Worried that an electric vehicle (EV) is too small to be safe? That’s just one myth debunked by experts as consumers weigh the advantages of purchasing an EV. In fact, EVs are just as safe as their gasoline-powered counterparts, giving consumers choices as they consider buying a new car, according to the Copper Development Association.

“Copper is an important component for an electric vehicles safety features, including antilock brakes, stability and steering control,” says Bob Weed, CDA Vice President OEM. “A vehicle’s electrical system, made possible by copper, makes the safety features that used to be high- priced options, now available on virtually all automobiles, including EVs.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week awarded the Chevy Volt a five-star safety rating under a new, more rigorous testing system. The news comes two days after the European New Car Assessment Program awarded the Nissan Leaf a five-star overall crash rating, the first plug-in vehicle to receive the highest safety score.

These safety ratings are in addition to the recent announcement from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which awarded both the LEAF and Volt the highest safety ratings, showing that automakers are using the same safety engineering in electric cars as they do in gasoline-powered vehicles. According to the institute, the Volt and Leaf earned the top rating of good for front, side, rear and roll-over crash protection. The vehicles also have the standard electronic stability control, which is considered a critical safety feature.

Copper is a Key Component in EVs
What contributes to the safety of EVs? Copper is a key resource for both the electric car and the infrastructure that makes them run. The average car produced in North America has 50-55 pounds of copper in it. In an electric car, that amount can triple. Although the Leaf and Volt are classified by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as small cars due to their dimensions, their battery weight places them in the midsize and larger-car range.

Common EV Myths
Besides safety concerns, these are common EV myths:

  1. MYTH: EVs don’t have enough range. You can’t travel very far before running out of electricity.
    RESPONSE: Americans drive an average of 40 miles a day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Most pure electric vehicles can travel twice that range. According to Nissan, the Leaf will travel 100 miles before it needs recharging. The Chevy Volt has a range of 35 miles on a battery charge and then the gasoline-powered generator kicks in for re-charging, which could extend the range to about 375 miles.
  2. MYTH: EVs will not limit greenhouse gas emissions.
    RESPONSE: Electric motors convert 75% of the chemical energy from the batteries to power the wheels—internal combustion engines (ICEs) only convert 20% of the energy stored in gasoline. EVs emit no tailpipe pollutants. Though some argue the power plants that produce the electricity emit pollutants, utilities are required by law to control them. In fact, there’s more control over these pollutants than in gasoline-powered cars that put out tail-pipe emissions. Electricity from nuclear-, hydro-, solar-, or wind-powered plants causes no air pollutants.
  3. MYTH: EVs won’t reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
    RESPONSE: Today, over half of the oil we use is imported (57%), and our dependence will increase as we use up domestic resources. Most of the world’s oil reserves are concentrated in the Middle East, and about two-thirds are controlled by OPEC members. Oil price shocks and price manipulation by OPEC have cost our economy dearly—about $1.9 trillion from 2004 to 2008—and each major shock was followed by a recession. We may never eliminate our need to import oil, but we can reduce cartel market control and the economic impact of price shocks by reducing our demand.
  4. MYTH: EVs won’t be able to charge and operate without a fully-established infrastructure.
    RESPONSE: Most charging will be done at home or at work, so there’s no prerequisite for a public charging infrastructure. Yet more U.S. cities are working on establishing charging infrastructures. Ford Motor Co. recently named the top 25 cities that are stepping up their EV preparations and infrastructure.
  5. MYTH: EVs drive like golf carts and are unreliable.
    RESPONSE: Early EVs produced in the university setting were smaller and weighed less than their current counterparts. Today’s EVs can keep up with anything on the road. In addition, EVs require no oil changes or tune-ups. There are 10 times fewer moving parts than a gasoline-powered car. There’s no engine, transmission, spark plugs, valves, fuel tank, tailpipe, distributor, starter, clutch, muffler or catalytic converter. Electric vehicles produce almost instant torque, which creates immediate acceleration. When the driver of an EV pushes down on the accelerator pedal, the transition from stationary to speed is almost instantaneous.

Sources: Copper Development Association, www.fueleconomy.gov, www.pluginamerica.org, U.S. Department of Transportation

Although EVs and hybrid vehicles don’t yet have wide consumer appeal, the emerging technology is good for the environment and the economy, Weed says.

“Even if EVs are only a small percentage of the market so far, that means fewer cars burning gasoline and releasing tailpipe emissions,” he says. “The copper industry is pleased to be an important part of this emerging technology.”

Automotive Copper Facts to Consider

  • The average car produced in North America has 50-55 pounds of copper in it. In a hybrid vehicle, the amount will double. In a pure electric car, the amount of copper will triple.
  • More than two-thirds of the copper will be found in car’s wiring harness and electrical components.
  • Copper has the highest conductivity of any metal that can be practically used for conveying electricity.
  • Copper is an important natural resource and there’s no danger of running out of it. According to US Geological Survey (USGS), worldwide resources of this valuable metal exceed 3 billion metric tons (more than 6.5 trillion pounds), of which only about 12% has been mined throughout history. Nearly all of this is still in circulation because copper’s recycling rate is higher than that of any engineering metal.
  • Each year in the U.S., nearly as much copper is recovered from recycled material as is derived from newly mined ore.