Electric Cars Capturing Attention
Across the Nation, Service Territory
In the past year, electric vehicles have charged up the imagination of more and more Americans. One out of five Americans says he or she is likely to buy an electric vehicle (EV) in the future, according to a consumer report by the American Automobile Association, and that figure climbed 15 percent from the previous year.
Locally, United advisors also have seen increased consumer interest each year in EVs as well as the addition of greater affordability and more EV options to the automotive market.
EVs still make up a relatively small percentage of vehicles on American roadways and highways. The electric vehicle database, EV-Volumes, estimates electric cars comprised only 2.1 percent of vehicles on the roadway in 2018. So why the sudden consumer interest in EVs?
The same AAA survey found 80 percent of the respondents cited environmental benefits as key to motivating their interest. The remaining 20 percent attributed long-term cost savings as an important consideration, adding that fuel-cost stability and reliability were major selling points, as well.
Consumers should consider three components when evaluating the environmental benefits of an EV: tailpipe emissions, well-to-wheel emissions and the fuel sources used to charge the car, and the vehicle’s efficiency.
Tailpipe emissions—An EV is a clear winner when it comes to “direct” tailpipe emissions—EVs don’t have tailpipes. Looking at the benefits purely on this one component, the EVs are certainly more eco-friendly than conventional gas-powered vehicles. However, other factors should be weighed before pegging an EV as truly eco-friendly.
Well-to-wheel emissions and fuel sources—Evaluating well-to-wheel emissions gives a more precise look at the purported environmental benefits that an EV actually provides.This takes into account the air pollutants emitted to produce and distribute the energy used to charge the car’s battery. The amount of well-to-wheel emissions greatly depends on the fuel sources used for generation. If coal is the predominant fuel source for generating the charging electricity, the well-to-wheel emissions have similar overall emissions as a conventional gas-powered vehicle.
According to U.S. Department of Energy, the Texas average well-to-wheel annual emission average for an EV is approximately 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2). The typical gas-powered vehicle has an annual well-to-wheel emission of 11,435 pounds of CO2 (that includes pumping oil from the ground, refining, etc.).
In this scenario, the emissions footprint of an EV charged in Texas is more than 50 percent less than a conventional gas-powered vehicle, and this is because of the state’s generation mix. Natural gas and wind generation resources account for 60 percent of the fuel mix in the Lone Star State—both of which are abundant, efficient and considered cleaner energy resources compared to coal.
Efficiency of electric cars—Although the fuel sources used to generate energy in Texas help EVs emit less CO2 than gas-powered vehicles, EVs convert energy to power more efficiently than gas-powered vehicles, and that increases their eco-friendliness.
The Department of Energy reports that conventional vehicles convert only 17 to 21 percent of fuel to usable power. By contrast, EVs convert 59-62 percent of the electric energy to power.
Consumers need to understand the metric used to express fuel economy to compare fuel efficiency of EVs and conventional vehicles correctly. A gas-powered vehicle uses miles per gallon (mpg), and this estimates the number of miles the vehicle can travel when using a given quantity of fuel. Consumers use this often to compare vehicles that use gas or diesel fuel.
Vehicles that do not use a liquid fuel source, such as EVs, show miles per gallon-equivalent. Similar to mpg, instead of representing a distance per gallon of liquid fuel, it represents the number of miles the vehicle can go based on a fuel quantity with the same energy content as a gallon of fuel. Consumers can use this figure as a reasonable comparison between vehicles using different fuel sources.
Many variables influence a fuel-cost comparison, but the two most obvious are the price of electricity and the price of gasoline. The price of electricity has a history of being relatively stable, but like any other energy resource, it is susceptible to market swings. Gas and diesel prices are often subject to market volatility.
In a calculation of the savings in fuel cost for an EV, United estimates that the EV’s annual fuel cost is 70 percent less than the cost to operate a conventional gas-powered vehicle.
The annual fuel cost to operate an EV is approximately $430, and this figure is based on United’s current rates. The total for an average gas-powered vehicle is $1,483, and the difference equates to an annual savings of approximately $1,053 as shown in figure on this page. Of course, this figure could vary depending on the total miles driven, the fuel efficiency rating of the vehicle and the price of both fuel sources.
In this calculation, United used a national average of 25 miles per gallon and a local average gasoline cost of $2.06 per gallon. The model allowed for an average total commute range of 50 miles a day, 5 days per week, 52 weeks a year, which equated to 13,000 miles annually. An additional 3,596 miles for weekend driving was included.
For the electric vehicle, the electric vehicle in the model consumed 427 kWh of electricity a month. Based on those modeling assumptions, the EV enjoys a significant fuel cost savings differential.
For consumers motivated by long-term cost savings, it’s fair to mention that costs start with the purchase, and some of today’s newer base models are priced in the $30,000-$40,000 range. However, costs can mount quickly from there depending on the particular make and model.
Beyond purchase cost, the other two main components for evaluating long-term EV cost-saving potential are fuel cost and maintenance comparisons between an EV and a gas-powered vehicle.
Maintenance costs have so many variables in play that it can be difficult to assess a viable comparison between EVs and conventional vehicles. However, EVs may have conventional cars beaten in costs—at least while their batteries are fully functional.
Regular maintenance for conventional vehicles includes oil, coolant and transmission fluid changes, as well as the scheduled maintenance of a variety of other powertrain components. Depending on how a gas-powered vehicle is used and how regularly it’s maintained, overall maintenance costs can increase—sometimes exponentially—as the vehicle ages. By comparison, an EV does not have an internal combustion engine—which means fewer mechanical parts and less to maintain in an EV. Those two big differences can add up to savings for the EV owner when comparing the routine maintenance.
However, EVs aren’t maintenance free, and consumers should consider the life cycle of the EV’s battery. Like all rechargeable batteries, today’s EV batteries are limited in the number of times they can be charged and discharged. Battery performance degrades over time.
While EV manufacturers typically offer an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty that covers replacement cost for defective batteries, the price for batteries not covered under warranties is not available because manufacturers generally don’t share those costs publicly. However, prices for replacements are most likely significant.
EVs provide many benefits that include no emissions, improved fuel and maintenance savings and a quieter ride. But on the other side of the coin, they may not currently have the longevity that a gas-powered vehicle might. Charging station availability and travel range anxiety might pose concerns for consumers who want to use an EV for more than commuting and, at least for the present, the options in EV vehicles are still limited even if the automotive industry is gearing up to expand future markets.