The post on the Car & Driver review of the Tesla started to grow into a larger post on Electric Vehicles in general. I decided to split that off into this post.
Back in the 90’s, I worked on General Motors EV1 program. I left the auto industry later in the decade when it appeared that Al “internal combustion engines are evil” Gore was going to be our next president. However, I did learn a few things back then and try to follow the industry as time permits.
Cold weather increases air density, increases drag and hurts vehicle performance in all cars. An internal combustion engine gets more energy from the cold dense air (Thermodynamics) which helps to compensate, but EVs don’t get this benefit.
The EV1 with lead-acid batteries was rated at 70 city/90 hwy. Lithium Polymer batteries were supposed to, at best, double that. When I was with the program, I test drove the car only with the lead-acid batteries. In July, we routinely got better than the rated range. The one time in January I took one out, the estimated range dropped so fast that I turned around and headed back to the garage for less than 30 miles total (though the batteries weren’t completely drained). Electric cars do not like cold weather.
So I’m pretty impressed with the Tesla’s performance, especially during a Michigan winter.
Most people commute less than 50 miles per day going to work and the store. Most families own more than one car. With a sufficient infrastructure, an electric car can replace one of the family cars. While you still won’t be taking one on a vacation, an electric car could be vastly superior than the typical econobox many folks buy for the daily commute.
Superior in what way?
1. A maintenance free powertrain. No need to change the oil or check the transmission. No combustion means the motor oil doesn’t break down like in an IC engine.
2. Performance. Electric motors have maximum torque at low rpm. Skeptics compare EVs to golf carts, but have you ever ridden in a golf cart? Stomp on the pedal and feel the jolt of acceleration? Now imagine that continuing up to 60 mph.
3. No more trips to the gas station. My wife hates putting gas in the car and getting the smell on her hands. Charging the EV at your home or work could be as simple as an induction charger in the pavement that starts automatically as soon as you park on top of it.
Of course, there are still issues to overcome. Cost is a big one. The batteries aren’t cheap and contain heavy metals or rare elements. Many states (California) already face a deficit in power generation capacity. And there is the culture.
The majority of American families still have a standard landline telephone, but many families do not. Landlines are being replaced by VOIP and/or cellular phones. Most Americans now own cell phones and could easily cancel their landline, but they haven’t … yet. That culture is changing.
Back in the 70’s, a VCR cost more than $1000 (which was a lot more money then than now) and the videos were about $70 each for a limited selection. My older brother bought a VCR in 1978 for $1200 and my father thought it was the stupidest waste of money imaginable. Two years later when my brother moved out, my dad went out and purchased his own VCR for $600 within a few weeks. What had changed? The price had dropped (half) and video rental stores had opened, even in our little town. Instead of $70 for a movie, we could rent one for $3 and had a much larger selection. The infrastructure grew to support the new technology and the market responded.
The same progression can be seen with cell phones – high cost, short range, limited reception giving way to low cost and nationwide coverage.
While there’s no guaranty that electric vehicles will make the same leap into common usage, the analogy shows that it is possible.
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