By Chief (retired) Michael Benson and Chief Todd Bertram
Electric vehicle (EV) myths are pervasive in our media culture. Yet it seems like EV stories are all negative: they have short ranges, are too small, catch fire and have no power. Are they really as bad as they say? Or do the police departments already adding them to their fleets know something we don’t?
There are a lot of myths out there, so let’s learn from a couple of chiefs who know the truth.
Myth 1: Electric vehicles don’t have enough range
Most municipal police cars drive less than 100 miles per shift. The Tesla Model Y has a 330-mile range, the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT has a 270-mile range, and the Tesla Model 3 AWD goes 358 miles on a full charge. All three will easily cover a full shift.
EVs are almost perfectly designed for police work as they use very little power while idling with the HVAC running, or driving at neighborhood patrol speeds. When you need to drive quickly, they accelerate like a sports car. While today’s EVs may not be ready for highway patrol or covering large areas, vehicle ranges of 400-500 miles are coming soon. It was only a few years ago when a long-distance EV only had a 200-mile range.
Myth 2: Electric vehicles take too long to charge
This depends on what level of charging you are using, and how much energy [battery state of charge (SOC)] you want to start your shift with.
If you plug into a typical 120V wall outlet it would take a full day to charge. Most agencies install “Level 2” charging, which uses a 240V circuit similar in size to the electric dryer or air conditioner in your house. Level 2 charging refills your battery to 80% SOC in a few hours. If your vehicles stay at the station between shifts this works well.
If you share your cars, or you have another need to charge your vehicles in 15 minutes or less, you need a Direct Current (DC) fast charger. This type of charging can be expensive and energy-intensive, but is essential for a mission-critical EV fleet. DC fast charging speeds range significantly based on their power levels, which are five to 35 times faster than Level 2 charging. Based on the battery packs in Teslas and the Ford Mach-E, you will need an 80-100kW DC fast charger to refill your car to 80% SOC between shifts.
With the right-sized charging infrastructure, EVs can be refilled and ready for their next shift as quickly as the time it takes to drive to a gas station and pump your gas. And your charging will take place at the station between shifts actually reducing the time needed to fill your “tank” before your shift.
Myth 3: Electric vehicles are too expensive
This is true if you only look at the up-front purchase price, but if you look at the total cost of ownership, EVs cost far less than gas vehicles.
The Bargersville (Indiana) Police Department has been saving $6,000 annually per EV, resulting in a break-even point in 18 months. From then on, the agency keeps those savings in its budget, which helps to keep the department staffed.
As we move forward, EVs will keep getting cheaper and better. The battery pack is the most expensive part of the car, and battery costs continue to drop as more EVs are manufactured. The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning already has cost parity with Ford’s internal combustion engine (ICE) versions this year. Other EVs will match their ICE counterparts in the next two years, especially after the current automotive supply-demand issues are resolved.
Myth 4: Electric vehicles are not pursuit-ready
Actually, EVs are inherently quick due to having 100% of their power available from a standstill. Their acceleration will help your officer to quickly catch up, and possibly avoid a long pursuit.
Just like an ICE car, you need to start your shift with enough fuel to be ready to respond. This emphasizes the importance of having an 80% SOC when you get to work, and possibly plugging in your car when you are parked at the station during your shift. This will ensure you are ready and able to participate in a pursuit.
Myth 5: Electric vehicles are so new you can’t get parts to repair them
We all heard horror stories from the early days of EV production, especially from Tesla several years ago. Since then, the situation has changed; volume production for EVs has made parts access much easier, and more EV factories are coming online every year.
The need for maintenance of an EV is much lower than a gas car. There are no oil changes, no transmission to replace and no exhaust to rust away. Most agencies only need to replace tires, which you do for all vehicles, or replace some parts under warranty.
Referring again to the Bargersville example, an officer hit a deer and the agency had to replace the headlight, hood, fender, windshield, bumper, camera and door skin. The car was down for 16 days, then back on the street. You will find your EVs are actually in-service more often than your ICE cars.
Myth 6: Electric vehicles are unsafe
Just like the stories about parts for repairs, there are many reports of EV fires. The reality is EVs are far safer than ICE cars. They catch fire less often, especially because they do not carry around a tank of flammable liquid. No one writes about the hundreds of ICE vehicle fires every day, but if an EV catches fire it is international news.
Native electric vehicles place their battery packs low in the car under the floorboards. The motors are typically in line with the axles. This places much of the mass low in the car making them more stable and with better handling. This “skateboard” design also creates large crumple zones in the front and rear of the car potentially making an officer much safer in an EV than an ICE vehicle.
Bargersville’s Teslas have 5-star safety ratings, and the Model Y completed the full test without skipping the rollover. The battery pack lowers the center of gravity, which helps them resist rollovers; ICE vehicles cannot be designed this way. If you really want to see what a high-performing EV can do, search the internet for the Tesla Model Y moose test video.
Myth 7: Electric vehicles are no cleaner than gas cars
It is true the carbon footprint to make an EV is higher than an ICE initially, but the moment you turn on an ICE car you pollute and will continue to pollute. This is not true with EVs. You will drive cleaner every day, because the fuel you use keeps getting cleaner. The farther you drive, and especially the more you idle an ICE car, the cleaner the EV option becomes.
Our electric grid becomes cleaner all the time making electric transportation an even better choice every year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, most electricity in the U.S. comes from natural gas, which is twice as clean as coal. Coal used to be the biggest electricity generator, but it has declined to 20% and will soon go to zero. Renewable energy from wind, water and solar passed coal in 2020 as a share of energy generation, and it continues to grow. You won’t need to do anything to drive cleaner with an EV, because the grid operators are cleaning up for you.
Myth 8: Electric vehicles can’t handle the amount and weight of police equipment
It is true that we jam more equipment into a police car today than we did decades ago. All that equipment and electronics will not use up much power, however. Long-range battery packs have enough power to run a 2,500 square foot house for 24 hours. Additionally, modern electronics are more efficient and LED lighting systems use a fraction of the power of legacy lighting technology.
Using Bargersville as an example, the HVAC system in the department’s new Teslas is now a heat pump instead of a heater and air conditioner. This makes them even more efficient and helps them retain more range in cold weather.
Lastly, an EV’s skateboard design provides more storage than an ICE vehicle because there is no engine in the front, transmission tunnel through the car, or gas tank in the back. Electronics can be easily tucked away in an EV to make space for the equipment and customization necessary for police work.
Myth 9: Electric vehicles will harm our electric grid
This is both true and false. Theoretically, if everyone plugged in their EV at the same time during peak times we would overload the electric distribution grid. That is not how most everyone charges their cars, however. Most EV owners charge overnight, but public safety vehicles can’t wait to charge. The Fremont Police Department in Northern California noted this during its pilot EV program (2020 Fremont report).
As explained above, a DC fast charger may not be required, but it is nice to have in a pinch, or necessary when using EVs in a shared vehicle fleet. One option is to use your police station’s roof or parking lot to put up solar panels and include a battery connected to the building, then use that big battery to charge your EV batteries quickly. This is called a microgrid.
Microgrids also provide redundant and resilient power to your building, make it possible to keep operating even during a disaster (islanding), and if sized properly will eliminate the need to buy fuel for your cars. Your officers will be driving on sunshine. A microgrid based on critical infrastructure, like a police station, and designed to support the EV fleet as well as the station is called a Mission-Critical Microgrid (patent pending).
Myth 10: Used electric vehicle batteries will pollute the planet
Recycling batteries has become a big business in the U.S. Rather than a problem, battery recycling is an opportunity for private enterprises. Since 95% of an EV battery can be recycled, newer and better recycling technology being developed right now will make EVs even cleaner. Technology advancements will make recycling battery packs easier, more efficient and economically beneficial.
EV myths are intended to keep you from considering adding electric vehicles to your fleet. Don’t let them dissuade you. EVs will save you money, improve your fleet and keep your department up to date with vehicle technology. EVs are taking over the automobile market as they double in sales every year while ICE car sales keep going down. Take a new look at your fleet, delineate how you really use your cars every day, test drive some EVs and start planning for the infrastructure you will need to put those EVs into service this year. Your efforts will be worth it.
Michael Benson is co-owner of Command Consulting LLC, a company focusing on municipal electrification. He is a retired public safety professional with 30 years of experience innovating for local and regional governments, improving services and lowering costs. Chief (ret) Benson has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Anna Maria College, a Professional Certificate in Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies from Stanford, and he drives an electric car.
Todd Bertram is the police chief for Bargersville, Indiana, where they have been using Tesla Model 3 EV’s as patrol cars since 2019. They save thousands of dollars per car per year. He has 23 years of experience in law enforcement, and as a working chief, he drives an EV on patrol every day. He likes it so much he bought one for his family; they refer to him affectionately as the Tesla Chief.