Tobold's Blog
Saturday, March 09, 2024
The electric car experience

My wife bought a fully electric car, and I wanted to write about our experience with it. Due to differences in national and regional conditions and regulations, not all of our experiences are relevant to other people. There are still a lot of first-world problems here that one might consider trivial in the global context. But there are also a bunch of more fundamental issues behind all this, which then translate to problems with the path towards general electric mobility as a significant piece of the puzzle towards climate neutrality.

The first issue here is price. A fully electric car is more expensive than the same car with the same options and an internal combustion engine. By how much? Now this is where the problem might become critical: The difference is huge for small cars, and small for big luxury cars. My wife bought a "supermini", which is a relatively small car, for €45,000. She could have gotten the same car with a combustion engine for around €10,000 less. And compared to her previous car the electric car was actually twice the price, with part of the motivation for getting a bigger car having to do with bigger cars having room for bigger batteries. She would have been fine with a smaller petrol car.

So, do you get that added initial investment back because the higher energy efficiency of an electric motor compared to an internal combustion engine? Not really, and it turns out that the cost of filling your electric car is a whole chapter of problems by itself. Where we live the cost of petrol for driving a small petrol car 100 km is around €10. So if you drive around 10,000 km per year, you end up paying €1,000 per year in cost of petrol. So even if you had access to free electricity, it would take 10 years to recover the €10,000 higher cost of the car.

Now on paper our new electric car consumes 14 kWh per 100 km. If you would charge it at home at the current electricity price here of € 0.12 per kWh, that is still a relatively cheap €1.68 per 100 km, a sixth of the price of petrol. However, the price changes significantly if you start charging it at a public charging station. Prices for electricity at charging stations are all over the place, depending on the charging speed and whether you have a subscription with a particular provider. If you roll up to a charging station in an unfamiliar location, you might pay over € 0.80 per kWh from a provider foreign to you at a fast charging point. Which would make the cost per 100 km actually *higher* than petrol. If you are able to look around for a cheaper alternative and a medium speed charging speed (which would take over 2 hours to fill up our car from empty to 80%) you still pay around half of the cost of petrol.

In practical terms, charging on the road is highly annoying. Adding a payment system that accepts bank cards and credit cards is highly expensive, so only around 5% of charging stations have that option. The majority of others need a specific different system: An RFID card of a "mobility provider". You pay by simply holding your card up to the reader in the charging station, and the mobility provider handles the financial transaction between you and the owner of the charging station. For a fee, of course. If you don't have such an RFID card, you simply can't charge your car in most places. We are still in the process of finding the best mobility provider, but for Europe a good option seems to be Chargemap, a French company. You can get RFID cards from companies you know for running petrol stations, but independent companies like Chargemap tend to have a much bigger network, due to having contracts with more different electricity providers. The other annoying part of charging on the road is that not every charging station provides a cable, you might have to bring your own (imagine a petrol station requiring you to bring your own hose). Which is related to the problem of different electric cars having different connectors.

The bigger issue related to charging your car is how far you can get with a full battery. That is expressed by a WLTP range, which stands for Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure. That is basically a scam committed by the electric automobile industry which got that passed by heavy lobbying. The range is determined in a laboratory under ideal conditions, and it is technically impossible for any electric vehicle to reach it on a real road. Problems with the test procedure include it being mostly performed at low speeds around 50 km/h, with electric vehicles using a lot more energy at highway speed. And the laboratory test is performed at 23°C, while actual temperatures in Europe during most of the year are lower. Lower temperatures lower range in two ways: Lower battery performance, and added electricity consumption from heating. While car electronics and lights also use some battery power, that is generally a lot less than the power needed for heating or air conditioning.

The overall result is that under ideal real conditions you are lucky to reach 80% of the WTLP range of your car. In an European winter your range might be just 50% of the WTLP. In our personal experience in February in Western Europe, we have a real range of 250 km (consumption of nearly 20 kWh/100km at 55 kWh battery size), compared to the 400 km WTLP sticker range. That got aggravated by electric cars being programmed to warn the owner of the potential problem of running out of power: We did one trip of 110 km, which used 40% of our battery, but when asking the GPS to calculate the way back, it told us that we wouldn't make it without charging. Of course we neither had the RFID card, nor the cable with us, so the way home was extremely stressful, even if the warning was overblown and we arrived with 19% left.

And that is where we are: We don't use the electric car for trips to places over 100 km away anymore, as we have a second car running on petrol for that. Our plans to one day eliminate the second car are currently on ice, until there are major developments in the availability, speed and ease of charging on the road. Of course we do a lot of small trips for shopping and the like, and for that the electric car is fine. We charge our electric car with excess electricity from our solar panels, which is probably the lowest cost you can have. But we probably won't ever recover the additional cost of the electric vehicle. That makes the electric car one of those things that rich people with a progressive conscience do, and not something which is really feasible for the general population. Which is why electric car sales are currently stalling globally. Solving global warming with electric vehicles seems still utopic.

Nice write up. I'm hesitant to get an electric for basically all the things you listed here on top of me living in apartments and not having a way to charge when parked at home.

Do you know how long your battery array will last before it needs replacement and how much that would cost? That is another factor that stops me from considering electric vehicles as I want a car I could keep for years.
We need to replace our car soon and we mentioned it when we took it into the garage for something recently. The garage owner advised us not even to think about an electric car yet. He said the infrastructure just isn't there yet, which is certainly what I would have thought from the complete absence of public charging points just about everywhere we go and the impracticability of home charging in the city where I live, where most people have no other option but to street park.

I was wondering if that was just the UK lagging behind but from your experience it doesn't sound like the rest of Europe is much further ahead. At my age, I'm not convinced I'll live long enough to see electric vehicles become the norm. As for self-driving cars...
The best data I have is that the battery lasts about 5 years, but the electric car is easily good for 15 years. So two battery replacement over the lifetime. The best data I have about the cost is $139 per kWh on average, which would be $8,000 for our car.
My wife bought a "supermini", which is a relatively small car, for €45,000. She could have gotten the same car with a combustion engine for around €10,000 less.

Can you give the make/model? Less than 10kE for an internal combustion seems very low, considering that the basic FIAT Panda model is around 15k.

Your data on battery life is strange, I would expect that cycles weighs a lot more than years in the battery lifetime. BTW Tesla reports 12% capacity loss after 200k miles and they provide 8 year guarantee, so your 5 years seems very low.
I think your analysis is spot on. Things are getting better - at least here in Canada the charging infrastructure has been growing out. It helps that the car manufacturers have finally agreed on a single charging standard.

Also, it turns out that most people drive fairly short distances and can do all their charging from home.

The cost of ICE cars has been going up as well. I recently checked out the used price of my own car, and it's the same as what I paid when I bought it five years ago. The car has not dropped in value in five years! In Canada, the average price of a new car is now $66k. So most people have no choice but to hang on to their car as long as they can.
@Helistar: Not “less than 10k”, but “10k less than electric”.
Ah sorry, I misread.
BTW when it comes to total cost of ownership, one of the main consumer's associations in France did all the comparisons for mid-sized cars.

It would seem that it takes around 5 years to recoup the cost.
They also slam pretty hard Chargemap, putting it in the #1 spot for expensive and obscure pricing.
@Helistar: That calculation includes a French subsidy of €7,000 for buying an electric car, and assumes you always charge it at home at low cost. The article also explains that the more kilometers you drive each year, the better the economics get. Which is unfortunate, because the range problem makes the electric car better for short trips only, and it is hard to reach 20,000 km a year with only short trips.
I have two paid off gas cars. It would take a hell of a lot of mechanical issues with them before I would have saved money getting a new car of any kind, much less an electric one. I really think that most people buy cars a lot more often than they need to.

More on topic, for me personally I feel like it's going to be about ten more years before an electric car presents the same value proposition as a good gasoline powered car. Electric cars are improving so quickly that any electric car in the sub 10K price range will be absolutely terrible, with even worse driving range than the ones they are selling now. You also can't buy a new one and keep using it for 10+ years like you can with a good gas car, because the ones they will be selling ten years from now will make a current one look like a complete piece of crap.
I'm in Canada and we're lucky to have a good charging infrastructure. There is still some times when you have to wait to charge but it doesnt happen (to me) very often but thats probably because We got a Plug-in 4 years ago. 4L/100 km with gas but only 56 km autonomy with the battery.

My wife work 10 km from home so its almost always on electric mode for the shorts trips. When we need to do more than a 50 km trip we use electric mode in the city and gas on the highway. So far we gas up every 2 months and charge up every 2-3 days.

The Plug-in was the best choice for us and we're still happy with it. With an autonomy of 1000 km with gas and electricity combined.

Like Yeebo said, i'll get a full electric car in a few years, when the range, technology and price have stabilized.

PS: Any chance we'll see some more D&D posts ? :)
I've been reading you since the very first days of this blog, more than 20 years ago. I'll be honest with you: I am baffled that you ended up buying an electric car. I would have never-ever imagined you would have fallen for this "scam". Other people, maybe. Not you. Why? Well, your post is the exact reason why.
The problem is that the European Union is determined to phase out internal combustion engine cars by 2035. The last thing I want is to ignore the new electric car technology and then discover all the disadvantages when I have no other choice. We bought an electric car now as a "second car" for short distances, and we are just experimenting with range, without really needing to. Most of our trips are short, and well within the range of the electric car. For everything else, we hop in my nice BMW 3 series petrol car, and drive as far as we want. By having a first electric car, we get a better view on the improvements of the charging situation and learn how much range we'll actually need in the future, with future cars hopefully having better ranges.

I admit to be in same situation as the majority of people who bought an electric car: I have a left-leaning progressive conscience and am worried about climate change, but I also have the means to afford something which doesn't make economic sense, but is good for the environment. It is less of a scam than paying extra for your airline ticket to buy an "offset" for the produced CO2, but the same sort of target audience.
> The problem is that the European Union is determined to phase out internal combustion engine cars by 2035.

That's the theory, but it's *very* far from being a feasable scenario. We simply don't have the infrastructure to sustain a full electric switch. As you already put in words with this article, think about summer or deep winter situations where every car is electric. We don't have enough power, enough chargin stations, etc.

> The last thing I want is to ignore the new electric car technology and then discover all the disadvantages when I have no other choice.

I get what you mean but your experience was a well-known thing. By simply reading other feedbacks all over the Internet. Electric cars are still in a *very* early stage. They're overpriced for what they offer and they will be a piece of garbage by 2035 (on top of the added costs you will have to sustain IF your car hits the 10 years mark).

> By having a first electric car, we get a better view on the improvements of the charging situation and learn how much range we'll actually need in the future, with future cars hopefully having better ranges.

I Understand the idea behind the experience, of course, but I am not quite sure it's well worth the money, to be honest. You're a very educated, intelligent, smart and experienced person. I've been reading you for 20+ years, you are well ahead the curve, as someone may say. I didn't expect you could be an electric customer, that's all.
Less than 20 years ago my research got me into contact with people working on hydrogen cars. At the time, the hydrogen car and the electric car had about the same performance, both absolutely abysmal. Today, the hydrogen car still is at nearly the same abysmal level. The electric car has come a long way since, and left the hydrogen car completely in the dust. How will it look it 10 years? I don’t know!

Chinese electric cars are already substantially cheaper than European ones. And in my situation, with an excess of available photovoltaic power used for an electric car that is for short trips only, price is the only major issue. But I completely understand you Kant philosophical approach: If everybody switched to an electric car today, we wouldn’t be ready. I believe your estimate that we *won’t* be ready by 2035. But several parts of the issue are chicken and egg problems, so some people probably need to be pioneers, which then leads to more network capability being built.
> How will it look it 10 years? I don’t know!

We all hope 2034 will be a a lot better, yes, but if we're spending our money now... Any electric car is (still) a very bad investment, there is no way to sugarcoat it. You're buying something that is greatly overpriced and already old.

> I believe your estimate that we *won’t* be ready by 2035.

Different countries have different infrastructures/tech resources, of course, but having a full-electrified Europe in 10 years is pure utopia. I mean, I live in Italy and we don't even have fast Internet in most of the country, due to landscape/bureaucratic reasons.

These changes take *ages*, it's not something you "just do" because there is an hypothetical 2035 deadline. That date will be shifted far in the future, +5 or maybe +10 years if not even more. Going full electric requires an insane amount of engineering, architectural and civil work. Machines. Time. Money. 10 years is nothing, considering where we are now.

Also, is it really doable? Let's say most of the cars are electric. What will people do during the summer holidays, when everyone is traveling on road and everyone will be charging their car every 300 km (if they're lucky)? We need a LOT of charging stations, everywhere, and the charging speed needs to be a LOT, really a LOT faster. There is no way families with kids just sit and wait half an hour (or more) to charge the batteries, only to see them die 300 km later because it's hot and there is a queue/accident where they've been stuck under the sun with the A/C on.

What if the family has an issue and runs out of battery power? With a petrol-based car you walk a little, put some gasoline in a bottle and you're ready to start the engine again. With an EV you're dead. Imagine yourself with your kids on a remote road on the mountains, where you suddenly need to charge the car but the nearest stations (if they exist) have already been taken by other EV people.

The electric dream may work now because the amount of electric cars is a just tiny percentage. Raise that number and the system will collapse. 10 years is not even close to the required time for a full electric switch.

> several parts of the issue are chicken and egg problems, so some people probably need to be pioneers, which then leads to more network capability being built.

The electric dream has been pushed hard, in the past years. Something is moving in the right direction. Baby steps, in my opinion. Electric cars still have too many issues and disadvantages. The tech is not quite there (yet), that's why buying an EV in 2024 is still a crazy weird choice, in my humble opinion.
Unless there are drastic changes, in 10 years you will often not be able to get electricity to charge an electric car, or for that matter, to heat your house with a heat pump, cook your dinner on an electric stove rather than a gas one, etc. The same elite fools who want all cars to be electric want to shut down both fossil fuel and nuclear plants, and think they can substitute wind and solar that only run part time.
I just put a deposit on a plug in hybrid. I guess they are so in demand that I'm looking at an 18 month wait before I get it.

I did consider full electric but it's just not there yet. For the most part I just drive around town and would be fine. I thought I could just rent a gas car for road trips, I only do 5-6 of them per year so not a huge deal. I wouldn't want to travel with an electric car, I like to get to where I'm going and wouldn't enjoy waiting 30 minutes or longer to charge.

The plug in hybrid only has a range of 60+ km but that is plenty for the driving I do. The gas will kick in for other factors too, like if it's really cold and you have the heat on or you need extra power accelerating. I've checked with owners of this car on forums and many say they go months without needing gas.

You can also charge it using a standard 120v plug. My plan is to do my daily driving and then plug it in at night when electricity is cheaper.
@Markm: We all know damn well fossil fuels aren't going anywhere in the next decade. You sound like a hysterical Mississippi grandmother that's been watching too much Fox News.

Also, batteries dude. Batteries.
Yeebo: If "batteries dude" means you think intermittent wind and solar power can be corrected with battery backup, NO ONE is buying batteries in the quantity needed to even cover a 1 minute outage. The cost to supply the days and weeks of backup that is actually needed would be astronomical, and making that many batteries would require multiplying the mining and production of lithium and other minerals by orders of magnitude.

I don't listen to Fox News. I am a EE and I did the calculations for myself, which you evidently cannot. But you don't really need even arithmetic to understand that decreasing reliable power production while increasing demand is a recipe for disaster. You just have to comprehend "greater than" and "less than"...
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