The truth about electric cars

I don’t know why everybody is hating on electric cars. After all, they are the future.

(Before I start, I want to state explicitly that I am not a car expert. At all. Please do not hate if I say something wrong. Also, being a Brit, I say petrol. Any Americans, please substitute ‘gas’ and continue. You are wrong, but have it your way.)

Electric cars are the future, and are superior to petrol cars in almost every way. There. I said it. They are very close to being able to beat petrol cars in acceleration, range, cost, efficiency and pollution. It is a clear-cut battle, and it is a battle for the future of the roads. And I have a bet on who’s going to win.

The Tesla Model S is, by far, the best electric car on the market. If you buy all the bells and whistles, it can do more than 300 miles on one charge. It can go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. It has more storage space than any any other similar car on the market, and has the single highest safety rating of any car rated by the NHTSA. Plus it looks really cool.

But Tesla is doing more than making really cool cars. They have given the auto industry a royal kick up the arse, and made it turn around and try to better prepare itself for next time. Before Tesla, there were no EVs (electric vehicles) being made  by any major US manufacturers. Now there is a whole slew of them.

But none of them come close to the power, range or sheer coolness of the Model S. And more than that, the Model S is among the best vehicles for the environment that is on the market. Which kinda goes against common knowledge.

You will probably think that electric cars are about as good for the planet (in the short term) as petrol cars. This is because (tick all that apply) the battery is very carbon-intensive/the power is generated in a coal-burning station/the car is more power-intensive/the car itself uses a lot of energy. A good few of those are true. But that fact remains that the Model S is the single best car for the environment out the market. You are believing propaganda spread by Big Oil.

Tim Urban (from waitbutwhy.com) has a nice analogy for why the oil industry has had such a backlash against Tesla. The auto industry has had a cupcake for the last 50 years, and Tesla just made it eat vegetables. No nice, but it’ll be OK. The oil industry has had a cupcake for the past hundred years, and Tesla is advancing on it with a plate of glass shards. It will not be pretty.

So the oil industry has been on the smear project of the decade, targeted against the entire EV industry. And the big gun has been ‘if you don’t generate the energy to drive in an engine with petrol, then you will generate it in a power station with coal’. The ‘long exhaust pipe’ claim.

This is wrong.

For one thing, power stations are much more efficient then engines. The best cars only convert about 20% of the energy in petrol into forward motion, the most inefficient coal-burning power stations get a 40% yield. So even if you were running your Tesla in a country that uses 100% coal power (like North Korea, we think) then you would still be using twice as much fuel. But most countries don’t use 100% coal. Most developed countries use about 30% renewables, and some are a lot higher. France is 77% nuclear and Iceland only uses 0.2% fossil fuels.

There is a unit we can use here – miles per galleon emissions equivalent. Essentially, it’s the amount of emissions that the power generation creates, compared to the emission of a combustion engine.

The average new car gets about 23 mpg, so 23 mpg emissions equivalent (abbreviated to MPGghg). aDriving a Tesla in a 100% coal country gets about 30 MPGghg – better than a new car. In a country running entirely on natural gas, the MPGghg jumps to 54 – outperforming anything else on the road. Obviously the energy mix depends on where you are, but driving a Tesla in upstate New York gets more than 110 MPGghg. That’s the highest in the US. The lowest is 34, which is still equal to a high-end petrol car.

MPG Map

There you go. As soon as Tesla start selling the Model 3 – a low price, high-range EV – there will literally be no reason to ever buy a petrol car again. That’s a nice boot up the arse for the auto industry, a mouthful of glass for Big Oil and a big cuddle for Mother Nature.

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