The End of the Road for Electric Cars

Photo: NathanWert at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine the following scenario….. In the beginning, all cars were powered by electricity, which was stored onboard in huge, heavy batteries. The cars were acceptable for use on short journeys, but on long journeys they had to stand idle for a considerable amount of time during those trips while batteries were recharged, and the journey could be continued, or completed.

Such inconvenient delays had a serious negative impact on many aspects of life, leading to lower productivity, reduced economic activity, reduced wealth of nations, and damage to the health of the populace, because the waiting around while in a hurry stress associated with use of the vehicles caused much illness, placing extra pressure on health services.

There were other disadvantages to these EVs, as they were called, which included the environmental damage suffered by deserts, plains and mountains, which had to be moved (or removed) to source the rare minerals required to make the cars’ battery packs.

Many lethal dangers were associated with these vehicles, including spontaneous combustion and explosion (which could occur anywhere, at any time), and the extreme toxicity of the fumes and smoke given off during such incidents. The fires themselves were extremely difficult to extinguish, once ignited.

Imagine Humanity’s relief and joy when a new technology was invented – the internal combustion engine. Cars powered by these engines, using petrol or diesel fuel, were a great improvement on EVs, and could undertake long journeys without the need for re-charge delays.

Unfortunately, Humanity got these two technologies the wrong way round, and is now hell-bent on discarding a technology perfected over decades to be as fuel efficient and as environmentally friendly as possible, in favour of an inferior, ‘progressive’ new one. That’s what they call progress these days.

But seriously, let’s look at Electric Vehicles, and their advantages and disadvantages, and begin with the acronyms, because ‘Electric Vehicle’ is really a catch-all term.

The Acronyms

AFV – alternative fuelled vehicle
BEV – battery electric vehicle (does what it says on the tin – fossil fuel free)
EHV – electric hybrid vehicle (see also HEV)
FCV. – fuel cell vehicle
FFV – fossil fuel vehicle
HEV – hybrid electric vehicle (uses fossil fuel as a primary power source and does not require an external electrical source to recharge its batteries).
HFCV – hydrogen fuel cell vehicle – also known as an FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle)
HV – high voltage (referring to the batteries used in BEVs)
ICE – internal combustion engine (petrol/diesel etc.)
ICEV – internal combustion engine vehicle (you worked that out for yourself, right?)
PEV – plug-in or personal or portable electric vehicle
PHEV – plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. (an FFV vehicle which can also be powered by electricity from the grid)

So this article is primarily about BEVs, PEVs and PHEVs – what most people would think of as Electric Vehicles and Hybrids.

Photo of a battery electric vehicle (BEV), showing the battery (the large white slab in this picture). EV batteries typically weigh between 800-1200 pounds. There’s no way I’d sit on top of one. Would you?
(Bill Abbott, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

An Environmental Advantage?

Electric vehicles are touted as offering a revolution in personal travel that will Save the Planet from the disaster of having a fraction more CO2 in the atmosphere than there was before, because over their lifetime, EVs are judged to produce less CO2 than conventional fossil-fuel powered vehicles.

So confident are governments of the virtue of these vehicles, that the older technologies are to be banned.

EVs themselves generate no emissions in use, while ICE vehicles release all kinds of substances – carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and particulates.

However, huge amounts of CO2 are generated during the EV manufacturing process, mostly during the manufacture of their HV lithium batteries. But over the lifetime of an EV, the vehicles are said to generate about 50 – 70% less CO2 than ICE vehicles, depending on how renewable, or otherwise, the electricity used to charge them is.

Work on developing Lithium-ion batteries began in the 1970s, and the first commercial lithium-ion battery hit the market in 1991. In 2008, the Tesla Roadster became the first production electric vehicle to use a lithium-ion battery.

The Dirty Side of Clean Vehicles

Minerals used in EV batteries include lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, graphite and copper. The mining of these materials, their refining processes, and their eventual disposal or recycling all pose very real environmental challenges.

Lithium is mined in North and South America, Asia, South Africa, Australia, and China, while Cobalt is mostly mined in the Congo, where industrial scale, and small-scale, or artisanal mines, are in operation. Corruption is rife, and artisanal mining is unregulated, and mostly conducted using hand tools, or bare hands, and there are many workplace injuries, and wide use of child labour, which is effectively slave labour.

A lot of earth has to be excavated to access the minerals needed to produce each Lithium-ion battery, and although emissions deriving from mining lithium and cobalt are lower than those deriving from fossil fuels production, the purification methods for lithium and cobalt ore can be very energy intensive, and can lead to air and water pollution, land degradation, and groundwater contamination.

In arid regions like Chile, Argentina, and Australia, water-intensive lithium brine extraction strains local water resources, affecting both communities and wildlife.

There are also social issues related to intensive mining, which can cause people to move off their land and strip them of their homes, livelihoods, and culture.

The Cost of EVs and EV Insurance

With a starting price of around £45,000, the Tesla Model Y was the bestselling electric car in the UK in 2022, a year in which electric cars accounted for almost 17% of sales, with fleets and business buyers responsible for two thirds of all new registrations.

Top-end Maserati, Mercedes, Porsche and BMW models are priced in the £150k to £200k bracket, and offer a range of about 200-300 miles, while at the other end of the market, prices start at about £15k, with most of these vehicles offering a range of about 50 – 80 miles.

As for insurance, something must be afoot, because insurance companies are raising premiums considerably, doubling them and even quadrupling them, with some EV owners faced with near 1000% premium increases. And owners of non-electric vehicles are seeing unexpectedly high hikes in their renewal premiums too.

Some insurers are withdrawing cover for EVs altogether. John Lewis, for example, is saying their EV policies are ‘temporarily paused’ while they analyse the risks and costs involved in offering EV policies.

The Cost Of EV Fuel

A Which? report on the cost of charging an electric car, updated in September 2023, revealed that the cheapest way to charge EVs was to use a home charger, with fuel costs considerably lower per mile than for petrol or diesel vehicles.

Public chargers are more expensive to use than home chargers, with ultra-rapid chargers the most expensive of all, with drivers paying more per mile than for a petrol or diesel car, although it should be noted that some public chargers are free to use.

Which? estimated that EV running costs for typical annual mileage of about 8,000 miles when charging at home were about 8p – 11.5p per mile. Special off-peak electricity tariffs are available for electric cars which can reduce the cost to about 4p per mile.

Costs go up to about 16p per mile when using standard public chargers, and to around 25p per mile when using fast chargers, making this fuel more expensive than for similar sized petrol or diesel cars per mile.

How long the cost advantage for people using home chargers will last is uncertain, but it’s probably safe to assume that the price of electricity will rise over time as supplies become ever more unreliable and scarce, and demand increases.

In October, RWE’s UK chairman stated that the price paid for electricity from offshore wind farms must increase by 70% to cover rising development costs, otherwise no more wind farms would be built. At least one new turbine needs to be installed every day from now to 2030 for the government to meet its 14GW offshore target.

Repairing Damaged EVs

A recent study by Thatcham Research which looked at the impact of BEV adoption on the repair and insurance sectors, revealed that at the present time, insurance and repair claims are 25% higher for BEVs than for ICE vehicles, and BEVs take 14% longer to repair, in part due to a shortage of repair expertise and repair facilities.

Batteries represent a considerable proportion of the original vehicle cost, and together with the lack of repair skills, write-offs rather than repairs are often the result when BEVs are involved in an accident, and the battery may have been damaged.

The cost of an HV battery varies from about £14k to £30k, and the replacement cost is invariably higher than the used value of many EVs after just one year. The slightest bit of damage to an EV battery, such as a dent, can render a battery dangerous and unstable.

Storage of damaged EVs is another problem, because due to the fire risk, Government guidelines state that the vehicles have to be stored at a distance of 15 metres from other nearby objects. A storage facility that can accommodate 100 ICE vehicles, can only store 2 BEVs – another factor that pushes up EV repair costs.

The burned out car-carrier Fremantle Highway in Eemshaven port. The ship caught fire on July 25th 2023 while travelling from Bremerhaven to Singapore, transporting 3,784 new vehicles, which included 498 EVs. It was safely towed into port after the fire burned itself out.
(Uberprutser, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Burning Batteries

For some reason, people have got the idea that EVs are dangerous. The frequency of spontaneous EV fires and explosions may have something to do with this, and the severity, and difficulty of extinguishing fires in these novel vehicles should surely give any sane and rational person pause for thought.

One of the main causes of lithium-ion battery failure leading to Thermal Runaway (an uncontrollable, self-heating state, which can result in the release of gas, and cause fire and explosion) is excessive physical stress – when a battery is subjected to high pressure, such as being dropped, punctured or crushed, for example.

If a lithium battery is bent or dented, internal damage can be caused, leading to a short circuit, while broken or cracked cases allow moisture and oxygen to enter, and oxidise the lithium components, causing a heat reaction.

Overheating and overcharging can also precipitate heat reactions, as can substandard battery manufacture, and damaged battery cells.

The car carrier ship Felicity Ace caught fire and sank in February 2022 with 3,965 new and used vehicles on board, including luxury vehicles such as 189 Bentleys, 1,110 Porsches, and the very last batch of Lamborghini Aventadors.

Experts blamed the fire and the subsequent $500 million loss to the shipping line on the electric cars. Some shipping companies have now refused to ship used EVs.

In July 2023, the Fremantle Highway, sailing from the German port city of Bremerhaven to Singapore, with 3,784 new vehicles on board, including 498 electric ones, caught fire off the coast of Holland.

One crew member was killed in the fire, and several were injured, while others were forced to jump overboard, with the rest evacuated the following day. The fire was left to burn itself out, which took a week. Mercifully the ship didn’t break up, and was eventually towed to the port of Eemshaven. EVs got the blame. Again.

Several airport car parks have been damaged or destroyed by fires involving EVs (Stavanger 2020, Luton 2023), and many people have lost homes when an EV spontaneously combusted while parked in an integral garage, or outside their property.

The Toxicity of EV Batteries and EV Fires

The high voltage lithium-ion (Li-ion) or lithium polymer batteries used in EVs pose a potentially lethal hazard to anyone working on, or near them. If the electrolyte liquid contained in the batteries leaks, and comes into contact with water, or moisture in the air, a chemical reaction takes place and hydrofluoric acid is produced.

Hydrofluoric acid is colourless, highly corrosive, and extremely toxic. If it comes into contact with the skin, it can cause severe burns, and if not treated immediately, it will be absorbed into body tissue and bones, and cause their destruction.

When the integrity of a lithium battery is compromised, the energy stored is released as heat, in a thermal runaway reaction, which can lead to a fire which is extremely difficult to extinguish.

The smoke and fumes generated by EV fires are extremely toxic. Over 100 organic chemicals are generated, including toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen fluoride gas, an acute poison that can permanently damage lungs and eyes.

The best thing to do if you come across an EV fire is to get well clear of it, and never breathe any of the fumes or smoke. Don’t hang around to do a bit of sightseeing, or film a social media video that might get you a few thousand hits.

Leave it to the fire fighters, who take extra precautions when they deal with EV incidents and fires, and have Hazardous Material fire officers present.

The fires and explosions are usually spontaneous, and unexpected, and there have been many cases of electric vehicle fires reigniting, sometimes days after being extinguished.

At present there is no consensus on the best way to extinguish these fires, but the most common approach is to use water to cool the battery. This produces contaminated water, which has to be prevented from entering water courses. EV car fires typically require 30,000 litres of water to extinguish, while normal vehicle fires only require 100-200 litres.

But in an ideal world, of course, the batteries are completely safe.

The Dos and Don’ts of EVs

The Essex Fire and Rescue Service offer useful safety advice for EV owners on their website, including:

  • For normal day to day use, only charge batteries to 80% capacity.
  • Don’t charge batteries immediately after a journey while they are still hot.
  • Only use compatible charging points.
  • Have your domestic electrical wiring checked if you plan to charge from a standard socket, to avoid the risk of a house fire.
  • Charge the vehicle outside, rather than in a garage.
  • Check with the car and charge point manufacturer regularly for recalls and safety advice.
  • If you are involved in an accident, however minor, have the battery checked by an EV specialist or car dealership.
  • Call 999 if a vehicle catches fire, and don’t try to extinguish the fire yourself.

Travelling with an EV

Some experts say that EV vehicle fires are less common than ICE car fires, but ferry companies are now taking extra precautions where EVs are concerned.

Onboard EV charging is almost universally banned; car decks are regularly patrolled; some operators issue windscreen stickers to identify electric vehicles, and position EVs appropriately, near fire-suppression systems; and damaged electric vehicles are not allowed onboard.

Norwegian shipping company Havila Kystruten recently banned all electric and hybrid vehicles from its ferries, although this would appear to be the exception, rather than the rule at present.

Scottish ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne only transport electric vehicles which have undamaged batteries. Damaged batteries have to be removed, or the vehicle ‘certified as safe’ for transport at sea.

Certification requires a signed declaration from a competent person holding Institute of The Motor Industry (IMI) ‘TechSafe’ accreditation, or certification from the manufacturer, or their representative.

Irish Ferries Limited, on the other hand, offer travellers pre-bookable recharging points on their Irish Sea and Ireland-France services.

Another potential danger posed by EVs is a fire in a tunnel. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to understand how disastrous an EV fire in the Channel tunnel would be, with thousands trapped and exposed to deadly toxic fumes, flames and heat.

Eurotunnel currently have no restrictions on EVs, and provide chargers at both ends of the tunnel. Vehicles that are fitted with LPG or dual fuel tanks are not accepted for travel however.

An under-used Tesla Supercharger EV charging station at Heston Services. The guy in the car on the left was still sitting in it long after this pic was taken. Had he fallen asleep? Hopefully he didn’t miss his urgent appointment in London.
© 2023 NeverUpToTheJob

The Disposal of EVs

EVs (apart from the batteries), are scrapped and recycled in the usual way, but disposing of the batteries requires a new approach, which remains under development.

The batteries are assumed to be at the end of their life when they only operate at about 70 to 75 percent of their original capacity. With battery capacity only seeming to degrade by about 2% per year, it may take 10 years or more before a battery is scrapped, meaning that in many cases, the battery will outlive the car.

The number of batteries requiring recycling will increase rapidly in coming years as the early EVs come to the end of their lives. Currently there are two disposal options:

Second Life Use – re-use in a new deployment, such as storing energy for back-up power, or storing energy produced by renewable sources at night. For example, second-hand batteries, including 148 redundant Nissan Leaf battery packs, form part of the backup power system at the Amsterdam Arena – the home of Ajax Football Club.

Old batteries can also be installed in people’s homes for a similar purpose. Second-life projects are however in their infancy, and more are being developed.

Battery Recycling – when batteries are no longer even fit for second-life projects, or have been damaged in a road accident, they have to be recycled. Many car manufacturers are planning or developing recycling projects.

Specialist firms are required to recycle the batteries, which they disassemble, with steel, copper, and aluminium scrap usually going into the normal metals recycling stream.

The battery cells which contain lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and some aluminium. are ground up, the residue is purified in various ways, and at the end of the process, pure metals are recovered.

But with recycling facilities extremely limited in some countries, batteries can pile up in scrapyards. The toxic metals and liquid contained in the batteries can leach out and contaminate water supplies and ecosystems. Undoubtedly some rogue batteries will find their way into landfill sites, and fires in landfills and at battery-recycling facilities have been attributed to inappropriate electric battery disposal.

Other EV Issues

Road damage – Research has shown that EVs put more than double the stress on roads that their lighter petrol and diesel equivalents do. This leads to more potholes and cracks. Asphalt road surfaces have difficulty coping with the weight of EVs, meaning that a more robust road surface, like concrete, needs to be considered. The extra weight of EVs increases tyre wear, with EVs 40% more likely to fail an MOT tyre check than ICE cars.

Grid Capacity – As more and more EVs hit the roads, the electricity grid will come under increasing strain at a time when there are serious concerns about the capacity and reliability of electricity supply infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Energy has predicted a 38% increase in US electricity consumption by 2050, primarily due to EVs. Are there realistic plans to increase electricity generation by this kind of amount?

Charging Infrastructure and Speed – ‘Range anxiety’ is common amongst EV owners, in terms of whether a single charge will get them where they want to go, and whether they’ll find a charging point before the current charge runs out. More charging points are being installed to meet the second of these concerns.

There are three types of EV charger, classified as Level 1 (Slow Charging), Level 2 (Fast Charging), and Level 3 (Rapid Charging).

Level 1 domestic chargers can charge smaller vehicles overnight. Level 2 chargers are found in public places such as supermarkets, car parks, shops, leisure centres, and the like, and almost every EV and PHEV can be charged using a Level 2 charger. Level 3 chargers convert AC into DC for a very fast charge, and can generally charge an electric car up to 80% of battery capacity in about 20 minutes.

Poor Cold Weather Performance – EV batteries don’t perform well in extremely hot or cold temperatures. In countries which experience long, harsh winters, a 30% reduction in driving range has been recorded, with some owners unable to charge EV batteries when ambient temperatures are below freezing.

EVs are Quiet – the quiet nature of electric cars means that pedestrians may not hear them approach, while lovers of traditional cars miss hearing the distinctive exhaust sounds of different cars.

The Future

Lithium batteries may one day be made redundant by newly-developed fuel technologies, like Hydrogen fuel cells, but in the meantime, work is in progress to develop standardised, universal, lithium ‘cartridge’ batteries, which can be used in any manufacturer’s vehicle, because at present most batteries are incompatible with other brands’ cars.

EV manufacturers are well aware of the dangers of lithium batteries, and will no doubt continue to work to try and improve their safety, but it’s hard not to conclude that the technology is inherently unstable, and dangerous, and that little more, if anything, can be done to make the batteries safe – or safer.

Research is being carried out to try and reduce the unique dangers inherent in EV accidents, and the severity of EV car fires, and to provide more effective ways of dealing with them.

New Renault cars include several safety features developed in conjunction with the French fire service. Megane E-Tech electric models have an ‘SD Switch’ which can be used to disconnect the battery from the car’s electrical circuit in the event of an accident.

A special ‘Fireman Access’ port on electrics and hybrids makes it possible to deliver water directly onto the battery, by firing a water jet onto a metal rupture disk, which then opens. Renault claim that this enables firefighters to extinguish fires in five minutes, rather than the usual three hours.

Renault is also deploying QR codes on the windscreens of all models which give direct access to the car’s specs, including the location of battery and airbags, and which points are the best to use for cutting out trapped crash victims.

Safety issues and solutions aren’t something manufacturers want to shout about too much, but fortunately corporates have plenty of friends in the media who help by playing down EV dangers, and suppressing worries, often putting the blame on ICE vehicles when an EV is really the culprit.

But maybe the technology is just too dangerous, and always will be?

A badge of honour. An EV charging point outside a house.
© 2023 NeverUpToTheJob


Currently there are many worries for the EV market: toxic EV car fires and explosions regularly make the news; sales are declining fast; manufacturers are axing models; second-hand values are dropping like a stone; insurance costs are rocketing – if insurance is available at all; and restrictions on the use, and transportation of the vehicles are coming in.

The public are also becoming increasingly aware of the environmental damage caused by mineral mining for EVs, the slave labour children mining the stuff, and the toxic legacy of scrapped vehicles.

To keep the market moving, the UK government offers financial incentives to boost sales of EVs through its Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV), but grants to incentivise the purchase of EV cars for private use ended in June ‘22.

The only grants available now are given to local authorities, business owners, flat owners and home renters, to install charging points, and for:

  • mopeds (up to 35%, capped at £150)
  • motorcycles (up to 35%, capped at £500)
  • wheelchair accessible vehicles (up to 35%, capped at £2,500)
  • small vans (up to 35%, capped at £2,500 )
  • large vans (up to 20%, capped at £5,000)
  • small trucks ( up to 20% capped at £16,000)
  • large trucks (up to 20% capped at £25,000)
  • taxis (a discount of either £3,000 or £7,500, depending on the vehicle’s specification)

Despite the constant barrage of end-of-the-world global warming propaganda, with EVs being pushed as one of the few things that can save life on earth, there are signs that everybody who might want an EV, has already bought one, and sales are falling.

How long before EVs are banned from car parks, ferries, and suchlike? If it becomes impossible to get insurance cover, will the taxpayer have to step in and go into the insurance business?

And how long before declining, and ever more erratic electricity generating capacity is unable to supply enough juice to keep the growing numbers of EVs on the road?

It’s hard to say what practical advantages EVs have over ICE vehicles, because there don’t seem to be any. They certainly reduce personal mobility and freedom when compared to the vehicles they are designed to replace.

EVs do however afford considerable opportunities for virtue-signalling, but the smug signallers may one day find themselves on the receiving end of finger-pointing and derision when (or if) the whole climate con is exposed as the scam many people believe it to be.

Is it worth pressing on with BEVs in the belief that solutions to their ‘issues’ will eventually arrive? Proponents of the vehicles say the problems of the batteries, the costs of repair and insurance, will all be solved, and purchase prices will continue to fall.

But as more and more people see the dangers, and choose to steer clear of EVs, are the pushers going to double down, or are EVs already past their sell-by date? And will they take Global Warming, Climate Change, and Net Zero down with them?

A Revolution in Personal Travel that will Save the Planet, or a dangerous and expensive folly, and really bad solution to a problem that never existed in the first place?

It’s hard not to think that in a sane world, this folly would have been abandoned before a single BEV went into production. Time to pull the plug?

© NeverUpToTheJob 2023