Electric cars suck

Joel Johnson, formerly of Kotaku and Boing Boing Gadgets, is now at Jalopnik. His first editorial: You Are Not Alone. America Hates Electric Cars.


  1. Oh boy, queue up the motor heads and green haters. I can’t wait for my electric car. It will be faster and more powerful than my gas cars and I’ll never have to change the oil or spark plugs again.

  2. I like electric cars. *checks passport*. Yep, still says “United States of America”.

  3. Nice to see an article which captures the very best of American ingenuity and can-do spirit. Oh, wait. It’s just a brainless screed from a petrol-head who clearly doesn’t give a damn if the planet cooks, as long as nobody takes his gas guzzler away. 

    A better title would be “Certain kinds of Americans Hate Electric Cars”. The same ones who reject science, evolution, climate change, peak oil, environmental destruction, and everything else that might force them to confront their lifestyle choices.

  4. That article is example number 2377 why I don’t read Jalopnik. And I’m a self described gear-head who not too many years ago spent many a weekend at auto-crosses and track events. I love cars no matter what propels them, but that guy is just an idiot writing a fact-less inflammatory article on purpose, just for seo.

  5. Nice troll on the headline, there, Rob.  Did you have to take a shower afterwards?

    Electric motors are better than gas engines.  They last longer, require less maintenance, use fewer parts, and generally are more simple and elegant.  However, the energy density of gasoline is so insanely high that commercially available batteries can’t really compete at this time.  So for want of a nail (and insane patent laws that prevent innovation in battery tech) posterity is lost.

    Joel’s article points this out – it has some truth in it, as well as some complete bullshit about the inefficiency of using the grid to power cars (it’s much more efficient than individual gas engines, and is amenable to distributed power generation in the future).  But it completely ignores the vast suffering caused by pollution, and skips over the obvious insanity of depleting a limited resource when better alternatives (sustainable biofuels, for one) are already available.

    Where Joel goes completely off the rails is where he implies that by not buying an electric car you’re making a sensible decision, and that because other people are just as short-sighted and unwilling to invest in new technology, you shouldn’t either.

    1.  ‘where he implies that by not buying an electric car you’re making a sensible decision’

      Economically, personally, you are. It’s $35K for a Leaf. Which is then half the cost per mile if you’re in the 70 mile range, but you’re never going to make up even close to that extra $15-20K. You can argue cheap subsidized oil hurts, but as the middle class schlub doing the buying, it doesn’t really matter to me when buying whose perverse economic incentives are pushing what.

      So that’s why we need all you dreamers with money to spend the money and buy them now so we can drive the cost down. Do you own one yet?

      1. Your last point is dead right.  People DO need to spend money to drive the cost down.  That’s exactly why I already own a hybrid car, an electric lawnmower, and an electric tractor.  Although admittedly I also own a gas tractor, and an SUV.  All my vehicles put together are worth much less than $35K, incidentally, probably more like $24K total.

        However, your economic analysis is way off.  First of all, you’re explicitly acknowledging the subsidies on gas, but ignoring the rather large federal tax credit (and, in many places, local incentives) associated with the Leaf and other socially responsible vehicles.  That invalidates your numbers right off the bat.  Remember a tax CREDIT is like receiving cash, it’s not the same as a deduction.

        Second, as I mentioned, I own a 2002 Prius, which I bought in 2001.  It has over 100,000 miles on it, and I expect it to last for around 300,000 before I break it down for parts.  I have already saved enough money on gas to more than pay for the difference in cost between this car and any comparable vehicle I could have bought at the time.  The difference is even more striking with the tractor – it’s a 1973 machine, which works perfectly, and saves me a couple dollars a week in operational costs – multiply that by 39 years, eh?  My electric lawn mower is 20 years old – and the total maintenance cost over that time has been zero dollars, since I sharpen the blade myself.  It costs less than five cents in electricity to mow the yard, versus a couple of dollars in gasoline (plus oil, plugs, air filters, etc. that I don’t need).  Real world experience trumps theory.

        The third thing you’ve excluded is the societal costs of pollution from cars.  My grandfather and uncle both died of lung cancer.  Since about 1900, in fact, it’s been commonplace for men in my family to die slowly, horribly, of cancer.  Hiow much is it worth to you, so see one less loved one crying and gasping for breath?  I’ve already sat by enough bedsides, thanks anyway.

        Still, the true economic problem with alternatively powered vehicles is the up-front investment cost.  They pay you back, sure, but if you can’t earn the money to buy one in the first place that’s not much help.

        1.  A $7500 tax credit certainly brings the price down – I had no idea the Federal subsidy was that high on them. So say $10K more, you could make that back in about 10 years at the rate I buy gas, which makes it reasonable if you keep it that long. I do – but I’m not sure how many people are willing.

          I’m purposely leaving societal costs out of it because you’ve got to convince people who are being purely selfish that this is the superior choice right now.

          So I agree it’s all up front cost.

          1. Fair enough, and I see your point about the externalized costs.  You can’t force people to care.

            Glad I could point out the federal assistance.  It’s so rare that I can show someone something my government’s actually doing right!  Well, not completely wrong, anyway… they need to penalize gas vehicles more, and use the proceeds to further subsidize sustainable vehicles, and that would solve the disparities in the economies of scale (that the government created in the first place, for reasons that were good at the time).

  6. Well he does make one valid point.  A car that is limited to 100 miles or less doesn’t work for a good percentage of the US population.  And that is a technology issue, which he does point out is being worked on.

    The reality is the price to product ratio here.  Electric cars suck … in comparison to equally priced petrol cars.  If the Tesla Roadster was being sold for $25k no one would be having this discussion.  You might could go as high as $35k before anyone complained about the price.

    It’s interesting that most trains use electric motors, even if they are powered by fossil fuels.  There is something to be said about having all your torks right at launch.

    1. That is not a valid point.  According to a 2001-2002 study by the US Dept of Transportation, the average driver drives only 29 miles per day. 

      According to a 2003 study by the US Department of Transportion, 78 percent of drivers drive less than 40 miles per day to and from work.  Only 8 percent of drivers drive more than 70 miles per day to and from work.  I would guesstimate from the stats that about 90% of drivers would be covered by a daily battery charge of 100 miles (your example) or even 73 miles (his example).  A majority of drivers would even be fine with the 40 mile charge on the Chevy Volt that the author also mentions. 


      1. And yet those averages still don’t work.

        Just because it’s a 30 mile round trip to work doesn’t mean I MIGHT not need the car for other purposes.  I’m not saying I drive another 70 miles the rest of the day everyday, but what if I go out to lunch and maybe the wife springs dinner plans out with a few friends – that live 30 minutes away.  Now I am driving at the edge of that 73 miles.

        If you are buying an electric car as simply as your commuter/work car then that’s fine.  But what if you are single?  Do you need two cars then?   I was even thinking that my retired parents could use an electric car, that was until I realized they drive to the next county over to take care of my grandfather.  That alone would push their limits on the 73 miles.

        I’m sorry but he is right.  Unless you live in a more urban developed area or this is a single purpose vehicle and you have another form of transportation to supplement it, then an electric car might not be right for you.  For most people the economic reality out weighs their desire to “be green”.  A new Toyota Corolla cost $17,700 while the Leaf is $27,700 (after tax savings).  Assuming a gallon of gas cost $5, and the Corolla gets 30mpg, then you’ll get 60k miles of usage out of the Corolla before it costs as much as the Leaf.  And that doesn’t take into account maintenance on the Corolla, installation of the charger for the Leaf, or the electricity consumed by it.

        I do think electric/hybrid cars need to be on the market, their technology and presence has to start somewhere.  Like I said in my original post, if an electric car like the Leaf cost $20k and had a range of 200 miles many many more people would be interested in it.  However the technology just isn’t there yet.

  7. The problem isn’t the car, the problem is the energy source. Chemical batteries suck… when compared to burning liquid hydrocarbons. And we’re used to having that 10-20 gallons of concentrated energy in our vehicles.

    Electric motors are VASTLY superior to geared internal combustion engines in both power to weight ratio and in maintenance and mechanical wear.

  8. I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates the article.
    The line :
    “I won’t even try to advocate for diesel-powered small cars like those wacky Europeans love ”
    Just shows how little this chap really knows. I’ve got a 2litre BMW diesel with better MPG than the petrol version and equivalent performance if not better. The latest 535 diesel (3.5litre) can be chipped to the sort of power where it starts to make the BMW M3 look embarrassed…

    Us Europeans generally hate small cars, but paying about 4000 times more than the Merkins on fuel kind of makes us have to have smaller cars (or at least more efficient ones. My 2l large diesel has better MPG than a 1.2l small petrol car I used to have…)

    What he seems to fail to realise is that there have only been mass market electric cars for a few years. Go back in time to when the Model T first came out and count the number of people arguing that there was no fuelling infrastructure and if you ran out of petrol, you couldn’t wheel the car to the side of the road and let it refuel on grass and you couldn’t fit a sheep in the back of your car. etc….

    Personally I’m looking forward to a fuel cell powered 4X4 with 4 independent motors. No gear boxes to break, no complication for limited slip/locking diffs, independent axle articulation, etc. Just make it :electric, make it big, make it fast, give it a fuel store equivalent to a fossil fuel burner and I’ll have one!

    1. The problem with diesel in the US is that it’s not available everywhere.  It took me a while to realize this since I’ve never lived more than a few miles from a major interstate.  Since trucks and heavy equipment here uses diesel, it’s easy to think that diesel is ubiquitous if you live in an area where it’s common, but you may get a rude surprise if you are on a cross-country trip and do not stick to the interstates.  You may very well find yourself out of fuel and no source for a few hundred miles along your route.

      1. For a few hundred miles? Not if you know where to look. In rural areas, even far from the interstate, diesel is widespread – the pump may be off in the corner, unlit, but it’s there.

        In normal stations, on the car side, there may only be one diesel pump, so you have to scan for the island that has an extra filler, but that’s not that big of a deal.

        It’s only in dense cities where it can be hard to find at least one diesel pump, really, and it doesn’t take a few hundred miles to get to a station that carries it.

        And, in my car, I have 1.9 gallons left when the low fuel light comes on. That gives me quite a while to find fuel – can be as far as 95 miles.

  9. I was reading through this waiting for the punchline at the end.  I thought he was being sarcastic to make a point.  But, alas, in the end… he’s yet another misinformed, unimaginative American idiot.

    In the meantime, to those of you out there that still have your critical thinking skills intact even within the middle of this American storm of stupidity… don’t fret, there’s a response to these idiots…

    Find the others… support the others…


  10. Anyone calling Joel an idiot or uninformed should hand in their user ID at the gate.  You’re contractually obligated to love him, because he is awesome.

    1. This is my problem, having been on BB for years. I’ve always liked Joel, but what the hell was this stupid, uninformed article?

  11. Of course it is always possible to buy an electric car but not the battery. The batteries remain the property of the manufacturer and a depleted battery is simply swapped for a recharged battery at refuelling stations as and when necessary. This reduces both the cost of the car and refuelling times. Has this not been suggested in the US? It has here in the UK.

  12. My wife bought a new car a year ago. I wanted her to hold out for an electric car but they came too late. She bought a VW Jetta and it has been no end of trouble. It has an automatic gearbox with seven forward gears, two clutches and (by the feel of it) about ten million lines of code. Yesterday its first clutch was replaced under warranty. In the past year it has had three firmware upgrades.

    Petrol cars are drowning in complexity, like piston engined aircraft before the gas turbine came in.  They have crossed the complexity event horizon, which is why the Jetta is stuffed at 15k and my 94 Townace is just run in at 120k.

    When we give up on the VW I want to get a Leaf.

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