Carmakers admit electric vehicles aren’t the solution for everybody

New EVs are still on average a third more expensive than fossil-fuel models and most new models in the pipeline targeting entry-level consumers will not reach the market before 2025.
New EVs are still on average a third more expensive than fossil-fuel models and most new models in the pipeline targeting entry-level consumers will not reach the market before 2025.
Image: Supplied

As more electric vehicles (EVs) are being launched in South Africa, global sales of battery-powered cars have slowed, including in markets where they formerly seemed on a fast track to overtake internal combustion engine vehicles in the near future.

Last year global sales of fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) slowed dramatically, rising 31% compared with 60% growth in 2022 and EVs accounted for about 17% of global vehicle sales in 2023.

Carmakers have been forced to build more battery-powered offerings as the EU, China and other regions prepare to ban sales of fossil fuel cars from the middle of the next decade. Early-adopting EV consumers embraced the move to cleaner mobility due to rapid improvements in charging times and driving ranges but the softened demand for EVs in Europe and elsewhere is partly driven by consumers waiting for better, smaller and cheaper models that are a few years down the road.

New EVs are still on average a third more expensive than fossil fuel models and most new models in the pipeline targeting entry level consumers will not reach the market before 2025.

Pricey repairs

They are also more expensive to repair than previously thought, which recently prompted car rental company Hertz to sell about 20,000 EVs from its US fleet. The company, which had set a target for 25% of its fleet to be electric by the end of 2024, is replacing the 20,000 EVs with petrol-powered vehicles due to higher expenses related to collision and damage, it said.

Consumers and industry players are also bristling at realising EVs are not the planet-friendly panacea they were advertised to be.

A year ago Toyota was criticised for hesitating to embrace EVs but as demand slows globally its policy of sticking with hybrids as part of a “multi-pathway approach” has silenced naysayers. Toyota, the world’s best-selling carmaker, had warned the EV shift won’t happen overnight and, in the meantime, customers ought to have access to a broad range of powertrains including hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells and combustion engines.

Stellantis is another company reluctant to put all its eggs in the EV basket, saying the automotive industry will have to reduce the weight of EV batteries by 50% in the next 10 years to make electrification environmentally meaningful.

Carlos Tavares.
Carlos Tavares.

“We should move away from dogmatic thinking where one size fits all,” said Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, at last week’s Freedom of Mobility Forum.

“The current EVs can be a solution for some of our societies,” Tavares said at the forum, which was initiated by Stellantis and facilitated by a neutral third party.

“Making a battery pack for an EV with a decent range of 400km now took on average 500kg of additional raw materials compared to a traditional car. From an environmental standpoint it does not make sense,” he said.

The Stellantis CEO said the car industry needed to achieve a breakthrough in cell power density. He added that over the next decade new chemistry will solve the problem of the scarcity of lithium, a key element in most batteries.

“That’s on the way. Over the next decade we’ll be able to reduce the battery pack weight by 50%, hence reducing by 50% the use of additional raw materials against a conventional vehicle,” he said.

High hydrogen costs

Tavares also said he did not see hydrogen as a viable alternative technology for present mass mobility because of its high costs and for the near future it would be a solution only for fleets of big corporations.

A critical roadblock to EVs in less developed nations is access to electricity. Roberto Schaeffer, professor of energy economics at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, told the forum about 800-million people don’t have access to electricity while many more don’t have a stable power grid to rely on.

“Electric mobility is not the solution, at least in the next 20 or 30 years, when we really need to go to net zero,” he added.

EV adoption varies around the world and China’s embrace of the technology has propelled BYD into becoming the world’s top seller of EVs — surpassing Tesla — and the leading car brand in that country. About 25% of cars sold in China last year were EVs.

In South Africa, EV sales increased 85.4% from 502 to 931 units in 2023 as more models were introduced and prices became more affordable but still accounted for just 0.17% of the 532,098 vehicles sold.

For now, the environmental benefit of battery-powered cars is limited in countries such as South Africa, where electric-powered cars are really coal-powered and a clean electricity ecosystem is required to make EVs truly green.

Volvo says using wind-based electricity to charge its new electric EX30 substantially reduces the carbon footprint compared with global or European electricity mixes by about 42% and 22% respectively.

“This underlines the need to accelerate investments in renewable energy infrastructure globally for electric cars to reach their full climate potential,” says Volvo, which has a goal of becoming a fully EV company by 2030 and aims to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.


Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.