In the past decade, the automotive industry has undergone several changes. One of the key transformations has been the embracement of electric cars by manufacturers as a mitigation strategy against climate change. Some of the reasons for this revolution include the falling costs of raw materials, increasing battery capacity, lower greenhouse emissions, reliability, improved resale value, and cost-effectiveness. Electric vehicles (EVS) have been touted as the future of the automobile industry, primarily due to their minimal impact on the environment and low cost of maintenance. They offer an environmentally-sustainable alternative to the internal combustion engine (ICE) that has been cited as a main cause of air pollution. The major difference is their source of power: electric vehicles are powered by batteries while ICE vehicles are powered by energy from the combustion of fossil fuels. The cost of maintenance and safety levels vary significantly.
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The Environmental Impact
The major difference between the two types of vehicles is the source of power. EVs run on energy supplied by batteries whereas ICE vehicles are powered by energy from the combustion of fossil fuel in the engine (Emadi 2015). Carbon emissions are the major cause of global warming, and they have been on the rise in the European Union in the past decade (Athanasopoulou, Bikas, & Stavropoulos 2018). Vehicles cause air pollution as they release greenhouse gases and other toxic substances. EVs and ICEs cause environmental pollution differently: the former pollute the air through substances released during the manufacturing process while the latter release toxic gases that lower air quality.
Electric cars are environmentally friendly because they are powered by energy derived from batteries. Therefore, the release of greenhouse gases is avoided. Critics have argued that EVs indirectly cause air pollution in cases where the electricity used to charge them is generated from coal power plants. Moreover, the manufacture of batteries and related products emits toxic substances that contribute to the challenge of climate change (Hausfather 2019). Studies suggest that emissions are higher during the production of EVs when compared to the manufacture of ICE vehicles (Athanasopoulou, Bikas, & Stavropoulos 2018). However, innovative technologies have been developed to mitigate the challenge. The source of the electricity does not discount their contribution to environmental conservation due to lower emissions. For example, Tesla has erected charging stations that are powered by solar energy (Dell, Moseley, & Rand 2014). The development of innovative infrastructure and battery manufacturing methods ensures that emissions are minimised during production.
The transportation sector is one of the major sources of global warming emissions. Estimates reveal that a passenger vehicle produces approximately 4.6 metric tonnes of carbon dioxides annually (Athanasopoulou, Bikas, & Stavropoulos 2018). This amount is dependent on the car’s fuel economy and distance covered. A report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) revealed that greenhouse emissions are lower in electric cars than in petrol and diesel cars (Hausfather 2019). At street level, ICE vehicles release other gases that lower the quality of air. Electric vehicles are manufactured using toxic raw materials (copper and nickel) that pollute the ecosystem (Dell, Moseley, & Rand 2014). The pollution caused during the extraction and processing of these materials can be mitigated through the implementation of reuse and recycle practices. Emissions in the EU have risen by about 28% since the 1990s (Dell, Moseley, & Rand 2014). This is an indication of the need to reduce oil consumption in order to meet long-term climate goals.
Petrol and diesel are highly flammable and toxic substances that pose safety risks when accidents happen. The absence of these products in electric vehicles improves their safety levels as the dangers associated with them are eliminated. The lack of a combustion engine reduces the risks of fire and explosion (Dell, Moseley, & Rand 2014). Electric vehicles have safety issues too. For instance, lithium-ion batteries are relatively unstable, with regard to voltage and temperature. Overheating may lead to malfunctions that could cause thermal runaway. In that regard, the risk of fire, electrolyte leak, or an explosion is high in case of technical malfunctions. Overheating can be caused by overcharging, the presence of foreign particles in the cell, and battery deformation (Emadi 2015). These challenges have been mitigated through the production of improved materials and the use of active electrode materials that are more stable. The hazardous traction voltage is insulated from the rest of the vehicle, thus improving the vehicle’s safety.
EVs and ICE vehicles seem to have similar levels of passive and active safety. Adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, traction control, active head restraints, blind spot detection and rear view cameras are examples of additions that enhance safety (Reif 2014). However, EV manufacturers have improved safety by including new technologies. For instance, they include crash detection sensors that activate airbags and disengage the traction voltage from the battery in order to prevent crashes (Emadi 2015). Battery packs are put in crash-protected boxes in order to minimise deformation and short-circuits. The inclusion of fuses and contractors monitor and balance the voltage of batteries to increase vehicle safety (Dell, Moseley, & Rand 2014). It is difficult to provide such protection to the combustion engine. Fires and explosions have been reported in many crashes involving ICE vehicles.
Total Cost of Ownership
Car ownership is associated with certain unavoidable purchase and maintenance costs. Surveys have shown that buying an electric vehicle over an internal combustion vehicle could have long-term benefits as the cost of maintenance is lower. A study conducted by the International Council for clean Transportation (ICCT) suggested that electric cars are cheaper to own in five European countries than ICE vehicles.
Electric vehicles are more expensive than conventional ICE vehicles. However, prices are projected to fall in the next decade as the price of battery manufacturing and raw materials decrease. Projections show that the cost of EVs will fall to those of ICEs between 2025 and 2030 (Bullard 2019). The popularity of electric cars has soared in the UK as the government implements measures to mitigate global warming. For example, the sales of electric cars increased by 37% in 2017 while those of diesel cars declined by 30% (European Environment Agency 2018). EVs are affordable because of government subsidy. For instance, the price of Nissan Leaf starts at £21,500 after factoring in a £4,500 subsidy (Bullard 2019). Pure electric cars have a £5,000 subsidy that is aimed at increasing sales (Bullard 2019).
Surveys indicate that electric vehicles are cheaper to run that ICE vehicles because of the availability of a wide range of electricity sources. For instance, the Tesla Motor Company has constructed charging stations that are powered by solar energy in different locations (Bullard 2019). Owners of Tesla cars use these facilities free of charge. Moreover, car owners who use renewable sources of electricity spend less compared to those who use gasoline (European Environment Agency 2018). Electric vehicles are cheaper because even though the electricity used increases the home electric bill, technological advancements have led to lower prices and the availability of alternative energy sources (Carrington 2019). Electric cars have lower fuel costs due to the decreasing prices of electricity and advanced systems. In the United Kingdom, the annual fuel cost of electric cars in 2015 was 10% lower than that of ICEs (European Environment Agency 2018). The mass production of electric cars will make them cheaper and more affordable than the conventional fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
The ownership of any vehicle is associated with universal expenses such as insurance, structural repair, and tyre changes. However, owners of EVs avoid the repeated costs associated with the combustion engine maintenance. It may be said that ICEs are more costly to own because of the expenses that accrue from the purchase of coolant, engine oil, and transmission fluid (Carrington 2019). The major maintenance cost for EVs involves battery replacement (European Environment Agency 2018). In many cases, manufacturers offer warranties for defective batteries. Moreover, many governments offer car rebates and incentives that are aimed at encouraging more people to buy electric vehicles (Carrington 2019). It appears that buying an electric vehicle is an intelligent fiscal decision as the tax credits offered render its ownership affordable. For example, electric vehicles are exempt from registration tax in Norway.
The introduction of electric cars is perhaps the most revolutionary change to take place in the automobile industry in the 21st century. Many governments are offering rebates and incentives in order to encourage more car owners to bur electric vehicles. Internal combustion engine vehicles release gases that are a major cause of pollution. Scientists believe that electric cars will play a key role in mitigating the global challenge of climate change. Studies have shown that electric cars emit fewer air pollutants that ICEs, and therefore, friendly to the environment. Moreover, they can be charged using renewable energy. It can be concluded that electric vehicles are cheaper and friendlier to the environment when compared to internal combustion engine vehicles.
Athanasopoulou, L., Bikas, H. and Stavropoulos, P. (2018) ‘Comparative well-to-wheel emissions assessment of internal combustion engine and battery electric vehicles’, Procedia CIRP, 78 (1), pp. 25-30. Web.
Bullard, N. (2019) ‘Electric car price tag shrinks along with battery cost’, Bloomberg, April 12. Web.
Carrington, D.P. (2019) ‘Electric cars are already cheaper to own and run, says study’, The Guardian, Web.
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Dell, R.M., Moseley, P.T. and Rand, D.A. (2014) Towards sustainable road transport. London: Elsevier.
European Environment Agency. (2018) Electric vehicles from life cycle and circular economy perspectives: transport and environment reporting mechanism report. Web.
Emadi, A. (2015) Advanced electric drive vehicles. New York, NY: CRC Press.
Hausfather, Z. (2019) ‘Factcheck: how electric vehicles help to tackle climate change’, Carbon Brief, Web.
Reif, K. (ed) (2014) Fundamentals of automotive and engine technology: standard drives, hybrid drives, brakes, safety systems. New York, NY: Springer.