The blind, head-long rush to electric vehicles is pretty myopic

electric vehicles

One of the authors of a recent paper comparing the costs and emissions of electric and petrol-powered cars in Aotearoa New Zealand, Associate Professor Ralph Chapman, says a “blind, headlong rush to electric vehicles is pretty myopic”.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves electric cars are good. They’re just not as problematic as what I call ‘fossil cars’.”

The study, published in Transportation Research Part D, was led by PhD graduate Dr Arif Hasan (now at the Ministry for the Environment), with the director of the University’s New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, Professor David Frame, another co-author.

They were motivated by the fact that, despite New Zealand having an “old” light-vehicle fleet with an average age of 14.1 years in 2018, nobody had attempted to calculate the full per-kilometre cost of ownership (PCO) for various cars.

Their study investigated the PCOs of new and used light-duty electric vehicles (EVs) and petrol-powered cars (internal combustion-engined vehicle, or ICEVs) over 12 years. They also looked at the emissions reduction potential of EVs.

They found the cost of owning a used EV was the lowest, at an average of about 25.5 cents a kilometre, compared with 31.5 cents for a used petrol-powered car.

Also, they calculated that replacing a light petrol-powered ICEV with a light EV could reduce carbon emissions from the use by 90 per cent if New Zealand can maintain its low-emission grid electricity.

Chapman says EVs clearly need to be part of the solution.

“But, and it is difficult to get this across, even fully electric vehicles have a significant carbon footprint because there is all that manufacturing, shipping of them around the world, recycling the battery – so, when you consider not just emissions from ‘use’ but all the emissions involved, switching from a fossil car to an EV saves only about 50 per cent of your total emissions.

“So you can save 50 per cent roughly, but you can’t save the other 50 per cent — they are still a carbon-intensive beast, and way worse than electric buses or electric bikes, or even car-share.

“So a better solution lies out there and it is a mix of some EVs and getting a whole lot of people to see there is another way of living, around active travel, bikes, walking, and living more centrally, in apartments and townhouses.

“The ideal would include, if they want to get around a bit further, sharing an EV parked down the road in the EV car-share park.”

EV drivers shouldn’t get a “free pass” on motorways or toll roads, or have free registration or road-user charges, says Chapman.

“They should be paying all those fees, but much less than fossil cars, which ought to be heavily penalised.

“In terms of carbon emissions, you don’t really want to encourage people to buy electric vehicles. What you really want to do is discourage any sort of private motor vehicle, especially fossil vehicles.”

Chapman says there have been 70 years of unrelenting car domination and investment on behalf of the car.

“That whole culture around cars is very hard to change. It is shifting but needs to shift radically. Continue reading

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