Electric Cars and Consumerism

In order to advertise and sell goods we have to push a narrative, particularly if this is a new product that consumers may not readily understand. Electric cars are marketed as trendy, aspirational, futuristic, fast, and good for the environment. The truth is that they are not good for the average buyer and I am embarrassed that our culture (and our government) seems to be buying into the very noisy advertising.

I will explain the unhealthy consumerism inherent in electric vehicles and then I will list out a variety of other issues to serve as a snapshot at this moment in time. Because no one reads this and I am simply writing a public journal post, I will not be aggressive in convincing my dear reader of my position.

A majority of my electric car complaints stem from how poor they are in actually driving past their range in one sitting. This is not the fault of any particular manufacturer, but inherent in the current limitations of battery technology. With time this will presumably improve, but I do not think will negate all the negative aspects of owning an electric car.

Electric cars currently slow down the process of driving by a factor of about 25% if you are going past their full range in one trip. Owners of these vehicles will be quick to tell you that it isn't healthy to spend hours sitting behind the wheel, so the stops that are required to recharge your vehicle on long trips are in fact a good thing. These stops invariably consist of owners of these vehicles either going out to purchase garbage (yes, garbage) or to continue to sit in their car while staring at some sort of screen. I totally understand why manufacturers advertise to businesses to have free charging out front. Electric vehicle owners are bored, wealthy, literally a captive audience, and love to spend money. It's a perfect market.

Other obvious concerns in no particular order:

  • the operating conditions for electric vehicles are dramatically restricted compared to their ICE counterparts (heat, cold, etc; they may not start!)
  • the range advertisements are disastrous. If the manufacturers are not abjectly lying (some do), the range is a product of driving conditions that rarely exist in the real world
  • even if you have perfect weather, for a variety of reasons you do not want to drive from 100% charge to 0% charge. The realistic usable range is about 10% - 80%.
  • they are extremely heavy. This has repercussions from simple driving mechanics and handling to road and tire wear
  • acceleration is great for advertising but exists as a side effect of the technology. It is a gimmick that you will use to justify your purchase to yourself and your one-time passengers, but will rarely use at other moments either due to realistic safety concerns/driving conditions or not wanting to sacrifice your range
  • the materials to produce electric vehicles are hazardous, as are their disposal
  • they explode, and when they do are dangerous to clean up after
  • none of the current infrastructure would work if a large portion of consumers started using them (eg if it takes 10 times as long to "fast" charge as to fill up on gas, we will need at least that much more physical space dedicated to charging). This could be an extensive list. There are some obvious and non obvious examples. Non obvious: roadside assistance for ICE cars does not work for electric (ran out of charge, need to change tire)
  • I will ignore the idea of doing your own maintenance on electric cars. This is sort of a fixable issue, though I doubt the electric car manufacturers will have any interest in relinquishing their current control to consumers. They will use this technology transition as an excuse to take repairability away
  • I will also ignore cost due to global supply chain instability that makes pinning down costs right now impossible. The upfront cost for these cars is currently way too expensive. The lifetime of the vehicle cost may potentially be favorable
  • lastly I am ignoring any use of the car for things other than going from point A to B. They currently compare very unfavorably for other uses (hybrids are more effective generators because you can refill them!), though this is a market segment age plus technology problem
  • public chargers are often in unsafe locations or have no basic necessities (bathrooms, light, egress, etc)
  • smart technologic features such as autosteering should and do exist entirely independently of a car's energy storage mechanism
  • plug in hybrids or hybrids offer so many of the benefits of entirely electric vehicles but are not sexy. I will sidestep bicycling and public transit, which we very obviously should use more of.

I have no idea what the average person who purchases a car looks like. I do know that the conditions under which someone may consider an electric vehicle are extraordinary limited: if an electric car is at least your second vehicle, if you do not ever plan on driving past its advertised range minus 30-50%, and if you can charge it safely where you live. As a culture, aspiring to own an electric car is foolhardy as public policy and cruel to the individual consumer.