The great debate: Should the next car you buy be electric?

Electric vehicles are the future of our transportation, but are we ready to switch over just yet?

Electric cars on display during the launch of an electric car charging station at Dewa headquarters in Garhoud in Dubai in 2015. Pawan Singh / The National
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Damien Reid: There's no question, the world is heading down an electric vehicle path, although for me, right now, if I was in the market for a new car, I wouldn't be rushing to place my order just yet. This is simply because the numbers don't stack up for EVs as an efficient form of transport from either a financial or fuel consumption side.

Alix Capper-Murdoch: I am more driven by the voices of the youngsters who are asking us to take action against climate change now. I feel it's my responsibility to support the case for electric cars, especially in a country like the UAE, which has done so much to ensure the infrastructure is in place to run these vehicles with ease. In my opinion, EVs are the way forward in terms of easing running costs and reducing the impact of emissions from cars with a traditional combustion engine. 

DR: EVs are widely considered by the industry to be a stopgap measure until a real alternative is found, which at this stage is hydrogen fuel-cell. Experts suggest the internal combustion engine [ICE] has about 30 to 40 years remaining before the industry moves to fuel-cells. The environmental benefits of manufacturing EVs is still debatable given the heavy use of fossil fuel needed to both mine the rare metal, lithium, the core ingredient for EV batteries, and then transport it by ship.

ACM: As with most complex scenarios, there are a number of pros and cons that require a balanced assessment.

DR: Dr Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the executive board for Continental, said that if everything is taken into consideration, including the manufacture and operation of an EV, the fuels needed, as well as the production of the energy itself, you can reduce CO2 emissions by a maximum of 25 per cent compared to an ICE. It will never be zero emission in the full context. The cost, however, is about €10,000 (Dh40,000) per car, which is passed directly on to the consumer. If you look at the comparative pricing of EVs against their ICE counterparts, there is a hefty premium that wipes out any savings some might hope to make by charging off the grid instead of at the gas station. 

ACM: Give us some examples.

DR: The Renault Zoe EV is priced at Dh137,025 compared to its petrol counterpart, the Renault Captur, which costs Dh57,900, and the Audi e-Tron EV, from Dh325,000 over a regular A4 at Dh138,000 – to name just two. Most believe the crossover point where EVs become a better financial proposition is after 160,000km or five to six years, but only if the battery does not need replacing. Until then, you're driving an EV to make a statement.

EVs are the way forward in terms of easing running costs and reducing the impact of emissions from cars with a traditional combustion engine

ACM: It is true that the upfront cost of an electric vehicle is expensive in comparison to conventional car choices, however, EVs produce zero CO2 emissions when running and do not emit nasty nitrous oxides into the air. They are also designed to last longer, moving on from our current "throwaway" culture. Manufacturers have worked hard to produce cars that are not only highly recyclable but often made from recycled materials, too.

DR: Don't forget about range anxiety, though: a good EV will cover 370 kilometres to 450 kms compared with 800km to 1,000kms from a petrol engine, so you get less range from a more expensive car.

The industry has been placed in a difficult situation over the coming years by various government regulators who are dictating that it must sell a certain number of EVs to markets that are not warming to the concept.

ACM: Yet, most of us wouldn't feed our children junk food every day, because we know this is bad for them and our environment, so why do we seem to be happy to distribute noise and air pollution into our atmosphere when we know this effects, not just our children, but everyone around us? Isn't it irresponsible to ignore the clear move towards a sustainable future just to save some pennies?

DR: While I agree that the future will be electric, I don't believe it will be with the next generation. Maybe the one after, when economies of scale absorb that extra €10,000 per car.

ACM: That brings me back to your point about hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles: yes, those would be ideal and many hope this will come, but it's creating the infrastructure to supply the hydrogen that is the problem. That's not so with EVs, as electricity is widely available and has been for years. The real energy-saving potential for the EV will become apparent when powering one can be undertaken from a renewable and self-generating power source. 

In the long run, EVs have lower operating costs, lower maintenance costs, lower parking costs and lower shipping costs. There is often free charging, free parking and more free time to write your car reviews when you don’t have to queue for fuel every few days. Do you still think the numbers don’t stack up for you, Damien?

DR: Yep, I’ll stand by my figures, thanks, Alix. The global market for plug-in electric vehicles – petrol-electric hybrids and full-electric battery vehicles – was 2 per cent at the end of 2019, despite being supported by generous government incentives that included those free parking spots and charging, because, as we know, nothing in life is free.

The Ford F-Series truck was again the US's number one seller last year, at 897,000 units. In the UK, one in three new cars sold last year was a diesel, while just 37,850 EVs accounted for 1.6 per cent of the UK market. This included a surprising 17.8 per cent drop in Plug-In Hybrids. For EVs to make up 10 per cent of the global market, we need annual sales of 1.7 million units as opposed to the 400,000 last year. 

ACM: As much as I appreciate all your statistics, I'd like to remind you that some of the biggest inventions in the world came up against criticism backed up by stats.

DR: Then there is, of course, the world's biggest market, China, which sold 30 million-plus last year alone, and admittedly that could be EVs big saviour. Chinese models, most of which we've not heard of here, already account for 21 per cent of global EV sales.

ACM: That's because China has realised the benefits of electric cars are obvious; they are quiet, clean, relaxing to drive and inexpensive to run. As technology advances and prices fall, more people will make the switch to zero-emissions motoring. Even you, Damien.

DR: The day it makes financial sense from a purchase and resale side, while offering similar range, will be the day EVs take over, but that won't be for many years, unless you live in China. I'm betting your next car won't be an EV, but maybe the one after that will.

ACM: I discovered the EV revolution more than 10 years ago, when I got to drive the original Tesla. The technology may have improved, but I wouldn't have missed the chance to move with the times rather than keep waiting for the next generation. My advice is to experience all the benefits now, don't waste time waiting for the future, because the longer you wait, the shorter it will be.