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World EV Day: Although the Future Is Electric, Are We Doing It Right?

I was surprised today to learn this is World EV Day. Eager to write something about the date, I tried to discover when the day was created and found out it was very recent. A company called Green.TV started it in 2020. It was established on September 9 – God (and Green.TV) knows why. Regardless of the reasons for such a day, it is an excellent opportunity to take stock of the electric car. Are we doing it right?
The first point to consider is that resistance is futile. People that love engines will still have the chance to praise them, but mostly with classic cars. The truth is that combustion engines, as fun and interesting as they may be, are inherently inefficient machines. We live in times when wasting resources is not even an issue with public opinion: it is simply not wise.

Let’s imagine that oil was an unlimited raw material. Being abundant does not mean it is ok for you to burn more than 60% of it for no benefit at all, which is what only the best engines currently manage to do. Most of them burn 80% of fuel solely to produce heat, fumes, and health problems. Even in such an ideal situation of unlimited supply, combustion engines were already poised to disappear. As you already know, there’s no unlimited material on Earth, and oil is running out at a high pace, which makes things even worse for ICEs.

Electric vehicles could be the redemption of personal transportation. They are our chance to keep driving cars when environmental fundamentalists want you to ride a bike or take public transport all the time. The ideal future they imagine would have killed many more people with COVID-19 thanks to pilling folks up in buses or trains. On the other hand, EV opponents who claim to love cars miss that big time and risk sounding hypocritical. In that sense, a World EV Day could show them what they would miss if EVs were not feasible. But the date could be more valuable than that.

With the excuse of saving the planet and avoiding climate change, we see companies say that they’ll invest billions in producing millions of cars, consuming even more natural resources. Everyone who cheers up any company to sell as many vehicles as it can without wondering where batteries are coming from cannot candidly say they are worried about the environment. That's just greenwashing preferences and sides.

Ok, EVs are the future, but how will we move these things? Will we count solely on battery packs because they are more energy-efficient? Will we use fuel cells to make vehicles lighter and faster to recharge? If that is the case, where’s the hydrogen coming from? Is there nickel or cobalt enough for the millions of cars we would need with the current battery technology? Should we wait for better ones?

While developed countries discuss how to decarbonize the economy, developing countries are desperate in search of solutions. Automotive engineers in these markets know they have to find viable economic alternatives to the combustion engines. Not even that will ensure that their jobs are safe. Most automakers have killed R&D centers in emerging countries. All they have now are projects made in Europe, China, Japan, South Korea, or the U.S. When these markets sell nothing other than electric cars, will they invest to produce EVs in developing countries? Would it make sense if most people in these places cannot afford new cars, especially one with an expensive battery pack? Most may do just like Ford by closing factories and importing their products.

Luckily, we have scientists fighting to find cheaper, safer, and more energy-dense solutions to store electricity and drive the world. Unfortunately, changes will take a while to arrive. We can now feel like the pioneers from the 19th century who wanted to present cars as a solution instead of horses. Believe it or not, they were a significant pollution source in big cities. The difference is that people used to breathe manure powder in place of toxic gases and particulates. Life expectation at the time was around 45 years.

Our ancestors from these times did not know which was the best solution for cars. Electric vehicles were attractive until the electric starter was invented. Ferdinand Porsche created a hybrid vehicle back in the 1900s. The automotive industry was full of possibilities, and that probably drove consumers mad. What could they buy without the risk of having something that would quickly depreciate?

That is precisely what is going through the minds of multiple car buyers right now. What if they buy a car that will present battery pack issues down the road? What if the battery pack in their cars does not have the right cooling system or the right chemistry? It may present battery fire issues, like the Chevy Bolt EV and the Hyundai Kona Electric. What if they just wait?

That may also be a time bomb. These customers may get stuck with combustion-engined cars that turn almost worthless because nobody will want them anymore in a few years. An automaker may present an EV that costs as much or less than ICE equivalents and drive millions of customers to just give up on gasoline or diesel all of a sudden. For the record, automakers are terrified of the same possibilities. Nobody has an answer for these questions: not yet, at least.

More than celebrating EV adoption as if it was the magic pill to solve all environmental issues mankind has created for itself, this date may be welcome to make us wonder about how to get EVs right. That is crucial not to deny people the personal mobility modern life has provided them with.


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