Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Electric Vehicle Review

Real changes in efficiency will require real change.

Real changes in efficiency will require real change.

I am a big geek.  Do you know how some people have a feeling of the divine when the meditate?  I feel the divine when I ponder an amazing design.  Have you ever noticed that some products you pick up and use without ever needing to be told how to?  That’s design!  A truly brilliant design does something some perfectly that it seems perfectly intuitive.  So intuitive often, that unless you try to design things yourself, you don’t even realize how many blind alleys, rabbit trails, setbacks, and losses there are before you get to that perfect design. It is intuitive only retrospect.

When I opened a constant velocity joint for the the first time and saw how the balls and the cage and the hub all worked together, I felt something stir within me.  This is who I am, this is who genetics and environment crafted me to become.  I derive a sensual (though not sexual) pleasure from touching a great design. With car engines, I can feel the design teams successes and failures as I run my hands over the block.  Feeling the texture engine block, I know if it was sand, lost foam, or die cast.  This tells me how many engines the design team planned on making, and what compromises and pressures they were forced to make to the purity of the Ideal to get the engine made.

From the type of the casting and its complexities I know what alloys were used, and in turn the stress the block can was designed for.  I run my hands over the corners, feeling their sharpness, and I know the designers didn’t expect stress here, or simply didn’t care.  I visualize the cylinder bores, cast iron set in cast aluminum.  When the head is off, I can see how the cylinder bore meets the deck of the block.  Was the designer conservative or risky?  Was his company broke and scrappy (the parts are compromised to be produced on existing equipment) or flush and cocky (the parts are less compromised but require special tools to make and service)?  Did he plan on the engine being rebuilt or recycled? Did they plan nothing at all but simply moving the iron out the door? (Often the case on mid 70’s and  early 80’s American cars).  I can tell if the engineer thought the car he was designing would be around next year. (If you’ve ever turned a wrench on a ’81 Mustang 4 cylinder you know what I mean.)

Its not just cars, though.  A good door latch sets me a twitter.  A well designed building makes me warm inside.  When I stand in a kitchen that actually considered work/motion in its design I wish I could find the designer and shake his or her hand.  I want to tell them that I get it, that it matters to me too.

So when I say that I love design, I love it the way some love meditation, some love drink, and some love baseball.  Having established my credentials as a design freak, let me now say this.  I love electric cars.  I want one.  I think they are groovy.  When I think of driving down the road in near silence, with a handful of moving parts pushing me into a newer, greener, place I get weak in the knees.  That said, I now have to say something that amounts to near blasphemy in the eco community.

Electric cars are not being massed produced because people don’t want them.

I’m going to put the features of an electric car in the jargon of normal cars.

We have a car with a special power train.  The advantage of this special power train is that it gets 300 mpg.  But the unique power train is very bulky and heavy, so the car has limited cargo and passenger space.  Also, it has a very small gas tank, about a quart, and that tank takes 4 hours to fill. It will cost about as much as a normal car.

Note that these are real numbers.  To move an electric car takes about 1/10 the cost per mile as gas, so 30 mpg becomes 300 mpg.  Most have a range of about 75 miles in real driving conditions.  At 300 mpg thats about a quart of gas.  And the 4 hour fill time is accurate too.

Before you can sell a car you have to sell the need.  Before you can sell a car for $30,000 you must sell the idea that the purchaser wants the car more than they want $30,000.

I don’t want a car that gets 300 MPG and has a one quart gas tank that takes 4 hours to fill more than I want $30,000.  Neither do most people.

But, people do want EVs!

I want an EV.  I am very excited about getting the equivalent of 300 mpg. But I am not $30,000 excited.  Heck I’m not even $5,000 excited. Under 5 g’s and I can accept those compromises.  Over it, not so much.

But many people do want them that much!

That’s a fact. Many people do.  Those people are well served by the existing botique market.  To achieve significant reductions of cost on a car you need to make a minimum of 100,000 units a year for several years.  There are probably at least 100,000 people in the US who want this $30K, 300MPG, 4 hours to fill car. (Called the 3k3m4h from here forward) But are there half a million over 5 years?  Probably not.  And once initial demand is met then what?

Well most people have 2 cars, they could use the 3k3m4h as a second car.

Perhaps, but I am not convinced.  Ten times the mileage is nice.  But the 4 hour fill time and 75 mile range mean that the car never leaves the city.  If more people were interested in accepting compromise and renting when ever they had a 4 hour drive to take, then they wouldn’t have two cars in the first place, they would have one small car, and rent a big car for trips.  The lack of that says most families want 2 fully non-compromised cars and collective mileage be damned.

What do you mean 75 miles?  Brand X’s  Electroflux car goes (insert 3 digit number here) miles on a single charge.

Yes, I don’t doubt that.  What I doubt that is that the average electric car buyer could afford the Electroflux.  If you can compare cost-is-no-object-celebrity projects like the Tesla Roadster, than I can do the same.  I choose the Microjoule Eco-Marathon car. 10,127.9 miles per gallon. Wow, that makes 300 mpg look like crap. Maybe we should just stick to more common ones.

Everything you are saying is true, but its only that way because of Big Oil conspiricy.

Conspiracies do happen. More castles fell to conspiracy that siege. Hitler consolidated his power with a conspiracy, and the Street Car conspiracy is real and documented. (GM manipulated city governments to replace street cars with GMC coaches.)  But you have to be careful with conspiracy theories.  They often contain a compliment to the originator. I don’t doubt that the car and oil companies have a lot of money, which I don’t doubt that they put to the normal use in Washington.  What happened to the EV1 was weird to the point of scary. BUT while that conspiracy might prevent pro EV legislation, it cannot prevent market forces from driving prices in certain critical components.  Like batteries. EV’s have cost benefits to production until you get to the battery.  The battery is not expensive because of a lack of production.  Mass production only makes things cheaper by changing the process, not the materials.  When the cost of materials is the primary cost, mass production will not appreciably bring down cost.  The “Big Oil Conspiracy” on this one allows people to say “Oh I would buy an EV if only there wasn’t a B O C.”  It allows people to feel environmental without actually doing anything.

The price will go down in mass production.

See above.

Well people shouldn’t be driving so much anyway.

I couldn’t agree more.  But the proper way to get better city planning (the lack of which is the cause of so much driving) it legislate proper city planning, not legislate a compromised technology.

It doesn’t mater what the cost is, it saves the earth.

Taking care of the planet is profoundly important, but personal transportation will always be more wasteful than mass transit. The solution is not electric personal transportation.  The solution is better designed cities and better mass transit.  If we must speak of doing things no mater what the cost to save the earth, a resource shift in personal vehicles isn’t really the best place to start.

You are just anti-electric car.

No I am pro-electric car and anti-stupid.  I think electric cars are great.  I think that the handful of companies making them everyday are great.  I just don’t believe they are the magic bullet being claimed.  If you want to talk about subsidies, the answer to stupid subsides is not smart ones.  Let’s get the extractive industries and car makers off the government tit before we offer it to another industry.

But they do reduce polution.

Never said they didn’t, and I support the reduction of polution.  Electric cars would cut polution in half, which is good.  But why not invest the money in mass transit and smart cities.  That would decrease the amount that people drive ANY kind of cars, and would make electric cars more viable.   I’m not saying they shouldn’t be made.  I’m saying legislation attempts to treat the symptom instead of the problem.

But they are zero emissions!

No, thats stupid.  They are reduced emissions.  The engine to wheel process of a normal car is about 20% efficient.  From power plant to wheel in an EV is about 31% efficient.  They pollute about 1/2 as much.  That’s good, but infinately more than zero.

OK that’s all I’ve got tonight.


July 21, 2008 - Posted by | Ecology, Government, Politics, skepticism, Small Car, Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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