Electric vehicles: A “game changer” or more of the same old reliance on fossil fuels?
April 8, 2023
Electric vehicles are taking over in the media. It’s rare these days to turn on the TV and not see a commercial for a new futuristic-looking EV.
Every major brand in the automaking world is either pledging to or starting to produce electric cars, and with that, more will make their way to Carbondale.
Many are already present in the community, like Katherine Martin’s 2021 Ford Mustang Mach E.
“I love talking about it. Even though I’m not a big car person, I love when people stop me in the parking lot,” Martin said.
Christian Baril, a criminal defense lawyer in Carbondale, is on his second Tesla, this one a Model 3 Performance.
“EVs are so much faster than gas cars, it’s not even close… it’s more fun to drive.”
Though electric vehicles are increasing in prevalence, many people are still reluctant to buy them.
Martin said, “I think that more people would like it than they think they do.”
Baril said, “A lot of car guys think, ‘oh, the EVs just like driving a computer. It’s lost all its soul.’ That’s not really true. It’s just different… once you drive a fast EV, you don’t really want to go back.”
Carbondale does have a bit of a charging issue though.
Oliver Keys Jr, an associate professor in the automotive school at SIU, said, “There’s not much of an infrastructure in Carbondale as it relates to electric charging.”
According to Google Maps, the only places that an electric vehicle can be charged in Carbondale is at the EV Connect Charging Station on East Walnut Street. Keys also said that there are chargers at Home 2 Suites by Hilton and at Vogler Ford, though those chargers are for “typically people who are patronizing those businesses.”
The next closest chargers are a Tesla Destination Charger in Makanda, a few charging stations at a Mach 1 gas station in Marion and a Tesla Supercharger in Marion.
Essentially, if you are going to own an EV in Carbondale, an at-home charging station is a necessity.
“I’ve owned [the Mach E] for over a year. I still have not charged it publicly anywhere,” Martin said.
Baril, who routinely drives long distances, has used chargers in several nearby towns.
Keys explained that there are several different levels of chargers.
“Your level one charger can take… almost three days to fully charge a battery. You have your level two chargers, that’s what’s typically installed in people’s homes, which in most cases you can charge a battery fully in about eight hours,” Keys said. “…And there are some cases where you may have to go to what we call a supercharger or level three charger, and in those cases, you could typically charge you, somewhere around 45 minutes.”
These superchargers could potentially be detrimental to a battery’s longevity, though Keys notes more research does need to be conducted.
“It is stated that if we charge with more current from the level three chargers, it can typically deteriorate the battery faster,” Keys said.
While many people feel as though they are doing a lot of good for the environment when they buy an EV, Martin didn’t share the same sentiment when she purchased her Mach E.
“I am definitely pro paying attention to environmental things, but it honestly wasn’t a huge motivator for my particular case,” Martin said.
“The thing I think is tricky about EVs is that people say that they’re called like no emissions, like zero emissions. Well, they still have electricity, and the electricity has to be generated somehow,” she said.
Martin noted a large portion of electricity is still from coal burning plants.
“We’re still a very small proportion of true renewable energy like solar [and] wind. So it’s sort of a shift in where the emissions are.”
But, she said, she doesn’t think EVs are inherently bad for the environment.
“I think they’re probably a net gain,” Martin said.
Whether people like it or not, technology is advancing. Many governments are trying to speed the process by adding incentives to produce and purchase EVs, too.
Keys said, “It has nowhere to go but forward because, based on legislation that’s been passed by the government, automakers are… strongly encouraged to produce electric vehicles.”
Keys also thinks the pace at which EV technology is moving forward is going to increase.
“I think it’s gonna accelerate for a few different reasons… again, there’s a big push from the government,” he said. “The only other things you have, the economy can affect that, right, so gas prices. If you look at gas prices, last year, there was a peak where you could barely get your hands on EVs.”
Baril likens the advancements in EV technology, and the adoption of it, to when the iPhone came out; people thought the iPhone was weird and that they would never use it, until they got used to it.
“Once you get used to charging your phone every day, it’s really not a problem. I just sort of like, ‘better plug my phone up before I go to bed.’ It’s exactly like that.”
Automakers are making lots of lofty promises too. According to Consumer Reports, nearly every major company is pledging millions in research and setting benchmarks for both the number of models they will have in production and the timeframe in which EVs will make up more of their sales.
“I think they’re being as realistic as possible, simply because they don’t have much of a choice,” Keys said. “Because you know, they have to reduce the carbon footprint. And the only way to do that is to produce electric vehicles.”
With more vehicles being produced, there will be more options than ever for consumers to try out an EV. Keys doesn’t think they’re for everyone, though. Multiple factors go into whether someone should have an EV, including whether a person can have a home charger and how many vehicles you own.
Money is one of the biggest drawbacks to EVs. According to Car and Driver, even the cheapest EV will cost nearly $30,000. Nearly all of the vehicles on Car and Driver’s list of the 10 cheapest electric cars for 2023 were small to mid-size vehicles, meaning, for Americans who love their large vehicles, there just isn’t a cheap option.
Government incentives available through tax breaks can make prices a little more palatable though.
“You probably want to understand the tax credits. It’s kind of confusing, so it’s not as straightforward. It used to be, one bought a new vehicle, you get a $6000 tax credit. Now it… depends on where the battery came from,” Keys said.
These tax breaks can be found in the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act [IAR]. According to NPR, “only SUVs over $80,000 and cars under $55,000 qualify.” There is also a $150,000 adjusted gross income cap per individual for buyers.
These numbers may soon change though; one aspect of the IAR requires certain percentages of the battery materials to be sourced from the U.S. or a U.S. trade partner. If a vehicle does not meet these requirements, the tax break may be reduced or non-existent.
Some manufacturers are trying to help consumers out; in early 2023, Tesla recently dropped its prices so its cars are under $55,000, allowing buyers to take advantage of the tax break and lowering the overall cost of buying an EV.
This translated into the used market too; because the new vehicles cost less, the used ones also dropped in value.
Baril is all for the lower prices on EVs.
“The more people drive them, the more charging infrastructure we have, the more people that are out there, the bigger the better.”
While they may have a higher initial purchase cost, EVs are theoretically much cheaper to own, as there is virtually no maintenance to do besides tires and occasional coolant recharges.
“It’s probably seven or eight times cheaper to drive… I went from spending about $4000-5000 a year on gas to spending about $800 on electricity,” Baril said.
How much a potential owner will travel in their EV is a major consideration and something that gives a lot of potential owners anxiety. While EVs are well-suited for commuting and then charging in the evening, long trips will usually require at least one stop to charge the vehicle.
“If we needed to take it on a road trip, there’s a lot more planning involved to make sure that you have a plan for charging and then a backup plan for charging,” Martin said.
While high mileage in a day may be some cause for concern, there isn’t much to worry about if you stack lots of miles in a year though.
“I drive about 20-25,000 miles a year… it’s not anything super far, but it’s a lot every day,” Baril said.
Winter driving is an additional complicating factor for EVs.
“So for example, my vehicle [a 2022 Kia EV6] typically has a 280 mile range, and in winter that 280 [miles] drops to 247, which is a considerable amount,” Keys said.
SIU’s automotive school is far from being left behind by the herald of electric vehicles. There are several classes and activities that teach students about battery chemistry, how to work on EV motors and how to safely work on EVs.
“They’re gonna understand and be taught things way above and beyond what the average person would know about an electric vehicle,” Keys said.
He said faculty in the auto program are working on researching several aspects of EVs, including the effects of battery superchargers as well as a cost breakdown of an EV against an internal combustion vehicle.
Keys is hopeful that electric technology will soon spread to campus too.
“Hopefully, at some point, maybe it’s a year or two, we can all celebrate the first charger we have on campus.”
Baril knows exactly what is going to happen once EVs are attainable for vast amounts of the population.
“Once there’s EVs with 300 miles range that are $25,000 bucks, it’s game over for gas,” Baril said.