Top 11 Electric Car Myths

By · October 05, 2010

Nissan LEAF

The introduction of the next wave of electric cars, such as the Nissan LEAF, will dispel many long-held myths about EVs.

1Electric Cars Are Glorified Golf Carts

After decades of being told that plug-in cars have more in common with golf carts than even the cheapest Fiat or Yugo from the 1980s, it's no wonder this misperception lingers on. One look at the growing list of electric cars coming to market in the next few years will quickly dispel this myth. These vehicles are virtually indistinguishable from today’s popular gas-powered vehicles in terms of quality, dependability, size, capability, convenience and safety features. In fact, the ride quality and features of the most popular EVs from the new era—the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF—are on par with some luxury automobiles.

2Electric Cars Pollute as Much as Gas Cars

While the "zero emissions" claims of some electric car manufacturers have been overblown, electric cars create much less pollution than even the cleanest gas or diesel cars currently available. That’s mostly because moving power from batteries through an electric motor to the wheels is about twice as efficient as burning liquid fuel through an internal combustion engine and transmission. Moreover, the delivery of electricity from an electrical plant via power lines to your home or a public charging station is much more efficient than extracting, processing, and shipping oil across the world to eventually end up at a gas station.

Numerous studies show that even when fueled by coal-fired power plants, electric cars are much cleaner than your average gas car. (See “Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles” by the Electric Power Research Institute and Natural Resources Defense Council.)

3Electric Car Drivers Will Get Stranded on the Road

The first batch of electric cars will have range of about 100 miles on a single charge, and usually require at least a few hours to charge. But unless the plug-in car driver completely ignores the state-of-charge indicator on the dashboard—like ignoring your gas tank when it dips to E—you won’t run out of juice and get stranded. Promoting this myth is like saying that you'd willingly take your 300-mile range gas-powered SUV on a 400 mile trip into the tundra of Siberia knowing that you would have no access to fuel. Who would do that? (Also, keep in mind that plug-in hybrids run solely on electricity from the grid for a number of miles and then use a gas engine to extend the range a couple hundred more miles.)

4Public Charging Locations Are Critical to Electric Car Success

People who say that public charging is an absolute requirement for electric car success usually point to "range anxiety"—the fear that you'll run out of juice before you reach the next charging station. But thousands of existing electric car drivers—including those who've driven the Tesla Roadster and all-electric Mini E for the last couple of years, and the original RAV4 EV for a decade—quickly learn the range limitations of their EVs. They learn to rely on charging equipment at home and work, and any perceived lack of public chargers becomes a non-issue.

The reason? Most people in U.S. drive less than 40 miles a day, so a plug-in car can handle 90 percent of your daily needs. Public charging will allow EV drivers to extend the ranges of their vehicles, but it's not required for plug-ins to gain a foothold.

5Electric Cars Are Only For Rich People

Any new technology is initially more expensive. When personal computers, cell phones and countless other new technologies first came out, they were also derided as a toy for the rich that would never catch on with the masses. But the market usually works its magic on innovative and desirable new products. If there's enough demand, production volumes will go up and prices will come down. Most auto industry forecasters predict millions of new electric car sales in the next few years.

6Electric Cars Will Quickly Take Over the Market

Many electric car advocates like to imagine that EVs will quickly take over the market and replace gas vehicles within a decade. However, even with large government subsidies, the deployment of plug-in cars at a truly meaningful level will take decades. There are currently 1 billion cars on the road globally, and by 2050 that’s likely to double. It took gas-electric hybrids a decade to reach just below 3 percent of the market. Even the rosiest predictions put electric cars at only 10 percent of vehicle sales by 2020 and 25 percent by 2030.

7Electric Cars Trade One Foreign Dependency for Another

The batteries and motors of electric cars depend on mined metals such as lithium and a family of materials known as "rare earth metals." Many of these materials are currently mined from countries such as Chile, Bolivia and China. Some fear that, in switching to electric cars, we will simply swap our dependency from foreign sources of oil to foreign sources of battery and electric motor components. Based on today’s production levels, there is enough lithium for EV batteries for at least the next 10 years and there are enough undeveloped sources to supply at least 700 million cars’ worth of batteries. Also, China is currently the leading producer of rare earth metals, but there are lots of existing mines around the world, including right in the U.S., that could be reopened to meet any additional needs. If a shortage somehow emerged, the lithium in the hundreds of millions of existing car batteries could be recycled, and engineers could increase use of induction motors and electronics that are less dependent on rare earths.

8Electric Cars Are a New, Untested Concept

Electric car skeptics like to say that EVs are an untested concept. Yet, at the turn of the 20th century, cars that ran on batteries and motors were more popular than engine-based vehicles. The invention of automatic starters and the discovery of cheap and easy oil resources killed the electric car in the 1920s. (As we enter the end of the age of cheap oil, the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of electric cars.) In the 1990s in California, there was another wave of electric cars built by major manufacturers. The drivers of those cars testify that those EVs were, and in some cases still are, the most dependable vehicles they have ever owned.

9Electric Car Batteries Are Prone to Explode

You’ve been watching too many YouTube videos. While it's true that lithium-ion batteries contain chemicals that can potentially combine to catch fire in a dangerous way, the modern lithium-ion battery has few, if any, of those dangers. Safer battery chemistries and battery management systems virtually eliminated those concerns. In addition, safety stopgaps are built in to ensure that electricity flow is cut off to cells inside a battery pack to ensure that they don’t overheat or otherwise malfunction. In fact, the safety threats from lithium-ion batteries are much lower than driving around with a tank full of highly explosive gasoline.

10Electric Cars Are a Danger to the Blind, Elderly and Children

Due to the lack of an engine and exhaust, electric cars are very quiet. So quiet, in fact, that many people see them as a threat to pedestrians, especially blind people, children and the elderly. Yet, there have been no conclusive studies linking quiet cars with an increase in pedestrian deaths. Also, all modern cars are extremely quiet, suggesting that, if this really is a problem, all new cars pose a deadly pedestrian risk. Even so, makers of EVs are equipping their cars with special pedestrian alert sounds and warning systems, but the best prevention is a careful driver taking extra precautions when pedestrians are present.

11The Grid Can’t Handle Electric Cars

Almost all electric car charging will happen at home, and can be accomplished overnight during off-peak hours. Most estimates suggest that our current energy grid can easily keep up with growing electric car charging needs for at least the next decade without any changes at all, as long as most charging happens off-peak. In fact, according to Pacific Northwest National Labs, the current national grid has the capacity to accommodate up to 180 million plug-in cars, without a single new power plant. There is some concern about multiple EVs plugging in at the same time in the same neighborhood, and its effect on local transformers, but that issue will be addressed by local utilities as soon as plug-in start rolling out.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.