Electric Vehicles: The Future is Here

An engineer’s comparison of electric vehicles to gas-powered equivalents addresses commonly held misconceptions and provides an exciting glimpse at the future of passenger transport.

You’re standing in a car dealership eager to purchase a brand new vehicle. You’ve narrowed the search down to two options. Both cars look nearly identical. Same wheelbase, interior, seating, stereo system, options, etc.

Vehicle B costs 60% less to operate, uses 77% less energy, requires less maintenance and trips to the dealership, and produces 78% fewer emissions than Vehicle A. Oh, and Vehicle B is objectively more fun to drive. Did I mention Vehicle B can be refueled in your garage while you sleep? The only discernable difference between the vehicle options is the drive train – or how power is delivered to the wheels.

Which car would you be interested in test-driving?

Of course, we’re comparing passenger vehicles with internal combustion engines (Option A) against their electric vehicle (EV) counterparts.

And those statistics you just read aren’t hypothetical. These cost and emissions calculations are based on real-world averages in California today (2021). Even with some of the most expensive electricity rates in California, EVs offer fuel savings over their gas-powered cars.

Sharing the Good News

Today’s growing menu of EVs makes it hard to resist proselytizing to the world, “Look at how much more sense this makes!” In fact, I’m positive that my family and friends are tired of hearing the message.

Nonetheless, some mornings I’m tempted to go on the street corner with a megaphone shouting, “Look here! Put more money in your pocket, reduce reliance on foreign oil, and create cleaner air in your community!”

It’s 2021. My fellow Americans – we need to talk.

This is An IntEVention

Experts understand customers concerns with electric vehicles:

  • Range anxiety
  • Upfront costs
  • Lack of available models
  • Insufficient public charging infrastructure
  • Lack of general public awareness

It’s complicated, I know. On top of that, purchasing or leasing a new vehicle is a deeply emotional and personal experience. Our vehicles are a reflection of ourselves, our being, our identities.

Let’s take a closer look! 2021 is already proving to be a pivotal year for EVs. Automakers are making commitments to make only EVs in droves. We’ve reached a tipping point.

Frankly, I feel an obligation to tout the benefits of EVs by sharing the facts; Facts that everyday drivers who enjoy money can’t (or shouldn’t) ignore.

Gas Fights

We’ve evolved well past the days of the early-stage, limited-range EV nerd-mobile. Today, a variety of sleek EV body styles are available in ranges exceeding 250+ miles.

But the greatest EV virtue comes down to efficiency.

As a mechanical engineer, the brazen inefficiencies of internal combustion engines we collectively accept for passenger transport often leave me resisting a desire bang my head against a wall in frustration. Especially when such viable alternatives currently exist on the market!

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) calculates only 19% of energy from our gas tanks actually makes it to our wheels. That statistic isn’t from the “land yacht” automobile era of the 1960s. Those are 2020 numbers.

That’s because internal combustion-powered cars waste 70% of the energy from every tank of gas through the tailpipe and radiator. It’s not the driver’s fault, it’s by design; it’s required to prevent engine overheating.

If that isn’t bad enough, we lose another 11% to drivetrain friction, parasitic loads, and auxiliary power. In summary:

Gas-powered cars waste 81% of the gasoline we purchase. That is insane.

Think about that for one second. Imagine filling up 20% of your tank at the gas station. Then, you take the remaining 80% of the gas you already paid for to partake in a playfully innocent Zoolander-esque gasoline fight. That’s exactly what all of us are doing every single time we fill up (minus the gas fight).

Meanwhile, EVs approach 90% efficiency thanks to ultra-efficient motors and regenerative braking technology. That means 90% of electricity stored in our batteries makes it to the wheels. Regenerative braking allows the vehicle to capture about half of the car’s moving energy when slowing down.

Stop. Think about this for 3 seconds. Where else in your life would you accept wasting 81% of your money?

Sticker Shock

“EVs cost too much.” Yes, I would agree. The average cost of a new car (not just EVs) in the U.S. hit $40,000 in December 2020! That’s a lot of dough!

However, a handful of new EVs now falls under the $40k price point. Experts anticipate EV prices will decrease as manufacturers experience economies of scale from improved battery technology and manufacturing. For example, Tesla promises a $25k 4-door sedan by 2023.

Let’s briefly consider other cost variables in vehicle ownership.

Powering Up

A 2020 Consumer Report study found a typical EV owner who does most of their charging at home can expect to save an average of $800 to $1,000 a year on fuel costs over an equivalent gasoline-powered car. Another CR study found that owners of a 250-mile range EVs can cover 92% of their annual charging from home, requiring only six stops at a public charging station per year.

So what about maintenance? The study also found that maintenance end repair costs for EVs are significantly lower over the vehicle life — about half — than for gasoline-powered vehicles. No oil changes, fewer moving parts, simpler drivetrains.

At only $0.03/mile, EV owners experience an average maintenance savings of $4,600 over the vehicle’s lifetime. We assume the owner will drive the national average of 13,000 miles annually.

Let’s recap the savings of an electric vehicle over a modest 10-year lifetime. Taking the low-end annual fuel savings estimate of $800 totals $8,000. Stack on $4,600 in maintenance costs savings and badaboom badabang, and in ten years, that’s $12,600 of simple savings for an EV over a gas-guzzling equivalent.

More to come on the merits of electric vehicles in this blog. To learn more about EV models on sale, pricing, range, performance figures, available tax credits, and more, visit the (non-affiliated) InsideEVs helpful resource page.

Thanks for reading! While you’re here, we recommend checking out another article in my blog archive.

About the Author: Alex Kaufman is a science communicator, clean energy specialist, sustainability nerd, professional engineer, travel enthusiast, and resident of San Diego, California. When not helping clients, you can usually find him cycling, hiking, reading, spending time with loved ones, or planning the next big adventure. He is open to speaking engagements. Contact him at alex@alexkaufmanpe.com.

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