Electric Cars

Tom Fawcett
December 8, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2015


Fig. 1: Will electric cars be our future in automobiles? (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and of course Tesla are just a few car companies that are working vigorously to create the next electric car for their respective companies. [1] But why is that the case? Are these cars making a big impact on reducing fossil fuels? Or are they just extremely profitable for companies? I am going to look into this, and see how necessary electric cars are for our society, and what the future holds for them.

Environmental Impact of Electric Cars

It is extremely difficult to measure the effect that electric cars have had on our environment, since they first hit the roads, since there are many variables that have impacted the environment in the past century. However, there are some clear statistics showing the effectiveness of electric cars. A plug-in hybrid vehicle, with 20-mile electric range, could save 300 gallons of gasoline. This can in turn avoid 6000 pounds of damaging greenhouse gas emissions. However, the effectiveness of an electric car depends on the source of electricity used for the charging of the car. Coal powered electricity sources create less of a benefit for electric cars, since coal powered energy emits more CO2. However, in this instance electric cars still are more beneficial for the environment compared to gas powered cars. When electric cars are powered by electricity from wind, solar, or hydro-electricity, the benefits are even larger, as the footprints from carbon are reduced greatly. [2] Obviously electric cars vary from company to company, but overall, the trend is that they are more practical to drive for the environment, than gas-powered cars. This is true for the economics of a consumer as well. Assuming a car is used to drive 15,000 miles in a year, an electric car could save over $1,500, compared to driving a gas-fueled car. [3] This is making assumptions about the cost of gas, electricity, and the electric car type amongst other things.

The Benefits of Electric Cars for Car Companies

Technology for electric cars has drastically improved in the past 10 years, allowing prices for electric cars to be reduced, and creating a larger appeal towards electric cars for consumers. However, the costs of batteries in electric cars will cost at least $16,000 making it difficult to sell these cars for profits. If companies hike up the costs, to cover the battery costs and still make a profit, then consumers are unlikely to want to purchase that type of car since it will be very expensive. Therefore, companies are producing electric cars breaking even, in some cases, but are hoping in the future that gas prices will hike, and batteries will improve, so these cars will become more profitable. Battery costs have only been decreasing at around 5% per year, but eventually, these costs are assumed to decrease drastically. [4] Right now, the more profitable option is hybrids, as the require lower costs for the battery. However, there are some companies, such as Tesla, that make up for the expensive battery by pricing the cars expensively, but also creating luxury cars so that the costs are justifiable. Overall, the future of electric cars is projected to be more profitable for car manufacturers, than it is today.

Future for Electric Cars

It seems to be a consensus that society needs to deviate from the use of gas powered cars towards alternatives. However, there is a debate going on whether electric cars, or hydrogen-powered cars should be the solution for our future. Hydrogen powered cars bring different benefits, and issues to attention. However, more companies are investing in electric cars as of now. [5] This may speak to the confidence of car manufacturers for electric cars as the future for automobiles. But for now, technology needs to increase so that the cars can go further with less energy, and costs can be reduced.

© Tom Fawcett. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] C. Lerch, F. Kley and D. Dallinger, "New Business Models for Electric Cars: A Holistic Approach," Energy Policy 39, 3392 (2010).

[2] D. M. Lemoine, D. M. Kammen, and A. E. Farrell, "An Innovation and Policy Agenda for Commercially Competitive Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles," Environ. Res. Lett. 3, 014003 (2008).

[3] D. Anair, and A. Mahmassani, "State of Charge: Electric Vehicles' Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-Cost Savings across the United States," Union of Concerned Scientists, June 2012.

[4] O. van Vliet et al., "Energy Use, Cost and CO2 Emissions of Electric Cars," J. Power Sources 196, 2298 (2011).

[5] J. Tollefson, "Hydrogen Vehicles: Fuel of the Future?" Nature 464, 1262 (2010).