Opinion | A Climate Hawk’s Issues With Electric Vehicles (2023)



Subscriber-only NewsletterPeter Coy

Opinion | A Climate Hawk’s Issues With Electric Vehicles (1)
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I get why the Biden administration is pushing electric vehicles so hard. To stop the planet from overheating, we’ll eventually need motor vehicles to produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, and only fully electric vehicles can do that. Hybrids, which have combustion engines along with electric motors, will always puff some carbon dioxide (and other bad stuff) out of their tailpipes.

Right now, though, there’s a good argument to be made that the government, and automakers, are leaning too hard into all-electric and neglecting the virtues of hybrid technology. When I first heard this counterintuitive argument from Toyota, I dismissed it as heel-dragging by a company that lags in electrics, but I’ve come around to the idea that hybrids — at least for now — do have a lot of advantages over all-electric vehicles.

Imagine some wheelbarrows filled with rocks. The rocks contain lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, graphite and other materials for lithium-ion batteries. By Toyota’s calculation, the amount of rocks needed for one long-range electric vehicle would be enough for either six plug-in hybrids or 90 of the type of hybrid that can’t be plugged in for a recharge. (Namely, the type whose batteries are recharged from the engine or from braking.)

“The overall carbon reduction of those 90 hybrids over their lifetimes is 37 times as much as a single battery electric vehicle,” Toyota argues. That’s a stunning statistic if true.

“People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority,” Toyota’s then chief executive, Akio Toyoda, told reporters on a trip to Thailand in December, according to The Wall Street Journal. “That silent majority is wondering whether E.V.s are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend so they can’t speak out loudly.”

Lobbying against an all-electric approach is what you might expect from an automaker that bet heavily on hydrogen fuel cells and hybrids and has only a sliver of the market in E.V.s that run on batteries. I have no doubt that Toyota is motivated at least in part by self-interest. But some people I spoke with who aren’t connected with the company had similar views.

“Toyota’s claim is accurate. We’ve crunched the numbers on this,” Ashley Nunes told me. He is a senior research associate at Harvard Law School and the director for federal policy, climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank. He testified on the topic in April before the House Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Materials.

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I’ll speed through his points. Electric vehicles consume huge quantities of lithium and other materials because they have huge batteries. And they have huge batteries because customers suffer from “range anxiety” and won’t buy an E.V. unless it can go for hundreds of miles without charging — even though the vast majority of trips are short. The Nissan Leaf gets 149 miles with its standard battery, which seems like enough for most purposes, yet Nissan sold just 12,026 Leafs (Leaves?) last year.

Partly because of ever-bigger batteries, E.V. prices have grown on average, not shrunk as predicted. They are down a bit this year because of sales and lower chip prices. But they’ve been trending higher, and the cars remain too expensive for many buyers. Some people will keep driving old ICE-mobiles (cars with internal combustion engines) because they can’t afford an E.V. And those ICE-mobiles will continue to be major emitters of greenhouse gases.

The production of electric vehicles produces more greenhouse gases than the production of cars with combustion engines. So E.V.s have to travel between 28,000 and 68,000 miles before they have an emissions advantage over similarly sized and equipped ICE-mobiles, according to Nunes. That may take 10 years or more if the E.V. isn’t driven much.

Then there’s the problem of where to get all the minerals. Domestic production, even combined with extensive recycling, can’t meet the need for cobalt, graphite, lithium and manganese, Nunes wrote in his prepared House testimony. Allies could help, but they’re also ramping up consumption. “There is, to put it bluntly, only so much mineral supply to go around,” he wrote. Lithium iron phosphate is a promising alternative battery chemistry, but its energy density is lower, so batteries would have to be even bigger to give the same range. (Sodium-ion batteries and solid-state lithium-ion batteries are other options.)

The Biden administration clearly doesn’t trust electric vehicles to win over the buying public purely on their merits. That’s why in April the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules to ensure that two-thirds of new passenger cars and a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the United States are all-electric by 2032.

That would be a wrenching change. It sometimes seems like E.V.s are everywhere, but in reality they accounted for just 5.8 percent of new cars sold in the United States last year, The Times reported. All-electric trucks accounted for less than 2 percent of new heavy trucks.

Of course, drivers could be bribed into buying E.V.s if enough money were thrust in their faces. But Nunes said that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced far more cost-effectively through subsidies of clean power generation, particularly wind turbines.

For another perspective, I exchanged emails with Nafisa Lohawala, a Ph.D. economist who is a fellow at Resources for the Future, a think tank. She focused on the benefits of plug-in hybrids, which use less metal than all-electric E.V.s but more than non-pluggable hybrids. “From consumers’ perspective,” she wrote, “having a gasoline backup helps alleviate range anxiety, allowing them to adopt plug-in hybrids even when the charging network around them is sparse. Moreover, given their lower price, middle- and low-income communities would also find adopting them easier than battery electric vehicles.”

Lohawala wrote that if drivers recharge their plug-in hybrids frequently, they’ll be able to run on battery power almost all the time and emissions will be almost as low as with an all-electric E.V. That will tend to happen as more charging stations with faster chargers are installed. “As long as the battery ranges of plug-in hybrids are reasonably long and the electricity prices are low, consumers would voluntarily charge them rather than relying on gasoline,” she wrote. (That would only work for short trips, though.)

Again, I get that climate change is an existential crisis. (Take it from my Opinion colleague, David Wallace-Wells.) I also get that hybrids aren’t as clean as all-electric E.V.s. “The fact is: A hybrid today is not green technology,” Katherine García, the director of the Clean Transportation for All Campaign, wrote last year. “The Prius hybrid runs on a pollution-emitting combustion engine found in any gas-powered car.”

However, getting to the destination of all-electric for all will take more minerals, better battery chemistry and more and better chargers, among other things. That’s a big project. For now, hybrids seem like a valuable part of the vehicle mix.

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The Readers Write

Amazon is in a world of hurt. They entered an established category (groceries) with entrenched competitors, including Walmart. I like to compare the position Amazon is in to that of the French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The French thought they had a superior army. The Viet Minh placed their focus on having a superior strategy. The French forces had to surrender.

Brittain Ladd
Prosper, Texas

I don’t know, Peter. Aren’t the predictive powers of HANK basically just common sense? Maybe economists need to get out a little more.

Tom Conroy
Hamden, Conn.

Quote of the Day

“Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.”

— Milan Kundera, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” (1979)

Peter Coy has covered business for more than 40 years. Email him at coy-newsletter@nytimes.comor follow him on Twitter. @petercoy

A version of this article appears in print on , Section

(Video) The REAL Reason Why You Should NOT Buy A Hybrid Car..


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(Video) I SOLD my Ford Lightning EV because WINTER battery performance was a DISASTER (Range almost HALVED)


Do electric cars have problems in hot weather? ›

In hot weather conditions, the battery can degrade more quickly and reduce its overall lifespan. Excessive heat can also impact the performance of the battery, reducing the range of the car and increasing the time it takes to charge.

What is bad about electric cars for the environment? ›

Raw materials can be problematic

Like many other batteries, the lithium-ion cells that power most electric vehicles rely on raw materials — like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements — that have been linked to grave environmental and human rights concerns. Cobalt has been especially problematic.

What is the main weakness of electric cars their _____? ›

One of the biggest disadvantages of EVs versus ICEs is the time it takes to get a full charge. In the case of combustion cars, it is a purely mechanical process: pouring a liquid into a tank. In the case of electric vehicles, it is not so simple.

What is the biggest problem with electric cars? ›

The most common problems with electric cars
  • Many drivers report reliability issues with their electric cars — but for the first time, the EV problem rate is lower than the non-EV problem rate.
  • Battery issues, climate control, and in-car electronics are among the biggest problems in electric vehicles.

How hot is too hot for an electric car? ›

On average, EVs lose 17% of their range when the temperature reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit. That's a smaller drop than you can expect in cold weather, but it's still potentially disruptive. Plus, charging and storing your EV in extreme heat can shorten the battery's life.

At what temperature do electric cars lose range? ›

As you turn up or down the temperature, however, the loss of range is apparent. At 5F (-15C), EVs drop to 54% of their rated range, meaning a car that is rated for 250 miles (402 km) will only get on average 135 miles (217 km). Cold gets a bad rap, but it turns out heat is also culpable.

What are 5 reasons electric cars are bad? ›

Disadvantages of Electric Vehicles - cons
  • Finding a Charging station - EV charging stations are fewer and further between than gas stations.
  • Charging takes longer.
  • The driving range on a full charge.
  • Higher Initial Purchase Cost.
  • Replacing the Batteries is Expensive.

What pollution is caused by electric cars? ›

All-electric vehicles and PHEVs running only on electricity have zero tailpipe emissions, but electricity production, such as power plants, may generate emissions.

Why are people against electric cars? ›

The most common reasons drivers avoid EVs include: fear the battery will run out of charge before reaching their destination, also known as “range anxiety;” fear of too few charging stations, long charge times, and initial higher upfront vehicle costs.

Why are people against electric? ›

The most common reasons drivers avoid EVs include: fear the battery will run out of charge before reaching their destination, also known as “range anxiety;” fear of too few charging stations, long charge times, and initial higher upfront vehicle costs.

Why are electric cars not the future? ›

Electric-powered cars are not on the road to a renewable and clean future. They are powered by lithium-ion batteries that will pose a real threat to the environment if continued to be manufactured at the rate of current gasoline-powered cars.

What are 3 problems with electric cars? ›

According to ACEP, the most concerning EV issues during extremely cold weather are significant range reduction, longer charging times, less power availability, and the need to keep the battery plugged during extended freezing weather.

Why are electric vehicles a problem? ›

Between the lines: Heavy EVs might not have tailpipe emissions, but they still cause pollution, from eroding tires, road dust and brakes. They're also significantly more lethal when they collide with pedestrians or cyclists.

Do electric cars have lots of problems? ›

The 2022 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study found that owners of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids reported an average of 240 and 239 problems per 100 vehicles, respectively, compared with 173 for ICE vehicles.

How Long Will electric cars last? ›

Generally, electric vehicle batteries last 10-20 years, but some factors may reduce their lifespan. For instance, batteries may degrade faster in hotter climates as heat does not pair well with EVs.

How much does air conditioning affect an electric car? ›

The AAA's study determined that when outside temperatures hit 95°F and air conditioning is in use, an EV's range will drop by an average 17 percent. Without running the A/C, an EV will suffer a 4 percent range reduction on an extremely hot day.

Is there air conditioning in an electric car? ›

Electric vehicle air conditioning systems also feature an evaporator, and a condenser, just like in any typical car. The only downside when using an EV's air conditioning system is that you need to be mindful that you're using battery power, which will affect the vehicle's total range.

Is Tesla good in hot weather? ›

Tesla vehicles are known for their durability and ability to withstand the harshest of conditions - both hot and cold. Tesla vehicles are known for being the safest vehicles on the planet - but they also have another feature that makes them desirable - their ability to withstand ice-cold temperatures and extreme heat.

Does temperature affect EV battery life? ›

Temperature has a significant impact on EV (Electric Vehicle) performance, in several ways. Firstly, and most directly, temperature effects the efficiency of a battery. EV batteries are designed to work at an “optimal temperature”, generally around 20°C.


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