— LH.J. Columbia, MD
It has been a tough run for electric vehicles (EVs) in recent months, with lots of bad press about everything from shorter ranges in cold weather to consumer frustration with getting stranded to the huge carbon footprint of the newfangled cars when factoring in life cycle assessments that include manufacturing. Whether or not these problems are enough to reduce sales in 2024 for the first time in the modern history of EVs is anybody’s guess.
Perhaps EV’s biggest Achilles heel is the precious metal mining involved. According to Hesham Bakhbakhi, an expert in the central heating and renewable energy industry, the manufacture of a single Tesla Model Y battery requires moving some 250 tons of soil to obtain the needed metals (lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt), not counting hundreds more pounds of aluminum, steel, graphite and plastic that are needed. “The Caterpillar 994A is used for earthmoving to obtain the essential minerals. It consumes 264 gallons of diesel in 12 hours,” says Bakhbakhi. “Finally, you get a ‘zero emissions’ car.”
According to the International Energy Agency, manufacturing EVs requires six times the minerals and metals as an internal combustion engine vehicle. To add insult to injury, most of the minerals Tesla uses to manufacture these batteries come from China or Africa. “Much of the labor for extracting the minerals in Africa is done by children,” adds Bakhbakhi. “If we buy electric cars, it’s China who profits most.”
A 2019 study by Ernst & Young found that it takes 65,000-80,000 miles of driving (5-7 years) to offset the carbon footprint of purchasing a new EV. But according to Carl Medlock of Seattle’s Medlock and Sons, one of the few independent Tesla repair shops in the country, you’ll have to replace that EV battery every eight years or so—at a cost of $15,000-$25,000! And you would be starting the whole carbon footprint cycle all over again. Indeed, many EVs that aren’t even that old are heading for the scrapyard instead of onto a second life on the road. None of this is good news for consumers or the environment.
Perhaps this is why you can score a used EV surprisingly cheap. Rental car company Hertz announced recently that it is selling off some 20,000 EVs from its rental fleet with prices starting at only $20,000 for a high-mileage but well-maintained Tesla Model 3. Hertz is also unloading Chevy Bolt EUVs starting at around $22,500 and Tesla Model Ys for $33,000. Hertz says it’s time to sell these cars to better balance its supply and expected demand for EVs, but analysts point to the company needing to scrap lower-margin rentals and reduce damage expenses associated with EVs, which are much more expensive to fix after an accident or breakdown than their internal combustion counterparts. But one can’t also wonder whether the battery replacement cost of high-mileage EVs has a bit to do with Hertz’s big sell-off now.
Nevertheless, most environmentalists remain bullish on the transition to EVs and view these bumps in the road as opportunities to learn and improve so that someday in the not-to-distant future, we can get most of the gas-guzzling cars and trucks off the American road and power our EVs with clean, renewable energy.
CONTACTS: Minerals used in electric cars compared to conventional cars, https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/minerals-used-in-electric-cars-compared-to-conventional-cars;
Why Tesla’s woes signal trouble for the electric car industry, https://www.kuow.org/stories/why-tesla-s-woes-signal-trouble-for-the-electric-car-industry.
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