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Lots to consider in switch to hybrid, electric vehicles

Tuesday 19 July 2022, The Examiner

Anyone filling up their petrol tanks in recent months would understandably be thinking about the merits of purchasing an electric vehicle (EV). In addition to the financial savings on petrol and the reduced mark on the environment, electric cars are being seen as the way of the future – a direction in which we are all headed.

Anton Vikstrom, co-founder of second-hand EV retailer Good Car Co has neatly summarized the dilemma by stating “the problem for years is how do you make electric cars affordable, but instead now petrol cars have become unaffordable”.

The biggest difference between EVs and petrol-powered cars is that EVs use motors, whereas petrol-powered cars run on an internal combustion engine. Hybrid electric vehicles on the other hand, are a combination of gasoline and electric vehicles, so they have a battery, an electric motor, a petrol tank and an internal combustion engine.

New and novel technologies are always something to get excited about. The hype surrounding the new EV Tesla cars continues to gain momentum and reminds us of other revolutionary moments in technological advancement, such as the release of the first touch-screen mobile phone or the laptop computer.

I have been curious lately about what we are getting in return for these new EV technologies. Whether the return on investment and benefits particularly for the environment – at this stage – outweigh the risks and uncertainties that are inherent in new tech like electric vehicles.

In February this year, the vessel Felicity Ace, a 60,000 ton car carrier, sunk in the Atlantic Ocean. This ship, which was carrying an estimated $401 million USD worth of cars (including 3,965 vehicles comprising Porsche, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini models) went to the bottom of the ocean. Twenty-two crew aboard the Felicity Ace were safely evacuated and, at this stage, the cause of the fire is still unconfirmed. An article from The Guardian states that while “the ship was transporting electric and non-electric vehicles… suspicion on what started the fire… has fallen on lithium batteries used in electric vehicles”.

The lithium batteries in EVs are still a reasonably untested aspect of electric vehicles. Like any other part of a car, they depreciate and become less reliable and manage shorter ranges of travel over time. Within certain timeframes, and subject to certain conditions, I believe they are covered by warranties. According to my research, depending on the make of car, that can be around eight to ten years or approximately 160,000 km. However, if we assume that a car’s life is around about twenty years, that falls far short of the time at which a lithium battery simply wears out of its own accord and needs replacing at the owner’s expense.

As reported in an article online by Bryce Gaton, an expert on EVs and a contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy, in 2022, a person can expect to pay around $10,000 for a new battery for their car. This is in contrast to the early days of the Nissan Leaf about 10 years ago, with horror stories about fast battery declines and $30,000+ battery replacement costs. This is the same as the cost of another petrol-powered car entirely!

The smaller batteries are, the less time they will last as they will need to undergo more charges and discharges which will deplete it more quickly.

There are always pros and cons. Are they better for the environment or not? Due to the weight of a large battery pack as well as reinforced framework and suspension, most electric cars are very heavy. Research shows that heavier vehicles cause more pollution from tiny particles wearing off tyres and they need more materials and energy to produce, adding to the total environmental footprint. Research also shows they have higher efficiency, lower operating costs, lower maintenance costs, reduced traffic noise, reduced greenhouse gas emission, and air quality improvements to name a few.

Interestingly the greater weight of an electric vehicle is said to provide a safety boost according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as research shows that occupants in heavier vehicles experience less force in a crash, leading to fewer injuries.

With more electric or hybrid vehicles on our roads, already two fully electric buses in Hobart and our government fleets likely to follow suit, we need to ensure they are safe for everyone and that technology has sufficiently advanced to a point where we can guarantee safety and economical certainty for EV owners. There is certainly a lot to consider including hybrid vehicles.

Rosemary Armitage MLC

Independent Member for Launceston


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