Electric Cars: 2021, It Just Doesn’t add up (yet).

US$169,000 Lucid Air sedan.
Aspark Owl. US$3.2 Million EV Hypercar.

Right now, without subsidies, buying an electric car does not add up. Currently there is a price premium, and as a result the cars only appeal to those happy to pay a premium to indulge a passion. Buyers are prepared to pay a premium for the environment or the acceleration, but right now, buying is driven by passion and/or subsidies. Even worse, prices do not appear to have fallen as battery prices suggest they should. For everybody to be buying electric cars, at least one of these will apply:

  • Governments will be subsidising all car purchases.
  • Cars will cost the average person much more.
  • Prices of electric cars must fall substantially.

Yet governments have plans to progressively mandate electric vehicles to meet emission targets. This is an exploration of why people buy electric cars today, what needs fixing to make them affordable and viable for all, and not just an expense and/or inconvenience forced on people. Are prices really about to plummet?

I myself, and several people I know, have experienced living with EVs. But when a friend who was looking at buying an EV asked me what made sense for him, we looked at the reasons for and against an EV, and buying an EV just did not add up. Why not?

There are still practically limitations as well as price premium. At what point will electric battery, or electric hydrogen vehicles, finally present a case that adds up for everyone, even without incentives? Or will we be just stuck with them. Right now, several things about electric vehicles just doesn’t add up, but all the signs are that in the next few years it will add up, which makes buying either electric or non-electric right now, a tough decision.

Passions, incentives & fears, buying an electric vehicle in 2021.

Canalyst data via evpost.

A variety of factors can all play a role in the decision to buy an electric car, but only 5% of new car buyers in 2020 found those factors compelling. So what are the factors that influenced that 5%? Were they on to something?

  1. Car/EV Passion: Some people are passionate about cars in general or just electric cars and their acceleration.
  2. Green Passion: Others are passionate about the environment, and if going ‘green’ will save the planet, it justifies a price premium.
  3. Depreciation: “Why buy an internal combustion engine car that may become obsolete?”.
  4. Incentives offered by governments, can provide the boost to the value equation of electric cars

Some people are passionate about cars in general, or just electric cars and their acceleration.

Buying cars is not all about logic. Some are all about passion and enthusiasm for cars. There are outrageous cars like Bugatti and Koenigsegg, exotic cars Ferrari and Lamborghini, and enthusiast cars like Porsche or the Corvette, that are all testament to the fact that in many ways, cars are not all about logic. Electric cars also range from the outrageous, like the Aspark Owl pictured at the top of this page, through to hybrid models from Koenigsegg, Ferrari and Lamborghini, fully electric Porsches, and cars like the Lucid air or any Tesla all combine some degree of tapping into the passionate side of ludicrous performance the a passion for taking engineering to the extreme.

Many cars are a mix of logic and passion, but a significant portion of the current electric vehicle market is influenced by those with a passion for the engineering and taking things to extremes. As the EV market grows from its current mere 5%, it is unlikely for the market to continue to be influenced to the same extent by people with a passion, who typically less price sensitive than the average buyer.

In summary, many people are prepared to spend many multiples of the price of the average car, for reasons that are not always logical. This may account for a disproportionate amount of current EV sales.

Going ‘green’ will save the planet, and that, (maybe) justifies premium pricing.

For some, whatever it takes to get an environmentally sound vehicle is worth it. Even if you are a complete performance junkie, being able to be ‘green’ credentials, and performance: win-win! Whether the environmental credentials are real or not, a statement that you are trying can be appealing. In would be hard to imagine many of those 5% of new car sales where the ‘green’ element is not some part of the decision process.

Depreciation: “Why buy an internal combustion engine car that may become obsolete?”

If/when the day arrives that everyone is buying electric cars, fossil fuel stations will start closing down and the value of internal combustion engine vehicles will plummet. The future value of a car figures many purchase decision, and some of those planning on keeping their next car for a long time may already be contemplating the potential for the internal combustion engine to become highly unfashionable even before proposed national bans in many countries.

With Norway having a commitment to banning fossil fuelled cars by 2025, any new car that is not electric would already be a hard sell. Most countries do not plan bans until 2030 or later, but the date where resale is impacted could be much earlier, particular if all goes smoothly in Norway.

Incentives offered by governments, sufficiently reduce the effective price premium.

Governments work on carrot of incentives as well as the ‘stick’ of bans. Price incentives can effectively reduce the price of an electric vehicle by thousands of dollars, yet, as stated before, globally, even with incentives, the result is that outside of Norway, most people still do not choose electrive vehicles.

The key point is that even when people do choose an electric vehicle, many would not have chosen the electric vehicle without the benefit of government incentives.

Many Governments recognise that the cost benefit equation for individuals does not add up. If the sums did add up, governments providing tax-payer support that is totally unneeded to one group of consumers would generate an outcry.

The Case Against: Price, Range, Depreciation and Convenience/Charging.

There is a reason for incentives. Prices as outlined below simply do not add up. Then there is range. Even in cases where EV range can provide an experience that matches internal combustion vehicles, and completely different mindset is required together with new charging infrastructure. I am planning an exploration devoted to this exact topic, but I have found even some friends with EVs, who are fans of their EVs, have not managed to shift their thinking, as required for an optimal experience. Even when charging could be convenient, years of thinking in a different way means those opportunities are missed.

Even when problems do have solutions and even benefits, it requires change. To bother with change, there has to be a payback.

Against:

  • Price: there is a significant price premium offsetting the passion and going green.
  • Range: No EV offers range comparable with
  • Depreciation: If the Electric cars do achieve price parity as projected, EV prices will also plummet.
  • Convenience: If you have off-street parking with a power outlet, there are solutions but it requires changes.

Government Action: Phase out, incentives first, tax later.

Phase Out Dates: Tracking who has made what commitments to Requiring EVs.

Different countries have committed to a variety of rules that either directly, or effectively prohibit the sale of new cars with an Internal Combustion Engine(ICE), or in some cases, require that and ICE is combined with an electric hybrid system. Iceland

Dates announced as an end of sales of new Internal Combustion Engine vehicles:

To be researched further: Germany here, an evolution.

Resources: The icct.org. There are also schedules on wikipedia, but not all dates appear to be phase out dates.

The Trend: From Incentives to Taxes.

Incentives by Country (more to be added over time)

Most countries have offered incentives to encourage the adoption of EVs, but at some point these incentives must end, and in many markets will be replace by taxes increasing the cost of ownership.

In the US, for at least around 10 years there has been a credit of $7,500 available on new electric vehicles up to 200,000 unit limit per manufacturer. There are currently plans to revamp the scheme, with suggestions the credit could increase to $10,000, but the scheme be restricted to US made electric vehicles. Tesla and GM have both reached the 200,000 unit limit, but changes may also extend the number of vehicles by an additional 400,000.

In the UK, the subsidy was lowered from £4,500 to £3,500 in 2018 and then £3,000 in 2020 when the scheme was extended until 2023. As indicated below, there is a belief in the UK that as soon as 2024, electric vehicles may become sufficiently competitive that a scheme will no longer be required.

The Transition From Incentives to Taxes.

Every scheme is seen as temporary and with a goal of managing a transition. The proposed future is for all vehicles to be zero emission, at which time, a government subsidy would apply to all new car sales, which is not really feasible for any length of time.

In fact, in place of incentives, there may be taxes. Already in Australia, a country with no incentives scheme, the state of Victoria is proposing taxes on electric vehicles, as is far more environmentally conscious US state of Washington.

“When you consider that people who drive internal combustion engines, either petrol or diesel, those people are paying every day fuel excise,” Pallas said,

“If you’re not filling your vehicle up with petrol, then ultimately you’re not paying your share of maintenance costs of dealing with our road system, so this is essentially the government making it a fairer system that so that everybody pays their fair share of that wear and tear.”
Pallas expects the tax to raise and raise $30 million. While this money will not be put back into EV infrastructure, the Treasurer said that next week’s budget will allocated $45 million for policies to boost uptake of low-emission vehicles.

He went on to justify the tax by pointing to alleged exponential growth of EVs over the coming years. Pallas said he believes there will be price parity between EVs and traditional fuel-powered cars by 2025.

Gizmodo.com

Many states and countries have taxes on fuel and/or cars that at least in theory contribute towards road infrastructure and in practice at least represent revenue. While electric vehicle numbers are a small fraction of total vehicles, incentives are feasible, but if and when these vehicles are the mainstream, incentives will transform into taxes.

Will everyone be forced to buy illogical, expensive electric cars?

Despite all the plans and announced phase-out dates, governments in most countries still are only governments if they can win elections. Every cut-off date, even in Norway is in the future, not immediate. All cut-offs are based on projections as to what will happen in this future. Future projections have been known to be optimistic, and perhaps they are this time as well, in which case, phase-out dates, will probably also turn out to be optimistic.

Either cars will stop being so expensive, or phase-out dates will slip. There is a significant chance that car ownership will become less expensive. None of the proposals includes pre-owned cars, and ICE pre-owned cars could become highly affordable.

Price Analysis: why so expensive?

How expensive are Electric Vehicles?

Compared to mainstream small cars, EVs can be almost double the price, although the more premium the vehicle, the more competitive the pricing ratio for an EV becomes. EVs are about the same price as an equivalent car, and plus the price of economy hatch/sedan. Further while specs have improved over time, prices have fallen significantly over time. See price comparison data below, but currently EVs are only competitive if the ‘passion’ factors are taken into account. Of course, there is always an element of passion in the purchase of any car at the price point of a Tesla Model S.

Competitive by 2024, Really?

A UK study projects EV prices to become competitive with equivalent vehicles by 2024-5.

The Committee on Climate Change believes the cost of electric cars will be similar to that of petrol or diesel vehicles by 2024-5.

BBC

The price parity projections have also been made in Australia, where lack of incentives to kick start sales volumes makes achieving parity even more difficult.

He went on to justify the tax by pointing to alleged exponential growth of EVs over the coming years. Pallas said he believes there will be price parity between EVs and traditional fuel-powered cars by 2025″.
This is interesting at the present time the cheapest new EV in Australia is MG Motor’s ZS SUV. As of November 2020 it had a drive away cost of $43,990.
Comparatively, the cheapest new petrol-engine cars in Australia start at $16,000

Comments by Victorian State Treasurer Tim Pallas discussed in Gizmodo.com

One key may be in the detail. What is price parity? Electric cars are most competitive in the premium car market right now, will ‘equivalent vehicles’ include all price ranges?

At the entry level of the market, there is a long way to go to achieve price parity. There are many factors at play, but one thing for certain is that if these projections are correct, EV prices will plummet over the next few years. If EV car prices plummet, that will also cause a flood of lower price pre-owned ICE cars.

It is not just government projections fuelled by ‘green’ consultants, as banks and their investment arms are making the same projections.

UBS said it expected battery costs to drop to below $100 per kilowatt hour (kWh), a key milestone, by 2022.

The bank said that those carmakers that try to hang on to ICE sales risk being left behind by rivals such as Tesla and Volkswagen, the world’s largest carmaker by volume, which has committed to investing €33bn in selling electric cars.

“There are not many reasons left to buy an ICE car after 2025,” said Tim Bush, a UBS analyst.

the guardian

Why do electric cars cost so much: Where does the money go?

Electric cars have areas of significantly reduction in complexity compared to Internal combustion engine cars.

An electric motor has far fewer moving parts than than an internal combustion engine. With maximum torque at zero revolutions per minute, and a wide range of operating speeds, gearboxes and the clutch mechanisms can be eliminated. Eliminating combustion means air filters, turbochargers, fuel pumps, fuel filters, ignition systems, complex cooling systems and the exhaust system can all be eliminated.

Almost all ICE engines have a coolant system, while electric vehicles can use a far simpler cooling system for the batteries, if they use any at all.

However batteries and chargers are more complex and expensive than fuel tanks and their filling systems.

It becomes:

  • electric engine(s) vs internal combustion engine
  • battery vs gearboxes, clutch, air filters, turbochargers, fuel pumps, fuel filters, exhaust system, fuel tank

In both these categories, the simplicity suggests electric vehicles can be less expensive, not more expensive. The two factors preventing EVs being less expensive so far are:

  • Production has so far been relatively low volume, and requires changes to accommodate new technologies, or in the case of companies like Tesla or other EV start-ups, learning how to manufacture cars from scratch.
  • R&D costs of EVs have to be amortised over so far a short time and low volumes.
  • Batteries of the required capacity are a new development, and have have been expensive.

Batteries and Disruption.

Overall if batteries costs can be sufficiently reduced, EVs will be less expensive than vehicles with internal combustion engines. Batteries are the key, and new entries to the market like the ‘Warren Buffet backed’ BYD are now introducing in scale new battery technologies that are already driving down prices. Everybody who mentions BYD or ‘Build Your Dream seems to mention the backing of Warren Buffet, but they also represent a significant part of the push by Chinese manufacturers into cars.

I had thought falling battery prices were not translating into falling EV prices. I was wrong. We have moved from expensive EVs with tiny batteries that deliver inadequate range, to expensive EVs with reasonable size batteries that deliver adequate range. The price drop so far has happened, but has delivered more battery for the same price, and now were are ready for the same battery for a lower price.

But for this next step, disruption is required. Remember what happened to the computer industry as microprocessors became a ‘thing’? Old companies died, new ones emerged, and the industry was transformed. EVs will not move to same price as gasoline/diesel vehicles and stay at that price. Prices will fall even further, because the vehicles are just simpler. In a world market with a stabilising population and less enthusiasm for cars among young people, a lowering of prices means less revenue from cars in total. That means a huge industry shakedown, and a major disruption.

For prices to fall, some brands have to bite the bullet that prices will fall, and disrupt the industry. Tesla was a start, but just a start.

Chinese manufacturing has already conquered most global manufacturing, with the car industry their biggest area of potential growth, and that industry has been waiting for this disruption. There are two strategies for Chinese car manufacturing:

  • Move into the car market as did Japan and Korea previously.
  • Become a key global supplier of the key expensive components, batteries and electric motors.

So far the battery market is dominated by Lithium Ion batteries by:

  • South Korea’s LG Chem.
  • Japan’s Panasonic.
  • China’s CATL.

As the EV market grows, the battery market matures and new players emerge and unit costs continue to fall, the one major cost that has prevented EVs being cost effective evaporates.

It seems certain that the EV market, and as a result the entire automotive industry is about to be turned on its head. EV equivalent pricing by 2024-5 as suggested by bank financial teams like UBS, is not confirmed by price trends so far, partly because disruption is at an early stage. Either, we are at the point where the snowball is about to gain real momentum and bring about big change, or UBS etc all just wrong. However further investigation reveals while prices have been stable since almost 2012, battery sizes have approximately doubled, giving increased performance and almost doubling the range. If we have reached a point where the range is now satisfactory, the only way prices will not now fall is if the entire industry can act as a ‘cartel’ to block a move to lower prices. Reality is, some players like China and even Korea will use reduced battery prices to reduce car prices and disrupt the industry.

The Raw data: How expensive are Electric Vehicles?

The tabulation of this data will continue as more data is found, and it will update over time.

Price comparisons: Similar EV and and ICE.

There are several examples where EV and ICE cars are built on the same platform. Unfortunately, there are not exact same specifications available for EV and ICE models. Even within traditional cars, when for the same model there can be different versions which include different engines, there are usually other differences in specification. The versions with more powerful engines will also have other specifications upgraded. As electric versions are usually move expensive than gasoline models, these models also come ‘well equipped’, making it difficult to find equivalent versions where on the engines change. Further, pricing of electric vehicles may be affected by different government fees, distorting price differences between EVs and ICE models.

Renault Zoe vs Renault Clio. The same basic platform for arguably, Europe’s most popular EV, and most popular hot hatch. Using Australian prices as there is no EV incentive simplifying comparisons , the Clio ranges from $13k to $24.3k while the EV Renault Zoe is priced at $37,400 to $48,400. This makes the Zeo EV approximately double the price, or around A$24,000 more expensive.

Hyundai Kona vs Kona Electric: Australian Pricing from Hyundai web site at time of writing, Kona A$ 28,990* – A$ 47,089, Kona Electric A$ 67,206* – A$ 72,031. Comparing ‘Highlander’ version of both cars as the models are both 2wd and with equivalent equipment, (April 2021) the Kona Highlander is A$41,943 and the Kona Electric Highlander is A$72,031. That makes the electric 1.7 times the price, and $30,000 more expensive.

Battery electric cars still command significant premiums over conventional counterparts, a key factor limiting electric car take-up. A new Volkswagen Golf costs about £20,280, whereas the ID-3, its first mass-market electric vehicle, will cost from £29,990.

The UK’s biggest carmaker, Jaguar Land Rover, lists its Jaguar I-Pace, its only fully electric vehicle, at £64,495, even after UK government grants are applied. That compares to a fossil fuel SUV counterpart, the Jaguar F-Pace, which it lists at £44,845.

The guardian.

Prices over time.

The Nissan Leaf has been a contender for most popular Electric car, and has been on the market since 2010. Prices here are in US$, as that is a market it has been in since 2010, with reviews with historical prices. As the goal is to track prices over time, the comparison requires only prices stay in the same currency to enable comparison. Strikethrough figures are from the USNews site, which used the strikethrough to distinguish original recommended retail price from current market price. Cars.com has been a second source of pricing information.

Pricing after 2013 has remained remarkable stable. From 2019, the upper price lifted for the arrival of the Leaf+ model with substantially longer range, but range and performance have gradually improved over time, although, economy and thus range, as well as performance has also improved for gasoline vehicles over the same time period. From 2013, prices have increased slightly, not fallen. However the battery has improved from 21.kw/h to 40kw/h (or 62 in the more expensive Leaf+). Range, originally 117 km (73 miles), has risen to 239 km (149 miles). So same price, double the battery.

The Tesla Model S was launched in 2013, and follows very much the same pattern as the Leaf: over 8 years and the price has not fallen. The introduction of the model 3 dramatically changed the entry price for the Tesla brand, but eliminated the entry level model S.

What these example show is that manufacturers protect the pricing of existing models ranges. New models may be introduced at lower price, but existing cars have so far either raised their specification or been discontinued. Reductions in battery prices have so far impacted range per $, rather than lowered prices. The now standard 100kwh Tesla Model S is a similar price to original 2012 60kwh model, and has 539/335 km/mile range compared to the similar priced 2013 60 model with 335/208 km/mile range. The newer model 3 delivers the range of the original model S 60, 200 miles, for $35,000 in place of the 203 model S 60 for $80,000 dollars.

Conclusion.

I started out thinking: EVs are expensive and don’t seem to be dropping in price. Looking at prices for cars like Tesla and the Nissan Leaf, prices don’t even seem to be falling. However, on further analysis, it turns out the battery cost savings so far, have made cars better for the same price, rather than cheaper but still impractical. EVs have gone from impractical, to fully practical in a relatively short number of years, while keeping their price point. The first step was to fix practicality, the next is now to reduce prices. This step does look realistic over the next few years. Five years from now, it seems most likely the choice will be clear, an EV will be the best choice. But how does that impact a decision to be made now, given cars have a life of over 5 years.

In fact, EV prices will over time drop below gasoline and diesel car prices, and reduce total revenue to the industry. Some manufacturers will resist and try to enforce a move to higher end cars in order to maintain prices, but Tesla will not be the only player to disrupt the industry, and disruption will increase as prices fall.

If UBS etc. are right, it not a good time to buy either an electric, or internal combustion engine car. Electric vehicle prices have to drop considerably for this prediction, but if the prediction is true, internal combustion engine cars will also face huge depreciation, making them also unattractive purchases.

Some brands will disrupt the industry. Vehicles like the Volkswagen ID.3 are already set to make big waves, but if an ID.3 with a lower cost lithium iron phosphate batteries can deliver the same energy density as existing batteries as promised, we could have mainstream electric cars at lower cost than ICE vehicles within one or two years. Plus we will have BYD and other Chinese cars pushing prices even further. The predictions are almost certainly real.

The automobile industry will change. Going forward, not only will cars change, there will be a smaller total revenue pool to divide, and there will be winners and losers.

Of course, we still need infrastructure and a mindset that allows these cars to deliver an experience matching current cars, and there will be a huge amount of upheaval to the car market as a result. Probably best to keep car purchases to a minimum over the next few years.

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