I’m a self-recognised awful Futurologist - not only do I enjoy actual engines, but I adore the simplicity of a diesel engine (which is, of course, The Worst Type of Engine). As the UK government works to ban the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles by 2030, the EV really has become the face of future transport.
However, I'm hesitant to leave my old bangers in the gutter, and I remain suspicious of electric cars: particularly about the ‘electric’ part.
This suspicion is in two chunks: firstly, the batteries of EVs are a supply chain nightmare; it’s this that will drive the cost of EVs through the roof in the next decade. And, secondly - conveniently enough - the entire EV market is saturated with the hyper-capitalist ethos of ‘don’t fix it, just buy a new one’. Here’s the rundown:
Problem number 1: Lithium batteries
The idea of electric vehicles being mandated by government has always hinged on the market’s promise that EV prices will fall. Eventually - EV manufacturers claim - prices will reduce, and the trend(2021) pictured below will continue:
However, what this promise ignores is that the lithium battery supply chain is buggered.
Let’s look at the UK - to replace the 31 million cars currently on the roads with all-electric EVs, we’ll need 230,000 tonnes of Lithium Carbonate for the batteries.
To produce 230,000 tonnes, every single Lithium mine in the world would need to devote its entire output for 9 full months: ignoring all other Lithium battery applications - in every other country. Let’s zoom in on the Greenbushes Mine in Australia; this singular, massive mine produces 40% of the global Lithium supply.
Lithium mined here is transported 2 hours North to a processing plant that is owned and operated by Tianqi Lithium; a Chinese company that alone accounts for almost 50% of the planet’s Lithium production. (This market domination by China is already a major concern for US officials, but let’s focus on the metal here).
The UK isn’t the only country looking to ban internal combustion cars within the next 10 years. Here’s a list of all of them:
- The Netherlands
- South Korea
That's a ways to scroll!
Across all of these countries in 2019, there were a total of 9.5 million vehicles purchased. To replace all of these with EVs, the global Lithium output would have to quintuple.
The world is slowly waking up to the new demands this will place on the rare metals market. In 2021, Seaborne Lithium saw a staggering 400% rise in price per metric ton: from $8,000 to over $30,000 in just 12 months. These costs of production are - as always - passed down to the consumer.
For us in the UK - we won’t be able to afford an EV in 10 years. Running the car will be even more prohibitively expensive (for some painful context, below is a graph showing the skyrocketing prices of electricity over the last & next 6 months):
Problem 2: If it’s broke? Don’t fix it.
A major draw of cars is performance at a low entry point. Starter project cars are the hobbyist mechanic’s dream, and making that engine pur and wheels spin - off your own hard work - is intensely rewarding.
Electric cars have one major performance element over the traditional engine: acceleration. EV supercars provide performance totally different to petrol or diesels; ripping up the track and feeling the G-Forces crush you into your seat is no doubt a bollocking good time.
However, the sound, feel and vibration of a traditional engine is second to none. Car nuts who like to tinker: there is nothing like the feeling of dragging a cranky old engine back into smoking, backfiring life. The hours of oily handprints, aching spine and constant swearing becomes worth it; it’s impossible not to grin as the sound and clatter fills the garage.
Not only do EVs fail on this account (and tinkering with the 400-Volt system is about as beginner-friendly as learning to drive in an F1 car) - but fixing a Tesla is impossible in the first place.
This Tesla owner found it literally cheaper to blow his Tesla up, rather than foot the $22,000 bill for replacing the batteries. Second-hand parts are non-existent: Tesla refuses to sell parts themselves, often bricking the car when it’s salvageable. In the rare chance that a Tesla is rebuilt and put back on the road, the Supercharging function is remotely disabed.
Tesla’s futuristic brand image clearly comes at the cost of genuine long-term maintenance - and perhaps the lack of ‘fixer upper’ Teslas is a deliberate marketing choice, to maintain that sleek, pristine brand image.
Being sat in a garage is admittedly bad for most cars - but Teslas can literally brick themselves when not driven regularly. As the car’s subsytems are always on - drawing constant small amounts of power from the battery cells - this poses the threat of complete system discharge. When this happens, the car cannot even be towed or pushed; the wheels themselves can't turn.
How quickly could this happen? Depends on how full the batteries were when you parked it. If the batteries are at full charge before parking - Tesla estimates it would take 11 weeks of being sat in one place. If you, say, drive out to an Airport - depleting the batteries to about 10% charge - then that Tesla could become a lump of undriveable, unrepairable metal in as little as 1 week.
That sure would be shit to return to after a week abroad.
So - though the secondhand Tesla market is beginning to thrive, even in its infancy - the process of restoring or rebuilding a Tesla is nigh impossible. And now that Tesla is a certified Silicon Valley darling, other companies will want to replicate this success for themselves.
This spells bad news for most of us: car prices will undoubtedly rise, both from the strangled supply chain as manufacturers recoup their losses - and spurred on by the government’s ruling on enforced EVs. A lack of salvaged vehicles will only make this market harder on the majority of us.
If there’s any silver lining at all: now might just be a good time to invest in Cobalt, Nickel and Lithium... Any hopes on a bullish market?