In November 2021, I ordered a 100% electric Kia Niro Electric Vehicle, hoping to start driving it in the spring. The dealer said it would take 4-6 months to arrive, but it came in February 2022, so I had to ask for it to be equipped with snow tires, and I learned my first lessons about using an EV under winter conditions. At this writing in April 2023, I’ve had it for more than a year, and driven it for about 23000 km.
It’s been great fun to drive. When I want to get up to highway speed quickly, the noiseless pick-up pins the driver to the back of the seat. There are no pauses for gear changes because there is no transmission; just zoooom. Steering is stable. Almost no service is needed: no oil changes; no radiator, coolant or thermostat; no catalytic converter, no muffler, no tail pipe. Brakes last longer because there’s a “regenerative system” that charges the battery by slowing down the car without touching the brakes. The tires will need replacing like other cars. Otherwise, all you have to replenish is windshield washer fluid and wiper blades.
Unless you’re as old as me, you will likely be driving an EV someday. I’m hoping that this narrative will help you make a well-informed decision. The most important issue for most buyers is range and charging opportunities. I’m going to deal with those issues last in this essay; a couple of other matters come first.
My former car, a 2013 Dodge Journey, was running very well and had reasonably new tires, so it might have kept going for another few years. But I’m old (83 this year). Who knows whether I will even be able to drive a car at the age of 85? As a result, I decided to join the EV parade early and act now, rather than just watch as the last years of my life dwindle away into oblivion. Ya gotta keep living as fully as you can, until you’re not living any more. I see this as a tiny but real contribution to a moderate climate and cleaner air for my grandchildren.
This car cost more than twice as much as the most expensive car I’ve ever owned, and I’ve bought new cars for the past few decades. I was most interested in Chevy Bolt, but they were on recall for battery problems, and no dealer would even guess when they might come back onstream. Base price for the Kia Niro was about $45000. You can find cheaper EVs (including Bolt, which is available now), and lots of more expensive ones. Tesla is beyond my price range. I decided to finance the cost at 3% rather than use my savings, and that proved to be a wise choice as interest rates rose.
Driving about 500 km/week (25000/year) in the past, I was paying close to $300 for gas every month (and it would probably be $400+ with increased gas prices today); that non-expense is paying for well over half the car payments. It’s a fairly inexpensive way to drive a very elegant and powerful new car and feel that you’re helping the environment. And it’s a lot of fun driving past gas stations and watching the prices rise and fall and rise again.
If you’ve ever carried 25L of gasoline in a jerry can, you know how heavy it is. 87% of the weight of gasoline is carbon. In combustion, the carbon in the gas combines with oxygen and comes out of the exhaust pipe as CO2. Driving my old car (with a fairly small 2.4 L engine) from Orillia to Toronto and back took about 25L of gas (that jerry can full) at less than 10 L/100 km. The internet estimates that an average car puts 4600 kilograms (more than four tons) of carbon into the air every year. That’s a lot of smoke when multiplied by millions, and every year we’re experiencing the increasing effects of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions in wild fires, extra-cloudy winters, and violent weather. Everyone has to think about how to make the air cleaner, or else our grandchildren will be living in dreadful conditions in a few decades.
I’ve seen a few articles complaining about the environmental damage done by EVs because of mining and manufacturing batteries. I prefer to accept statements such as the following, printed in the Toronto Star on March 16, 2022: “As provinces work to decarbonize their electricity grid, which more are doing, electric vehicles get cleaner over time… (Granted) the battery is more mineral intensive, requiring more copper, lithium and cobalt. Mining those materials does have an environmental impact…” Still, higher environmental standards can be met “by ramping up battery recycling to reduce the amount of minerals that need to be mined. But when looking at carbon emissions on a life cycle basis, electric cars are much better.”
Others have pointed out that our electricity system couldn’t possibly serve the needs of millions of EVs, especially not with electricity from clean sources. Ontario’s electricity grid is over 90% clean (if you consider nuclear to be clean). I’m confident that technology will evolve to provide renewable electricity to meet the needs of millions of EV drivers in the future.
Another friend said that he feared getting stuck in a traffic jam and not being able to recharge. That is a reasonable worry for gas-powered cars when they idle. EVs don’t use any power while they’re sitting still. Also, to relieve that worry, the 24-hour roadside assistance package that comes with the car includes towing to the nearest charging station if it ever runs out of charge on the road.
The real worry for an EV owner, which I’ve experienced a few times, comes when you’re driving on the highway 20 km from home, and the dashboard says you have 25 kms of juice left in the battery. So far, it hasn’t been wrong.
Range and Charging
Range is the issue that is preventing most people from buying an EV right now. When my car arrived in February, its range when fully charged was 380 km. Winter driving reduces the real range, because cold weather, the car’s heater, and winter tires all drain the car’s battery. As a result, when the range tracker on the dashboard in February says that I have enough juice for 200 km, I find I’m running low after 160 km on the odometer.
In the summer, full range is 440 km, and the car delivers all those kilometers. Too bad we don’t live in California, but I’m still glad to be driving my EV in Ontario.
For most daily driving needs, you will rarely use a commercial charging station. Generally, an EV gets charged in its own garage or driveway, overnight at off-peak rates.
Our electricity bill went up by a total of $420 during the first year of operation of my EV. That’s a lot cheaper than $400/month for gas.
In the first few months, I was using the level 1 charger that came with the car, which plugs into an ordinary 120-volt outlet. It took as long as two days to go from low to high, but the battery was rarely very low, and of course the car works perfectly well when it’s not fully charged. [I may have spent $75 at commercial charging stations in the early months of using a level 1 charger.]
On June 28, 2022, an electrician installed a level 2 charger in our garage. It works from an outlet similar to your laundry dryer, and can charge the battery from low to high in one overnight. Total cost of the device, wiring and installation was about $2000; I understand there will be some government help to be claimed this year at income tax time. After four months of very slow charging, the Level 2 charger makes the car seems to charge like lightning now. For my average activities near home (including a weekly trip to Gravenhurst from our home near Orillia), I can drive all week on one overnight charge. I can visit the grandkids in Toronto and return home on one charge.
For longer trips, the charging network for EVs like mine simply isn’t good enough yet. At present, it takes a few hours at a charging station to move the batteries from almost empty to almost full. Tesla’s “super-charging” network is good enough to support a long trip with 20-minute charges. (My son Paul drove his Tesla, with four people and their camping equipment, from Toronto to Lake Superior and back with no problems.) It is reported that Tesla is going to make its charging network available to EVs like mine in the near future, and that will be a big step forward for taking long trips.
When real inconvenience is foreseen, we’re a hybrid household: my wife has a gasoline-powered car, so we can use hers if we’re heading into the wilds of northern Ontario, or planning a long trip where we want to make the best time possible.
I bought this vehicle recognizing that there may be some inconvenience. I wanted to try to make a difference, even a tiny one, as soon as possible. And, though it takes some planning, I haven’t had a serious problem yet.
I can hear thousands of readers saying that all this information confirms their intention to stay with their gas-powered vehicle for another few years. I agree that owning an EV adds a level of complication with charging and range. Still, I’m quite happy that I decided to get an EV now. I didn’t do it for convenience, but to try to make a real, though small, contribution to a healthier environment for my grandchildren. The planet needs millions of people to take similar actions soon to achieve a sustainable future. And so I invite you to consider seriously the traditional question: “If not now, when?”