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Are Electric Cars The Future?

With car companies such as Volkswagen and Cadillac saying that their lineup will be fully electric as early as 2030 it seems as if the world is quickly deciding that electric cars are the future. In Alberta we are also seeing record high gas prices at $1.40 on average. With high gas prices and the environmental push to use less oil products, the market is being prepared for EV's.

Now if you were to look into buying the cheapest brand new EV, you would quickly find that the Hyundai Ioniq holds that position on average. At $41,000 it is not outrageously expensive, but it is $15,000 more than the average price of a mid-size sedan. Even still, with government incentives, high gas prices, and the societal push toward the EV's, why is everyone not driving them?

If EV's are the future we need to consider three factors: Technology, Capacity, and Market. The tech of EVs has come a long way there is no doubt about that, but there is an important milestone that needs to happen before EVs can be widely adopted, and that is to be more functional than a combustion engine. When the car became more widely used than the horse it was because the car could go further and faster than the horse. It became more functional. This is the problem EVs run into, their range isn't as far and their charging time takes longer. An even bigger problem is when they do become just as functional as a combustion engine, will it be the standard tech people buy? It was easy to overtake the horse with new tech, but it will not be easy to overtake a car with another car. This also plays into the market factor which we will get into later.

Capacity has two different sides to it. Is there enough new infrastructure to charge EVs? Do we have the existing infrastructure to power them i.e. power plants? The first side has quickly met demand over time with help from Tesla's charging stations and companies like Petro-Canada making it possible to drive the entire Trans-Canada highway in an EV. Even so, we still would not have enough new infrastructure if we make the change to EVs like people want. On the other side we would not have the ability to power the new charging infrastructure. Recently there have been reports that when people get an EV, it burdens the entire neighbourhoods grid. If we think about that on a mass scale we would run into some major problems. Now realistically this switch won't happen in a snap, but it is worth considering that how fast we will switch to electric cars, is how fast we will need to find new power sources. In Alberta that means we're using more oil, which defeats the purpose of this push to switch in the first place.

The market is the most important factor in the success or failure of EVs. If people do not buy them, there is no use for them. Back to the discussion of the tech factor, will people choose to buy an EV car over a combustion car because of its tech? It really comes down to if people care about the emissions their car makes or not. This is the decision people have to weigh when choosing between the two, because the price of filling up your car doesn't necessarily change. Sure you save on gas and when it is as expensive as it is right now, it will feel good. But if everyone is using electricity to charge their car, the price will eventually go up. It's simple supply and demand. Ultimately the only thing that changes is the tech in your car because the gas is being burnt somewhere else to make the power instead of in your car.

In reality the best time to buy an electric car was 5 years ago, because that is when the most savings were to be had. As we move forward the price of running an electric car will go up. For example, the Toyota Prius. When it was brand new it was an okay price, but the promise of gas saving was huge, so people bought a lot of them. Now 21 years later you can buy a hybrid system in almost any Toyota, but it comes at a premium price. The savings in fuel is offset by the price of the car now. The same will happen to EVs. If you look on the roads today, there aren't as many of those 2nd generation Prius's as there used to be and it is not because it became the most made-fun-of car, it's because their hybrid systems are failing. The price to fix that new hybrid technology is still too high, even today. Already early Tesla owners are facing the same problem when their battery gets worn down, the cars become almost disposable.

So are EV's the future? Yes...probably. But there are some major factors that they'll have to overcome, and some of them they won't. When they do become the standard on the roads it will obviously come with the same problems we run into today. Electricity prices will rise and gas prices will actually plummet, again because supply and demand. The battle between combustion and electric will probably last a very long time for reasons that are above technology. The supply of used combustion cars will obviously be attractive to people who can't afford the new technology, combine that with low gas prices and it makes an attractive combo for years and years to come.

Still skeptical? In the 80's there was a huge push to switch vehicles over to propane because it was cheaper and better for the environment...sounds familiar. After a large portion of the population switch over, the price of propane skyrocketed and gas plummeted. Not to mention the huge maintenance problems propane caused. Despite still being better for the environment and at times cheaper than gas, very few if none, fuel their vehicles with propane.

EVs are the future we can expect, but we should be cautious to say that they will save the planet, and our wallets for that matter. We should not give up other other technologies such as hybrid systems and hydrogen fuel cell technology.

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