Do You Really Need an Electric Car?

We don’t need more cars on the road, we need to rethink our mobility system instead.

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/Xbh_OGLRfUM

When Elon Mulk and team came up with the first Tesla model, the Roadster, the entire world was watching. This model showed unprecedented ranges of up to 394 km, and due to its electric drivetrain, was able to achieve impressive accelerations. The only hiccup was its price of $109,000 making it a luxury car.

Since then, the price of electric cars have been continuously declining, the cheapest electric car available today in Canada being the Volkswagen e-Golf and the Nissan Leaf.

With an economy of scale, all stars align to predict that in a near future, automakers in North America will be able to create “cheap” electric cars that the majority of the auto-drivers will be able to afford. Will you buy an electric car then?

In it in automakers’ best interests to keep our traditional habits of owning one or multiple cars per household. It doesn’t matter to them if the cars you are choosing to drive are electric or not, as long as they can sell you goods, and resale them to you a few years later once that car has broken down or you want a change. The cycle of consumerism is never ending. On that, Elon Musk famously declared that public transit was “a pain in the ass” showing a rather egocentric vision of mobility.

Sure electric cars have the enormous potential to reduce emissions over day-to-day operations, but what about the scarce or distant resources we need to produce each of them? What about the resources it takes to recycle the dead batteries, knowing that today we don’t have a turnkey solution for large-scale battery recycling?

There are plenty of pilot battery recycling plants, but I am yet to find one company that showed consistency and efficiency in the way they deal with tonnes of dead batteries: at this point it’s only promises. Though I am very hopeful that humanity will find a solution to deal with this particular issue, the rise of electric vehicles gives an opportunity to rethink how we get to places, and if we can reduce or eliminate the role of single occupancy cars in the process.

When an entire system is inefficient, you don’t simply replace a broken part. You fix it as a whole. Our system has led to commuters spending hours stuck in traffic to get to and from a job alone, driving around 4 to 5 empty seats. Our system has led to extreme consumerism, so that you need to take your car to get across different stores within the same mall (!). Some malls are so spread out and with so little walking amenities that it is dangerous to get groceries by foot. Cities and road networks have been designed around the mere concept that every single family owns, or will own a car. Can we open our eyes to a new paradigm?

At 27 years old, I have never owned a car. I lived in two countries, move 9 times in the past 10 years, and I have never needed my own car. I have relied on public transit systems, and shared rides with taxis, Uber, and Lift after public transit hours. I am planning on getting a driving license eventually, but I don’t want nor do I need a car for my everyday moves. Today I live in Montreal that has great public transit, but before that I lived in Victoria, a small city with a population of 300k, with buses stopping by every 30 min. And that was fine ! It just meant that I needed to take extra steps in planning my journey, which took two minutes with the apps in place. I am not pretending that public transit is accessible for everyone, but I know there are lots of stigma around it preventing the users to give it a try — why trying when you have your own car, right?

COVID has opened our eyes to a new way of living. Can you work from home instead of commuting? Can you get groceries closer? Can you add a little more efforts to plan your commute and use public transit instead? And lastly, instead of owning a car, would you be open to sharing the ownership of this asset with others in your community when you need to drive on occasional trips?

With this article, I don’t pretend to bring solutions. I am inviting you to question the status quo so that perhaps, you will reconsider owning a car.

Mechanical engineer who wants to help the planet. Vegan & international, living in Montreal. Here are things that matter to me. Je suis française !

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