Seeking the fulcrum is an important aspect of vehicle cost management, as Iain Robertson highlights, but it also includes environmental issues and the bigger question surrounding whether, in a period of sea change, we need to, or not.
Continuing my information gathering series on the forthcoming (2030) shift from fossil-fuelled motor vehicles to battery-electric, I have been bombarded by the ‘zero-CO2’ argument in the latter’s favour. However, what the EVangelists fail to point out is that a zero rating relates only to the main aspect of propulsion. It tends to overlook the amount of CO2 produced in manufacturing and the other operational trade-offs, such as wear items that include tyres, brake linings, brakes and other regular maintenance aspects, all of which emit dangerous pollutants, let alone declaring the source of the electricity used to recharge batteries.
As such, EVs are not quite as ‘clean and green’ and eco-saving as the predominant argument in their favour might suggest. Despite Tesla boss, Elon Musk’s assertions to the contrary, while I am not suggesting for a moment that his view of eco-salvation is unwholesome, it might be a little specious, when you consider the locations of his much-vaunted battery gigafactories and their need to be close to respective nations’ main electricity grids. Be aware that his megaplants are also being replicated by other battery-makers and, what we cannot see behind borders to coal-dependent Poland, Russia and China, does not excuse them of some very grubby practices. Turning a Nelson eye can be a tad convenient, when the rush is on, but it is not being eco-conscious.
While no nation desires negative publicity, considering that China controls around 95% of all the world’s precious metals and their questionable means of exploitative extraction, must not obviate it from criticism. While it is exceedingly difficult, or impossible to obtain an answer to quantifying the amount of pollution created by battery production, fortunately some scientists have revealed that there is a break-even point for the modes of transport. Sadly, there are so many so-called ‘experts’ emerging from the accelerated advent of EV production, many of whom possess vested interests, or wish to play an alternative and undisclosed agenda (often political), that the information available can become stilted and skewed into falsehood.
Yet, Chinese carmaker, Polestar, part of the Volvo scene, suggested during a recent pan-European launch exercise that its second, compact EV model (Polestar 2), when plugged into the mixed bag of European sockets, would need to cover around 45,000 miles before reaching the CO2 break-even point of an equivalent petrol-powered model. It is a fascinating statement, as even the most jaded of environmentalists had been thinking about a 15,000 miles break. That there is a such a fulcrum is important to appreciating issues related to building up greenhouse gases in our friable atmosphere.
However, when power consumption is considered, other issues rear their heads. Mazda is a thoroughly respectable carmaker. While it has electrified minor elements of its new cars, the MX-30 model that is coming to its UK showrooms imminently happens to be its first all-electric car. Yet, it has already received criticism for being powered by a smaller electric pack than many of its purported rivals. This results in a smaller range potential (around 100-miles, with a following breeze), which demands more frequent recharging of the batteries. On the other hand, a Tesla3 with a three-times more potent combination can manage (unsurprisingly) three times the range.
If your mobility life centres on a single vehicle, in terms of reducing the hassle, the Tesla would seem to be the ideal, if costlier, option. However, the Mazda alternative is not as heavy and does provide model life advantages in reduced CO2 levels overall. Deciding the amount of literal impact on the environment will swing the balance in favour of the Mazda.
A simple truth is starting to emerge from across the entire world motor industry that switching to an EV might not provide a true and acceptable means of transforming our transport choices. According to accrued transport research, daily private use of a motor vehicle is less than 30 miles, while an average commute to and from work is around 50 miles. An average low consumption EV, trickle recharging overnight with a wall-charger, at off-peak rates naturally, might provide the ideal solution, a factor that has certainly helped promote Nissan Leaf registrations to their present popularity.
While the exodus of city folks to countryside dwelling continues inexorably, EV range issues will rear their unwelcome heads around vacation time. The argument in favour of low-power EVs for city dwellers is a sensible one, while the punchier and heavier alternatives, with their extended ranges, may be preferred by the same motorists, who never allow their petrol/diesel tanks to drop below ¾-full. Yet, perhaps the alternative is a typical ‘two-car’ programme, with an EV for built-up areas that will certainly remove the hateful potential of smog, and a clean-fuel alternative for longer treks?
Scientists are already working on hydrogen production that is greener than the oil-related original, which possesses no environmental advantages but pleases the oil barons. Novel chemical fuels also form part of the alternative mix, which would mean that the Internal Combustion Engine that has been behind more than 120 years of propulsion would be granted a major life extension. However, viable production volumes and the inevitable changes to refuelling infrastructure will take a few years to create, even though they could be ready notionally by 2030.
The bottom-line is that we must accept that a future with battery power is unavoidable. Wind farms can provide a cleaner energy solution but wave energy generators can also be harnessed, as long as our coastline can allow it. Some electricity providers are already using solar energy as a moderately efficient fuel source.
Conclusion: Dropping the zero-CO2 statements in respect of EVs would be an honest choice. The next hurdle involves closing the gap between new EV list prices and those of conventional transport, which may prove more awkward to amortise. There are many more questions to be answered before a definitive ‘yes’ can be made.