motoring and the shake-up of global transportation and infrastructure convention it poses, EVs have become a hot topic – attracting (possibly more than) their fair share of criticism.
While the NRMA has been supporting Australian motorists for more than 100 years – and will continue to regardless of how your vehicle is powered – we believe an EV shouldn’t be off the table as your next purchase because of false misrepresentations, myths or anti-EV propaganda.
So, to give Australian buyers the clarity needed to make informed choices about whether their next vehicle purchase should be an EV, here are some of the most common EV myths, busted.
Myths about EV batteries
EV batteries don’t last very long
One of the most prevailing myths surrounding EVs is that their most expensive component – the on-board battery packs – don’t last the life of the vehicle.
EV battery lifespan critics need look no further than the story of this Tesla Model X which has, to this day, travelled more than 640,000km – its original battery pack lasting more than 507,000km – to see this is false.
This EV, among others with similar mileage, are owned by California-based EV mobility company Tesloop. Why is this important? Well, Tesloop uses its fleet commercially, meaning their charging regime and maintenance is about the worst possible for ensuring battery longevity: a full discharge; followed by a rapid charge rate, and; charging to 100 per cent capacity.
Put simply, these EVs’ battery packs racked up more than 500,000km without even following proper maintenance and charging practices.
Despite these examples, it’s also not safe to assume all battery packs will make it so far. Much like petrol engines, covering half a million km is a great run, but you don’t expect not to have replaced a few (potentially) major components on the way there.
EV batteries deteriorate over time
While battery packs can get you more than half-a-million kilometres, it’s also true their driving range diminishes over time – however this deterioration is not as dramatic as you may be led to believe.
In 2019, a study carried out by Electric Autonomy looked at battery capacity deterioration of 21 electric vehicle models over five years of driving. What the study found was the batteries lost, on average, just 2.3 per cent of capacity per year of driving. For a car with a 480km driving range when new, this means 55km of driving range was lost in half a decade of service – about 11km per year.
Need more assurance? Manufacturers guarantee their batteries, with the most common EV battery warranty period lasting eight years/160,000km. This warranty covers batteries that lose more than 30 per cent of their capacity during this period (meaning the battery retains less than 70 per cent of its original capacity).
According to the Electric Autonomy study’s rate of deterioration, the average EV won’t approach that kind of degradation before its 13th birthday. At this point an EV with a 480km range when new should still cover 336km between charges – more than enough to make it a practical city car (given the average Australian work commute is about 35km) with the occasional road trip thrown in.
Replacement EV batteries are too expensive to make the cars viable
We know EV batteries can last a really long time, but are they expensive to replace if something goes wrong outside of the warranty period? The simple answer is: yes, however a ‘but’ lurks around the corner.
Replacement EV batteries, given variances in size and complexity, don’t have a standard price, but a safe window for cost of replacement is about $8,000–$20,000. While these are large amounts, it’s important to remember internal combustion engines (ICEs) in conventional vehicles are also their most expensive item, with prices often approaching the above figures if replacement with a new unit is necessary.
However, as car makers increase the production of EVs over the next decade, financial analysts predict the price of batteries will drop drastically (by more than half before 2025) which could bring a replacement battery cost down to around $2500 within a few years.
Although the cost of replacing a battery for an EV can be a concern, it's wise to factor in the cost of owning an EV holistically over the life of the vehicle. EV battery packs, and much of the vehicles themselves, cost next to nothing to maintain. Over the years, these savings on engine, transmission and brake components add up. Factor in not paying a premium at the bowser and by the time you need a replacement battery – if you ever do – you may have more than made up the expense.
Myths about charging an EV
An EV charged from the grid isn’t ‘green’
This is one of the more unreasonable myths we’ve come across, as it blames EV technology for things out of its control.
The truth is an EV can only be as ‘green’ as the electrical grid from which it’s charged. In Australia, our grid is (currently) heavily reliant on coal, meaning every km a grid-charged EV drives has required a CO2 emission. However, this does not mean an EV is not still the greener choice.
Research carried out by the NRMA and PwC Australia found that a new battery electric vehicle (BEV) charged from the grid is responsible for around 98g CO2/km of emissions, whereas an equivalent new ICE vehicle emits almost double that at 185g CO2/km.
Modelling also shows that as our grid becomes increasingly powered by renewables, and EV battery technology improves, this BEV emission figure will fall to about 58g CO2/km – less than a third of an ICE vehicle.
At a street-level, most electric cars also produce less fine particulate matter than equivalent ICE models, meaning the air in the you breath in walking alongside a road full of electric cars is not as damaging to your health as one packed with ICE vehicles.
Further to this, EV owners do not have to charge from the grid. When charged solely with renewable energy – such as from a home charger powered by solar – the cars are responsible for basically zero greenhouse emissions while driving.
Our grid won’t cope with an uptake of EVsAs debate shifts from “will EVs even take off Down Under?” to “how will infrastructure manage when they do?”, one of the largest focuses for future-proofing Australia has been its electrical grid’s capacity.
Modelling conducted by Reliable Affordable Clean Energy (RACE) for 2030 Cooperative Research Centre estimates EVs will make up 80 per cent of new-car sales in Australia by 2030 – representing 20 to 25 per cent of our total fleet.
This report calculated that if all of these EVs were plugged into 7kW home chargers at the same time (during an evening period), the instantaneous draw on the grid would increase by approximately 30 giga watts – almost doubling current peak energy demands.
While this figure could lead to a huge instantaneous burden on the grid, RACE’s calculations also determined a 25 per cent EV fleet would only lead to a cumulative consumption increase of 20 giga-watt-hour a day. In relative terms, if that extra consumption was spread evenly across the day, it would only result in an increased instantaneous demand of about 3 to 4 per cent across the day.
Two important things to remember here are: EV uptake – although accelerating – will not happen overnight, and there will be time to develop and future-proof our infrastructure to suit any increase in energy demand, and; other nations with much greater EV uptake are already experimenting with scheduled EV charging to help cushion the blow to their electrical grid.
Charging an EV takes much longer than refuelling a car
This one is true – for now. Australia is in an especially tricky chicken and egg situation when it comes to public chargers and even EV models themselves.
Due to Australia lagging behind with uptake of EV models, manufacturers have been hesitant to bring top-spec electrified models with greater charging rates here. This has meant less incentive for charging infrastructure companies to install more expensive, higher kW output chargers as there are fewer models on the road capable of utilising them.
Today, the fastest public chargers in Australia output 350kW DC. While there are currently no electric cars that can handle this rate of charging, some brands have promised charge times from 5 to 80 per cent in as little as eight minutes for future models at this output.
In the works are chargers producing up to 1000kW. EV battery tech may take a while to catch up to this sort of figure, but when it does, charge times could come down to the mere minute or two it takes to fill a car’s tank with petrol or diesel.
A further consideration here is that if you charge your EV at home overnight, like many drivers will do during normal day-to-day driving, you will very rarely need to rely on public charging infrastructure.
Myths about driving an EV
You can’t tow with an EV
The claim that EVs can’t tow is patently false, with many models in the Australian market listing Aussie regulation-compliant tow capacities. However, this being said, just because an EV can tow does not make it a viable tow vehicle for all owners and circumstances.
A huge reduction in driving range while towing is the main issue cited by EV sceptics – and it’s not without grounds.
In 2020, Audi USA conducted an 811-kilometre test with their all-electric e-Tron towing at its 1800kg capacity limit. What did they find? Averaging 97km/h, the SUV consumed about 48kWh per 100km – approaching double the model’s regular consumption figure if it weren't towing. At this rate, the biggest battery option e-Tron (95kWh) would travel just 200km on a full charge.
Despite this test, it’s impossible to say just how much towing will affect an EV’s driving range. Once moving, the largest consumers of energy during towing is the weight of the payload and the wind resistance it generates. This additional drag varies greatly, but does affect both electric and ICE vehicles.
So, can EVs tow? Yes they can, and, given the impressive torque figures many EVs boast, are very well suited to it in the right applications. Need to tow a caravan across the Nullarbor? An EV probably isn’t for you (yet), but pulling a box trailer or dinghy across town? That’s right up an EV’s alley.
EVs are slow
While the EVs of yesteryear had (comparatively) tiny battery capacities and discharge rates resulting in doughy acceleration, this is no longer the case. Performance records are being set and beaten constantly by modern EVs due to the inherent nature of how an EV accelerates.
Torque – the rotational force an engine/motor produces and transfers to a vehicle’s wheels – is an EV’s bread and butter. Torque is also what gets a car moving from a standstill, meaning EVs can go from zero to fast in a small amount of time.
Beyond this, as EVs generate torque near-instantly, their traction control systems also surpass what ICE performance vehicles’ are capable of, meaning they can more fully capitalise on tyre grip to provide faster acceleration.
EVs get better driving range the slower you’re goingAn EV’s driving range tends to improve as its speed decreases, whereas ICE vehicles generally experience the opposite up to freeway speeds, but why is this?
The largest reason lays in gear ratios, i.e. how many revs an engine/motor must make per rotation of the driving wheels. Some gear ratios are better suited to low-speed or standing start acceleration, whereas others are suited to efficient high-speed cruising.
Due to the way EVs produce torque, most come equipped with single-speed transmissions (save some high-performance models) and manufacturers opt for around-town punchiness over highway efficiency when selecting this ratio.
This is different to ICE-equipped vehicles, where manufactures use multi-speed (or multi-ratio) transmissions to ensure the car always has a suitable gear ratio.
The result is EVs are more efficiently as low speeds due to not having to rev their electric motors as high, which also produces heat – the enemy of efficient electrical energy transfer. However, as EVs approach price parity, we’re likely to see multi-speed transmissions become more commonplace in the vehicles and for their highway consumption to improve.
EV manufacturing myths
EVs are more polluting during production than ICE vehiclesThe pollution generated during a vehicle’s production is known as its ‘well-to-wheel’ emission(s). While it's been established that EVs produce less emissions than ICE vehicles while driving, they do contribute more pollution during their production.
An EV’s most expensive and complicated component, its on-board battery pack, is primarily responsible for these increased emissions.
However, as battery technology and materials advance over time, it’s likely less material will be needed to achieve the same kWh capacity, bringing down manufacturing costs and emissions.
An EV doesn’t offset its manufacturing emissionsBecause EVs begin their lifecycle having already contributed more greenhouse emissions than ICE vehicles, they must be driven – at their inherently lower emissions-per-kilometre rate – far enough to reach what’s referred to as their ‘break-even point’.
An EV’s break-even point is when the vehicle has, over its lifecycle, become responsible for the same emissions as a comparable ICE vehicle.
This distance varies depending on the model of EV, the way it’s driven and the grid from which it’s charged, however thanks to an analysis conducted by Reuters using Argonne National Laboratory modelling, we have some figures.
Taking a Tesla Model 3 and Toyota Corolla – Australia’s best-selling EV and small car respectively – the analysis covered the Tesla’s break-even point with three grid configurations.
If charged from a 100% coal-fired grid, the Model 3 needs to cover about 125,500km to break even. From the average United States’ energy mix (of 23% coal-fired, plus other fossil fuels and renewables), the Model 3 matches the Corolla in roughly 21,700km, and on a 100% hydroelectric grid, the Tesla has already contributed less emissions in just over 13,500km of driving.
As of early 2022, roughly 75 per cent of Australia’s grid is powered by fossil fuels, meaning a Model 3 charged here would need to cover about 94,000km to break even. Although that’s a lot of driving, the figure will drop each year as Australia moves towards a greener grid – and is much lower if the car is charged primarily at home using solar.
EV batteries can’t be recycledWhile recycling the lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries found in EVs is a tricky (and underutilised) practice, claims it cannot be done are simply false.
Australia’s own EcoBatt has been breaking down and selling on the precious metals in EV batteries for a while now. In fact, they’ve gotten so good at it that the company claims more than 90 per cent of the average EV battery is able to be recycled. That figure grows to more than 95 per cent for some types, depending on the material(s) used for their housings – not far off the ~98 per cent recycle rate for materials found in tradition lead acid batteries.
Other companies, such as Australia’s Relectrify have opted to reuse individual cells, rebirthing decommissioned EVs’ battery packs for us as building battery energy storage systems.
However, while EV batteries can be recycled, the practice is underutilised in Australia. A 2021 report by the CSIRO found that just 2 per cent of Australia’s 3,300-tonne Li-ion battery waste was recycled locally in the year prior. Important to note right away is most of this waste was shipped overseas, not dumped into Australian landfill as some claim, and that EVs do not contribute solely to this waste.
Regardless of where this waste was recycled or dumped, Australia has to do better, with the same report claiming the nation’s Li-ion waste is growing at 20 per cent per year, predicted to exceed 100,000 tonnes by 2036. Li-ion waste is inherently dangerous, as it poses risks of combustion and environmental contamination.
So, while this myth is technically false, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to recycling EV batteries.
We hope you enjoyed reading this piece. We’d love to get your feedback so we can continue to add to it.