I’m Not Ready for a Battery Powered Electric Vehicle

I’m Not Ready for a Battery Powered Electric Vehicle

© David Burton 2022

Electric Vehicles

     As I’ve written before. “Many people don’t realize that all-electric cars are not new. In fact, electric cars were on the road in the U.S. nearly a hundred and twenty years ago. ‘Here in the U.S., the first successful electric car made its debut around 1890 thanks to William Morrison, a chemist who lived in Des Moines, Iowa. His six-passenger vehicle capable of a top speed of 14 miles per hour was little more than an electrified wagon, but it helped spark interest in electric vehicles.’ “ (Ref. 1)

     Rather quickly, electric cars vanished and were replaced by vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs). The reason? – the high density of energy in petroleum compared to that in a battery. A tank of gasoline could take the ICE powered vehicle hundreds of miles, while the batteries in cars a hundred or so years ago could take a vehicle only tens of miles. The hype over the last several years has been that all-electric cars - Electric Vehicles or EVs - are now going to replace vehicles with internal combustion engines that have been the mainstay of road transportation in America for more than a century. So far, the promise has been largely a pipe-dream.[2]

     Advocates of EVs see them as solving the world’s environmental pollution problem and predict they will quickly replace the polluting internal combustion engine powered vehicles of today and yesteryear. BUT, in truth, consumers are not rushing to take their gasoline powered vehicles to the junk yards and replace them with EVs. America’s highways and byways are not rapidly filling up with all-electric powered vehicles!

     While some new car buyers are purchasing all-electric vehicles (EVs), I am not ready to join them. While I definitely wouldn’t consider buying an EV at this time, I might consider compromising with a hybrid electric vehicles (HEV).

     So why won’t I join the mob rushing to buy EVs ?

     While it’s a fact that, compared to vehicles that are powered by internal combustion engines, EVs produce zero pollutant emissions at the tailpipe — there’s no tailpipe! Quite simply, electric vehicles can cut emissions that contribute to both smog and climate change, thus boosting public health and reducing ecological damage. But let’s remember that the electrical energy that powers the EV must be generated in a power plant, and that power plant is likely producing polluting emissions. Still, the net result is unquestionably in favor of electric vehicles.

     If you are an environmental zealot, then the question of whether or not to switch to EVs is mute. All the drawbacks of EVs such as, economics, driving range, recharge times, inadequate infrastructure, etc. are all irrelevant issues. The important question then becomes, “What percentage of vehicle owners place environmental issues above all other concerns?” To date, the answer is “a very low percentage.” So, while environmental issues enter the discussion, the factors relating to the environment do not currently drive the final answer to the question: “Will Electric Vehicles take over the roads in my lifetime?”

     There have been lots of promises and highly optimistic predictions about the rapid takeover of the American highways by EVs. The reality has so far been otherwise.

     Back in 2008, when oil prices were soaring and experts were pondering how best to make electric cars a reality, a small company in Israel was heralded by some as the EV industry's savior. The name of the company was a Better Place. Better Place had a simple but potentially revolutionary idea. The knock on electric cars has always been that the batteries are too pricey and take too long to recharge. Better Place had a way around these problems: Customers would buy the cars, but Better Place would own the batteries. When drivers needed to recharge quickly, they could simply swap out their batteries — in five minutes — at a Better Place battery swapping station.[3]

     Battery swapping addressed the major problem faced by all-electric vehicles: Without battery-switching, pure electric cars have a limited range and they take a long time to recharge. Let’s admit it, The gasoline fuel tank is a pretty phenomenal storage device for energy. The battery may never really compare, at least not in the immediate future.

     But, Better Placeonly sold 750 cars in Israel and lost close to a billion dollars by the time it went out of business in 2013. The most credible reason for the Israeli company’s demise was gross mismanagement. Today, some 10 years later, its battery swapping concept is still the only practical solution to the problem of replacing the depleted electrical energy stored in the vehicle’s batteries in a timely fashion. For many drivers like me, recharging an electric vehicle’s batteries simply takes too much time compared with a gasoline or diesel fuel fill-up.

     Another reason why vehicle owners are not purchasing large numbers of electric vehicles that require battery recharging is that very few drivers will buy electric cars unless the proper battery recharging infrastructure is in place. At the same time, EV companies are having difficulty setting up and financing those charging infrastructures without large numbers of customers buying their electric cars – a classic chicken and egg conundrum.

     To date, here in the United States, utilities and policymakers have only made half-hearted attempts to build an infrastructure of electric-charging stations that benefit plug-in electric vehicles. While gasoline stations abound on America’s roads and streets, here in 2022, recharging stations remain few and far between.

     Have you ever run out of fuel while driving somewhere? I have. What did I do? I took a 2-gallon gas can out of my trunk and hitched a ride to the nearest gas station, after which I returned to my car and poured the gasoline into my car’s fuel tank and then drove back to the station to fill up my car’s gas tank. If I didn’t have a gas can in my trunk, the gas station would have lent me one – asking me to leave a deposit to ensure my returning it. If the gas station had been near enough, I would have walked to and from it. Now, suppose you exhaust the battery pack in your EV. What do you do? How do you get a bucket of electrical energy to your stranded car? Try carrying a battery pack to your car – it won’t be light in weight! And how long would it take to transfer charge from the portable battery to your car's battery pack? Maybe you can call AAA for a tow or a battery charge sufficient to get you to a charging station - wherever that may be.

     While battery swapping can eliminate the problem of overly long recharge times, the problem of an abundant supply of battery swapping stations remains. For the battery-swapping concept of Better Place to catch on, some country or state will need to take aggressive and proactive steps to institute and demonstrate how that can work. As of 2018, that step was taking place in China, but not here in the United States.

     The battery swapping idea of Better Place has taken off in China recently, thanks to a few prominent EV companies’ investments. Companies such as Nio and Aulton New Energy have built 1,400 battery-swap stations nationwide and plan to grow the number to 26,000 by 2025. They hope battery-swap tech can give them an edge in the increasingly fierce domestic competition for EV supremacy. The technological revival is also partly motivated by policy incentives, as the Chinese government started to offer subsidies specific to battery-swap EV models.
     As of February 2022, there were more than 1,400 battery-swap stations in China, more than double the number a year earlier. As the industry starts to attract more market interest, formidable competitors are jumping into the race. In April 2021, Sinopec Group, China’s state-owned petroleum giant and the world’s fifth-most profitable company, announced it planned to build 5,000 battery-swap stations. In January, Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), a Chinese company that manufactures one-third of all EV batteries in the world, launched a modular battery-swap service in 10 Chinese cities. Collectively, all of these Chinese companies have pledged to build as many as 26,000 stations by 2025, according to a report by Bloomberg.
     These battery-swap stations look like sleek boxes that you can pull a car into. Each station takes up the space of about three parking spaces and hosts five to 13 batteries. They are usually placed in gas stations or public parking lots.
     While having a fully charged battery in five minutes sounds great, the reality is more complicated. Waiting in line (because a station can only change batteries, one vehicle at a time) and waiting for a full battery (if all the ones in the station are charging) can extend the total time at the station, making it not quite as efficient as popping into a gas station.
     Conditions in China are in many ways more favorable than in the U.S. for battery-swap tech. The high urban population density in China means many people live in high-rise apartments and need to compete for the limited supply of EV chargers near their homes. If access to charging can’t be guaranteed, then swapping batteries is a useful alternative.
     The lack of a unified vision — and with it, the lack of interchangeable EV batteries — is one of the biggest problems facing the industry now. It’s what prevents battery-swap stations from becoming the gas station of a new era. “You wouldn't want a gasoline station which was a GM gasoline station, and another one that was a Ford gasoline station. That would be really annoying for the customer,”
     Last November, China’s national standards-making body released a charging safety standard, the first for the battery-swap field. It only determined the {maximum} number of times a battery can be safely swapped in its lifetime, but even that minor regulation could be the first step for different EV companies to coordinate their designs in the future.
     While most Chinese companies are still looking inward for the future of battery swap, one Chinese company is taking the concept overseas. In its plan to build 4,000 battery-swap stations by 2025, 1,000 will be outside China. In January, it launched its first overseas battery swap station in Norway. This company has also reportedly been eyeballing a U.S. expansion, which could be an interesting test to see whether the technology can make it stateside.[4]

     Tesla conceived of a 90-second battery-swap process for its Model S, but it noted a lack of demand for the service as the reason for abandoning the idea after a limited pilot program. Although that system relied on a permanent installation, Tesla, in 2017, showed signs that it was also looking into a mobile method, with documents proposing a battery-swapping rig that could be custom built onto a trailer.
     In 2018, Honda revealed the Mobile Power Pack World. Its partner in the effort was Panasonic, which was also the official supplier of lithium-ion cells for Tesla vehicles and Tesla’s partner in the Gigafactory that supplies them.
     Honda later announced a first ‘research experiment’ with the Mobile Power Pack in Indonesia, where it was to be given a market test in electric motorcycles and other mobility products. At charging-station kiosks, users would be able to exchange their battery instantly for a fully charged one. [5]

     So, while the Israeli company - Better Place - that came up with the battery swapping idea and technology for EVs died some 10 years ago, the concept and the promise of that concept live on.

     Vehicle ownership cost is an important consideration in the choice between an EV or an ICEV. Back in 2017 the cost of ownership of an EV far exceeded that of an ICEV, even after subsidies were accounted for.
     A cost of ownership comparison between the Chevy Bolt EV and two equivalent ICEVs, the Chevy Sonic and the Opel Astra, over 100,000 miles, showed that EVs were more expensive than ICEVs.
     In particular, 3 points came up :

  1. Excluding subsidies, the net expense difference was about $16,000 in the US.
  2. After subsidies, the difference was about $6,600 in the U.S.,
  3. Even if electricity were free (which of course it isn’t), after subsidies, the difference in cost of ownership in the U.S. would be $3,400.
     With respect to the Chevy Bolt specifically, analysts believed that GM was losing some $9,000 with every Bolt it sold. The automaker would need manufacturing costs to be cut by about $14,750 - 34% - to make the vehicle competitive with GM’s Opel Astra.[6]

     At the start of 2022, gasoline prices reached record levels, teetering on the edge of $5 a gallon, making switching from gas-powered to electric-powered vehicles more attractive. One study showed 8-years to be an average point where a person would save more with an EV than a gasoline powered car. By the end of 2022, gasoline prices had dropped sharply to around $3.50 a gallon. This would have made the time span to save more with an EV than a gasoline powered car jump to about 10 years. To determine the economics of vehicle ownership, one must estimate the upfront costs, the maintenance costs and the fuel costs.
     One such calculation assumed the following: gasoline at $4.66/gal, vehicle mileage at 26 mpg and 15,000 miles/year. That comes to $2,688/year spent on gas. For an EV with similar numbers, the annual cost comes to $562/year, assuming $0.15/kWh. Maintenance costs are lower with electric vehicles. Savings can range here, but Consumer Reports estimated about 50%. Finally, the upfront costs of buying an electric vehicle are higher. Kelley Blue Book estimated the average EV to cost about $10,000 more than a gas-powered vehicle.
     Take note of the fact that since this estimate was made, average gasoline prices in the U.S. had dropped by about a dollar a gallon. A potential EV buyer may also want to factor in the cost of charger at their home, given that 80% of EV charging happens at homes. Chargers can cost between $500 to $1500, plus the cost of installation.[7]

     As 2022 was drawing to a close, the cost of electricity was projected to rise sharply in the coming winter months. For instance, it was predicted by one source that the cost of electricity might jump by a whopping 54.6%.[8] Rising electric rates make the cost of EV ownership go up.

     One common denominator for all EVs is the cost of batteries. It’s the key factor behind the faster rate of depreciation of EVs versus ICEVs. Lithium-ion battery packs, which typically cost more than $10,000, largely determine whether or not EV ownership will cost more than equivalent ICE vehicles. Vehicle depreciation happens at alarming rates, mostly because of concerns over the battery pack’s declining range with age and use, and worries about their eventual disposal.

     As of 2018, in the case of the Bolt, GM listed the cost of its battery pack as $15,734 - almost the full price I paid for my 2015 Toyota Corolla.
     At the time, analysts suspected that it was part of GM’s commercial strategy to subsidize the battery packs so as not to show EV buyers that a replacement battery was so overwhelmingly expensive.
     Also, consider the inconvenient truth that GM’s own expectation was that, depending on use, the battery might degrade with age by 10 to 40 per cent of capacity over the {battery’s 8-year} warranty period.

     Battery durability is at least as important as price when it comes to the overall cost of EV ownership.
     On the battery degradation issue, analysts suspected that the industry was being too optimistic about how much better batteries were getting, year to year.[6]

     The time it takes to recharge a depleted battery pack remains one of the biggest drawbacks of EVs. So called fast charging was attempting to resolve this problem – so far not totally successfully.

     Another problem with EVs was the relatively small number of battery recharging stations in service.

     As of September 2018, there were an estimated 22,000 public charging stations in the US and Canada that were classified as level 2 and DC fast charging. (Typically, fast-charging stations supply 60 to 80 miles of range for every 20 minutes of charging.) By comparison, in 2018 there were seven times more gas stations, about 168,000 operating in the U.S.[9]

     In June 2022, the White House announced its optimistic goal of building a national network of 500,000 EV chargers along highways and in communities by 2030. But, as of 2022, there were still only about 47,000 charging stations in the U.S. compared to about 170,000 gas stations.[10]

     Driving along the highways, byways and streets of the United States, how many stations at which to recharge an EV's battery pack have you seen?

     The longer-range EVs that are coming to market to allay drivers’ range anxiety will have larger, more powerful and more expensive battery packs. That means they will require larger and more expensive charging systems to reduce the amount of time it takes to charge them.[9]

     Optimistic claims have been made for fast or ultra-fast EV chargers and stations. Ultra-fast electric-vehicle chargers promise to replenish drained batteries in a matter of minutes, and many industry insiders believe a vast public network of such devices is needed for EVs to win over larger numbers of new-car buyers.
     But it’s unclear how many of the dozens of types of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) on the way for the 2020s will be equipped to take full advantage of the advanced technology used in the ultra-fast EV chargers and stations.
     Few BEVs can handle the maximum charging speeds already available today, and even if ultra-fast charging becomes ubiquitous, next-generation batteries will need extensive upgrading to accommodate the much higher electricity flow rates possible.
     Ultra-fast chargers rated at 350 kW were hitting the market in 2018 that were capable of adding 124 miles of range to a drained BEV in less than 10 minutes. But there were no BEVs at that time that could handle the high electric current rates of those chargers. Tesla’s Supercharger, up to that time considered the state of the art in fast charging, was rated at 120 kW and still took about 40 minutes to replenish a Tesla Model S battery to 80% capacity. Most other EVs charged at rates below 50 kW.
     Level 2 chargers, the type most widely available in 2018 that could be installed in private homes and seen in retail and office parking lots, charged at rates below 20 kW, and many EVs limited the flow to much less than that.
     Another consideration is that fast charging, though convenient, could drive up the operating costs for BEVs, making them an even less attractive alternative for new-car buyers.
     When you start to do a lot of fast charging, the cost of ownership starts to deteriorate, because the cost of electricity in the daytime is a lot higher than when you charge at night. [10] And as previously noted, in late 2022, electricity rates were rapidly escalating.

     To make EV’s practical for someone like me, fast battery charging or fast battery swapping is a major consideration. Fast battery charging or swapping is essential, whether with a home battery charging station or, most importantly, at a commercial recharging or battery swapping station on the road.

     Many current EV owners charge their vehicles overnight at home to take advantage of lower electricity rates and to wake up with a full charge. However, some argue that doing this practice regularly will decrease battery longevity.
     As of 2022, a Level 1 battery charger can take 8-12 hours to fully charge an EV’s battery pack, a Level 2 charger can take 4-6 hours, and a Level 3 can recharge your batteries in as little as half an hour. Level 1 chargers – the most common type – range between $400 and $700, while higher-powered Level 2 chargers can run up to around $1,500. These charging times are still far longer than the 5 minutes or so it takes me to fill the gas tank on my current ICE vehicle! At the same time, commercial charging stations remain few and far between.
     While it’s apparent that Electric Vehicles are here to stay. efficient EV chargers and commercial charging stations are critical to their economic viability and performance.[11]

     The major challenge consumers face today is where to plug their electric vehicles in. The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates more than 80% of EV charging happens at home or work. But most U.S. homes do not have the electrical capacity to support the most common Level 2 EV chargers. To address this, Congress has wisely offered incentives to those who invest in building upgrades, including up to $4,000 for installing smart breaker boxes and tax deductions to reduce the cost of electrical improvements. We need to do even more.
     Expanding our public EV charging network is an absolute necessity. But a recent JD Power survey of EV owners found that 1 out of every 5 respondents who visited a public charging station ended up not charging their vehicle, with 72% of those indicating it was due to the station not working.
     This is a sign that our focus must be two-fold: Not only building more public charging stations, but also maintaining the ones we have. Government incentives for charging station maintenance could go a long way toward solving this challenge.
     Finally, we need more renewable energy on the grid to supply electric vehicles with power that is efficient, reliable and sustainable. Consumers can’t afford to trade price-gouging at the pump for sky-high prices at charging stations during peak demand or the risk of blackouts. We need a practical transition plan to bring more clean energy generation online, which includes responsible permitting reform that will also speed up much-needed investments in our utility grid.[12]

     At this time, major problems remain with all-electric vehicles. These problems include, but are not limited to:
     1) Battery Cost: At last look, the batteries for all-electric vehicles were adding about $10,000 or more to the cost of the vehicles. This was somewhat offset by the elimination of the cost of the internal combustion engine and the transmission system.
    2) Driving Range: Combustion engine powered cars had ranges up to 500 or 600 miles on a full tank of fuel while driving ranges for all-electric vehicles was in the low hundreds of miles range, or less.
    3) Long Charging Times: Refueling times for petroleum powered vehicles is about 5 minutes, while times for a full battery charge is typically measured in hours.
    4) Lack of Infrastructure: Gasoline stations are ubiquitous throughout the United States and in all developed nations around the world while electric recharging stations are still few and far between, especially fast-charging sites.

     A reasonable compromise to the arguments pro and con relative to BEVs and ICEvs is the Hybrid Electric Vehicle, the HEV. HEVs eliminate nearly all the problems associated with BEVs and some of the problems posed by ICEVs. While today, I won’t consider buying a BEV, would I, instead, consider an HEV when purchasing a new car? YES!

     The success of all-electric vehicles will require sizeable investments in R&D, the acceleration of vehicle charging infrastructure and, possibly, legislation for the installation of charge points in new homes. This transition to Electric Vehicles seems to be gaining momentum, albeit very slowly. While electric cars and trucks may account for a tiny percentage of vehicles on the road today, adoption is accelerating. It took over 20 years to sell the first million electric cars. But recently, a million electric vehicles were sold in less than half a year.

     So, as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, my driving needs will not be met by an all-electric battery powered vehicle for the reasons I have presented. If and when, I need a new car, it will either be a traditional Internal Combustion Engine powered Vehicle (ICEV), or possibly a Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV), but definitely, not a Battery powered Electric Vehicle (BEV).
  1. The History of the Electric Car, Department of Energy, 15 September 2014.
  2. Electric Cars in My Lifetime?, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 348, 7 February 2019.
  3. Better Place was supposed to revolutionize electric cars. What went wrong?, Brad Plumer, Time,
    23 August 2016.
  4. EV battery swapping was left for dead. Now, it’s being revived in China., Zeyl Yang, protocol, 21 March 2022.
  5. Batteries Not Included: Is Pack Swapping the Reboot that Affordable Electric Vehicles Need?,
    Bengt Halvorson, Car and Driver, 27 July 2018.
  6. Electric vehicle realities, Izabella Kaminska, ALPHAVILLE: FINANCIAL TIMES, 3 August 2017.
  7. Does getting an electric vehicle make financial sense?, Heather Brown, cbsnews.com, 9 June 2022.
  8. Bone-chilling bills in forecast, Rick Sobey, Boston Herald: Pge 20, 18 October 2022.
  9. Electric cars still face a big hurdle: the charging system, Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, 3 October 2018.
  10. Electric vehicle charging stations get green light across US, theguardian.com, 28 September 2022.
  11. EV Charger Buyer's Guide, 2022 Buyer’s Guide, Accessed 14 October 2022.
  12. Consumer experience key to driving EV success, Annette Clayton Boston Herald: Pge 17, 20 October 2022.

  3 November 2022 {Article 552; Suggestions?_74}    
Go back to the top of the page