Yesterday I did something I doubt anyone will be doing 46 years from now – at least, not with anything that’s new right now.
That being throwing a leg over the saddle of my 1976 Kawasaki Kz900 and going for a ride – as if it were still 1976.
I was too young too ride when it was new. It was already old by the time I was old enough to ride it – and much older before I was in a position to be able to buy it. Yet it was still ready to ride, even when it was pushing 20 years old. It is now pushing 50 years old – and it is just as ready to ride. It will likely be ready to ride, again – with someone else riding it – in another 50 years from now.
How many electric cars will be ready to go even ten years from now?
Well, the car – itself – may be. They are, after all, mostly made of plastic. Check that. Plastic gets brittle over time; it cracks and – eventually – crumbles. Look at the plastic of a modern car’s headlights – made of plastic – and see how well they age. The glass headlight that my KZ900 came with back in ’76 still shines bright – and that’s not just the light. The glass looks as new today as it did then, because glass isn’t plastic and doesn’t yellow and crack, as plastic does.
The rest of the bike is made of steel and aluminum. Steel can rust, of course. And aluminum, too – but this can be retarded to near-nil if you keep the metal (and alloy) dry and clean, addressing any issues with paint flecking off before rust has a chance to dig too deep (on steel).
The one thing that did not last almost 50 years – or even ten – is the bike’s battery. That I’ve had to replace a number of times over the years. No doubt the guy who owned my Kz before I owned it also had to replace it, probably several times. Batteries do not last as long as the machinery they are hooked up to – an axiom as true for a motorcycle or a non-electric car as it is for an electric car.
But there is a critical difference.
It costs very little – in terms of the actual amount and relative to the value of the machine – to replace a motorcycle’s battery or a non-electric car’s battery. A top-of-the-line AGM (no liquid electrolyte) replacement battery for my Kz900 costs about $70. Any bike that’s still running is well worth putting $70 into. Same for any car. Spending $150 so you can start your still drivable $1,500 beater also makes sense. It’s why – historically speaking – so many people have kept putting that kind of money into older cars (and bikes). It is much less expensive than buying a new car or bike.
But it costs thousands of dollars to replace an electric car’s battery pack – which will not last 20 much less 50 years, by dint of the nature of batteries, which gradually lose their capacity to retain charge over time. This is a physical fact. An economic fact is that an electric car’s 1,000-plus pounds of battery costs orders of magnitude more to replace than the battery that starts my KZ’s engine or any car’s engine. That alone is a problem as such because while almost anyone can afford to hand the counter man $70 (or $150) for a new battery to get their bike or car started, very few can afford to hand over the $7,500 (let alone $10,000 or more) it costs to replace an EV’s dead battery.
Even if one is in a position, financially, to spend $7,500 or more for a new battery pack, who would want to spend it, given the value of the EV itself by the time it needs a new battery?
One thing EVs have exactly in common with non-electric cars and bikes like my KZ900 is that they depreciate – lose value – over time. At least, for a long time. My KZ900 is now – at last – appreciating in value, because it is so old it has become rare as well as desirable, because it is old – and so doesn’t have any of the “new” advances, such as a computer its owner can’t service and “technology” that tries to parent him as he tries to ride the thing.
But the relevant thing is that in 1986 – ten years after it was made – it was just an old bike and (at that time) not worth even half what it cost to buy when it was new. It would not have made much financial sense, back in ’86, to spend more than half what it was worth to replace its engine – if it had needed that. Leaving aside coming up with the money to do that.
What will EV owners do about that?
Will they spend a sum equivalent to half or more of the market value of their ten-year-old EV when its value is half of what it was when it was new? Where will they find the money to buy a new battery that costs half or more what their aging EV is worth?
If one were to add up the combined weight in environmentally unfriendly materials used to make every battery my ’76 KZ900 has used up over the past 46 years it would total maybe 100 pounds or so – as opposed to the 1,000 pounds or so that go into an electric car’s battery pack, just the once. How much of those environmentally-not-so-friendly materials go into two?
How about into millions of new EVs? And then times two (or three) again for the replacement batteries. Assuming the owners can afford to buy them – or want to.
Never mind. EVs are “clean.”
The good news is, most of them probably won’t be around 46 years from now.
Or even ten.
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