Electric cars: Is it worth making the switch?

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Electric cars: Is it worth making the switch?

Electric engines are the drive system of the future – half of all new passenger cars in Switzerland are electric or hybrid cars. Is this the start of a paradigm shift? The most important arguments for and against.
Electric cars are on the rise: in 2022, 40,000 fully electric driven vehicles were registered for the first time. Half of all newly registered vehicles were either electric or hybrid. And 18% of the new cars were fully electric.

Which car has the advantage?

Is this the turning point that experts have long been expecting? Is switching over now worthwhile for broader sections of the population? What are the arguments in favor of electric cars? In which situations do gasoline or diesel-powered cars have the advantage? Here you will find the most important answers regarding the competition between conventional cars and electric vehicles.

1. Keyword: Climate footprint

Transport in Switzerland generates around one third of domestic CO2 emissions – and this is excluding air transport. Electric cars, on the other hand, do not emit CO2. So are they generally more environmentally friendly? According to current studies this is the case: Over the entire lifecycle, from production, through operating life to disposal, the climate footprint of electric cars has clearly improved, as shown by studies such as that conducted by the Paul Scherrer Institute. Electric cars score particularly well during their operating life, as they emit no emissions and have a correspondingly lower impact on the climate, especially if they are powered by green electricity. 

In any case, the energy mix in Switzerland is less of a burden on the climate than in other countries: According to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, 62% of electricity currently comes from renewable sources, the largest of which being hydropower. In addition, the efficiency of electric vehicles is massively higher than that of cars running on gas or diesel. 

On the issue of climate, electric vehicles are the clear winner. The score is 1:0.

2. Keyword: Environmental footprint

When it comes to the environment, factors such as fine dust or water pollution must also be considered. This was previously the most significant argument from critics – when compared with combustion-powered vehicles, more environmental pollution is generated during the production and disposal of electric cars as a result of energy-intensive battery manufacture.

One study from the Paul Scherrer Institute, published by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy in a fact sheet, shows that electric cars now have a much more favorable environmental footprint. This is because manufacturers have heavily invested in more environmentally friendly production methods and systems. While the manufacture and disposal of electric vehicles still places more of a burden on the environment than is the case with conventional vehicles, when taking into account the operating life, electric vehicles have a significantly more favorable environmental footprint.

Just how favorable the environmental footprint is, is heavily dependent on the model, according to a investigation by the portal eco-auto.info which is run by the VCS. The investigation concluded that the energy footprint between models can vary significantly. Cars with smaller batteries create less environmental pollution than those with larger batteries. All in all, eco-auto.info also recommends the electric drive, especially as the environmental footprint of electric cars continues to improve. The manufacturers are investing in battery recycling systems and the EU is planning limit values for CO₂ emissions and minimum quantities of recyclable materials for new batteries. The continued use of functioning batteries as stationary electricity storage units, for example, for homeowners with solar installations, is also a particularly promising concept. In contrast, oil production is increasingly tapping unconventional resources such as oil sands and fracking oil, making fossil fuel extraction even more environmentally harmful. 

Conclusion: Thanks to recent developments, in the dominant category of the environmental footprint, the point goes to the electric vehicles. The current score is 2:0.

3. Keyword: Noise

The lack of sound coming from the engine is the most noticeable aspect of driving an electric car for the first time. Does this mean that, in a world of electric mobility, people living on busy streets could sleep better and the quality of life in cities will improve? Yes and no – only at lower speeds of up to 20 km/h are electric cars really quieter than conventional vehicles. At higher speeds, tire noise becomes much more relevant than engine noise. 

Conclusion: Neither engine type scores a point here. The score remains 2:0. 

4. Keyword: Flexibility

What is easier – filling up a car with gasoline or diesel or charging an electric car? In the early stages of electric mobility there was a clear answer to this question: Conventional vehicles had a clear advantage thanks to a gas station network that has been developed over decades. However, much has been done with regard to charging facilities in the past few years: There are currently more than 9,000 charging stations for electric vehicles in Switzerland. And this number continues to rise steadily. In some cantons, there are also subsidy programs for the installation or development of charging infrastructures. 

With Z Volt – the charging app from Zurich – users have access to numerous charging stations in Switzerland and Europe. At the stations operated by Zurich's partners evpass and GOFAST, electric cars can even be charged throughout Switzerland at the standard price, regardless of whether you are using normal or fast charging. This offer applies to a total of 2,300 charging stations in Switzerland. What's more, the offer isn't restricted to Zurich customers, all e-vehicle owners can benefit. At fast charging stations, charging your battery needs about as much time as you need to drink an espresso in the cafe. And of course it's even more convenient having the option to simply charge your car overnight at home. However, only a few currently have this option, namely those with their own wallbox in the garage. For this reason, conventional vehicles offer more flexibility here. The score is 2:1. 

5. Keyword: Range

Getting from Zurich to Cologne, from Geneva to Paris, from Lugano to Florence with a full tank is normally not a problem with gas or diesel-powered cars; they usually have ranges of 500 km or more on long-distance routes. For electric cars, on the other hand, the term "range anxiety" was coined. How far you can get with an electric vehicle depends, among other things, on your driving style, the load in the car and the outside temperature. The ranges achieved in vehicle tests are often significantly lower than the values specified by the manufacturer under ideal conditions. These issues can have relatively little importance for those who rarely travel over long distances. On average, most drivers rarely exceed 50 km a day. What's more, things are changing in terms of range; the increasingly dense network of fast-charging stations and the vast improvements to charging speeds are alleviating the problem. Charging times are expected to be even shorter in future. In short: Those who mainly travel short distances in Switzerland will not be limited by the range of their electric car. Only when traveling over long distances once or twice a year must drivers plan their charging stops in advance.

Nevertheless, this point still clearly goes to gas and diesel vehicles – the score is at 2:2.

6. Keywords: Costs

"An electric car is too expensive for me," an argument that is still heard frequently. But are electric vehicles really more expensive than conventional gas or diesel vehicles? It is not possible to give a generalized answer here: On the whole, purchasing an electric car is still more expensive. However, prices are trending downward towards those of conventional vehicles. There are many factors influencing the cost, for example, in certain cantons e-vehicle ownership is encouraged with subsidies and tax benefits. At Zurich, we encourage electric vehicle ownership with an eco-bonus: a reduction of up to 20% on your premiums. Electricity prices can vary enormously from region to region, but as a rule the energy costs for e-vehicles are lower. The maintenance costs of electric vehicles are clearly lower than those of gas and diesel vehicles. However, the repair costs, at least in the coming years, could rise even higher. User behavior and resale value naturally also play a role here. 

Conclusion: The situation is so individual that a point cannot be awarded at this time, even though electromobility is expected to become cheaper in future. The score remains 2:2.

7. Future potential

The question of which drive form has more future potential is easy to answer: Electric vehicles are at a clear advantage here. For company fleets, for example, which account for a sizable share of the new vehicle business, purchasing electric vehicles is increasingly becoming a "hygiene factor". The EU has decided that from 2035, only vehicles that do not produce CO₂ emissions may be newly registered. This is also a signal that the era of conventionally driven cars is coming to an end. So here the point clearly goes to electric vehicles.

End result, electric cars have the advantage at 3:2. 

Prediction: The paradigm shift is near – or already here

Small-scale Switzerland is predestined for electromobility. Today, almost one fifth of all newly registered vehicles are fully electric. Which means electric vehicles have now also become a good alternative to conventional vehicles for average drivers. Nevertheless, it will be some time before electric cars make up a noticeable share of road traffic – on average it takes 20 years for the entire population to renew its cars.

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