As we move from distant fantasy to probable reality, there will naturally be a lot of questions and conceptions to contend with. Like, can I actually afford an electric vehicle? Will it run out of charge while I’m driving down the highway at night? Can an EV tow my RV? How long do the batteries last before they need replacing?
We too wanted answers, so we put it to an expert. We sat down with new energy vehicle specialist at CarsGuide and author of the EVGuide Report Tom White to debunk some common EV myths and clarify what’s true.
Range anxiety comes up a lot when talking about EVs. It refers to the fear that you can’t get very far on a single charge – or that you’ll run out of power on your journey. So, is it true?
Tom explains that in Australia, the top 15 EV models available all offer more than 450km of range. Most EVs on the market are targeting a range of at least 400km, with more advanced makes like the Tesla Model S reaching as much as 837km. “Ask anyone who’s driven an EV: by the time you get to 450km of range, range anxiety doesn’t exist anymore,” Tom says.
The average Australian commuter only travels 38kms a day or less. In theory, that means one full charge should well and truly see most individuals through their entire week. “Even the EVs with lower range, closer to 250kms, would have enough range for most consumers.”
You can definitely charge your EV from home – actually, most owners do. “Charging on a home charger is what we call level one charging, which goes from 2.4 kilowatts to 7.2 kilowatts. That’s in the realm of about 20 to 50 kilometres of range an hour,” Tom says. In short: if you plug your EV in overnight, you should have a full charge by morning.
Public charging infrastructure, like the plugs you see at shopping centres, are great for people who don’t have suitable home charging options – and can offer more rapid charging too. “Those are level two chargers and they’re in the realm of 100 to 150 kilometres of range per hour,” Tom says. “So if you do a grocery shop twice a week or go to somewhere like the gym, that’s one way you can get 200 to 300 kilometres of charge.”
Level three charging (or DC charging) requires more expensive infrastructure and dedicated DC plugs – but has the capacity to deliver even quicker results. “That’s where you start to see hundreds of kilometres of range in an hour … or at the very top end, 100km of range in about 15 minutes.”
Some people believe electric vehicles are slow to drive and much less powerful than petrol cars. Tom explains that even the most affordable EVs can be more powerful than their combustion equivalents. “So we’re talking about a performance jump rather than a downgrade when it comes to swapping to pure electric technology.”
There are some concerns for people who want a car with towing capacity, as more weight will affect range. But Tom says that on a performance level, EV models can keep up. “About three years ago, we took a Tesla Model X and a Toyota LandCruiser (one of the most popular vehicles used for towing in Australia) and towed the same trailer over the Blue Mountains on both,” he says.
“It was a worst case scenario: travelling uphill, the most consumption possible. And the Tesla could absolutely do it. It took the weight of the trailer completely in its stride because the performance was so powerful from its electric motors.”
When we last wrote about EVs, we pointed out that the cheapest model currently available in Australia is priced at $44,990 drive-away. That is still less than the two best-selling models of 2021 and is nearly on par with the average spend on a new car in Australia.
Tom says it will take some advancement in technology to bring the price of new EVs closer to $25,000–$30,000. But he does point to a growing secondhand market in coming decades as a way for more average earners to afford electric. “One of the biggest success stories we’ve seen over in Europe is government fleets and business fleets having to hit targets to fill to fill their ranks with electric vehicles,” Tom says.
“What happens when those fleets start to fill with electric vehicles, is they filter down to the second hand market, and that creates a really healthy price drop for your average consumer. So that’s one thing that governments and businesses can do in Australia to help … the average consumer afford a lightly used secondhand EV.”
It’s easy to assume new technology means higher maintenance costs, but Tom says the opposite is true of EVs. “For one, the EVs we’re seeing come out now have longer service intervals,” Tom says. “A service for a combustion car would be roughly a year, or 15,000 kilometres. A lot of electric vehicles average two years or 30,000 kilometres for their service interval. That’s because there are less moving parts and fewer mechanical items … it’s just a simple electric motor with a handful of parts in it.”
This also means servicing costs are generally lower for EVs than combustion vehicles too.“A lot of people have to remember that when they’re buying an EV, they’re actually investing in all of those costs upfront,” Tom adds. So paying more to purchase, but saving a lot of money over the life of the car.
EV batteries have a much longer lifespan than most people probably assume. On average, car manufacturers put that at around eight years or 160,000km. After eight years, most guarantees state the battery should still be holding 70 or 80 per cent of its original capacity. There are many factors that can cause batteries to degrade quicker over time (like hot or cold temperatures and extensive use of rapid chargers), but some estimates suggest batteries can last for anywhere between 10 to 20 years.
Depleted batteries can also be recycled and repurposed. They can be used as cells to store solar and wind energy, or as community battery storage. And they can also be recycled for their raw materials like lithium and cobalt.