Misconceptions, and what to make of them

Reservations and misconceptions in connection with electric mobility are widespread and persist despite having long been shown to be outdated and invalid. Below is a clarification of the most common misconceptions:

Misconceptions, and what to make of them

Fact-checking

“Range anxiety” remains the most frequent argument mentioned by those with reservations about electric mobility. But the greater the range of electrified vehicles becomes, the less reason there is to be concerned about being stranded with an empty battery. Currently, the most common electric vehicles can travel between 120 km and 600 km on a full charge. The effective range always depends on the driving style, the weather conditions, the outside temperature and the age of and strain on the battery. Depending on the use of the car, a small radius is sufficient. With their respective maximum ranges, models such as the Audi e-tron, the VW ID.4, the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV and the CUPRA Born are suitable for longer trips. Electric vehicles have long since been suitable for everyday driving. Drivers who regularly travel long distances, however, are better off with a modern diesel or petrol engine – ideally in a hybrid version. Especially for those without charging facilities at home or at work.

The time it takes to charge an electric vehicle depends on three factors: battery capacity, the charging technology and the charging capacity of the power connection. It also makes a difference if the battery is to be fully charged or only up to 80%, as the final few per cent take relatively long. Those who charge their electric vehicles at home on a wall box need more time than for a fast charge at a service station or motorway rest stop. But at home, people have more time and don’t have to wait until the battery is fully charged – particularly if the car is connected to the power grid at night. The charging output varies between 3.7 kW and 350 kW, which roughly amounts to a coffee break of a few minutes up to a waiting time of a few hours. Generally, the charging time for an electric vehicle can be calculated with this simple formula: battery capacity (kWh) / charging capacity (kW) = charging time (h).

In Switzerland, the network of charging stations is already well developed, and the country does well by international standards. Some 2500 public charging stations are available across Switzerland, and the European Alternative Fuel Observatory lists a total of 7000 charging connections there. The expansion is due to investment by both the public and private sectors; electricity companies, retailers, hotels and restaurants in particular have installed charging stations. Moreover, a pilot project in Bern and Schlieren is testing the retrofitting of street lights in the blue zone as charging stations. A further pilot project with charging infrastructure in the blue zone is also underway in Basel. Even those without the possibility to charge their electric car at home will increasingly be able to do so outside the front door. For longer trips abroad, such as holidays at the sea, some planning is necessary to ensure a relaxed trip to the destination.

If the electric vehicle is charged at home on a wall box, the costs for battery charging are simply included in the next electricity bill. This is the easiest way to pay for the electricity. On the move, payment can be made via an app or with a charging card or credit card. This is also straightforward. In future, authentication data will be stored in the vehicle. As soon as the car is connected at a charging station, it is recognised, and payment takes place automatically. Charging is even free of charge at certain public charging stations, such as the car parks of supermarket chains.

Over the past decade, prices of lithium-ion batteries have sunk more than tenfold per kW hour of energy. Together with the larger range of models and production volumes, this has had a direct impact on the end price of electric vehicles. Further significant price drops for electric cars relative to those with combustion engines also come into play when targets for CO2 emissions for passenger vehicles are tightened and failure to comply incurs a fine. A large share of these fines will in future influence the pricing policies for combustion engines and thus indirectly reduce the price of electric vehicles. In addition, some cantons already grant tax relief on electric cars. Even today, there is already hardly any significant price difference between an electric car and a comparable car with a combustion engine. So a comparison can pay off. Not to mention, service and maintenance costs are lower for a purely electric car than for one with a combustion engine.

It can never be completely ruled out that a vehicle might catch fire due to an accident or defect – regardless of the drive technology. There is no evidence that electric cars have a higher fire risk than cars with combustion engines. In addition, all cars approved for road traffic must meet the legal safety requirements. This applies to all vehicles that run on petrol or diesel, natural or liquefied petroleum gas, or electrically with a battery or hydrogen. With electric vehicles, the electrical components must be “intrinsically safe”, meaning that the current flow from the battery is cut off if a defect occurs. In an accident, the battery is instantly and automatically disconnected from the other high-voltage components and cables, so that they are no longer live. If a fire does occur, however, firefighters are required to maintain a greater safety distance and need more water than for a conventional car. Overall, however, an electric vehicle is just as safe as any other.

The battery in an electric vehicle tips the scales at between 300 kg and 750 kg, which is certainly a weighty consideration. The heavier a vehicle, the more energy is required to move it. This has a negative impact on its environmental performance. However, the drive unit of an electric car is significantly lighter than a combustion engine and requires neither a conventional transmission nor a clutch. In an ID.4, for example, the drive unit weighs just 90 kg. By way of comparison, a combustion engine and a manual or automatic transmission weigh between 150 kg and 300 kg, depending on the size of the engine. All told, an electric vehicle indeed weighs more due to the battery, but not as much as some people think.

There is a persistent misconception that an electric vehicle is more environmentally harmful than a car with a combustion engine in terms of the CO2 emissions that arise from manufacturing the vehicle and energy generation. But new research from the universities of Exeter, Cambridge and Nijmegen paints a different picture. According to the study, in most cases electric vehicles cause fewer emissions even when fossil fuels are used in production. In 95% of cases, an electric vehicle is more environmentally friendly than a comparable one with a combustion engine. And the higher the mileage, the more efficient an electric car becomes. Electromobility is at its most environmentally friendly when as much as possible of the energy used to charge the battery comes from renewable energy sources. If that is the case, as in Switzerland, the total emissions for an electric vehicle over its lifetime can be up to 70% lower than for a combustion engine model.

While the perception of noise is highly subjective, actual noise can be measured quite accurately. There is no question that electric cars make audibly less noise than conventional cars when pulling off, and up to around 30 km/h. This feature is also relevant when it comes to stop-and-go traffic. As the speed increases, however, the noise created by the rolling of the tyres becomes louder, making the noise difference between an electric car and a conventional car smaller and smaller. Electric cars, on the other hand, produce less noise while parking. In addition, an electric engine cannot be revved or intentionally driven noisily in a low gear.

The battery is the heart of the electric vehicle. The value of a used electric car depends on its condition. The condition of the battery depends on driving style, the number of times it has been fast-charged and whether it has been exposed frequently to large temperature fluctuations. Careful handling of a battery can ensure that very little performance is lost over the years, thereby preventing the car from losing a disproportionate amount of its value. In addition to this, better and more resistant batteries are coming onto the market. And the more cars with combustion engines come onto the used car market as people switch to electric models, the bigger the drop in value in this regard. Drivers wishing to play it safe also have the option of leasing an electric car.

Careful handling of the lithium-ion battery results in very little loss of capacity and performance. The age of the battery is less relevant than the way in which way it is treated. Basically, if the battery is not exposed to significant strain, there will be almost no decrease in capacity. This means, however, ensuring smooth and anticipatory driving, less rapid acceleration, infrequent use of fast-charging stations and avoiding exposure of the battery to large temperature fluctuations. If, on the other hand, the battery is constantly subjected to considerable strain, the capacity performance will decrease continuously as time goes on.

Most manufacturers today offer a generous warranty on batteries – usually eight years or 160 000 kilometres. Most batteries outlast the car by several years. Should a fault nevertheless occur, the affected components can be diagnosed and replaced individually, thereby avoiding the need to replace the entire battery pack. Before a repair can be carried out, the high-voltage system must be de-energised. The battery may then only be repaired by a trained high-voltage expert (HVE) with the appropriate protective equipment.

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