Something No EV is Ever Likely to Be

  • June 20, 2023

I have a number of vehicles that are not far from being fifty years old – something it’s doubtful any electric vehicle will ever be. This is interesting on a number of levels, including the one given as the justification for electric vehicles – i.e., that they are “sustainable.”

This seems improbable given they are – fundamentally – disposable. Like the Face Diapers that now choke sea turtles (and landfills).

Like the smartphones we use and discard after three or four years, they are not designed to last and – as such – are the antithesis of “sustainable.” When the battery can no longer hold adequate charge, you throw the vehicle away – because it is not worth the cost of replacing the battery, relative to the value (by then) of the vehicle. This is a sustainability problem that cannot be solved because of the baked-in problem of depreciation – i.e., the inevitable decline in value over time that afflicts every appliance, which is what cars fundamentally are, no different than an oven or a blender. Whatever they cost when you bought them, they are worth less as soon as you buy them. And worth less and less, the longer you possess them.

A point arrives when the cost of fixing is such that replacing is the more sensible option – and so the blender or the oven or the EV goes to the landfill.

But this economic event horizon is reached sooner with  electric vehicles because they are also luxury vehicles in that both are expensive vehicles – so both have more to lose and lose it faster. A vehicle bought for $50,000 today is apt to be worth about $40,000 year from today. Six years from today, it will likely be worth $25k. Is it worth spending $5k to replace a failed transmission?

Probably.

If it is an EV, it is worth spending $15k to replace a failing battery pack?

Probably not.

And even if the owner wanted to, could he afford to? It costs a great deal more to finance repairs – and replacements – than it does vehicles. Most people have to put repair costs on their credit cards, if they haven’t got the cash. These cards typically charge double digit interest, rendering the cost of a $15k repair even more expensive. And there may not even be a replacement, if the manufacturer does not stock replacement battery packs, due to lack of demand for them – a function of lack of funds to pay for them and the calculation that it is not worth paying for them.

So, the EV will get tossed.

Several tons of junk each added to the debris pile of civilization. And then there is the cost – to the environment – of making a replacement EV (including a new battery pack) for the one just tossed into the trash.

Multiply this by millions tossed – and replaced. And mined. And manufactured.

Does it sound sustainable to you?

Meanwhile, my nearing-fifty-year-old vehicles. One of them is a 1976 Kawasaki motorcycle. It has the same engine it left the factory with, almost fifty years ago. I have rebuilt the engine, once. The cost was small relative to the value of the bike and so well worth the expense. The bike is likely to be running fifty years from now. At least, there’s no economic or similar reason why it ought not to be. It costs less than $1,000 to rebuild its engine. That means it will always be worth rebuilding its engine, since that sum is small relative to value of the bike – no matter how old it gets – as it will probably always be worth at least $1,000 or so.

But would it be worth spending $5,000 on it – for a replacement battery (assuming it were an electric bike)? Of course not. For the same reason it would not be worth spending $15k on a replacement battery for an elderly EV only worth that much, itself.

Less, actually – because without that $15k battery, the elderly EV is worth nothing beyond whatever value it may have as scrap. It will be interesting – and probably, appalling – to see what happens when EVs transition from being the boutique purchases of affluent virtue signalers who usually have a second car that isn’t an electric car – so as to not be forced to wait for their electric car. To see what happens to electric cars when they are used every day – and “fast” charged every day, to make it feasible to use them every day. Which will shorten their days

They will be thrown away even faster – and in numbers.

Meanwhile, the old Kawasaki continues – indefinitely. It is thus the apotheosis of sustainability. So also my equally old Pontiac and for that matter, my much newer 21-year-old truck. It has many years of useful life left. Just the same as the average daily driver, now middle-school-aged and with another ten or more to go. If the goal were, in fact, sustainability, such vehicles would be praised – and their manufacture encouraged.

Of course, the goal is something else and – as with the Face Diapers – people are beginning to figure out what it is.

. . .

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