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Is the weight of electric vehicles suitable for roads, bridges, and parking areas in Britain?
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Is the weight of electric vehicles suitable for roads, bridges, and parking areas in Britain?


Many vehicles struggle with being too heavy. For example, the Mini was originally created to conserve fuel during rationing, but it has now become larger in size. This trend is not unique to the Mini, as cars, especially SUVs, have been steadily increasing in size.

Currently, electric cars may appear identical, but they possess a significant distinction – a bulky battery.

Our series on debunking myths about electric vehicles has explored various common misconceptions, such as concerns about range, carbon emissions, mining, and air pollution. In this last installment, we question whether electric cars will be too heavy for our roads and infrastructure.

The claim

Some have begun to question whether the emergence of electric cars will cause damage to our roads, bridges, and parking lots, as the added weight of the batteries has led to excessive strain over the years.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Matthew Lynn expressed doubts about the readiness of the charging infrastructure and roads to handle heavier vehicles.

Conservative MP Greg Knight requested last year for the UK government to evaluate the capacity of multistorey car parks and bridges to withstand the added weight of electric vehicles, ensuring their safety.

According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance, smaller roads may be more susceptible to developing potholes. In addition, the Daily Mail reported that multistorey car parks may be in danger of collapsing.

The science

According to Car magazine, General Motors’ large Hummer has the appearance of being even weightier than it actually is, despite weighing over four tonnes. Approximately one-third of its weight comes from the battery pack, which can provide enough power for the vehicle to travel over 300 miles. Overall, the Hummer is a hefty car due to its battery size.

The Tesla Model Y, with a weight of two tonnes, is a more practical option for an electric car. In contrast, Jaguar Land Rover’s Range Rover weighs 2.5 tonnes without any passengers, and newer versions of Ford’s F-150 pickup truck, the top-selling vehicle in the US, can weigh up to 2.7 tonnes depending on the specific model.

Tesla Model YAndroid

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However, Transport & Environment, an advocacy organization, estimates that electric vehicles (EVs) typically weigh between 300kg and 400kg more than traditional vehicles. According to Lucien Mathieu, the director of cars at the Brussels-based group, every 150km of driving range adds approximately 100kg of weight due to the battery.

Heavier vehicles mean there is more friction between tyres and road, and more stress on whatever is below the car. That means roads deteriorate quicker. Academics at the University of Edinburgh in 2022 calculated that there could be between 20% and 40% additional road wear – think potholes, the driver’s bane – associated with battery vehicles compared with internal combustion engines.

Nevertheless, the study, which did not conduct practical experiments, concluded that the majority of wear and tear can be attributed to larger vehicles, such as buses and trucks. The wear caused by cars and motorcycles is minimal and therefore insignificant, according to the researchers.

A car passing potholes in a road near Peterborough

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Regarding bridges, according to Colin Walker, the transport head at the think tank Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, there is a scarcity of roads and bridges in the UK that have weight restrictions below 7.5 tonnes. (To operate vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, a lorry license is required in the UK, particularly for younger drivers.)

Engineers use the term “factors of safety” when creating plans for structures. This means they will design the structure to withstand a much greater amount of stress than the maximum expected load, leaving room for potential stress. For bridges, the steelwork is usually constructed with a factor of safety between five and seven times the anticipated load, allowing for an additional weight of 300 kilograms.

National Highways, responsible for managing the UK’s highways and major roads, is not worried. According to a spokesperson, the bridges are built to withstand 44-tonne heavy goods vehicles, so the extra weight of electric cars is not a concern.

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Any caveats?

There are clearly boundaries. According to Kelvin Reynolds, the chief technical services officer at the British Parking Association, the potential increase in size could potentially pose challenges for some of the oldest car parks.

According to him, newer car parks are designed to accommodate heavier SUVs and are unlikely to encounter issues. However, older car parks may have some initial concerns that require attention, though they are not impossible to address.

There are various choices available for owners of multistorey car parks. They could invest in renovations to fortify their structures, but this could prove to be complicated and expensive. Alternatively, they could decrease the maximum number of cars permitted on each level. This may lead to a decrease in income, although for most car parks the impact would likely be insignificant.

“The transition is going to be the challenge,” Reynolds said. He advised regular surveys by car park owners to make sure their buildings were up to scratch.

An electric vehicle charging parking bay at an NCP car park in Manchester

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But in the future, the belief that electric vehicles will constantly be heavier may not hold true. According to Auke Hoekstra, a researcher of energy conversion at Eindhoven University of Technology, battery technology is advancing to increase energy storage capacity in the same weight by twice every ten years. If this trend persists, the issue of weight may no longer pose a problem.

Mathieu from T&E stated that governments should encourage the use of smaller vehicles by implementing policies like taxes and parking fees. This would result in not only reduced road wear, but also decreased resource usage, carbon emissions, and likelihood of parking lot damages.

Mathieu stated that it is not unavoidable for electric vehicles to be significantly heavier than traditional cars with internal combustion engines. We have the ability and responsibility to make the transition from internal combustion engines to EVs and also counteract the growing trend of SUVs.

The verdict

The additional weight of electric vehicles may result in minor and short-term difficulties. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the majority of EV drivers will personally encounter any issues.

Potential impacts could be felt by car park owners due to the rise in popularity of electric trucks, potentially leading to increased road maintenance expenses due to their heavier weight.

However, the majority of the financial burdens will be covered by funds intended for maintaining infrastructure. According to Walker from ECIU, worries over added weight for electric vehicles are greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that automakers have a duty to produce smaller electric cars after prioritizing more profitable SUVs for many years.

The added mass of electric vehicles is not expected to hasten the deterioration of roads, bridges, and parking lots. Concerns surrounding weight may divert attention from the ultimate goal: reducing carbon emissions to absolute zero.

Source: theguardian.com