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Episode
86

Electric Cars

First published on
September 4, 2020
Science & Technology
-
18
minutes
Technology
Environment
Global warming
The Internet

The history of electric cars goes back a lot further than Tesla and Elon Musk.

Indeed, the 'golden age' of electric cars was over 150 years ago.

Discover how electric cars have evolved, why some people say they aren't as green as people think they are, and we run the calculations to see what the true environmental cost of electric car ownership is.

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Transcript

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about electric cars.

[00:00:28] We'll go into the history of electric cars and the history is probably a lot longer than you think it is. 

[00:00:35] We'll talk about why people love them, why people don't love them so much, and of course we won't forget to mention Tesla and Elon Musk. 

[00:00:45] This is actually a request from one of our members, Didier, from France.

[00:00:49] So thank you,Didier, I think it's going to be a great episode. 

[00:00:53] And if you are wondering how you can be more like Didier and do stuff like request episodes, access all of the learning materials that come with the podcasts, unlock a load of bonus member only episodes and come to our member only sessions, then I'd definitely recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English. 

[00:01:14] The place to do that is leonardoenglish.com/subscribe. 

[00:01:20] Okay then, electric cars. 

[00:01:22] I said that the history of electric cars is a bit longer than you might think it is. 

[00:01:27] In fact, electric cars go back almost 200 years.

[00:01:32] They have been around for a similar amount of time as petrol cars. 

[00:01:37] And for a while, it wasn't clear which of petrol, steam or electricity would be the way in which cars were powered. 

[00:01:48] The mid 19th century has been called 'the golden age' of the electric car. 

[00:01:54] Throughout the US and Europe, intrepid inventors were creating new electric powered vehicles.

[00:02:01] Electricity had several advantages over the other competing ways of powering a car - steam and petrol. 

[00:02:10] Steam, which seemed like the natural way to power an engine, given its use in train and ship engines often took a long time to actually get started. 

[00:02:22] It could easily take 30 minutes to start a steam engine, which made it pretty impractical for any kind of shorter trip. 

[00:02:32] Petrol engines on the other hand took less time to start, but they still took a while and required some heavy manual labour.

[00:02:41] I'm sure we all have in mind, old films where starting a car meant going to the front and turning a crank around and around until the engine started. 

[00:02:53] Plus this was before the discovery of huge oil deposits, so petrol was a lot more expensive. 

[00:03:02] Electricity seemed like it could have been the future, even almost 200 years ago.

[00:03:08] It didn't emit any fumes, which made it an attractive choice for polluted cities like London, electric cars were easy to start and compared to a petrol or steam powered car, it was just a lot easier to manage, it wouldn't break down so much and was a lot more reliable. 

[00:03:29] This made them very popular for city driving.

[00:03:33] Interestingly enough, early electric cars were actually marketed towards women drivers in cities because they were easier to start, and because there wasn't that much that would go wrong with them. 

[00:03:47] So much so that these cars actually got a reputation for being for women, and as an attempt to not put off potential male buyers, some manufacturers added a fake radiator to the front, a fake grill to the front, to make them look like they were petrol cars and suitable for a male driver. 

[00:04:11] However, there were a few problems with these early electric cars, some of which you might recognise to be criticisms of electric cars today. 

[00:04:22] Firstly, they had relatively short ranges, they couldn't go very far without a charge.

[00:04:29] Secondly, and on a related note, the electricity grid didn't stretch very far. Even at the turn of the 20th century, having electricity at home was rare in the US and Europe and finding anywhere to charge your electric vehicle was almost impossible. 

[00:04:50] Just to put things in perspective, though, even though electric cars were relatively popular as cars go, they were still something that only the richest in society could afford. 

[00:05:01] It was only around a hundred years ago that cars started to outnumber horses for the first time in the United States, and a car was a huge expense, out of reach for most people in society. 

[00:05:17] The tables turned in 1908, though, something happened, which changed the course of the automobile industry.

[00:05:25] The Ford model T was released. 

[00:05:28] Now we aren't going to talk at length about this, but this car was the first affordable car. It cost $825, which is today's equivalent of about $18,000. 

[00:05:43] An electric car cost around three times as much, and the model T and petrol powered vehicles started to dominate. 

[00:05:53] It was curtains for the electric car.

[00:05:57] It wasn't until around 60 years later during the oil crises of the 1970s that people started thinking about electric cars again. 

[00:06:08] The oil price was fluctuating a lot, it went up and down huge amounts, and people thought that powering cars with electricity as opposed to petrol would mean that they weren't tied to circumstances outside their direct control, the price of electricity wasn't liable to huge spikes

[00:06:31] Car manufacturers experimented with a few different types of electric cars, but nothing that really captured the market. 

[00:06:41] They were still too expensive, couldn't go very far and were just quite unappealing compared to the breadth of choice and the low cost of petrol cars.

[00:06:52] Then in 2003, Tesla launched. 

[00:06:56] And in 2008, it launched its first, all-electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster. 

[00:07:03] The importance of this wasn't the number of cars that it sold - it only sold 2,450 - but rather the fact that a company could come out of nowhere led by people without real car manufacturing experience, successfully produce an electric car that was far better than everything that the huge manufacturers had been able to make and also attract a cult following, to actually make an electric car that people wanted. 

[00:07:36] The Roadster could go for almost 400 kilometres on a single battery charge, and it could go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 3.7 seconds.

[00:07:49] It was a real serious car. 

[00:07:52] The fact that Tesla managed this got all of the executives at big car companies thinking and in the past 15 years or so, almost every manufacturer has released its own electric cars. 

[00:08:06] Some have sold very well, things like the Nissan Leaf, for example. Others, well, they're pretty awful.

[00:08:14] So electric cars are enjoying a new renaissance, and most industry experts agree that the future of personal transport will be electric. 

[00:08:26] However, electric cars are not without their critics and it's worth spending a moment just to talk through some of the more popular arguments against electric cars.

[00:08:39] Firstly, there is the fact that even though an electric car doesn't pollute its local environment, it doesn't have smoke coming out of its back like a petrol or diesel car, this electricity still has to come from somewhere. 

[00:08:54] Secondly, and this is really a related point is that electric cars are a lot more environmentally unfriendly to produce than petrol or diesel powered cars, and so even if you are saving the environment by driving an electric car, actually producing the thing results in far greater emissions than it would do for a petrol or diesel car. 

[00:09:20] And thirdly, the fact that electric cars need large batteries with rare earth and other precious metals means that they are responsible for using up these vital resources.

[00:09:33] Let's take point number one and two first as they are linked, then we'll come onto the rare earth and precious metals question.

[00:09:42] So the basic point is that electric cars aren't actually as good for the environment as you think. They use energy that might have been created by burning fossil fuels, and a lot of fossil fuels are used in the manufacture of an electric car. 

[00:10:01] To assess the carbon footprint of anything you need to look at its entire life cycle: how much carbon is used making it, transporting it, actually using it, then disposing of it when it comes to the end of its life. 

[00:10:18] Let's just do that with electric cars. 

[00:10:21] It's certainly true that it currently requires more energy to make an electric car and more to dispose of it at the end of its life.

[00:10:30] This difference is caused by the carbon required to make and dispose of the battery, which isn't insignificant. 

[00:10:39] So the start and the end of an electric car's life are more polluting than the petrol or diesel powered equivalents, but where it is also interesting is to calculate the emissions of an electric car when it's actually in use. 

[00:10:55] To calculate the emissions from the electricity that goes into powering an electric car, you need to understand where the electricity in that country comes from, because exactly the same electric car driven in exactly the same way could have a very different carbon footprint based on where it plugs in to charge its battery.

[00:11:17] In a country like China or India, where a large proportion of the electricity comes from coal powered sources, an electric car isn't very environmentally friendly at all. 

[00:11:29] It might not have smoke coming out of the back of it, but that smoke is coming out of a factory hundreds or thousands of kilometres away as that is where the electricity was produced.

[00:11:42] If you contrast this with a country like Paraguay or New Zealand, where the majority of electricity comes from renewable sources, that electric car becomes a lot more environmentally friendly. 

[00:11:57] To help you understand the scale of this, an electric car in Paraguay emits, essentially, zero grammes of CO2 per kilometre when it's in use, whereas one in India emits 300 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, which is actually comparable to many American petrol powered cars. 

[00:12:19] When you factor in the carbon footprint of manufacturing and disposing of it when it's finished, over an average lifetime it works out to around 70 grammes of carbon per kilometre.

[00:12:32] So going back to our example of Paraguay over an electric car's lifetime it averages around 70 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, but in India it would be around 370 grammes of CO2 per kilometre. 

[00:12:46] That's 300 grammes for the electricity and 70 grammes for the manufacturer and disposing, so it's five times more.

[00:12:55] Overall, unless you are driving an electric car in a country that is powered by dirty energy, by electricity generated by things like coal, an electric car over the course of its life will be a more environmentally friendly choice. 

[00:13:11] It's really quite simple. 

[00:13:14] The third point, however, is a little more complicated and that's relating to rare earth elements and precious metals, the special elements that go into the batteries that we find in a huge amount of modern technologies from smartphones to computers, but also in electric cars.

[00:13:33] We actually just did a member's only episode on rare earths, it came out a few days ago, so we aren't going to go into that in huge detail here, but I'll give you a little idea.

[00:13:44] Rare earth elements are, contrary to what you might think, not actually that rare, they are just difficult and therefore expensive to extract, to separate from other elements. 

[00:13:58] Around 80 to 95% of all the world's rare earths come from China and getting them out of the Earth's crust is dangerous and often highly environmentally damaging work.

[00:14:13] Electric cars have got huge batteries and require much more rare earths than let's say your mobile phone. 

[00:14:22] The batteries that go into electric cars also need large amounts of things like cobalt. 60% of the world's cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there are some real valid concerns about working conditions there, as well as the environmental impact that these mines have. 

[00:14:43] So electric cars aren't as completely carbon free and zero impact on the planet as some people think they are, but they are a considerably better choice than pretty much anything that is powered by fossil fuels. 

[00:14:58] Of course, the emperor of electric cars is the boss of Tesla, Elon Musk. 

[00:15:04] If you haven't heard about him, he has a cult-like following, and although Tesla does make excellent cars in its own right, he has his own distinct personality and he is inseparable from Tesla. 

[00:15:19] Investors, large and small, are betting that Elon Musk, and with him Tesla, is going to be the person and company that drives wide-scale electric car adoption.

[00:15:32] And Tesla's share price has zoomed up this year. 

[00:15:37] It seems to go up and up every day, so no doubt by the time you listen to this, this number will be out of date, but it started 2020 at a price of $430, and when I just looked, it was at $2,200, a more than five times increase in just under nine months.

[00:15:59] Although Tesla may be at the front of the pack, there is growing appetite around the world for electric cars from almost every manufacturer. In April this year, electric cars accounted for 17% of all car sales, which was up from 7% the year before. 

[00:16:20] Electric cars are nothing new, and we've heard about how a hundred years ago their bright future was erased by the arrival of cheap petrol and cheap petrol cars.

[00:16:32] But this time in 2020, I think it would take a brave person to bet against Elon Musk, against Tesla, and against an electric future. 

[00:16:42] Okay then, that is it for electric cars. 

[00:16:46] I hope it's been an interesting one. 

[00:16:48] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. You can email hi, Hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:56] If you want to do something really nice, then leaving a review of the show or telling a friend is super helpful. 

[00:17:03] I know that almost every podcast seems to say this, but it really does help. 

[00:17:08] And as a final reminder, if you would like to unlock all of the bonus episodes, all the subtitles, the transcripts, the vocabulary, if you'd like to come to our exclusive member only sessions and request episodes like Didier did for this one then the place to head to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:29] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:17:34] I am Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about electric cars.

[00:00:28] We'll go into the history of electric cars and the history is probably a lot longer than you think it is. 

[00:00:35] We'll talk about why people love them, why people don't love them so much, and of course we won't forget to mention Tesla and Elon Musk. 

[00:00:45] This is actually a request from one of our members, Didier, from France.

[00:00:49] So thank you,Didier, I think it's going to be a great episode. 

[00:00:53] And if you are wondering how you can be more like Didier and do stuff like request episodes, access all of the learning materials that come with the podcasts, unlock a load of bonus member only episodes and come to our member only sessions, then I'd definitely recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English. 

[00:01:14] The place to do that is leonardoenglish.com/subscribe. 

[00:01:20] Okay then, electric cars. 

[00:01:22] I said that the history of electric cars is a bit longer than you might think it is. 

[00:01:27] In fact, electric cars go back almost 200 years.

[00:01:32] They have been around for a similar amount of time as petrol cars. 

[00:01:37] And for a while, it wasn't clear which of petrol, steam or electricity would be the way in which cars were powered. 

[00:01:48] The mid 19th century has been called 'the golden age' of the electric car. 

[00:01:54] Throughout the US and Europe, intrepid inventors were creating new electric powered vehicles.

[00:02:01] Electricity had several advantages over the other competing ways of powering a car - steam and petrol. 

[00:02:10] Steam, which seemed like the natural way to power an engine, given its use in train and ship engines often took a long time to actually get started. 

[00:02:22] It could easily take 30 minutes to start a steam engine, which made it pretty impractical for any kind of shorter trip. 

[00:02:32] Petrol engines on the other hand took less time to start, but they still took a while and required some heavy manual labour.

[00:02:41] I'm sure we all have in mind, old films where starting a car meant going to the front and turning a crank around and around until the engine started. 

[00:02:53] Plus this was before the discovery of huge oil deposits, so petrol was a lot more expensive. 

[00:03:02] Electricity seemed like it could have been the future, even almost 200 years ago.

[00:03:08] It didn't emit any fumes, which made it an attractive choice for polluted cities like London, electric cars were easy to start and compared to a petrol or steam powered car, it was just a lot easier to manage, it wouldn't break down so much and was a lot more reliable. 

[00:03:29] This made them very popular for city driving.

[00:03:33] Interestingly enough, early electric cars were actually marketed towards women drivers in cities because they were easier to start, and because there wasn't that much that would go wrong with them. 

[00:03:47] So much so that these cars actually got a reputation for being for women, and as an attempt to not put off potential male buyers, some manufacturers added a fake radiator to the front, a fake grill to the front, to make them look like they were petrol cars and suitable for a male driver. 

[00:04:11] However, there were a few problems with these early electric cars, some of which you might recognise to be criticisms of electric cars today. 

[00:04:22] Firstly, they had relatively short ranges, they couldn't go very far without a charge.

[00:04:29] Secondly, and on a related note, the electricity grid didn't stretch very far. Even at the turn of the 20th century, having electricity at home was rare in the US and Europe and finding anywhere to charge your electric vehicle was almost impossible. 

[00:04:50] Just to put things in perspective, though, even though electric cars were relatively popular as cars go, they were still something that only the richest in society could afford. 

[00:05:01] It was only around a hundred years ago that cars started to outnumber horses for the first time in the United States, and a car was a huge expense, out of reach for most people in society. 

[00:05:17] The tables turned in 1908, though, something happened, which changed the course of the automobile industry.

[00:05:25] The Ford model T was released. 

[00:05:28] Now we aren't going to talk at length about this, but this car was the first affordable car. It cost $825, which is today's equivalent of about $18,000. 

[00:05:43] An electric car cost around three times as much, and the model T and petrol powered vehicles started to dominate. 

[00:05:53] It was curtains for the electric car.

[00:05:57] It wasn't until around 60 years later during the oil crises of the 1970s that people started thinking about electric cars again. 

[00:06:08] The oil price was fluctuating a lot, it went up and down huge amounts, and people thought that powering cars with electricity as opposed to petrol would mean that they weren't tied to circumstances outside their direct control, the price of electricity wasn't liable to huge spikes

[00:06:31] Car manufacturers experimented with a few different types of electric cars, but nothing that really captured the market. 

[00:06:41] They were still too expensive, couldn't go very far and were just quite unappealing compared to the breadth of choice and the low cost of petrol cars.

[00:06:52] Then in 2003, Tesla launched. 

[00:06:56] And in 2008, it launched its first, all-electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster. 

[00:07:03] The importance of this wasn't the number of cars that it sold - it only sold 2,450 - but rather the fact that a company could come out of nowhere led by people without real car manufacturing experience, successfully produce an electric car that was far better than everything that the huge manufacturers had been able to make and also attract a cult following, to actually make an electric car that people wanted. 

[00:07:36] The Roadster could go for almost 400 kilometres on a single battery charge, and it could go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 3.7 seconds.

[00:07:49] It was a real serious car. 

[00:07:52] The fact that Tesla managed this got all of the executives at big car companies thinking and in the past 15 years or so, almost every manufacturer has released its own electric cars. 

[00:08:06] Some have sold very well, things like the Nissan Leaf, for example. Others, well, they're pretty awful.

[00:08:14] So electric cars are enjoying a new renaissance, and most industry experts agree that the future of personal transport will be electric. 

[00:08:26] However, electric cars are not without their critics and it's worth spending a moment just to talk through some of the more popular arguments against electric cars.

[00:08:39] Firstly, there is the fact that even though an electric car doesn't pollute its local environment, it doesn't have smoke coming out of its back like a petrol or diesel car, this electricity still has to come from somewhere. 

[00:08:54] Secondly, and this is really a related point is that electric cars are a lot more environmentally unfriendly to produce than petrol or diesel powered cars, and so even if you are saving the environment by driving an electric car, actually producing the thing results in far greater emissions than it would do for a petrol or diesel car. 

[00:09:20] And thirdly, the fact that electric cars need large batteries with rare earth and other precious metals means that they are responsible for using up these vital resources.

[00:09:33] Let's take point number one and two first as they are linked, then we'll come onto the rare earth and precious metals question.

[00:09:42] So the basic point is that electric cars aren't actually as good for the environment as you think. They use energy that might have been created by burning fossil fuels, and a lot of fossil fuels are used in the manufacture of an electric car. 

[00:10:01] To assess the carbon footprint of anything you need to look at its entire life cycle: how much carbon is used making it, transporting it, actually using it, then disposing of it when it comes to the end of its life. 

[00:10:18] Let's just do that with electric cars. 

[00:10:21] It's certainly true that it currently requires more energy to make an electric car and more to dispose of it at the end of its life.

[00:10:30] This difference is caused by the carbon required to make and dispose of the battery, which isn't insignificant. 

[00:10:39] So the start and the end of an electric car's life are more polluting than the petrol or diesel powered equivalents, but where it is also interesting is to calculate the emissions of an electric car when it's actually in use. 

[00:10:55] To calculate the emissions from the electricity that goes into powering an electric car, you need to understand where the electricity in that country comes from, because exactly the same electric car driven in exactly the same way could have a very different carbon footprint based on where it plugs in to charge its battery.

[00:11:17] In a country like China or India, where a large proportion of the electricity comes from coal powered sources, an electric car isn't very environmentally friendly at all. 

[00:11:29] It might not have smoke coming out of the back of it, but that smoke is coming out of a factory hundreds or thousands of kilometres away as that is where the electricity was produced.

[00:11:42] If you contrast this with a country like Paraguay or New Zealand, where the majority of electricity comes from renewable sources, that electric car becomes a lot more environmentally friendly. 

[00:11:57] To help you understand the scale of this, an electric car in Paraguay emits, essentially, zero grammes of CO2 per kilometre when it's in use, whereas one in India emits 300 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, which is actually comparable to many American petrol powered cars. 

[00:12:19] When you factor in the carbon footprint of manufacturing and disposing of it when it's finished, over an average lifetime it works out to around 70 grammes of carbon per kilometre.

[00:12:32] So going back to our example of Paraguay over an electric car's lifetime it averages around 70 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, but in India it would be around 370 grammes of CO2 per kilometre. 

[00:12:46] That's 300 grammes for the electricity and 70 grammes for the manufacturer and disposing, so it's five times more.

[00:12:55] Overall, unless you are driving an electric car in a country that is powered by dirty energy, by electricity generated by things like coal, an electric car over the course of its life will be a more environmentally friendly choice. 

[00:13:11] It's really quite simple. 

[00:13:14] The third point, however, is a little more complicated and that's relating to rare earth elements and precious metals, the special elements that go into the batteries that we find in a huge amount of modern technologies from smartphones to computers, but also in electric cars.

[00:13:33] We actually just did a member's only episode on rare earths, it came out a few days ago, so we aren't going to go into that in huge detail here, but I'll give you a little idea.

[00:13:44] Rare earth elements are, contrary to what you might think, not actually that rare, they are just difficult and therefore expensive to extract, to separate from other elements. 

[00:13:58] Around 80 to 95% of all the world's rare earths come from China and getting them out of the Earth's crust is dangerous and often highly environmentally damaging work.

[00:14:13] Electric cars have got huge batteries and require much more rare earths than let's say your mobile phone. 

[00:14:22] The batteries that go into electric cars also need large amounts of things like cobalt. 60% of the world's cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there are some real valid concerns about working conditions there, as well as the environmental impact that these mines have. 

[00:14:43] So electric cars aren't as completely carbon free and zero impact on the planet as some people think they are, but they are a considerably better choice than pretty much anything that is powered by fossil fuels. 

[00:14:58] Of course, the emperor of electric cars is the boss of Tesla, Elon Musk. 

[00:15:04] If you haven't heard about him, he has a cult-like following, and although Tesla does make excellent cars in its own right, he has his own distinct personality and he is inseparable from Tesla. 

[00:15:19] Investors, large and small, are betting that Elon Musk, and with him Tesla, is going to be the person and company that drives wide-scale electric car adoption.

[00:15:32] And Tesla's share price has zoomed up this year. 

[00:15:37] It seems to go up and up every day, so no doubt by the time you listen to this, this number will be out of date, but it started 2020 at a price of $430, and when I just looked, it was at $2,200, a more than five times increase in just under nine months.

[00:15:59] Although Tesla may be at the front of the pack, there is growing appetite around the world for electric cars from almost every manufacturer. In April this year, electric cars accounted for 17% of all car sales, which was up from 7% the year before. 

[00:16:20] Electric cars are nothing new, and we've heard about how a hundred years ago their bright future was erased by the arrival of cheap petrol and cheap petrol cars.

[00:16:32] But this time in 2020, I think it would take a brave person to bet against Elon Musk, against Tesla, and against an electric future. 

[00:16:42] Okay then, that is it for electric cars. 

[00:16:46] I hope it's been an interesting one. 

[00:16:48] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. You can email hi, Hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:56] If you want to do something really nice, then leaving a review of the show or telling a friend is super helpful. 

[00:17:03] I know that almost every podcast seems to say this, but it really does help. 

[00:17:08] And as a final reminder, if you would like to unlock all of the bonus episodes, all the subtitles, the transcripts, the vocabulary, if you'd like to come to our exclusive member only sessions and request episodes like Didier did for this one then the place to head to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:29] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:17:34] I am Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about electric cars.

[00:00:28] We'll go into the history of electric cars and the history is probably a lot longer than you think it is. 

[00:00:35] We'll talk about why people love them, why people don't love them so much, and of course we won't forget to mention Tesla and Elon Musk. 

[00:00:45] This is actually a request from one of our members, Didier, from France.

[00:00:49] So thank you,Didier, I think it's going to be a great episode. 

[00:00:53] And if you are wondering how you can be more like Didier and do stuff like request episodes, access all of the learning materials that come with the podcasts, unlock a load of bonus member only episodes and come to our member only sessions, then I'd definitely recommend checking out becoming a member of Leonardo English. 

[00:01:14] The place to do that is leonardoenglish.com/subscribe. 

[00:01:20] Okay then, electric cars. 

[00:01:22] I said that the history of electric cars is a bit longer than you might think it is. 

[00:01:27] In fact, electric cars go back almost 200 years.

[00:01:32] They have been around for a similar amount of time as petrol cars. 

[00:01:37] And for a while, it wasn't clear which of petrol, steam or electricity would be the way in which cars were powered. 

[00:01:48] The mid 19th century has been called 'the golden age' of the electric car. 

[00:01:54] Throughout the US and Europe, intrepid inventors were creating new electric powered vehicles.

[00:02:01] Electricity had several advantages over the other competing ways of powering a car - steam and petrol. 

[00:02:10] Steam, which seemed like the natural way to power an engine, given its use in train and ship engines often took a long time to actually get started. 

[00:02:22] It could easily take 30 minutes to start a steam engine, which made it pretty impractical for any kind of shorter trip. 

[00:02:32] Petrol engines on the other hand took less time to start, but they still took a while and required some heavy manual labour.

[00:02:41] I'm sure we all have in mind, old films where starting a car meant going to the front and turning a crank around and around until the engine started. 

[00:02:53] Plus this was before the discovery of huge oil deposits, so petrol was a lot more expensive. 

[00:03:02] Electricity seemed like it could have been the future, even almost 200 years ago.

[00:03:08] It didn't emit any fumes, which made it an attractive choice for polluted cities like London, electric cars were easy to start and compared to a petrol or steam powered car, it was just a lot easier to manage, it wouldn't break down so much and was a lot more reliable. 

[00:03:29] This made them very popular for city driving.

[00:03:33] Interestingly enough, early electric cars were actually marketed towards women drivers in cities because they were easier to start, and because there wasn't that much that would go wrong with them. 

[00:03:47] So much so that these cars actually got a reputation for being for women, and as an attempt to not put off potential male buyers, some manufacturers added a fake radiator to the front, a fake grill to the front, to make them look like they were petrol cars and suitable for a male driver. 

[00:04:11] However, there were a few problems with these early electric cars, some of which you might recognise to be criticisms of electric cars today. 

[00:04:22] Firstly, they had relatively short ranges, they couldn't go very far without a charge.

[00:04:29] Secondly, and on a related note, the electricity grid didn't stretch very far. Even at the turn of the 20th century, having electricity at home was rare in the US and Europe and finding anywhere to charge your electric vehicle was almost impossible. 

[00:04:50] Just to put things in perspective, though, even though electric cars were relatively popular as cars go, they were still something that only the richest in society could afford. 

[00:05:01] It was only around a hundred years ago that cars started to outnumber horses for the first time in the United States, and a car was a huge expense, out of reach for most people in society. 

[00:05:17] The tables turned in 1908, though, something happened, which changed the course of the automobile industry.

[00:05:25] The Ford model T was released. 

[00:05:28] Now we aren't going to talk at length about this, but this car was the first affordable car. It cost $825, which is today's equivalent of about $18,000. 

[00:05:43] An electric car cost around three times as much, and the model T and petrol powered vehicles started to dominate. 

[00:05:53] It was curtains for the electric car.

[00:05:57] It wasn't until around 60 years later during the oil crises of the 1970s that people started thinking about electric cars again. 

[00:06:08] The oil price was fluctuating a lot, it went up and down huge amounts, and people thought that powering cars with electricity as opposed to petrol would mean that they weren't tied to circumstances outside their direct control, the price of electricity wasn't liable to huge spikes

[00:06:31] Car manufacturers experimented with a few different types of electric cars, but nothing that really captured the market. 

[00:06:41] They were still too expensive, couldn't go very far and were just quite unappealing compared to the breadth of choice and the low cost of petrol cars.

[00:06:52] Then in 2003, Tesla launched. 

[00:06:56] And in 2008, it launched its first, all-electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster. 

[00:07:03] The importance of this wasn't the number of cars that it sold - it only sold 2,450 - but rather the fact that a company could come out of nowhere led by people without real car manufacturing experience, successfully produce an electric car that was far better than everything that the huge manufacturers had been able to make and also attract a cult following, to actually make an electric car that people wanted. 

[00:07:36] The Roadster could go for almost 400 kilometres on a single battery charge, and it could go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 3.7 seconds.

[00:07:49] It was a real serious car. 

[00:07:52] The fact that Tesla managed this got all of the executives at big car companies thinking and in the past 15 years or so, almost every manufacturer has released its own electric cars. 

[00:08:06] Some have sold very well, things like the Nissan Leaf, for example. Others, well, they're pretty awful.

[00:08:14] So electric cars are enjoying a new renaissance, and most industry experts agree that the future of personal transport will be electric. 

[00:08:26] However, electric cars are not without their critics and it's worth spending a moment just to talk through some of the more popular arguments against electric cars.

[00:08:39] Firstly, there is the fact that even though an electric car doesn't pollute its local environment, it doesn't have smoke coming out of its back like a petrol or diesel car, this electricity still has to come from somewhere. 

[00:08:54] Secondly, and this is really a related point is that electric cars are a lot more environmentally unfriendly to produce than petrol or diesel powered cars, and so even if you are saving the environment by driving an electric car, actually producing the thing results in far greater emissions than it would do for a petrol or diesel car. 

[00:09:20] And thirdly, the fact that electric cars need large batteries with rare earth and other precious metals means that they are responsible for using up these vital resources.

[00:09:33] Let's take point number one and two first as they are linked, then we'll come onto the rare earth and precious metals question.

[00:09:42] So the basic point is that electric cars aren't actually as good for the environment as you think. They use energy that might have been created by burning fossil fuels, and a lot of fossil fuels are used in the manufacture of an electric car. 

[00:10:01] To assess the carbon footprint of anything you need to look at its entire life cycle: how much carbon is used making it, transporting it, actually using it, then disposing of it when it comes to the end of its life. 

[00:10:18] Let's just do that with electric cars. 

[00:10:21] It's certainly true that it currently requires more energy to make an electric car and more to dispose of it at the end of its life.

[00:10:30] This difference is caused by the carbon required to make and dispose of the battery, which isn't insignificant. 

[00:10:39] So the start and the end of an electric car's life are more polluting than the petrol or diesel powered equivalents, but where it is also interesting is to calculate the emissions of an electric car when it's actually in use. 

[00:10:55] To calculate the emissions from the electricity that goes into powering an electric car, you need to understand where the electricity in that country comes from, because exactly the same electric car driven in exactly the same way could have a very different carbon footprint based on where it plugs in to charge its battery.

[00:11:17] In a country like China or India, where a large proportion of the electricity comes from coal powered sources, an electric car isn't very environmentally friendly at all. 

[00:11:29] It might not have smoke coming out of the back of it, but that smoke is coming out of a factory hundreds or thousands of kilometres away as that is where the electricity was produced.

[00:11:42] If you contrast this with a country like Paraguay or New Zealand, where the majority of electricity comes from renewable sources, that electric car becomes a lot more environmentally friendly. 

[00:11:57] To help you understand the scale of this, an electric car in Paraguay emits, essentially, zero grammes of CO2 per kilometre when it's in use, whereas one in India emits 300 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, which is actually comparable to many American petrol powered cars. 

[00:12:19] When you factor in the carbon footprint of manufacturing and disposing of it when it's finished, over an average lifetime it works out to around 70 grammes of carbon per kilometre.

[00:12:32] So going back to our example of Paraguay over an electric car's lifetime it averages around 70 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, but in India it would be around 370 grammes of CO2 per kilometre. 

[00:12:46] That's 300 grammes for the electricity and 70 grammes for the manufacturer and disposing, so it's five times more.

[00:12:55] Overall, unless you are driving an electric car in a country that is powered by dirty energy, by electricity generated by things like coal, an electric car over the course of its life will be a more environmentally friendly choice. 

[00:13:11] It's really quite simple. 

[00:13:14] The third point, however, is a little more complicated and that's relating to rare earth elements and precious metals, the special elements that go into the batteries that we find in a huge amount of modern technologies from smartphones to computers, but also in electric cars.

[00:13:33] We actually just did a member's only episode on rare earths, it came out a few days ago, so we aren't going to go into that in huge detail here, but I'll give you a little idea.

[00:13:44] Rare earth elements are, contrary to what you might think, not actually that rare, they are just difficult and therefore expensive to extract, to separate from other elements. 

[00:13:58] Around 80 to 95% of all the world's rare earths come from China and getting them out of the Earth's crust is dangerous and often highly environmentally damaging work.

[00:14:13] Electric cars have got huge batteries and require much more rare earths than let's say your mobile phone. 

[00:14:22] The batteries that go into electric cars also need large amounts of things like cobalt. 60% of the world's cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there are some real valid concerns about working conditions there, as well as the environmental impact that these mines have. 

[00:14:43] So electric cars aren't as completely carbon free and zero impact on the planet as some people think they are, but they are a considerably better choice than pretty much anything that is powered by fossil fuels. 

[00:14:58] Of course, the emperor of electric cars is the boss of Tesla, Elon Musk. 

[00:15:04] If you haven't heard about him, he has a cult-like following, and although Tesla does make excellent cars in its own right, he has his own distinct personality and he is inseparable from Tesla. 

[00:15:19] Investors, large and small, are betting that Elon Musk, and with him Tesla, is going to be the person and company that drives wide-scale electric car adoption.

[00:15:32] And Tesla's share price has zoomed up this year. 

[00:15:37] It seems to go up and up every day, so no doubt by the time you listen to this, this number will be out of date, but it started 2020 at a price of $430, and when I just looked, it was at $2,200, a more than five times increase in just under nine months.

[00:15:59] Although Tesla may be at the front of the pack, there is growing appetite around the world for electric cars from almost every manufacturer. In April this year, electric cars accounted for 17% of all car sales, which was up from 7% the year before. 

[00:16:20] Electric cars are nothing new, and we've heard about how a hundred years ago their bright future was erased by the arrival of cheap petrol and cheap petrol cars.

[00:16:32] But this time in 2020, I think it would take a brave person to bet against Elon Musk, against Tesla, and against an electric future. 

[00:16:42] Okay then, that is it for electric cars. 

[00:16:46] I hope it's been an interesting one. 

[00:16:48] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. You can email hi, Hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:56] If you want to do something really nice, then leaving a review of the show or telling a friend is super helpful. 

[00:17:03] I know that almost every podcast seems to say this, but it really does help. 

[00:17:08] And as a final reminder, if you would like to unlock all of the bonus episodes, all the subtitles, the transcripts, the vocabulary, if you'd like to come to our exclusive member only sessions and request episodes like Didier did for this one then the place to head to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:29] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:17:34] I am Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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