The Social Effect of Electric Vehicles


There have been many studies concerning the positive effects of plug-in electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles on greenhouse gases and pollution. In addition, these kinds of vehicles help resolve issues on foreign oil dependency, as well as technological superiority. In contrast, there have been studies also on the higher overall cost of electric vehicles and their effects on mining as well as manufacturing.

In a recent study, Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jeremy J. Michalek posits that electric vehicles with smaller battery packs would have a definite impact on social costs such as health care, environmental welfare and oil dependency. He said, “Current government policy provides larger subsidies for vehicles with larger battery packs, assuming that larger is better. While larger battery packs allow plug-in vehicles to drive longer distances on electric power instead of gasoline, they are also expensive and heavy, they are underutilized when the battery capacity is larger than needed for a typical trip, they require more charging infrastructure and they produce more emissions during manufacturing."

Even the U.S. government has played an active role in promoting the use of alternative fuel vehicles such as electric vehicles. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides up to $7,500 in tax credits for plug-in vehicles. This may not be so true for electric vehicles with large battery packs, according to Michalek. The larger battery pack, the more expensive, thereby blunting the supposed benefit provided by the federal government.

"It's possible that in the future plug-in vehicles with large battery packs might offer the largest benefits at competitive costs if the right factors fall into place, including sufficiently low cost batteries, high gasoline prices, low emission electricity and long battery life," said study co-author Mikhail Chester, assistant professor of sustainable engineering at Arizona State University. "But such a future is not certain, and in the near term, HEVs and plug-in vehicles with small battery packs provide more emissions benefits and oil displacement benefits per dollar spent."

This thought has guided the participants of the Frankfurt and other European car shows. Now, this smaller and lighter design has made an impact on the nominations for the Car of the Year Award for 2012. In the latest motor shows, such as Frankfurt, more and more electric vehicles are increasing their battery pack sizes with a promise of greater power available for the purchaser but also providing options for smaller packs for smaller vehicles. Taking their cue from last year’s Car of the Year, the Nissan Leaf, more and more electric vehicles as well as hybrids dominate the nominations.

For this year’s nominees, over 35 vehicles are of the electric vehicle configuration. This includes the A6 and Q3 from Audi, the 1-Series and the 6-Series from BMW, the Aveo and Orlando from Chevrolet, the DS4 and DS5 from Citroen, the Fiat Panda, the Ford Focus, the Honda Civic, the Veloster and i40 from Hyundai, the Rio and Picanto from Kia, the Lancia Ypsilon, the Lexus GS, the Mazda CX-5, the SLK, B-Class and ML-Class from Mercedes Benz, the Ampera/Chevrolet Volt and Zafira Tourer from Opel, the 3008 HYbrid4 and 5008 from Peugeot, the Porsche 911, the Range Rover Evoque, the Fluence ZE and Kangoo ZE from Renault, the Yaris and Verso-S/Subaru Trezia from Toyota, the up!, Jetta and Beetle from Volkswagen.

With these nominees, the future effects of the electric vehicle in society are surely coming up roses.