Are Electric Cars Better for the Environment than Gasoline Cars

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Over the last 10 years electric cars have been on the rise for consumer use, some electric cars varying as hybrid cars, and fully electric cars like Tesla’s Model X. Electric cars seem like the better option when you initially look at efficiency and vehicle emissions compared to gasoline cars but don’t account for the monetary difference, the weight, the power, and the effect on car culture. Electric cars do have their benefits but do the benefits out way the benefits of gasoline cars and are electric cars better for the environment ?

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Cars have a long history dating all the way back to the 1800s, and most people believe that the first car invented was a car using traditional internal combustion engine (ICE), but according to Eckard Helmers and Patrick Marx, the first car was invented in 1834 by an American inventor named Thomas Davenport and it was powered by an electric drive train. Then in 1886, the first ICE was developed by Benz and Daimler in Germany. This shows that the first car was the electric car and was invented 52 years before the first ICE vehicle was created, and later, in the early 1900s, Electric vehicles made up of a significant share of all driven vehicles. Around this time Porsche has invented the first Hybrid car, that uses an ICE and a battery to power the vehicle, Electric vehicles and ICE’s were competing until Henry Ford in 1908, chose an ICE engine in his Model T to be mass-produced which made ICE vehicles to be the standard for all vehicles.

ICE cars continued to rule the market for the next 80 years creating a vast number of different cars, including SUVs, muscle cars, family cars, trucks, and semis. This created a car culture of people who enjoy purchasing, driving, and working on cars. America continued to be this way until the 1990s where Toyota created the first hybrid car using new lithium-ion batteries. Toyota’s efficient hybrid, called the Toyota Prius, rose in popularity very quickly and began the growth of electric vehicles.

Electric cars are growing in popularity in America, but what exactly is an electric car? According to the union of concerned scientists, “Electric cars run at least partially on electricity. Unlike conventional vehicles that use a gasoline or diesel-powered engine, electric cars and trucks use an electric motor powered by electricity from batteries or a fuel cell.” Which puts all of Tesla’s vehicles under the category of Electric Vehicles, or BEV. Other types of vehicles that would be considered a BEV would be Toyotas Prius. A BEV has a much different method of getting the power to the wheel then a gasoline car has. According to Larminie and Lowry, the parts of a BEV composes of an electric battery, an electric motor, and a motor controller. Larminie and Lowry also stated that “The technical structure of a BEV is simpler compared to ICEV since no starting, exhaust or lubrication system, mostly no gearbox, and sometimes, not even a cooling system are needed.”, which makes an electric car vastly different than an ICE vehicle.

ICE vehicles, also known as Gasoline, Diesel, or Natural Gas vehicles, have been used as a main form of transportation for the last 100 years and has created a lot of jobs in the car industry, designing, building, and repairing cars. ICE’s consist of lots of moving parts, as Julia and Karim Nice said, ICEs consist of a fuel tank providing fuel to the engine, an engine that ignites the fuel to create power, that power is sent through the transmission which allows us to change gears as if riding a bike, and a drive train which converts the power to the wheels. ICEs have gone through a lot of improvement in efficiency, power, and range over the years. Some combustion engines are capable of up to 50 mpg, which is a high efficiency compared to cars in the past which were unlikely to be more than 20 mpg. ICEs create two different types of values, one of them is called Horsepower, which can be used to describe the power of the engine, and torque, which can be described as the amount of force that the wheels are putting to the ground. Trucks are vehicles that need to have a high torque so that they can tow high loads and still get the power to the road, this is why large trucks that have a high tow weight have diesel engines because they create more torque than normal gasoline trucks.

Emissions being sent into our atmosphere has begun to be a much larger concern within the last 20 years, “Worldwide, 26% of energy consumption is spent on transportation or 23% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. In the transport sector, road transport accounts for 74% of global traffic. Thus, the car is of central importance in reducing CO 2 emissions.”  Cars are a big part of the emissions, so people get an electric car to remove the CO 2 emissions entirely to help the environment, but how much CO2 emissions are generated from the coal plant providing power to an electric car? According to Carbon fund, every KwH has 0.9884 pounds of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, to charge an electric vehicle to drive 100 miles it will take 34 KwH, which puts us at 33.6 pounds of CO2 emitted into the air. An ICE emits about 19.35 pounds of CO2 for every gallon of gas used, so to go the same distance with an ICE with 30 mpg efficiency, has 64.5 pounds of CO2 after 100 miles of driving. Although an Electric Car has only about half the CO2 emissions, they still have a significant amount of CO2 emissions that a lot of people don’t take account of when looking at the comparison between the two vehicle types. You also need to take into account, when electric cars start failing, where they put the battery, and more often than not, it will end up in a landfill.

When looking at electric cars, one of the important aspects to keep in mind is the cost to use an electric vehicle. According to the study done by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, the average cost to operate an electric vehicle is $485 a year, while a gasoline-powered vehicle is $1,117 a year, which is roughly a 600$ difference in annual operation cost. This is exclusive of any maintenance cost and only consists of the cost to charge your vehicle or fill it with gas. This is however dependent on the efficiency of both vehicles and locations in the US.

Another difference between Electric cars and Gasoline cars is the upfront cost of Tesla’s fully electric vehicles and a typical ICE vehicle. Tesla’s can range from $35,000 to $124,000 with $35,000 being the base model, while average ICE vehicles can range used from $500 to $35,000. You can have ICE vehicles that can reach a cost of millions of dollars, but cars above $50,000 are typically known as luxury vehicles where a select group of people who can afford buy due to desire of a more expensive vehicle and less about functionality and efficiency. The average price of an ICE is much cheaper than the average price of an electric vehicle, thus creating a much larger initial cost to own an electric car over an ICE car.

Cars of any form still require maintenance, one way or another, which can be a large factor that contributes to how much it can cost to use an electric vehicle or an ICE car. For example, all vehicles require brake, insurance, tire, and structural repair costs which can add an extra cost to owning a vehicle in any form. The difference between Electric and ICEs is that Combustion engines have a lot more parts to perform maintenance on, like for example, an oil change, a transmission check, and a belt change, all of which can add more of a cost to the maintenance of an ICE vehicle. The average cost of an ICE maintenance cost is on average $408  and according to Brad Berman, “Some calculations peg this to about 3 or 4 cents per mile of maintenance cost in an EV versus closer to 6 cents in an internal combustion car.” So, if we take the $408 of maintenance cost per year and use it with our 6 cents per mile model, that puts the mileage per year to be 6800 miles. If we take the same mileage and apply it to our 4-cent model, that puts us at $272 per year on maintenance cost for an electric vehicle. These two calculations show us that there is roughly a $136 difference between an ICE and an Electric vehicle when it comes to maintenance costs.

Take the gasoline or electricity cost, the front cost to buy the vehicle, and the cost of maintenance, and put it together to create price differences between the two different kinds of cars. If you start with the outright cost of a vehicle, on average, an ICE car costs $20,084 (Nathan Bomey) and the cheapest Tesla available goes for $35,000  which is a $15,000 difference in upfront cost. If you then add the maintenance cost and the cost to “fuel” both vehicles, which is $1,525 per year for an ICE, and $757 for an electric vehicle, the difference between both these costs is $768. Due to the initial difference in cost, it would take 19.53 years to effectively make the initial cost of the electric car worth it, vs getting a gasoline car, and most people don’t own the same car for 20 years for it to pay for itself. This number can vary depending on the price spent on the car bought, it can also depend on the efficiency of the ICE vehicle.

Electric cars don’t have very much range, due to the newer technology of batteries. Tesla’s highest range vehicles have 335 miles and it costs $85,000 (Energy Sage) while the cheapest $35,000 Tesla only has a range of 200 miles, so don’t be expecting to have road trips with a tesla. With an ICE once the gas tank is empty, it can be filled up again within a few minutes, while an electric vehicle would require an hour or two to fully charge it. Electric cars are also not efficient for transporting goods due to their lack of range and the extra weight of the batteries, “While small trucks may also be operated electrically within a limited range, big trucks are dependent on diesel fuel, which can be shifted to a mixture of 80% methane (either fossil or biogenic) in the future”.

One big concern that some people have is the effect electric cars will have on car culture. Car culture can be when a group of people meet at what is called a car meet and bring their various types of cars and hang out with strangers to talk about cars. Car culture is when they wave at a fellow mustang owner because they both own a mustang, or when they pull up to a red light next to another sports car and see which car is faster off the line. Its when they have a common interest with their friends, and they know that they can talk to them about the new car mod that they are thinking about. Car culture is when a group car enthusiast can communicate with each other about their related passion.

So how can electric cars affect car culture? What does car culture look like right now? “From 2001 and 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita – a drop of 23 percent” (U.S. Pirg Education Fund & Frontier Group) which shows that young people are not driving as much and would rather take other methods to get from point A to point B. To the newer generation, cars aren’t a passion, they are a tool used only to get from one place to another. According to Mr. Sivak, “When I was in my 20s and 30s, I was curious about what kind of car people drove, but young people don’t really care. A car is just a means of getting from A to B when BART doesn’t work.”, so if people only care about getting from point A to point B, all they care about is efficiency, and have no desire to spend extra money on a car because they want a fast or sporty looking car. People don’t buy electric cars because they want a sports car, they buy it so they can get from point A to point B efficiently and cheaply.

People don’t go out just to drive cars to have fun, which means people aren’t going to go to a cars and coffee with their Toyota Prius talking to all of the classic muscle car people, they are going to get to the store or get to work and that’s all they will do, they have no desire to do anything more. Matt Hardigree stated that “A highway full of boring econoboxes does not create a car culture, it destroys it. A long commute causes people to hate their vehicles and leads to them buying something that compromises a sportier ride or more power for comfort and fuel efficiency. There might be a ‘Camry Owners of America’ club, but I doubt it has the membership of the Mustang Club of America.”. Car people don’t buy an Eco-boost mustang just to say they have a mustang; they save up their money and buy a real engine like a V6 or even the V8 because that is what they enjoy. Car people don’t spend money on efficient vehicles because they would rather have fun with their car and spend more money on gas to enjoy it. Car people spend their money on their car because that is there passion and it’s what they enjoy, but if young people don’t spend any extra money on their car because they enjoy driving, then the car culture diminishes.

Is there a possibility that electric cars can help care culture? Matt Hardigree also said “When we empty the roads of commuters, we free them up for the kinds of people who get in a car just for the joy of it. That won’t kill car culture, that’ll help save it.”, which opens the possibility that electric cars might “weed out” the non-car people, thus creating a much more finite group of people. When electric cars dominate the market, as it most likely will in the next 20 years, if someone is driving a V8 mustang, or a Camaro SS, then they are someone who enjoys driving a sports car. Electric cars will decrease the number of car people in car culture; however, it may leave the true enthusiast who is willing to spend money on a car even when it is no longer normal to buy a sports car.

Electric cars will affect, not only car culture but our entire lives. Electric cars will affect mechanics all over America because with electric cars, there is no combustion engine which decreases the need for people repairing broken cars, and if a battery dies in an electric car, they have to take it to the dealer to get that repair, not to a local mechanic. “Right now, we’re in something of a bubble with collector cars, and a Ferrari GTO recently set a world record at more than $48 million. Porsche 911s are selling for silly money. But in a world where such cars are banned from the public roads, what happens to classic car values? Will they be “geo-fenced”—relegated to special Sunday-only driving on private tracks?” what happens if ICE vehicles are banned from the road due to the extra emissions, or the lack of gas stations? People won’t be spending loads of money on a car they can’t even drive, it becomes a part of a museum and nothing else.

There are pros and cons to having an electric car, and a lot of people don’t look at all of the numbers to see if an electric car is actually worth the benefits. You have to take into account how much more it will cost you, the number of emissions that it produces, and the effect it will have on people’s lives. The conclusion is that Electric cars aren’t actually as great as everyone makes them out to be, and there is still a lot of improvements that need to be made before electric cars will be able to surpass ICE cars in every aspect. 

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