Can EVs save the world?

Be mindful of the fact that your EV would probably not contribute in saving the world from a climate catastrophe, no matter how slow you drive

THE electric vehicle (EV) is arguably the apex achievement of 21st century automotive engineering, a fertile test bed for technological advancements — full digital displays, autonomous driving, hovering/flying capabilities, among others — and even as a planet-saving solution where climate change is concerned. 

Days ago Bloomberg produced a research report to finally put to bed the argument whether EVs are genuinely consuming less energy, from the electrical input, and releasing less carbon emission, from the motor output, compared to the old combustion engine. 

The result released was favourable for EVs, as the tested Tesla Model 3 was found to emit 255 g less carbon per mile compared to a BMW 3 Series sedan. The petrol combustion 3 Series consumed 3.5 times more energy and released 4.4 times more CO2 emission than the fully electric Model 3. 

Rejoice! So Tesla is, after all, the saviour of mankind from the carbon evils that are cooking our planet? 

Or not. There are a few disputes in the outcome as the study was not an apple-toapple comparison. 

Generally, a traditional combustion engine and transmission system, due to its high resistance alloy-metal origin, is much heavier that its EV comparable. A BMW 3 Series Model G20 median weight is 1,740 kg, whilst a Tesla Model 3 Standard is at 1,611 kg. 

And have the sources powering both cars been compared? 

For the BMW, it’s the engine. But for the Tesla, it is actually the generators – whether powered by coal, or gas or fuel — where the electricity was derived from externally and stored in its batteries. 

While one can argue that the emission released by the EV is cleaner than the combustion engine, the generator that was transmitting electricity for the EV could well be much worse than the combustion engines. The emission result was clearly a greenwashing effort to obscure the production and environmental cost. 

Critical Mass 

Last year, a decade since Tesla launched their first family sedan Model S, acceptance of the electric motor finally reached critical mass. 

According to market intelligence LMC Automotive, EV sales in 2022 crossed the physiological milestone of 10% global vehicle annual sales, driven mainly by strong growth in China and European markets. 

Global sales of fully EVs totalled approximately 7.8 million, an increase in excess of 68% versus 2021. In China, almost one of every five (19%) new auto sales was electric, while in Europe, 11%. 

The numbers are not expected to slow down anytime. Last year was exceptional as it was fulfilling pent-up demand post pandemic, but Morgan Stanley is expecting another bumper year of 22% increase in 2023. 

EVs is no longer the playground of the niche, super-rich hounded by Tesla anymore. Most, if not all, global auto players are jumping into the EV bandwagon. Even gadget makers, Sony in particular, are getting their own electric cars. 

The right question to ask now is — are these companies venturing into EV to make the world a better place? 

When Tesla conceptualised its commercial models in 2009 and marketed in 2012, it was positioned at a high premium and only accessible to the filthy rich of this world. A decade on, it is now among the most profitable and most valuable companies globally. In November 2021, its market capitalisation reached its historical peak of US$407 billion (RM1.74 trillion), bigger than most countries’ GDP, including Malaysia’s. 

The rise in Tesla’s value and profile since early 2020 has certainly piqued the interest of other players. Industry experts acknowledged that the profit margins for EVs are enormous even though the cost has been falling over the years, mostly due to economy of scale. Generally, an EV is approximately 20% more expensive than a normal fuel-combustion vehicle. 

Environmental Cost 

Not many may be aware that the batteries powering these EVs are actually creating potentially huge environmental disaster. Or many are simply looking the other way. 

Discussion on the damaging environmental impact of producing EVs is sparse, especially on how its electricity-storing batteries are manufactured. 

According to studies by the Middle East Institute, the process to produce just one EV battery involves digging up approximately 226.8 tonnes of the earth’s crust to extract the heavy metals of either nickel, lithium, cobalt, manganese or copper; and requires an enormous amount of energy. 

Mining operations to extract these heavy metals have been well documented in destroying ecosystems in Australia, Russia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia. 

Just Google “nickel, Norilsk Russia” or “ 1.9 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide” or “world’s most polluted region” and you’ll have an idea how disastrous it has been and could continue to be. Or type “nickel, Wawonii Indonesia” or “Philippines suspend 23 nickel mines” and you’ll have a clearer idea. 

These depressing historical reports on social and environmental issues were clearly obscured by the sheer welcoming gesture by capitalists, market players, opportunists of the potentials EVs are offering. 

What was more widely reported instead was on Elon Musk patronising the entire world, again and again, with his baffling claims, including that his space rockets will suck and turn CO2 in the atmosphere into jet fuel. 

Which idiot would believe any word that came out of the Tesla largest shareholder’s mouth while he was burning the atmosphere with his ego-inflating and brazenly eco-damaging SpaceX programmes? 

Last June, a team of London-CambridgeMIT researchers concluded that the rocket launches by the three narcissists, egomaniacal stooges of Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos between 2018 and 2019 were damaging the earth’s atmosphere and accelerated the global warming efficiency by 500 times! They should be criminally charged in court for killing the ozone. 

So, could the EV be our answer to save the Earth? 

While answering that, do consider that the mother of all EVs, Tesla, is led by a habitual liar who, with his dubious personality and ethics, is deprived of any moral authority to speak on saving the environment. 

Before you throw that down payment for your first electric car to cut your carbon print or impress your friends, be mindful of the fact that your EV would probably not contribute in saving the world from a climate catastrophe, no matter how slow you drive. 

Believe me. Musk has a better chance of making jet fuel from thin air. 

  • Asuki Abas is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition