Overpriced junk

In the Mall the other day, waiting for Mrs S to come out of one of the stores, I found myself looking across at one of those vehicles powered by electrickery. A few folks were wandering around, giving it the once over, and the charging cable was plugged in. So I relieved the boredom by doing an ad hoc cost benefit analysis of such a vehicle by asking myself certain pertinent questions.

My basic thought process went like this:
Thought 1. Only 200km maximum range? That wouldn’t get me up to Nanaimo (A bi-monthly trip to the next majorish town see elderly friend) and back.
Thought 2. What happens to that 200km ‘maximum’ range on a cold wet day or evening when you have the heaters full blast and all the lights on?
Thought 3. How long does it take to get maximum charge, and how long do the battery packs last at full efficiency? What are the replacement costs?
Thought 4. Who pays for all those public charge points that don’t seem to have a means of payment for the charge?
Thought 5. How much public subsidy is used to pay for these vehicles? In purchase discounts, infrastructure provision and running costs?
Thought 6. What happens to the running costs of such a vehicle when all the public subsidies dry up?

Which are simple, very reasonable concerns when you come to choose a vehicle to cope with our northern, but relatively mild maritime climes. A neighbour has one, but their commute is only downtown and back. For any more serious travelling, I think they have a 2015 Subaru Crosstrek.

Hmm. I think the old conundrum of battery recharge times is going to mitigate against Thought 1. A basic charge takes around two hours to get any measurable benefit. Unless you are lucky enough to find one of the ‘Superfast’ charging stations which can do the job in around 20 minutes.

Thought 2 is a no-brainer. Heating and Aircon push your fuel usage up significantly in an Internal Combustion Engined vehicle. Put on the stereo, the heated seats and lights on a cold rainy day or evening and your fuel use goes way up. So too with electric vehicles. If for example we were to do what we normally do like run up to Nanaimo, one way point to point distance being a shade over 120 kilometres, plus, let’s say, 15 buzzing around town, running errands for elderly friend and taking her to lunch, that makes a grand total for an average round trip of 255km (Usually around 270 if my odometer is any guide), 55km over the maximum range of the vehicle I found myself looking at. Which doesn’t make sense for anyone living outside of 30km from their destination. Even a 60km round commute on a cold wet day will drain the batteries very quickly and costs will vary depending upon whether you can find a free charging station close to your destination, and even if a ‘Superfast’ charger is available, you’re still hanging around for twenty minutes while your batteries top up. Providing your electric vehicle has the ability to accept a fast charge. So you have to plan your journeys around charging stations, and be very mindful of journey’s taken during the hours of low light or darkness.

Thought 3 is an interesting one. The guaranteed life of a battery pack is five years, with a weighty CAD$7,400 (USD$5,633) non-warranty replacement cost (Parts only. Price quoted is without labour, which is currently around CAD$150 an hour by a main dealer) Budget will probably be around four hours per vehicle, so bang on around CAD$600 before adding around 12% tax and environmental to the total. Which ends up being around CAD$9,000 or more. In one bite? Ouch. That’s without the possible cost of having to replace the entire battery management subsystem as with some of the Nissan Leaf models, if you go for the battery pack upgrade option.

Then there’s consumables like tyres, windscreen (oh if you must, windshield) wipers and regular servicing costs. Just like any other vehicle.

Thoughts 4 and 5. Okay, there are ‘free’ public charging points, the installation costs for which were, up to 2013 mostly (75%) paid for out of Federal, Provincial and property taxpayer revenue. So on the surface you might get a free or low cost charge to get you home, but actually you’re paying for your ‘fuel’ via the general tax fund, and depending upon your municipality for everyone else’s electrickery to run their over-hyped golf carts. Even the ‘rates at the pump’ are heavily subsidised. Because BC Hydro, as we are reminded every time our electricity bill comes in, is not a registered charity.

Thought 6. This is the kicker. What does happen when the taxpayer funded subsidies for electric vehicles cease? Because just like what’s beginning to happen with Wind Turbines in Europe and what will happen under a Trump Presidency in the USA (Which is as decent a reason to vote for him as I can think of), public taxpayer funding will at some stage dry up like spit on a hot stove. See the last sentence in my previous paragraph. This is not a sustainable technology unless the purchaser funds the entire life cycle cost of the vehicle. Electrically driven vehicles, while they still rely on battery technology, will always remain little better than a curiosity, an uneconomic technological dead end, just like they were back in the early 1900’s.

Never mind the pollution and other issues associated with Lithium production for the batteries. Whilst a Lithium-Ion battery is fine for your cell phone, tablet or laptop, it’s not a brilliant idea as far as vehicular transport is concerned.

Compared to a vehicle which are their equivalent in performance and utility, even with all the most up to date developments, Electric cars just don’t make economic sense for the average North American, or anyone else for that matter.

Hence the title of this post.

I have been reminded that I forgot to mention depreciation. Silly me. After a quick search through the motoring press, I was astonished to see depreciation rates of between 39-42% on ‘Plug-in’ vehicles. The only versions to buck this trend are the Tesla and Prius, but neither are really a ‘proper’ electric vehicle, and even then there’s the cost of battery replacement every five years of USD$12,000. You heard me, twelve thousand dollars as of today. Which unless there’s a significant reduction in cost via economies of scale, is going to put a lot of people off. That’s without even touching on the reliability issues known to plague models like the Tesla S.

Just found this story from the UK’s Northern Echo, where a man recently lost Fifteen thousand Quid in eighteen months on a Nissan Leaf. Having read the article I’m inclined to observe that if he’d paid the full price of GBP30,000 without the GBP5,000 Government ‘cashback’ incentive, he’d have lost twenty thousand pounds. Double ouch!

17 thoughts on “Overpriced junk”

  1. You forgot depreciation,there cannot be any long term value.
    Talking of range,I have seen quite a few that are at on. A flat bed recovery truck, presumably have stopped.


    1. It all boils down to range and recharge. Have no idea about the current depreciation, but sales are down by almost 40% for the Nissan Leaf, there’s a waiting list for the new model Tesla 3, but nothing else. Although I did see a piece the the Wall Street Journal that spoke of a depreciation rate double that of any other vehicle type.


    1. Which is the point. They’re only possible through public subsidy. I don’t mind paying a little to subsidise public transport, but other people’s personal choice of vehicle? Let them pay full price. At which point these things become (Cough) unsustainable.


  2. I know a bloke here in the UK that’s just bought one. He leases the battery and is getting a government grant (ie taxpayers’ money) to have a charging post put into his driveway.
    He uses the car (a Renault something-or-other) to commute up and down to work and his wife has a petrol car for long journeys.
    The deal is, if the thing runs out of charge he gets a free roadside charge-up. The range is about 80 miles.
    To my mind the electric car is no good in principle due to weight, range, expense and the other factors you mention. However there is a much better case to be made for electric motorcycles as they are becoming semi-affordable and are far quicker to charge. For commuting purposes they don’t need a massive range.
    Electric motorcycles accelerate like shit off a shovel, have no oil or valves or chains or in fact anything to service, and for short ranges are arguably better than petrol machines.


    1. Yes, electric scooters. We have them over here. Heavily subsidised of course. Motorino’s for example are quick, but most other electric motorcycles are limited to 32kph, which is a pain if you get stuck behind one on a main drag in rush hour. Battery technology seems best applied when limited to electric bicycles (Which can be partially recharged as you pedal) and thus cycle paths. Then they have better utility. Otherwise you’re stuck with the same range and battery replacement issues.


    1. So we have. Trouble is they don’t leave from exactly where you are, nor go to exactly where you want to go, nor leave at exactly the time you want. Pity, that.


      1. Depends where and when you live – here in Brum in the 1970s/80s it was hot and cold running buses, great. Then bus services got deregulated, Stagecoach et al. made a mint and services declined; probably increasing car ownership played a part.


        1. Sackerson; I worked in North Brum in the late 70’s and 80’s and had to use public transport for a while. Ah, the smell of a West Midlands Passenger Transport Executives No 79 on a wet day through West Bromwich, damp clothing and everyone else’s failures of personal hygiene. Never mind Jasper Carrot’s experience;

          Ah, and the vinyl seats… Nostalgia, I’m so happy not to live there any more.


          1. Well, the buses got us there cheaply and (in the days of the old clocks on the Number 11 route – remember them?) reliably, even if the driver stopped to pick up fish and chips en route. Now, all those cars at what? £3k+ a year costs, plus most suburban front gardens bricked and tarmacked to make parking spaces, the city full of car parks and empty of thriving shops…

            Smelly – do you know Jake Thackray’s song? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6ckbv6176w


            1. Ah, the joys of the Outer Circle route where two or three No 11’s would often arrive in convoy. As for the old Jake Thackeray number ‘Country bus’? I still sing it to myself when nobody’s listening.

              Besides, I have no real beef with public transport. It’s paying for other people’s personal property that raises my hackles.


    2. For those forms of public transport fine, because the logistics of battery power doesn’t apply as they can be run straight off the grid. It’s the batteries that raise the issues.


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