Fact-checking 10 claims about electric cars

8 min reading time
2020 is expected to herald the final breakthrough for electric cars, but many drivers still view them with skepticism. Here we take a closer look at the facts, and dispel some popular myths.

10 March 2020

No fun, expensive, dangerous – there are a lot of myths about electric cars out there. It’s time they were laid to rest, and the facts brought to light. With the help of BMW experts, we clarify what is really true and what are just tall tales.

1. “E-cars don’t have a long enough range”

There are countless half-truths making the rounds about the range of electric cars. You hear people saying all the time that when the temperature drops, you won't get very far in an EV. While that may have been the case with earlier electric cars in winter, it no longer applies. The e-car batteries of today are much improved, and pre-conditioning of the battery and vehicle interior via app on departure is now standard, as are intelligent heat management systems. This makes it possible to significantly optimize the overall range in everyday life – even when using power-intensive systems such as air conditioning and seat heaters. Ultimately, electric car range still depends on driver behavior, explains Karin Krüger, Product Manager Onboard Portfolio at BMW Charging.

The days when electric cars had to stop every 60 miles to recharge are long gone. Range serenity has replaced range anxiety. “The everyday range of a BMW i3 is up to 160 miles. User studies show that this clearly exceeds the daily needs of the average driver,” explains Karin Krüger further. In the future, one charge will be able to cover up to 375 miles. For daily use and relaxed weekend trips, this is more than sufficient – and it’s even enough to go on vacation.

Accuracy: 30%

The everyday range of a BMW i3 is up to 160 miles.
Karin Krüger

Product Manager Onboard Portfolio BMW Charging

2. “It takes forever to charge an electric car”

It is true that when plugged into a domestic power outlet, it can take a night for an empty electric car battery to fully recharge. With wallboxes (powerful, permanently installed charging stations for the home) and fast charging technology, however, charging time can be significantly reduced – in most cases by around two-thirds. Or, as Benjamin Bucksch, Product Manager Wallboxes at BMW Charging, explains: “With high-power charging it is even possible to recharge sufficiently in 20 minutes – around the time it takes for a coffee break.”

The debate over charging also tends to overlook the fact that the majority of cars are used for the daily commute to and from work, i.e. an average distance of around 40 miles a day, which e-cars can easily manage on just one charge. The best way to do this is to fill up with electricity and, above all, to do so sufficiently while the car is stationary – at home or at work. The future is about optimized charging: whether at home overnight, at work, or in a parking garage.

Which brings us to e-car skeptics’ next point of criticism regarding charging: the infrastructure. While this may be still under development, electric vehicle charging stations are sprouting up everywhere, and industry and energy suppliers are steadily expanding the network. Most metropolitan areas are already covered, and fast charging stations are increasingly being built on major highways. Wallboxes are also becoming more common in apartment buildings and parking garages. In just a few years, there will be enough charging stations available for e-car drivers to have no fear whatsoever of getting stranded, even in less populated areas. BMW is doing its part for example by installing 100 new EV charging stations in and near to national parks throughout the US.

The one shortcoming of the charging infrastructure is the sometimes confusing and varied pricing models, which inevitably need to be made more user-friendly. The BMW Charging program is a good example of a transparent, self-explanatory and simple scheme in which everything is offered under one roof.

Accuracy: 30%

With high-power charging it is even possible to recharge sufficiently in 20 minutes – around the time it takes for a coffee break.
Benjamin Bucksch

Product Manager Wallboxes BMW Charging

3. “People are being exploited to make e-car batteries”

The background: raw materials are needed for the production of battery cells, and in some regions of the world people are exploited to produce them. But there are alternatives. For example, BMW has concluded contracts with raw material suppliers that guarantee sustainable and fair production.

From 2020, rare earth will also no longer be used, and the use of cobalt, which comes exclusively from Australia and Morocco, will be reduced. BMW places great importance on having complete control over its supply chain, and compliance with environmental standards and the safeguarding of human rights are afforded top priority. Another aim is to improve the recyclability of batteries and find ways to give them a second life.

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4. “Batteries are e-cars’ Achilles’ heel”

Another criticism often voiced about e-cars is that their battery is their Achilles’ heel. In truth, however, batteries should not be viewed more or less critically than the drive units of conventional cars, and should therefore not be a cause for concern. Karin Krüger notes that currently there isn’t enough relevant data about the longevity of electric car batteries to compare them to combustion engines.

In principle, no electric car driver needs to worry about durability. According to BMW, the service life of a battery pack is specifically designed for the e-car it goes into. As of January 2020, BMW guarantees its batteries for up to 8 years or 100,000 miles. What e-car owners do need to remember is that fast charging puts a higher strain on batteries than conventional charging. With the help of an intelligent operating strategy, however, the life expectancy of batteries can be extended.

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5. “E-cars aren’t better for the environment than combustion-engine vehicles”

How electricity is sourced plays a decisive role in the ecological footprint of electric cars. If it comes from renewable energies, day-to-day use has almost no impact on the environment. However, if coal is used to produce electricity, for example, the footprint is significantly larger. Another factor which influences e-cars’ environmental footprint is the laborious and CO2-intensive production of batteries. But even if conventionally produced electricity is taken into account for the calculation and the burden of production is included, e-cars still come out ahead. Since 2017, BMW has been committed to minimizing CO2 production in Europe by buying electricity exclusively from renewable energy sources. The electric BMW i3, for example, is produced using electricity solely from renewable sources.

With daily use, an e-car’s initial CO2 deficit following production is offset relatively quickly. Compared to a combustion-engine vehicle, an e-car generates 40,000 to 50,000 more environmentally neutral miles (depending on the calculation).

E-cars compare favorably against fuel cell electric vehicles as well (➜ see: Electric cars and plug-in hybrids explained), and come out even further ahead once manufacturing and parts production become climate-neutral. BMW’s motto is that each of the group’s electric vehicles must have a smaller footprint than a similar combustion-engine car. This is ensured as part of a holistic approach, including all relevant factors such as supply chain, production, service life and recycling.

Accuracy: 30%

6. “E-cars are more expensive than combustion-engine vehicles”

In a nutshell, the longer an e-car is on the road, the better its cost impact. BMW’s latest calculations show that an electric car is financially superior to a combustion-engine vehicle from a mileage of 60,000 to 100,000 miles. This includes purchase, maintenance and operation. Once this point is reached, the expense of producing the electric vehicle battery is offset. But even before reaching 60,000 miles, the positive financial aspects will outweigh the negative in the future as the production of electric cars increases and production costs fall. BMW plans to have at least 13 new fully electric vehicles on offer by 2023.

Maintenance costs are also considerably lower than that of a diesel or gas car. No oil changes, no checking of timing chains or timing belts – the savings really add up over time. An electric motor has fewer moving parts than a combustion engine, which means there is less wear. Thanks to regenerative braking, the only thing you really need to look out for is that the brakes don’t rust.

Unexpectedly high electricity costs are also a thing of the past. Needs-based rate plans and intelligent charging functions mean that recharging an electric car has never been easier. And electricity is still cheaper than gas or diesel, so the cost of charging an electric car is lower.

Accuracy: 40%

7. “E-cars are dangerous”

Each time a new technology is developed, people view it with skepticism. Is it safe? Can I trust it? Scenes of electric cars on fire and exploding after an accident belong in an action film. In real life, e-cars are not dangerous. Or, as Karin Krüger puts it, “Electric cars are just as safe as combustion-engine vehicles.” Otherwise it wouldn’t be legal to sell them or drive them on the road. A number of systems are installed to ensure their safety. In the event of an accident, for example, the battery’s current flow is immediately shut off, so that there is no risk of electric shock to either the occupants or the emergency services. Emergency workers are even trained to deal with these new technologies so they know what to do.

In everyday life, e-cars are quieter than combustion-engine cars when driving at slow speeds. This greatly reduces noise pollution in cities. In order to ensure that pedestrians hear electric cars, they produce an artificial sound at speeds of less than 10 mph. The BMW i3 makes this artificial noise at speeds of up to 20 mph, and as the car accelerates, it fades away. And when e-cars travel at higher speeds, the noise made by the tires on the pavement is loud enough for pedestrians to hear them.

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Electric cars are just as safe as combustion-engine vehicles.
Karin Krüger

Product Manager Onboard Portfolio BMW Charging

8. “E-cars overload the power grid”

One of the most persistent myths surrounding electric cars is that current power grids aren’t capable of supplying electricity to all-electric vehicles. Since in reality, not everyone will switch to electric cars at the same time, this won’t be a problem, however. It would also provide the opportunity to gradually fix ailing electric grids. E-cars store energy, which could potentially be pumped back into the grid when needed. It’s all a matter of optimizing charging times. If e-cars charge slowly during the day, solar harvesting can be ramped up, and during the night the same can be done with wind harvesting. As the e-car infrastructure grows, the grid can be updated to better supply the energy needs of the future with renewable sources.

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9. “E-cars are just a stop-gap solution”

It seems inevitable that the era of combustion-engine cars will come to an end in the future, and not just because of the finite nature of oil resources. Alternative drive technologies are the only option to protect the environment and the climate. Right now it’s not possible to predict whether BEVs or FCVs will dominate the market (➜ see: Electric cars and plug-in hybrids explained). What is sure is that fully electric vehicles will play a major role in the future. They are the only way the ambitious CO2 emission targets can be achieved. There will likely be a mix of the different types of drive systems, as will be offered by BMW.

A fully electric car is perfectly capable of covering your daily drive. An interesting alternative to batteries is fuel cell technology cars (➜ see: Everything you need to know about hydrogen fuel cell cars). Hybrid electric cars have already passed the transitional phase. Regardless of which form they take, electric vehicles are the cars of the future.

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10. “E-cars are no fun to drive”

Are electric cars any fun to drive? The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” We guarantee that the first time your foot hits the accelerator (you can’t call it a gas pedal anymore!), you will agree with us. There’s nothing like taking off at a smooth and almost silent glide. It’s all so effortless. Unlike a combustion-engine vehicle, which has to reach a certain RPM to get going, e-cars achieve full torque immediately. Do you want to win the red light challenge? Then you’d better be sitting in an e-car! Cornering is a breeze too. This is because the relatively heavy batteries are usually located in the undercarriage of the car, thus ensuring a low center of gravity and allowing you to hug the road. An electric car from BMW will never be about sacrifice, as Benjamin Bucksch makes clear.

Aside from that, how do you define driving pleasure? Smoothly gliding through the countryside in an electric car could be very much included in that expression. Knowing that you are saving money and doing your bit for the environment also results in a whole new driving experience. And if things ever get too leisurely, just nudge the e-pedal...

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Author: Nils Arnold; Animations: Tommy Parker