Hey, electric cars don't totally suck: A realistic sort-of rebuttal

By Maggie Koerth-Baker at 1:46 pm Thu, Jan 5, 2012

 

 

As a Midwesterner and someone who has been paying a lot of attention to energy issues, I read Joel Johnson's recent Jalopnik essay with interest. "You're Not Alone. America Hates Electric Cars," is a pretty provocative title. But, as with most provocative titles, it doesn't really capture what Johnson is actually trying to say. So my response to this is not going to be exactly what you might expect. 

I think he makes some good points. If you're expecting everybody in America to be driving electric cars in 20 years time, you're out of your mind. That's not how the turnover rate of America's automobile fleet works, for one thing. For another, that kind of sunny, environmental optimism doesn't really mesh with the kind and cost of electric cars that are currently available—and likely to be available for some time. But I also think Johnson is oversimplifying some things and is flat-out wrong on a few of the important details. 

My response breaks down into five key points. Two places where I want to expand on the things I agree with, and three things I think need correcting. Now it occurs to me that this measured response might not be sufficiently antagonistic for a rebuttal piece on the Internet. So, let me add two quick comments before I dive into the nuance: First, grrrrrrr. Second, Mizzou sucks. Yeah. You heard me, Johnson. Rock chalk.* 

1) You can't split electric cars into a Northeast vs. Everybody Else thing.

Yet, this is really the first thing Johnson does, presenting a few examples of how a car with a 73-mile range makes no sense for people in Midwest. I beg to disagree. I think a car with a 73-mile range makes no sense for some people in the Midwest. But the situation is actually not as hopeless as Johnson makes it out to be.

Because he's using examples from his family, I'll use mine. 

Yes. Cities are farther apart out here. What counts as a metropolitan area and what counts as a "normal" commute probably involves much further distances than Easterners are used to thinking in. And that goes double if you live outside of a major metropolitan area. My mother lives in the Ozarks, about 180 miles southeast of Kansas City, Missouri. She has to drive 24 miles to get to the nearest Walmart. And that's 24 miles of, essentially, open country with a few one gas-station towns. An electric car probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense right now for somebody who has to drive relatively long distances for just about every service they need to access. (Although, I would be remiss not to point out that my step-father, who sells 4-wheelers and motorcycles, told me just last summer that electric carts and 4-wheelers are becoming more popular as a means of local transportation around small towns and between farms. That's displacing gasoline use, too. Just sayin'.) 

But even in the Midwest, more people live in urban areas than live in rural ones. And even in urban areas that are built around cars, you're still left with a lot of people who could use an electric car for most of their transportation, including daily commutes. My dad lives in Oklahoma City. His office is nine miles from his house. His neighborhood isn't especially walkable. But the services he uses are close by. Most of my dad's driving, including commute, could be done by electric car. No problem. Same goes for me and my husband in Minneapolis. In fact, we've been thinking about buying an electric car precisely because it could cover almost all of the driving we do. What makes my dad and I different from Johnson's friend and sister? We're urban. They're exurban. That's where the dividing line is. It's not about East Coast vs. Everybody Else. It's about the density of the community you live in. And the Midwest is not devoid of density. Which brings me to my second point ...

2) Electric car owners, stop patting yourselves on the back. Your personal choices are not going to save the world. 

Johnson doesn't explicitly state this, but it's heavily implied in his piece, and he's right on with that. Individuals choosing to buy electric cars are not going to be the thing that reshapes American energy use and reduces our dependency on fossil fuels. That's because the problems with how we use energy go deeper than our personal choices. We don't make those choices in a vacuum. Instead, we make our decisions based on financial and social incentives, which are, in turn, based on the infrastructure and systems we share as Americans. 

Right now, some of us are able to find electric cars useful if we live in relatively dense communities and if we have some extra money to spend on buying a car that serves our personal interest in consuming less oil. Those are good incentives, but they aren't broad incentives. And as long as the incentives stay that narrow, the resulting energy change will stay small. The problem isn't that Americans don't like electric cars and need to be convinced to like them. The problem is that we've set up our infrastructure and shared systems in such a way that most people's incentives are heavily stacked in favor of gasoline-powered cars. Do you want a world where most people own electric? Then stop telling people they have to buy electric cars, and start telling zoning boards that cities, and exurbs, have to be denser with more multi-story, mixed-use development and fewer single-story buildings that group all the services in one place far away from where all the people live. 

In the end, the success of electric cars isn't just about technology. It's about the social priorities we favor as a group, and how we apply those priorities. Electric cars will continue to be a niche thing as long as our cities are built for cheap gasoline, and as long as the cost of gasoline doesn't take into account all the money cheap gasoline forces us to fork over in the form of healthcare costs, environmental damage, and adaptation to climate change. 

3) Screw you, electric cars are fun to drive. 

Look, I know this is purely subjective. But "not fun," Johnson? Seriously? Have you gotten a chance to floor the accelerator on a Nissan Leaf on a stretch of empty one-way street? Because I have. And it's hella fun. Electric motors don't shift gears the way internal combustion engines do. Which means, when you accelerate, you just keep accelerating, without the slow-down that accompanies each shift up. Which means you're slammed back in your seat like you're riding a motherf***ing rocket ship to the moon. Only it's silent. How is that not awesome? If I buy an electric car, I am going to get sooooo many speeding tickets**. I think that's pretty much the all-American definition of a fun car. 

4) Can we please dispense with the concern-troll handwringing over the environmental impact of electric cars? 

This was a pretty minor point in Johnson's article, but it's a really disingenuous one and it drives me up a wall. There is some nasty stuff that goes into batteries. So, yes, owning an electric car is worse for the environment than owning no car. Congratulations, lifestyle cyclists. But to even suggest that there is no environmental difference between an electric car and a gasoline-powered one, or that electric cars might be worse than gasoline-powered cars, is to play very loose with the facts. Frankly, if you're going to worry about the environmental impact of mining rare-earth metals for batteries, and still make a fair comparison to gasoline cars, then you also have to take into account the full environmental impact of oil drilling and discovery. And that ain't pretty

It's not like the full life-cycle environmental impact of electric vehicles is something that nobody's paid any attention to. There are scientists studying this stuff. Argonne National Laboratory is a leader in this, through their The Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation Model. GREET takes into account things like how fuels and batteries are made, how the vehicle chassis themselves are built, and the need for replacement batteries over an electric vehicle's lifetime, to make well-founded comparisons between all sorts of different vehicle types and fuel sources. It can even be used to make comparisons between owning an electric vehicle in one state vs. another, so you can see how where you get your electricity from changes the environmental impact of your electric car.

It's not really possible to make a complete apples-to-apples comparison here. After all, current electric cars have those range limitations that gasoline cars don't have. And an electric car that could travel as far as a gasoline car would have to have a much bigger battery, which would lower its energy efficiency. And, as I'm going to point out in a minute, you could get a hell of a lot more gas mileage out of a gasoline car if you tried. But if you simply ask, "Are the electric cars we have available right now more environmentally friendly than similarly sized gasoline powered cars we have available right now, even if they can't do exactly the same things?" The answer is, "In general, yes." 

One quick and easy way that laypeople can look at the GREET results is through the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's Greenbook ratings, which are based on GREET. Their greenest car of 2011 is actually the natural gas Honda Civic GX, another alternative fuel for which the infrastructure doesn't really exist yet. But the rest of that list is heavy on electrics and hybrids. The Nissan Leaf is, in fact, the second greenest car of 2011. The cars that are worst for the environment? All gasoline-powered. Obviously, specifics matter. The two-person, gasoline-powered Smart Car is number three on the greenest car list. And it's probably not a shocker that the worst cars for the environment are all big. But it's clear from these lists that electric cars aren't turning out to be worse for the environment than gasoline-powered cars. 

Want more proof? In January of last year, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology published a paper that dug in deep to the environmental impact of lithium-ion battery production and used that to compare a mid-sized electric car to a similarly sized gasoline powered car. This is significant because they weren't just comparing electric to gasoline, but electric to the best gasoline fuel efficiency standards in Europe. This was not your average American family car. Yet, even after accounting for the environmental impact of mining and producing lithium-ion batteries, the electric car usually came out ahead in the scenarios they ran. That's because they found that the vast majority of a vehicle's environmental impact comes from the fuel it burns in the course of daily operation. The only way that electric cars and gasoline cars come out with equal environmental impacts is if the electric car is powered entirely by coal-fired electricity (not the norm, even in the United States) AND if the gasoline powered car was simultaneously getting at least 45 miles per gallon. 

Oh, and in regards to the impact of electric vehicles on America's worn-out electric grid? Having more electric vehicles is actually one of the things that could be used to help fix the grid. So we can stop handwringing about that, too. 

5) We can, and should, be getting a lot more fuel efficiency out of gasoline cars. 

Now, I want to backpedal a bit here. Because, while an electric car running on the average U.S. electricity mix is probably going to be better for the environment than a gasoline car with an average U.S. mpg rating, it's also clear from that Swiss study and from the GREET data that electric doesn't have to be better. 

And this is something Johnson gets very right. 

Electric cars might be better. But they're also more expensive. Just like solar power is better than coal, but also more expensive. You know what is always better than our standard energy use and simultaneously cheaper than our standard energy use? Energy efficiency. And we could be getting a hell of a lot more energy efficiency out of our gasoline vehicles. In fact, you could make an all-gasoline vehicle that got 50 mpg and was cheaper than an all-electric vehicle or a hybrid. The Ford Fiesta that Johnson mentions gets pretty close, with 40 mpg on the highway. 

I told you I'm considering buying an electric car. My husband and I are probably going to need a new car sometime late this year and, besides electric and hybrid, we're also considering small, energy efficient gasoline cars like the Fiesta. That's because—like fossil fuels—money is a limited resource. If you can get the same environmental benefits for less money, then you absolutely should. Let me repeat that. There is no reason to spend more money buying an electric or hybrid car if you can get the same level of environmental benefit from a more-efficient gasoline-powered car. The goal is environmental benefit. Not hippy street cred. 

The trouble is, the gasoline powered cars available in the U.S. aren't better, environmentally. If you want to carry around more than two people, and you're not yet willing to throw your lot in with compressed natural gas as a fuel source, your two best options are still the Leaf, and then the Prius. Chances are good that my husband and I will end up buying a used Prius for this very reason. 

So maybe maybe "electric cars suck" isn't even the right thesis. Instead, maybe the question ought to be something more like, "Given the drawbacks of electric vehicles, why aren't American car companies putting as much energy into designing ultra-high-efficiency gasoline cars as Volkswagen and Audi are?"

Image: Tennen-Gas via CC

****************

*Please do not contact me wanting to discuss KU sports. I won't be able to offer any interesting opinions. I love my alma mater, but, I'll be honest, my Mizzou antagonism is pasted on, yay. And I don't even actually know whether Joel cares about sports, either. I went to Allen Field House once during college. To watch Bill Clinton speak. However, I do firmly believe that my school's gregorian chant is better than your school's fight song. So we can argue about that, if you want. 

**If my husband is reading this, that's a joke. Totally just a joke. I love you. 


Published 1:46 pm Thu, Jan 5, 2012

About the Author

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. From August 2014-May 2015, she will be a Nieman-Berkman Fellow at Harvard University. You can follow Maggie's adventures in the Ivory Tower by subscribing to The Fellowship of Three Things newsletter.

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250 Responses to “Hey, electric cars don't totally suck: A realistic sort-of rebuttal”

  1. itsgene says:

    I was forced into buying a car just before the Volt, Leaf and others debuted. I was disappointed, as I was waiting for them so I could make that leap. What I ended up with was a Volkswagen Jetta TDI — turns out it has the same “green score” as the Volt. And biodiesel has made inroads here in Silicon Valley, so when I go that route I’m probably doing *better* than the Volt. All in a regular old car.

    • OT but how do you find the Jetta to drive? The lag going from neutral to first drives me nuts. Its okay when I have time to ease it when starting out from stopped, but if I have to go quickly it does nothing for half a second then drops the clutch and takes off with squealing tyres. The bugs in the DSG transmission are pretty bad.

      • itsgene says:

        I didn’t have any problem for the first three years, but recently I have noticed a hesitation when starting out from a full stop. Very interesting… and I’m wondering if this is related to the relatively new use of biodiesel in it full-time. Hmm.

        • One of the clutches wore out after 15000km and the hesitation may have been a result of wear in the clutch. The DSG seems to assume that releasing the clutch by distance x results in additional drag of y from the clutch, but this is not independent of clutch wear.

        • xian says:

          I’d check your fuel filter. Biodiesel acts as a solvent and will dislodge any sludge and other crud from the previous dino diesel that was in your tank. Here, this link explains it better than me: http://notpetroleum.com/2010/06/06/how-to-convert-a-vw-tdi-to-biodiesel/

          • trackofalljades says:

            THIS!  The most common mistake people make when they try to run B100 out of the blue is thinking it somehow “messed up” their car when in actuality it’s helping out and they just need a fuel filter.

          • itsgene says:

            That’s a very good point, thanks for the suggestion.

      • trackofalljades says:

        I have the previous generation automatic transmission, which isn’t quite as “manual but operated by a robot” as the DSG.  Having tested out some newer TDIs all I can say is I hope they nuke that thing before I need to replace my Golf, because it makes me cry.  It totally ruins what I personally love about diesel driving.  Have you ever test driven a Mk IV?  We searched for months and flew halfway across the country to pick up ours, and I’m still glad we did.  The common rail fuel system also doesn’t like bio (real bio, not silly 95% dino blends) very much from what I hear…which might not matter to some folks but would completely sink the car for me.

        • Ours is a petrol Jetta. We are not particularly attached to VW so my wife’s next car will be from a different manufacturer. The transmission works well at the moment (< 200km after a service) but if it degrades again I will take it back to them to be fixed again and immediately sell it privately.

    • WeaselMaster says:

      I just got a Jetta Wagon TDI, too.

      43mpg never felt better, with three kids and a wagon full of their gear!

  2. Joel Johnson says:

    I WILL BURY YOU KOERTH-BAKER

    • Will Davis says:

      rather than trying to bury each other under the weight of your opinions, why not discuss like adults?  Sorry if you were joking, it just looks like you are serious.

      • Raederle says:

        I’d vastly prefer them to fight with axes over a shark-infested moat.

      • hypnosifl says:

        Generally when an intelligent person capable of good writing suddenly starts writing in all caps and talking like a professional wrestler, it’s a safe bet they are joking.

        • NoWayJose says:

          Like a “professional wrestler?” How about like a Soviet Dictator?  Honestly, you kids today.* Don’t you know your Sting songs? 
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_will_bury_you

          *also, get off my lawn.

          • hypnosifl says:

            I actually thought of the Krushchev quote, but I decided (rightly or wrongly) that Joel probably wasn’t making a reference to that, since threatening to “bury” someone is not unique to Krushchev and if he had actually wanted to reference that quote he could have said “we will bury you” (y’know, the “royal we”)

      • Really?  Concern troll of the year award goes to…

        • TooGoodToCheck says:

          I’m deeply concerned that you’re handing out “of the year” awards in early January.  You’re going to devalue the award, and people will stop taking it seriously!

    • trackofalljades says:

      I can’t believe people got butthurt over this comment, it seemed totally obvious to me and my initial reaction was a smile and laughter at the idea of two “blogging titans” going “head to head” or something.

      DON”T WORRY JOEL SOME PEOPLE ARE HUMOR BLIND. ;)

  3. beforewepost says:

    The Leaf uses batteries that use the same chemistry as the one in my laptop. My laptop gets about 18 months out of the battery before I have to replace the battery as it won’t hold enough charge for it to be useful to me. 

    Based on my experience with my laptop, I’d be really, really hesitant to buy a car that had 1/4 to 1/2 the range it had when it was new.

    • Brian Easton says:

      There is something deeply wrong with your laptop.

      • Joel Johnson says:

        Actually, that happened to a lot of my laptops up until the last couple. I had to replace MacBook batteries every 18 months. But I also went through 3-4 charge cycles a day at the time.

        • If anything, a car will use more charge/discharge cycles than a laptop. My laptop is plugged in most of the time.

          • bajohn3 says:

            That means you are probably overcharging your cells.  Lithium cells last longer when slightly under charged, especially if they are sitting in a hot laptop.

            More importantly there are different lithium battery chemistries and the LEAF does not use the same chemistry as laptop cells.

          • bcsizemo says:

            @michaelrohansmith:disqus , @google-9d29c6d60f15dea4160a955d29c0706f:disqus

            That is not how it works in hybrid or electric cars.  Li-Ion or NiMh cells have a given mount of full recharge cycles they can go through before you end up with a set level of diminished capacity.  If you are not going through a total discharge then you are not reducing capacity as much each time you are cycling the batteries.  Hybrids/EV cars regulate the overall battery capacity and have a built in reserve that protects the battery from degrading at an accelerated rate (like doing full discharge/recharge cycles on your phone or laptop).  Even if your gas gauge is sitting at zero, the battery is not dead.

            This link can explain it all in more technical details:
            http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_prolong_lithium_based_batteries

          • Itsumishi says:

            It’s because your laptop is plugged in most of the time that the batteries don’t last very long after 18 months. You’re overcharging them. All lithium batteries degrade as a matter of course, but they degrade considerably faster if they get run completely flat or if they’re left overcharging. 

            Laptops could help manage this better by having chargers that turned themselves off at about the 95% charge mark, and laptops that insisted on shutting down at about 10% charge, but then they’d have to make more expensive chargers and as there would be less usable battery capacity, the initial battery life would be lower. Electric and hybrid cars on the other hand have much better systems to get a long shelf life out of the batteries. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of Toyota Prius batteries are still fine, even on the models now more than 10 years old.

            Consumer reports road tested a 10 year old Prius and found it performed nearly identically as it did when they tested the same model 10 years ago

    • Will Davis says:

      I have similar problems with my laptop, but I’d wager the cars use much higher-quality batteries.  They are claiming 80% of original charge after 5-10 years dependant on how aggressively the owner drives and how often they do a fast or full charge.  Comparatively speaking, my laptop uses shoddy cheap batteries.  Some folks who commute almost daily have been owning a leaf for some time now.  Perhaps in a year we will start to hear a little bit more about how the performance has or has not changed.

    • AnthonyC says:

      The chemistry is the same, but the design is not. The batteries in the volt and the leaf (as well as the Prius’ NiMH battery) are warrantied for 8 years/100k miles, as good as or better than the power train warranties most gasoline cars come with.

      Batteries are more than jars of ions; there’s a lot of parts that had to be invented, updated, and optimized for use in cars.

      • AnthonyC says:

        Follow-up: even after the end of a battery’s useful life in a car, it still isn’t junk. There are plenty of non-mobile applications where a half-capacity (but cheaper) battery would work great. Possibilities include home-scale battery backup (for off-grid homes or instead of home generators), and if electric cars take off in a big enough way, short term grid-scale backup (reducing the need to constantly produce more power than is consumed just in case lots of people turn the lights on at once).

      • bajohn3 says:

        The chemistry is not the same.  Laptop cells are LiCo, the LEAF cells are LiMn.  Just because two cells have lithium in them does not mean they are the same chemistry, there are a number of different Li cell chemistries.

        • AnthonyC says:

          That is what I was saying. Lithium ions are what move around, but it’s the other components (Mn/Co and (usually) carbon electrodes, for example) that differentiate one from another and determine lifetime.

    • Jerry House says:

      Laptop batteries and their cycle management are not optimized for longevity, quite the contrary. 

      There are lithium-ion battery systems in space systems that have lasted a decade or more. Ever tried replacing a battery on a communications satellite in orbit or in a rover on Mars? Both of these need a battery to run when the sun is hiding, which happens many times over during a regular earth day for satellites. And no, most satellites do not have a nuclear reactor on board. 

      Bottom line, it can be done and it has been done before. When in doubt, please look at the 100K RAV4 EV club.

      http://www.evnut.com/rav_owner_100k.htm

      This first generation modern EV used NiMH batteries, an older tech, which the current lithium-ion systems were designed to exceed and replace. RAV4 EVs are still on the road a decade later, and are performing wonderfully for their owners.

    • Vincent Maldia says:

      to extend the battery lifespan, the prius never lets the battery charge go above or below a certain range. I think its halfway charged and plus-minus 20%. My new lenovo lapto has a setting like that. It will keep the batt at 50% plus-minus 5% as long as it is plugged in

  4. bwaterhouse says:

    Also: Nissan is having no trouble selling electric cars. If you want one in Oregon, you have to get on a two-year waiting list. This despite there being only a dozen charging stations in the state. Clearly, at least some Americans like electric cars.

    And Joel’s just trolling for enviro-rage on this one. Poor form.

    • Joel Johnson says:

      Come on, it’s Oregon! There are a half-million people ready to buy the latest green solution at a moment’s notice, whether it’s proven or not. And that’s just in the valley.

      • Ito Kagehisa says:

        I waited six months in Delaware for a Prius in 2001, before anybody knew if they were going to be any good or not.  There has always been a waiting list for every true “mass market” green vehicle, even though they have mostly had purposely restricted availability (I was not allowed to buy an EV1 or an electric RAV-4, although I tried – thousands of people were turned away by the manufacturers because they did not live in Cali or one of the other permissible markets).

        You’d know this if you’d done more research before writing your article, Joel.  Huge numbers of Americans want green technology, but it’s not available at a price they can afford, because the people your article serves own the US government – and they don’t want to lose their oil-driven power base.  We subsidize Hummers more than Leafs, you know.

    • Andrew C says:

      If you want one sooner, you can get orphans from some dealers in CA.  Some aren’t marking them up and have discounts.  Check out mynissanleaf.com.  A bunch of people outside CA have taken advantage.

  5. mark says:

    0-60 in seven seconds? You must be riding some lame rockets.

  6. Jakob Rooney says:

    Great read! I just wanted to point out that there may be a typo in your last paragraph, at the beginning you typed “maybe” twice in a row. But I totally agree with your points, and it boggles my mind how inefficient American cars are.

  7. schmittenhammer says:

    Maybe I am a total skeptic, but I just don’t quite get the electric car, especially if you are thinking it is ‘green’.  I think it is marketing bull.   First off, people talk as if electricity is totally clean as if it falls from the sky.  Electricity for the vast majority is generated by burning fossil fuels.  Now, how much ‘ungreen’ energy and materials does is take to make the $5000 or whatever it costs, battery?  Can someone tell me how often and how much it is to replace the battery in an electric or hybrid?   Batteries, at least the common ones have a service life of circa five years, now what does it take (how much pollution) to recycle or trash the battery.   Please show me that an electric or hybrid is worth it, other than “look at me I am doing my part to help the planet”…………………………..

    • Dude. Read the post. I address this. 

    • Steve says:

      In come cases electricity does fall from the sky. About a third of us EV drivers have solar collectors to charge our cars. My house electric bill is about $250 PER YEAR including 10,000 miles of car charging. And the battery: my first EV is now 12 years old and its battery is still going strong. I was a skeptic too.

      • jgs says:

        This is a key point. The electricity you put from your roof into your car will never [*] get more expensive, too. Any comparison between electric and gas vehicles that calls them a wash at current gas prices is missing that aspect.

        [*] For modest values of “never”.

    • kenmce says:

      schmittenhammer:
      “Can someone tell me how often and how much it is to replace the battery in an electric or hybrid? ” 

      On the second generation Prius most people are getting ~ 200K out of the traction battery.

      “Batteries, at least the common ones have a service life of circa five years, now what does it take (how much pollution) to recycle or trash the battery. ”

      The NiMH traction battery recycles pretty easy.  The electrolyte can be neutralized or reused, your choice.  You can use it to make Lutkefiske.  Just wear gloves when you handle it.  The nickel is valuable enough that scrappers will take it, the housing is steel which is not worth much, but can be recycled almost infinitely.  The wiring harness is mostly copper, they’ll take it at any scrap yard.  They *are* still working on what to do with the little recyling 1-800 sticker on the top of the housing though.

      Please show me that an electric or hybrid is worth it, other than “look at me I am doing my
      part to help the planet”…………………………..

      “There is none so blind as he who will not see”

    • Mark Dutko says:

      More electricity is used to make one gallon of gas then I use to drive over 50 miles in my LEAF. Guess where the electricity to make the gas comes from? Oil refineries in CA are the single larges consumers of electricity. Regardless that that wasted electricity takes my car a star as the gallon of gas I won’t use, an electric car powered on the dirtiest coal plant in the US is still cleaner then a Prius. Personally I have solar, no electric bill and charge for free. I use no grid power to drive my car, none! 

      • David says:

        I did the math, and it takes about a quarter the energy to drive a Leaf than it does to drive, say, a Honda Civic.  A quarter.  I don’t care where the electricity comes from.  Even if it comes from the dirtiest coal on the planet (it doesn’t – our coal is pretty good coal), it’s still a BIG net gain over gasoline.  So along with the concern trolling about the damn batteries, let’s dispense with the concern trolling about where our electricity comes from.

    • acidrain69 says:

      Batteries are contained, and are recyclable. Burned fuel is not. QED

    • Bryan / says:

      “Batteries, at least the common ones have a service life of circa five years,”

      My 10-year-old Prius disagrees, but nothing is stronger than the power of Dunning-Kruger, I suppose.

    • richharty says:

      I think people don’t realize that one gallon of gas uses more electricity to produce it before you even use it than the equivalent charge on a LEAF.  It also uses a lot of water and produces pollution and toxic waste before you even burn the gasoline.  This doesn’t include transporting the oil to the refinery and to the gas station.

      Everyone goes up the line on electricity, but “forgets” to go up the line on gasoline.Gasoline is also heavily subsidized and that is why it is cheaper.  In actuality it isn’t cheaper because a lot of your tax dollars go to the oil companies.  You pay for it at the pump and with your tax dollars.

      I don’t get all the hate around electric cars.  I have been driving a LEAF for a year and it saved me $5000 in fuel and maintenance this year compared to what I spent last year.  That will pay for the car pretty quickly.  My electric bill is only 8-12 dollars more per month.  Adding an extra fridge in the garage costs about the same.

    • trackofalljades says:

      You’re not a total skeptic.  You just didn’t bother to read the article before commenting.

  8. Jakob Rooney says:

    i never thought i would see someone judge a car by its “0-60″ speed on BoingBoing.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I drive like I just robbed a 7-eleven.  Acceleration matters to me.

      • Ito Kagehisa says:

        Electric motors develop 100% torque from a dead stop.  Gas engines can’t match that, so you have to burn rubber and use a hugely overpowered engine to get better acceleration.

        That being said, there are cars available that incorporate the necessary, ah, “overcompensation” shall we say ^_^ for the lack of initial torque, and while gas hogging roadsters aren’t cheap, they are cheaper than Teslas.  So I guess I see your point.

      • trackofalljades says:

        I think what really confuses people about TDIs or EVs is that their acceleration curve is so different.  Sure, there’s no comparing them to muscle cars (not the most common ones anyway).  But compared to the most common four banger passenger cars out there, a TDI or an EV actually does amazingly well.  The thing is, because the curve is different, you have to hang around for the whole “ride” up to high speeds to really notice.  Stop lights are one thing, interstate speeds are quite another.

        All that having been said, some people are just horsepower people and others are torque people.  There’s no right and wrong about it, it’s a personal preference.

    • Rob O'Daniel says:

       If your car’s “0-60″ speed is critical to you, then perhaps your driving skills need an upgrade.

      This is a macho cop-out that reflects just how deeply-rooted and successful the U.S. automotive industry’s marketing is. We’ve  that’s kept us under their thumbs for decades as they’ve conned us all into believing that bigger is better and we all need as much horsepower as we can possibly get.

      If you’re driving a small car with a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine, you must either be destitute (because affluent people drive big cars with beefy engines) or maybe you’re just a rice-eating commie…

      • TooGoodToCheck says:

        I’m not sure about 0-60, but I care deeply about how fast I can get from 25 to 60, because merging on to the highway from a ramp can be a nightmare. I swear there are places where you have thirty feet to get up to speed before your lane disappears.

        • trackofalljades says:

          This is exactly the kind of statement that makes me recommend test driving a TDI to people.  Yes, acceleration from a stop feels different, because the curve is different.  However, the first time you’re going 55mph and you feel like zapping up to 65mph or 75mph to pass someone and your car just does it like silk on rails without even requiring a shift or racing the RPMs?  That’s pure love.

  9. gisborne says:

    Leaf maybe.

    But there isn’t any way that matter in which a Prius is better than a small diesel car. I Just don’t get the Prius at all. Wretched car.

    • TheWiseFool says:

      I own a 2010 Prius. You really have to drive the car for a few months to REALLY appreciate it. I’m 26 and live in Toronto, I’ve had the car for 1.5 years. Before that, I had a Toyota iQ in Belgium (1.4L Diesel; AMAZING small commuter….but I digress).

      I commute about 700 km per week. I mountain bike regularly, and do lots of other fun stuff I don’t care to mention. I tank up once per week for 40 L. My efficiency, according to the Prius is about 4.4 to 5.7L per 100km (depending on the ambient temp; the Prius does not like winters). Even at it’s worst, it’s better than most 4-cyl mid-sized sedans that get about 9L/100 km in America. Granted, there are vehicles in europe (Audi-VW) that are the same size as a Prius that get 4.5L/100 km with diesel engines but they’re not available here.

      The Prius, by design, does one thing REALLY, REALLY well. It shows you how horribly inefficient of a driver you really are. All those efficiency guages in the car have a single purpose, to teach you to drive efficiently. Most people don’t bother thinking about what part of your driving is the most fuel efficient or the least. The Prius plasters it right on your dash. However, that doesn’t mean that I drive like a geezer and hold other people up. I drive 120 km/h on the highway and 60-75 km/h in the city. I just know not to accelerate to 60 as quickly as possible just to gain that extra 2 seconds on my daily commute.

      Lastly, the Prius is an excellent all around, do-everything car. I’ve managed to fit things into the car that I didn’t think I could into a regular car. I can get two mountain bikes in the car with extras and a passenger no problem. No need for a bike rack. I can pick up two or three friends from the airport and not worry about a lack of space for luggage.

      If I had to buy a car again, would I buy a Prius? Probably! It does everything a “normal” North American car does while burning less fuel.

      • gisborne says:

        There are any number:

        http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/reviews/diesel/4284188

        of tests showing that you can buy a car that is considerably cheaper, faster, arguably better to drive and more practical than a Prius yet with similar (possibly better) mileage. And as a bonus, there isn’t all that obnoxious rare-earth mining to make the thing, and you don’t have to spend half the price of the car to have its batteries replaced after 100,000 miles.

        • Surly Driver says:

          It’s not like the battery dies at 100K. People are still driving them at 200+.

          Besides, you’re in California. That takes the warranty to 10 years/150,000 miles.

        • TimRowledge says:

          I did the maths a while back and really can’t be bothered to dig it out but essentially all the nickel used for al the Pius batteries made so far would take up a day or so of the production of one nickel mine, say the Sudbury one in Canada. 
          And a Prius battery pack costs around $3000; just a teensy bit less than half the price of the car. 

          Basically , you are making yourself look a bit silly.

          • gisborne says:

            It’s called hyperbole. Anyhow.

            The fact remains that a car that costs 20% less than the Prius and is considerably cleaner to build is about as economical to run, and is going to be cheaper to maintain (even $3000 to replace the batteries isn’t trivial).

            The argument for the extra purchase cost and maintenance cost is that the Prius makes up the difference in running cost, and that just appears to be wrong.

        • Ito Kagehisa says:

          Knowingly repeating thoroughly debunked lies as though they were true is not “hyperbole” — it’s disinformation.

          Edit: Thread limit of 4 means I can’t reply below – Disqus sucks.

          You are telling lies about things you admit you haven’t thought about or researched and you think I shouldn’t give you a hard time about it. In my world, you’re intellectually dishonest at best, and a shill for evil at worst. Man up and take your medicine.

          • gisborne says:

            Oh, geez. I’ll try to get dollar-accurate amounts from a peer-reviewed source the next time I add a throwaway comment to someone else’s blog post.

            The point is still good: $3000 (plus maybe $1000 labor if the couple of sources I found through google are right) is a good deal to keep a car running that at that point is worth maybe $11,000.

            I read reports that the batteries aren’t failing even up to 200,000 miles. But they *have* to be holding less charge, and less efficiently.

            Biggest point also remains: there are much cheaper but otherwise similar cars that have better mileage. So what’s the point?

          • Itsumishi says:

            I’ve linked to it above, but Consumer Reports tested the  a 10 year old Prius that had done 206,000 miles. The battery tested had about 95% the capacity as the same model tested 10 years earlier. It also accelerated at about 99% of the speed it did in the other earlier test.

    • Gordon JC Pearce says:

      Everyone I know with a Prius gets way less than the oft-quoted 50mpg, and that’s allowing for UK gallons being bigger than US gallons.  On long journeys they can be well below 40mpg, which starts putting them in the same kind of fuel consumption territory of my diesel van.

      You know what would make the biggest difference to the fuel economy of cars in the US?  Weaning yourself off those inefficient, inconvenient automatic gearboxes.

      • bigdig says:

        Er, no. True that early automatics were measurably less efficient than manual; absolutely not true anymore. Given the poor driving habits of most Americans, I’m confident that a switch to manual would actually decrease our collective fuel economy. Automatics can be (and with increasing frequency are) designed to keep engines operating at optimal efficiency; manual shift lends itself to keeping the car in the high fun/low efficiency maximum torque range.

        FTR, what would make the biggest difference to fuel economy in the U.S. would be a carbon tax and/or removal of all oil-industry subsidies. Europeans don’t drive more efficient cars out of the goodness of their hearts. They drive ‘em because their governments have made gasoline expensive.

        • Gordon JC Pearce says:

          Well, no, automatics are *not* better at keeping the engine at its optimal speed.  Actual testing proves this.  Furthermore with an automatic you have to change gear yourself anyway, it just does away with the clutch.  The gearbox cannot react to changes in road conditions on its own.

          • bigdig says:

            Indeed. As I said, automatics have gotten better, not that they have bested manuals. Under perfect conditions it remains true that manuals can offer better fuel economy than automatics. Here’s a reliable source:

            http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/new-cars/news/2008/10/save-gas-and-money-with-a-stick-shift-10-08/overview/manual-vs-auto-ov.htm

            However, I give a lot of weight to the word “can”. Manuals /can/ offer better efficiency; they do not do so automatically. Most people don’t drive efficiently, and driving conditions for most people change dramatically during every commute (suburban stop-and-go, highway driving, traffic jams, etc), which adds greatly to the difficulty of maintaining optimal efficiency. Modern, computer-aided automatics are programmed to adjust their behavior to the conditions. I’d bet the farm that for an average driver, they wind up being more efficient.

            In any event, a 2 to 5 mpg efficiency gain with a manual, while not insignificant, is not terribly large, either. Economic conditions that favor greater efficiency would quickly result in gains of 50% or more in fuel economy — again, Europe proves this.

            Not really germane, but I have no idea what you mean when you say automatics require you to change gears on your own. Maybe in “sport manual” mode or whatever, but for the most part you stick it in Drive and go.

            EDIT: I realize now that I said automatics are no longer “measurably less efficient.” Poor choice of adverb: call it “significantly.”

            Would also note that automatics are gradually being replaced by dual-clutch systems, e.g. “automated manuals,” which do away with some of the efficiency-sapping hydraulics and design limitations of traditional automatics.

          • Gordon JC Pearce says:

            There seems to be something really strange with Disqus where it doesn’t show up “Reply” links beyond a certain depth.

            Anyway, what I meant is that you always have to tell an automatic when to change gear when you’re driving, because it can’t see things like hills and corners.  So, as you approach a bend, you must manually change down a gear for it.

            Or, of course, you do what many people seem to do and hit the brakes then wobble round the corner with the car dangerously close to being out of control.

      • Ito Kagehisa says:

        My non-hybrid car has a manual shift, but I find most people don’t know how to drive them any more.  I’m forcing my children to learn, though.

  10. Joel Johnson says:

    Also, I never said electric cars couldn’t be fun! But they have some serious challenges (primarily weight-related) when compared to the slop burners. “Fun” may be subjective, but I like my cars to handle as well as they accelerate. (Or perhaps even a bit better.)

    I think you can distill my main point down mainly to this: I think the current lot of electric vehicles are too compromised to be worth the premium price. Will that change? Certainly. Will it change without early-adopters buying less-than-optimal version? I think it could.

    • Will Davis says:

      But on the plus side they (electric cars) *can* handle like a wet dream as the centre of gravity tends to be lower due to the battery platform below the main part of the chassis a lot of EC’s use.  The leaf, roadster and model S are prime examples of this.  Sharp cornering and minimal body-roll.  So you’re actually getting great torque and handling too!   

      Additionally, not having an engine up front does allow for a (potentially) larger crumple zone (something the model S is taking advantage of) thus drastically increasing the amount of force the car can absorb in a head-on collision.  Safety is all the rage these days and I think this is a great thing.

      • Eric Rucker says:

        Although, my understanding is that the Tesla Roadster isn’t anywhere near as sharp as the (1000 pound lighter) Lotus Elise that it’s based on – far better than its curb weight would indicate, though, due to the center of gravity.

        I’ll note that I’m actually a fan of cars that are slow to accelerate, but handle well. My current car is a 1999 Golf TDI, with modded suspension, and a mild chiptune (to delete some of the problematic, misguided emissions controls (nitrogen oxide emissions can actually be beneficial, look up the weekend effect), fix a bug in the startup fueling map that the factory so helpfully never fixed, and get more low-end torque and better throttle response). Somewhere in the 115 hp, 205 ft-lbs ballpark, stock was 90 and 155.

  11. dboehl says:

    Gas powered car or electric car, the problem is not the fuel but the vehicle itself. Cars are bad for the environment, the infrastructure is eroding and expensive, 80% of carrying capacity is usually wasted (counting seats, not trunk space), and as the population increases, so will the number of vehicles and fuel consumption.

    I look forward to the day when Americans start talking about the benefits of ditching cars rather than electric vs. gas.

    • Nadreck says:

      Not to mention that the gas will run out, or at least triple in price, in about 8 years.  One big reason why electric cars won’t replace gas cars in the next  20 years is that there won’t be any gas cars in 20 years to replace.

    • Marc Mielke says:

      To what alternative? Most cities aren’t walkable, public transportation is spotty and/or nonexistent in many places, and bicycles only work for able people. I’ll admit to a deep-seated terror of bikes from the time I tried to learn, fell off, and can’t even LOOK at one to this day. I was a weird kid. 

    • trackofalljades says:

      I’d look forward to that day too, except that since it’s going to be long after our economy collapses, it’s going to be kind of a bummer of a time.

  12. Tyler Riddle says:

    Nissan Leaf is fun to drive? What do you normally drive, a Geo Metro? The power to weight ratio of the Leaf (110hp and 3300 lbs) is .033. The power to weight ratio of an upper range Civic is .069 and my S2000 has .086. Yes the Leaf has a (relatively) massive 200 ft-lbs of torque but power output is very low. It’s also very heavy which impacts stopping and turning. 

    A fun to drive electric car is the Tesla but then you wait for hours of charging after just a few laps of really gunning it.

    • 1999 Ford Escort Zx2, actually. So that could influence my opinion, yes. Like I say, subjective. 

      • Joel Johnson says:

        Obviously this means just one thing: We’ll have to settle this debate at the track.

      • Eric Rucker says:

        To help understand where many enthusiasts are coming from… three conventionally-powered cars that I’d recommend you get the chance to drive in anger, on a closed course: a Mazda Miata, manual transmission, the older the better (but in good condition) on an autocross course or a tight track, and a Ford Mustang or Chevy Camaro with a V8, the newer the better, on a drag strip.

        And then realize that neither car is anywhere close to the pinnacle of their specialty (the Miata’s specialty being handling, the Mustang and Camaro’s being acceleration although they’re getting better at handling), but are just accessible examples, and are pretty well aimed at doing that one thing well.

        Another option would be something along the lines of a Porsche 911, to get both handling and acceleration in on the same vehicle. There’s plenty of other examples of that, too. (I picked my examples above, though, because they’re all low-cost cars. Finding a friend who’ll let you thrash a 911 or M3 or something in anger may be more difficult than finding one who’ll let you thrash their beater 91 Miata or 95 Mustang.)

        Then you might see what many automotive enthusiasts are talking about, in regards to many/most electric cars being boring.

        Manually shifting, while it’s slower (it’s slower, even, than the latest automated gearboxes) makes you feel like you’re going faster, you’re doing more to keep the car going down the road.

        The sounds of an internal combustion engine help convey more of a sense of speed – quiet cars, you feel like you’re doing 40, and then look down at the speedometer and you’re really doing 80. Certain kinds of louder cars, you feel like you’re doing 80, and you look down at the speedometer and you’re really doing 40. Which one will be more fun to drive?

        I’m not entirely opposed to electric cars, but I’m not convinced that they’re the answer, myself. I tend to prefer diesel, with possible hybridization, as the answer, due to supporting the existing liquid fuel infrastructure, as well as (especially on older diesels) excellent support for biofuels.

        • Jerry House says:

          Yes, that’s understandable. Battery technology is far from ideal, as far as energy storage goes. However, it’s finally becoming practical and cost-effective enough to facilitate the production of plugin hybrids and pure electrics on a significant scale. 

          According to some mainstream sites, the total cost of ownership for such cars is approaching gasoline vehicles. This is mainly thanks to the ever increasing price of crude oil. 

          I grew up in Germany, and worked at BMW at one point. Believe me, I can empathize with your gearhead reference, but in this context, perhaps it’s worth recalling that your fuel economy can be ridiculously low when driving in anger on a closed course.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmxUsGiGp3w 

          May I suggest that we reserved these beautiful cars for weekends driving? Preferably on a race track. There are more sensible and economical alternatives for everyday use.

          Oh, and one  more thing. Last time I looked at the overall efficiency of bio-diesel, I believe that it only delivered about 1% of sun power to the wheels. I could be wrong, but it appears to be more wasteful than solar arrays that can be put on rooftops. However, when picking between traditional diesel and bio-diesel, the choice is abundantly clear, and I’m glad this alternative exists. 

  13. greebo says:

    Go Maggie! Brilliant response to a crappy article. My only comment is that you go too easy on Johnson. His article might be taken to imply some of the things you suggest it does, but only in the most generous possible reading. His bone-headed rhetoric is designed to play well to a certain contrarian audience, and the “electric cars suck” message is what most of them will get from his article. And that’s just irresponsible journalism.

  14. NoWayJose says:

    “Hippie.”

    Hippy is what you call someone Sir Mix-A-Lot would like.

    But as far as electric cars go, I wish they could go further without recharging. Looking forward to graphene supercapacitors and higher capacity, quick-recharge batteries.

    • AnthonyC says:

      Supercaps would be great for both hybrids and electrics. Then, batteries could be optimized for high storage capacity rather than for high peak output.

  15. itsgene says:

    Another issue that seems to never get any attention is charging. What’s the math on how many car owners in this country have a garage with wiring or a driveway that could be wired — and how many park on the street or in a parking lot with no possibility of charging their vehicle (aside from throwing an extension cord out the window and down the sidewalk)?
    I’d think that infrastructure is far more of an issue than any of the psychological impediments in these posts.

    It’s also interesting to see excuses such as “I can’t move furniture in it” or “I can’t drive across country in it.” This is the same strange mental bias that I get when I realize that I use my iPad for 99.9% of daily tasks, but keep my expensive laptop just in case I need to do that .01% on the road some day.

    A sane person would ask: when was the last time I moved furniture in my car instead of renting a truck or hiring a mover? If it was more than, say, 5 times a year I wouldn’t be questioning whether I could use an electric car – I’d be questioning why I don’t own a panel truck.

    • This is an EXCELLENT point. 

      So a couple of years ago, the ac went out in our car. Fixing it turned out to be a several thousand dollar replacement of a large part of the car’s computer system. Instead, we realized that the only time we really need ac was on long car trips during the summer and we took few enough of those that it would be more cost-effective to just rent a car rather than fix our car. 

      And THAT became a brilliant illustration to me of why buying a gasoline powered car or an SUV because of the couple times a year we need to haul something makes no sense. Not when Home Depot rents trucks. 

    • bosconet says:

      I agree the lack of a good charging solution for a prime market of city dwellers is a MAJOR failing for electric cars. Both my wife and I have commutes and other driving that lend themselves to electric cars but with street parking it isn’t an option. 

  16. There’s also concern-trolling about how smaller, more efficient cars put your kids in danger. It’s like an arms race out there with people tooling up in bigger and bigger machines, “because everyone else is a lunatic”.

    Catalina Island off Los Angeles is an interesting example of what people do when choices are limited. There is a waiting list for regular cars, so most people use electric (and sometimes gas) carts to get around the (admittedly very small) island. What cars we saw there were nearly all multi-purpose: wagons, trucks, utes, people carriers. No SUVs that I remember – too big and impractical for the small streets.

    • Jeff Barlow says:

      What you are calling  “Catalina Island” you really should be referring to as Avalon, the tiny town on the island. Yes folks who live there drive golf carts because they are forced to by the city. As soon as you get out of town you see nothing but 4wd trucks and SUVs and no golf carts.

    • Eric Rucker says:

      I’d actually like to see two fixes for this, one implemented via rolling back vehicle safety regulations, the other implemented via driver’s licensing changes.

      So, the first thing to do would be to add two lighter classes of car. One would be 1749 pound max weight, and would be based on the existing regulations for a 3-wheeled motorcycle – almost no crash safety requirements, just a lightweight vehicle that’s legally a four-wheeled motor vehicle, so that vehicle designers that want to create an ultralight and/or low-cost vehicle don’t need to lop off a rear wheel. The second would be much lower weight, and would be similar in concept to Europe’s “light quadricycle” regulations, which effectively define a speed and power-limited “four-wheeled enclosed pedal-less moped” class.

      The other part of this would be to modify driver’s licensing to add several classes of license. Current driver licensing standards are, quite simply, piss-poor in the US. However, CDL standards are actually fairly decent, and it’s incredibly easy to lose a CDL for violations. So, first thing, extend a low-end CDL class to anything 8501 pound GVWR on up – those vehicles are already exempt from CAFE because they’re supposedly work vehicles, so… Then, extend a near-CDL class down to 1750 curb-8500 GVW vehicles – almost all existing cars, basically. Restrict existing driver’s licenses to 1749 and less curb weight. That way, if you want to play in the arms race, you have to get a license that requires you to be a more competent driver. So, now, everyone’s safer.

      But, that doesn’t solve one problem… the drunk problem. In many rural parts of the US, you drive. Period. Lose your license for drunk driving? You still drive, because the alternative is to lose your job and then fall into the trap of the welfare system, if there is one – and if there isn’t one, basically, now you’re a criminal for life, due to how the systems work. So, some states implement “party plates” and other driving privileges programs, where you still have your car. This is where the “four-wheeled moped” class comes in – instead, the drunks can be downgraded to a license for one of those things. Less mass means, when they hit something, they do less damage to the thing they hit.

    • trackofalljades says:

      What you are describing is actually the result of a very calculated and deliberate aspect of SUV marketing, something that’s been cultured for years now and may be irreversible.  The ridiculous, space-wasting interior design of most popular SUVs is actually intended to further this…very expensive shrinks are employed with the task of maintaining this fallacy and arms race.

  17. Finnagain says:

    #3. Not fun. The non-Nissan sites I can find say 0-60 in ~ten seconds. Not fun.

    • lavardera says:

      Tesla, much more fun. Different car, different purpose, different cost. No different than other cars. As the offerings grow however electrics will eventually pown gas.

  18. teapot says:

    From some simple calculation using the 2006 chart from here it seems that over 77% of America’s power is still derived from burning fossil fuels. So by driving an electric car you’re ~20% more environmentally friendly than someone driving a *sensible* petrol car (unless you pay extra to get green power). Then you have the impact of production to factor in.

    Also you can’t be an asshole like this with an electric car.

    • dan7000 says:

      Even if your electricity comes solely from fossil fuels, your electric car will use far less fossil fuel per mile than your gas-powered car, because power plants are far more efficient than automobile engines.

      You can estimate the difference like this [yes these are super-rough estimates but it gets us in the ballpark]: 
      According to Nissan’s website, it costs an average of $2.40 at the average US electricity price to fully charge the Leaf.
      And with a full charge, the Leaf supposedly goes 100 miles.
      If all of that electricity came from burning gasoline, that would mean you were burning less than 1 gallon of gas at wholesale prices (which are apparently $2.74/gal today).   (That assumes the the electric company has zero overhead and takes no profit).

      So even if all your electricity came from gasoline, the Leaf would be the equivalent of a car that gets well over 100 miles per gallon.  So you are way more than 20% more environmentally friendly by driving an electric car.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      The “black smoke” crowd pretty much top the list for assholishness.  I see them occasionally around here, even though they mostly are found below the Mason-Dixon line.

  19. DavidN6 says:

    I bought a Leaf 2 months ago and am very impressed. A quick summary:

    1. Smooth, quiet, drives well, modern tech, full of gadgets, good size. I wouldn’t call the performance compromised.

    2. Very limited range, so you have to have a driving profile that suits. I think the only answer for wider use is battery swapping (e.g. betterplace.com), no one wants to wait hours to refuel.

    3. I can’t control how electricity is generated, but fuelling cars that way at least gives us some real long term energy choices.

    4. Joel says we don’t need early adopters, but I think we do. I feel very much like one, but if you can live with the present range I think you’ll be happy. He compares Leaf to the most economic gas powered cars, but that’s not what most people drive in the US. Also if you have more than one car, maybe one of them could be electric.

    5. Car choice goes way beyond logic into emotion, so if you can’t tear yourself way from a huge V8 powered car the Leaf isn’t for you. However I’ve loved big cars for years and now I’ve changed.

    6. If as Joel says it’s going to happen by 2025, the leading makers then need to start now if they want a future.

  20. drmacro says:

    I think Maggie’s point about infrastructure is the most important: if I could take a convenient train from Austin to Houston I wouldn’t need to drive and could either rent a car locally or use car sharing or just use my mother-in-law’s car. Why isn’t that train there?

    I own Volt  number 251 and after a year I love it–it’s fun to drive, economical (on a per-mile basis), I charge it partly with solar panels and the rest with Austin’s greener-than-most power. Go me. But I’m also rich enough to indulge in the extra cost and I don’t pretend for a minute that I’m saving money over the Honda or Toyota I could have bought.

    On battery life: the car manages the batteries much more carefully than a laptop, preventing both emptying the battery entirely or overcharging the batteries. I suspect that has a lot to do with maintaining battery life.

    Something that I never see people mention about electrics is emissions: the original motivation for hybrids was lowered emissions, not necessarily energy savings, and I think that’s still important. Even if my energy cost was the same as a gas-powered car, my net emissions are significantly lower as long as I stay electric, which I do in 95% of my daily driving. It was lowered emissions as much as fuel efficiency that motivated us to go with the Volt.

    Until gasoline is priced appropriate to its true cost transportation policy is not going to change, that’s clear. But at least I can say I have a solar-powered car :-)

    • Paul Scott says:

      drmacro says, “Until gasoline is priced appropriate to its true cost transportation policy is not going to change”. This is the key to making the transition to renewable electricity happen faster. Internalize the external costs of all dirty energy and let the market sort it out. EVs will win in a landslide.

  21. Ninabi says:

    I own an electric car- the Leaf.   The vehicle is in use seven days a week.   
    It did not make financial sense to go with full solar panels on the house until we factored in getting an electric car.   We’re saving at least $200 a month in gasoline.

    We knew the limitations before we bought it- but 80-85 miles on one charge can take us to quite a few places around town.  It’s a great car to drive- handles well and there’s a lot of storage in the back.   Is it the car we’ll take road trips in?  Of course not.  But when I’m in city traffic and my car is actually gaining in the number of expected miles left to go on the charge (thanks to regenerative braking) it’s a bit mind blowing to think that I’m traveling around on the power of the sun.

    • Bicycle rider here. You know, arterial roads drag a lot of air along with them. Thats how I get to cruse along at 50km/h on my commute to and from work. You can draft without actually having to sit two metres from a big truck. So if you go slow enough in the nissan, and apply a bit of regenerative braking, you could actually be getting energy from the air.

      • Paul Scott says:

        Michael, as a bike rider, you’ll love EVs. You’ll no longer have to breathe the crap coming out of those tailpipes any more.

        • Yes, though I have come to appreciate the slack throttle response of IC engines. My driveline has a faster response time which gives me a small advantage on the road. Electric drivelines have faster throttle response and I am surprised that sports car drivers have not caught on to this beyond the few Teslas on Australian roads.

  22. John Irvine says:

    Automakers have actually made amazing strides in internal combustion car efficiency in the past couple decades.  But all the gains have been wasted on more power for heavier vehicles, and not fuel economy.  I cars weighed as little today as they did in 1980, the economy would double:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/where-did-the-missing-fuel-efficiency-go/2012/01/05/gIQA9UcmcP_blog.html#pagebreak

    • That article is guilty of oversimplifying, its graphs are deceptive (see where zero is?), and you oversimplified further.  And it misses some key points.

      Cars are still available at light weight points.  1980 accord about 2250 lb, 2011 Fit about 2500 lb / 2011 Smart around 1600 lb.

      Older cars don’t pass current single-car crash standards.  These include non-other-vehicle-weighted tests such as 40% offset frontal, rear impact seat behavior, roof strength.  Strengthening them to meet those standards added a lot of weight and required some additional space in many cases.

      New light cars go to great lengths to be safe, and despite that are dangerous in comparison to “normal sized” cars due to impact dynamics, and in fixed object collisions due to lack of crush space distance.

      The MPG per lb of car has been steadily increasing over the years, and in particular MPG per lb at a given HP/lb basis.

      Cars are bigger because people want bigger cars (model size inflation), want SUVs, and because individual cars need to be bigger for safety.

      I love small cars.  I drive nearly the smallest performant car I can physically sit in.  I am working on smaller car designs, including performant one seater commuter cars.  I could make those very small, if I could keep them safe.  But going below 1,000 lb makes them unsafe despite heroic measures.

      • Eric Rucker says:

        But cars need to be less safe, IMO.

        In fact, I wouldn’t mind if the NHTSA mandated that the airbag detonators be modified to launch spikes at the driver, instead of inflate the airbag.

  23. bcsizemo says:

    Well I take it that Maggie and her husband/family have a second car as well?  Obviously hybrids aren’t range limited but all electrics that are on the market now are, and that’s a problem for many Americans.  Yes I could use an electric for the day to day basics.  But at least once a month or more I drive more than 100 miles in a day, and that either means I have another vehicle or rent one.

    Obviously technology is the problem here.  Lack of energy capacity (and the excess weight it brings as you begin to add more) is really what is holding electric cars back.  Now why hasn’t anyone created the easiest solution yet?  A pull along trailer.  Think about a small pull along trailer that equipped with a gas generator and storage.  It could power the car while in route and recharge the battery at the same time.  Price it high enough most people wouldn’t buy one, but instead aim it at the rental market.  Need to take a trip?  Pop over to Hertz and rent one for week.  Obviously the standard range would need to be increased still.  I think 150-200 miles per charge is more inline with what I would want.

    The main drawback with this idea is the lack of consolidation/uniformity in the auto industry.  Heaven help us if every manufacture doesn’t make their own part for their own car, all with their own specs.

    • Paul Scott says:

      My LEAF can charge from a 480 V 100 amp charger and go from 0-80% full in about 25 minutes. These fast chargers are being installed now, and before too long they will connect most cities on the interstates. This will allow “regional” driving. I still wouldn’t go really long distance because the charging time would become onerous, but then, my back long ago stopped me from driving really long distances. Now I just fly.

      • bosconet says:

        Fast charging is all well an good but until it can be made available for street parking the market for electric cars will be limited to suburbanites and those with private parking in cities. (i.e. #fail) 

        • Steve says:

          And that means the market is limited to what percent of 13 million car buyers this year?

          • Ito Kagehisa says:

            The market will always be limited to people who give a shit about the future of humanity.  That appears to be a small group.  What’s your point?

    • Well I take it that Maggie and her husband/family have a second car as well?

      No. But we actually counted up the number of greater-than-100-mil trips we make and it’s really not enough in a year to justify that factor as what we make our car purchase based upon. If we bought an electric car, we’d just rent a car for long trips. And it would make more financial sense than owning two cars. 

      Frankly, that’s what we do now. Because our current car doesn’t have a CD player or air conditioning and we make the majority of our long-distance car trips in summer. 

    • Renting should start getting easier, as car-sharing businesses are taking off.  Zipcar has a shared fleet, while new startups likeGetaround actually allow you to rent your private vehicle to others on an hourly basis.

      I would love to try it, but I can’t see something like Getaround coming to Salt Lake City anytime soon.  If I lived in San Francisco again, I could see myself using this.  Even if it didn’t turn my car into a money machine, it might pay for the cost of its parking space.

      The more popular it becomes, the easier it will be to find a rental that suits your needs without having to go to some central rental facility.

  24. Cool Beans says:

    Consider this: electric cars run on electricity, which is produced for the most part by the burning of coal, which generates much of this country’s greenhouse gas emissions. So, while electric cars do not emit greenhouse gases, that is not to say that they do not cause greenhouse gas emissions. In the short term, a transition to electric cars would mean a reduction in one source of CO2 and a comparable increase in another source of CO2. Why is no one talking about this?

    • Jerry House says:

      Why no one is talking about it? Because it’s not true. This has been extensively researched before, you are not the first one to think of it, Einstein. 

      In the very worst case, when all of the energy for an electric car comes from coal, the overall energy and CO2 efficiency would match a gasoline car with about 40 mpg. In the very worst case. 

      On a national level, more than half of the energy in the US comes from sources other than coal. Natural gas power plants with nearly twice the efficiency of the old coal plants. Hydro power, wind, solar, and yes, nuclear. Power plants tend to be well maintained and operate at their peak efficiency. This is not always true of gasoline cars. 

      Electric cars and plugin hybrids have the option to be powered by renewable energy, and a recent survey found that about half of our local owner base has installed solar panels on their roof. It’s the result of something we call the virtuous cycle. This is not possible with gasoline cars. They must burn fossil fuel, and are never going to get more efficient with age. Electric cars get progressively better, as clean and renewable energy source proliferate and the percentage of fossil fuels used for electricity generation declines.

      • Cool Beans says:

        Feel threatened much? Wow. Look, less than 10% of our energy comes from renewable resources, the production of which is inherently difficult to expand. Do you think that we can just put wind farms and the like anywhere? Similarly, there is no room for the expansion of hydropower; we have exhausted suitable locations. So, it too cannot provide for immediate expansion. Nuclear policy has shifted away from production recently, with fears of disaster and concerns over waste disposal, so it cannot be relied upon for the dramatic increase in demand brought about by widespread adoption of electric vehicles. This basically leaves coal and natural gas to satisfy the required short-term increases. (Of course, transmission of electricity is another huge problem; even if we could produce the clean electricity sufficient to justify a culture of electric cars, how are we going to transmit that electricity?)

        The point I was trying to make was that we need to start giving more thought to infrastructure. It’s a mistake to think that enthusiasm for electric vehicles will magically bring about the proliferation of renewable energy or the massive overhaul of transmission services required for broad adoption of electric vehicles. You oversimplify the problem. Actually, you ignore the problem altogether by evoking long-term possibilities, because the short-term problems are currently prohibitive of progress, both from a practical perspective in developing the required technology/infrastructure and because global warming must be addressed immediately. Getting people to like electric cars is the least of our problems.

        • Jerry House says:

          Thank you for your thoughtful response. I don’t feel threatened, do you? I was simply responding to your comment, which appeared to be less well articulated than this one. It wasn’t quite clear if you have thought about the subject matter or not. Apparently you have, good for you.

          Now that we are on the same page, please consider what you are saying: 

          1. Renewable energy base is difficult to expand
          2. We will continue to rely heavily on of fossil fuels for our electricity needs
          3. The grid is not capable of transmitting enough energy and is inefficient
          4. We will need substantial amount of additional electricity to meet demand

          Let’s go through this list, one by one, if you don’t mind.

          I agree with your point about renewables. The progress has been slow, and disappointing. No question about it. However, it’s undeniable that there has been progress. What’s interesting is that you left out solar, which is getting cheap enough and efficient enough to be accessible to the average consumer. Without any subsidies. And think of all the commercial buildings. A large warehouse or factory can accommodate an array with up to 250 to 500 kW capacity on its rooftop. This would represent no loss of space, and it would help satisfy local demand.

          Wind and sea power plants are a possibility as well. Have you been to Germany or the Netherlands? There are many spots in this country, where wind-generated electricity would be possible and profitable. 

          While the progress is slow on the renewables front, we will rely on fossil fuels for most of our electricity generation needs. This is correct. However, we are undeniably moving away from coal. Natural gas power plants are twice as efficient as the old coal plants. As a result, the energy and CO2 efficiency of an electric car consuming this energy will be better as well. About twice as good as the 40 mpg figure quoted before, when assuming that 100% of the electricity comes from this energy source. Natural gas, while not perfect, is arguably a better energy source than coal and it’s a domestic resource, and crude oil is not. And again, electric cars in this scenario will be more efficient than burning natural gas directly in a combustion engine.

          The overall transmission losses in the grid are 6%, on average. This is hardly catastrophic, and much better than most posters make is sound and look like.

          According to recent reports, we could plug in 1 million electric cars at night without the need for any additional power plants or energy sources. This is because the grid is underutilized in off-peak hours. Most of these cars are capable of slow and even trickle charging if needed, and they have timers that allow owners to specify when charging should occur. The electricity draw is much less than what an air conditioning unit would use. It’s about as much as clothes dryer would draw, and the average charge session is about 2.5 hours according to a recent press release by Nissan. 

          We would need to increase power generation by about 14% if we wanted to replace 200 million gasoline vehicles by pure electrics or plugin hybrids. This assumes that an average vehicle would run about 40 miles on electrical energy every day and that the average energy efficiency of such vehicle would be between 100 to 150 mpg equivalent (e.g. Nissan Leaf). 

          This doesn’t sound like that much, does it? It’s because we are already generating a staggering amount of electricity and because electric cars are so efficient. To drive 40 miles is like drying your clothes for 2 or 3 hours. Let’s face it, this is not a whole lot of energy.

          Keep in mind that we are spending about $700 billion every year on crude oil. Most of this money ends up in hostile countries and indirectly finances terrorism. If we stopped doing this, we could pay down about 30% of our admittedly large national debt over ten years. 

          Does this transition pose a challenge? Yes, absolutely, but the challenge is not as large as some fear and it should be well within our reach.

      • Gordon JC Pearce says:

        40mpg isn’t very good fuel economy for a car though.

        • phuzz says:

           It really isn’t.  I get 35mpg (as calculated by resetting the trip computer when I fill up and noting down that and the ammount of fuel I just bought) on a 10 year old Peugot 206, and I drive like a nutcase (90mph+ on motorways).
          I’ve seen over 50mpg when I drive sensibly, and this is a car that was never designed to be a hypermiler…

          • Jerry House says:

            I’m sorry, but I don’t find it convincing at all. I lived in Germany for most of my adult life, and the highest sustained average speed I achieved on the autobahn was 130 km/h (80 mph). And I can assure you that I’m not a tame driver.

            I highly doubt that the 90+ figure is your average motorway speed or that you can sustain it for a significant amount of time and still get 35 mpg, which is good when compared to the US average, but mediocre overall. The Leaf is rated at 99 mpg equivalent by the EPA, and the Mitsubishi i is rated at 112 mpg equivalent. Both are available today. As I said before, a large percentage of owners chooses to install solar panels on their home to offset their electricity use, and never look back.

            I suggest that we revisit this topic when the price of crude oil has doubled again, the geopolitical situation in the Middle East took a turn for the worse and BP or Shell have to clean up another major oil spill.

            In the meantime, please enjoy your God-given right to drive fossil-fueled 90+ mph on motorways. I wish you good luck with it.

        • Jerry House says:

          I believe that 25 mpg is US fleet average, so in this context, 40 mpg is a relative improvement. You seem to be missing the point however. Why take the worst case scenario and compare it to the best-case scenario? That just does make much sense. I only brought up this hypothetical case because of the myth perpetuated by some posters on how electric cars are somehow dirtier than gasoline cars. 

          Grid electricity is cleaner than this; we certainly don’t generate 100% of our electricity in old coal-fired power plants.

          Many owners install solar panels on their homes to offset their use. Their prices have fallen quite a bit in recent years. Our local utility offers a program, where you pay a higher rate and they use the extra income to finance solar panels on public buildings. 

          This is as much a reality as are new fuel-efficient cars. I have personally driven diesel cars in Europe that were getting 40 to 50 mpg ten years ago, so I can empathize. Efficient diesels might be a good short-term solution, but we need to get off oil sooner than later.

          Burning fossil fuels in a local engine on a massive scale is just not efficient, flexible and sustainable enough. Adding batteries to cars, small and large batteries at that, is becoming viable and this will improve their efficiency. Whether they end up being hybrids or pure electrics. Electricity can be produced from many sources, it’s fuel-agnostic if you will. Arguably, most miles are traveled in urban driving in metropolitan areas. This is where batteries offer the most benefit, since they allow regenerative breaking. 

          High-speed freeway driving will always be a separate use case, due to the its very high energy demand. The only thing that can address this effectively, is better aerodynamics. Dramatically better aerodynamics. 

          Another point raised in a doctoral thesis a while ago was about the electricity consumed during refining of crude oil. Presumably, each gallon of oil that gets turned into gasoline requires several kilowatt hours of electricity. An electric car can travel 20 to 30 miles on this electricity alone. 

          Let’s face it, the internal combustion engine has served as well, but it’s time for it to go the way of CRTs. They have all been replaced by flat-panel monitors and no one is shedding a tear.

          • Gordon JC Pearce says:

            40mpg isn’t even close to the “best case” from modern cars.  40mpg is about average here.

            25mpg is what I’d expect if I had an engine fire.

        • dculberson says:

          It’s well above the average in the US.  The average of all “light duty” vehicles is around 22mpg, and the average of all passenger cars is 33mpg.

        • Jerry House says:

          Fair enough, then why take the worst case and compare it to the average case? 

          I looked it up, and the UK fleet average in urban driving was about 28 mpg in urban driving in 2006. That’s not that different from the US. 

          http://fuel-economy.co.uk/stats.shtml 

          The list of most fuel-efficient vehicles includes two Japanese gas hybrids and the rest are small diesels. These appear to be very good cars. I wish they were all available in the US.

          When comparing the best to the best, I would argue that a pure electric powered by solar electricity will be responsible for substantially less CO2 emissions over its lifetime, which should cover the manufacturing and delivery of the vehicle, than the best petrol or diesel car. And it won’t depend on a finite and supply-constrained resource such as crude oil.

    • Paul Scott says:

      Jerry covered most of the answer to your ignorant post. I’ll cover the rest.

      Cool Beans, if you were at all concerned about dirty electricity, you’d have changed the source of the power going to your house. Solar PV is now cheaper than grid power in CA, and some other states. Solar PV lasts for decades and will pay for itself in a few years, so depending on how long you amortize the system, it’s probably cheaper than virtually all the grid power in the U.S.

      Lastly, if you live in a single family home, chances are better than even that you waste more kWh than you would use driving an EV. So, if you are really concerned about pollution from dirty electricity, stop wasting it. Use those kWh to replace the filthy oil product you burn in your car.

      • Cool Beans says:

        It doesn’t take much for you to become completely unglued, does it? You have derailed; nothing you’re upset about has anything to do with my comment, which merely suggested a broader discourse for solutions to global warming. Consumer demand for electric vehicles is not sufficient to appreciably reduce global warming – it isn’t even sufficient for bringing about a society of electric vehicles. How does any of your babbling have anything to do with that? LOL. 

        • Jerry House says:

          I think you are misreading Scott’s response to you. He is very level-headed, and usually knows exactly what he is talking about. Do you? 

          It’s easy to misunderstand emotions in a written message, but let me assure you that Scott is not someone who gets upset or angry, not at all. Try re-reading his message from a different angle, perhaps it will help?

          If you don’t mind me asking, how did you estimate consumer demand for these vehicles? Both GM and Nissan have sold every Leaf and Volt they could make, and dealers used the supply demand imbalance as an opportunity to mark up these cars by $5 or $10K whenever they could. 

          Ten year old hybrids and used diesels sell at a premium where I live, and they depreciate much slower than say SUVs. Is this indicative of consumer demand for more fuel efficient vehicles? I would think so, but do you? What do you suppose this demand will look like when the price of a gallon of gas climbs to $5? How about $7?

          From a global warming perspective, it would be best if we all reduced our carbon footprint. Drastically. I agree with that view. There is nothing wrong with advocating more fuel-efficient vehicles, be it hybrids, plugin hybrids or pure electrics. They are all practical and useful today, and are likely part of the solution. Whereas, inefficient gasoline cars should become a thing of the past, as quickly as possible.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          Compose yourselves, please.

    • Big heat engines are more efficient than small heat engines.

      • Thank you, Michael Smith, for making the point I was going to make. 

        Also, again, concern trolls … READ THE POST. Your concerns are addressed. Scientists are studying this stuff. Your “deep insight” that “nobody is talking about” is not a deep insight and lots of people are talking about it. It’s just that your assumptions are wrong. 

        Yet you continue to bring up these points despite being presented with evidence. So I can only conclude that you’re being willfully ignorant. 

        • Ito Kagehisa says:

          You can earn good money by posting the same lies over and over to Internet forums.  I’m not kidding – I think you’re the one who recommended “Merchants of Doubt” to me, weren’t you?  Great book, every reference I double-checked was squeaky clean.

  25. Mitch_M says:

    Hopefully electric cars will become more feasible as charging stations become more widespread. My local food coop has one. One.

    As for hybrids- I love driving a Prius and would hate to have to drive anything else. I can get 53 or more miles per gallon if I work at it but since I have to hustle to get people who have been waiting awhile much of the time I average 43 to 45. Still, that’s a big savings on emissions and in addition to fuel economy and low emissions it’s a fast and excellent handling car.

  26. bajohn3 says:

    I should point out a few errors.  There really is not a bunch of nasty stuff in lithium batteries.  Lithium is harmless, and there is in fact very little lithium in a lithium cell, the electrolyte is not an acid, some are actually drinkable, though not too tasty, the rest is copper, aluminum and plastics.  Most lithium cells do not use rare earths, (Li is not a rare earth), so any mention of rare earth mining for lithium batteries is simply wrong.  As the Empa studied showed the largest environmental burden of Li battery construction is the energy used to produce the aluminum and copper for current collectors, which are also recyclable.  I’ll also point out that rare earths are not needed for electric motors, as Tesla has proven.  The Model S will come with a rare earth free AC induction motor, and the top of the line model will have 300 miles of range, better than my current gas powered car. 

  27. We recently purchased a relatively expensive Lexus ct200h (hybrid) – for two main reasons: (1) Its a luxury car and we wanted luxury, and (2) we wanted a hedge against future oil prices.  We test drove 5 other luxury european cars and none could match the levels of the Lexus against our 2 criteria for the price.

    The car has an overall 7-year warranty with a 15-year warranty for the battery.  We expect to own the car for at least 7 years.

    We have had the car for 3 months now and love it! 5.0 litres per 100 kilometers (we live in Australia). We live in the city, but occasionally do long drives and are very pleased that we get even better mileage on the long drives.

    Interestingly, owning the hybrid has resulted in changes to our driving habits. My wife and I actually compete to see who can lower the mileage figure! We are both driving now to conserve fuel rather than just getting from A to B. The car lets us experiment with our driving techniques to see what gives us the best outcomes.

  28. CiccilioBarco says:

    We bought a LEAF July 2011 and we love it. We are a two car family in Los Angeles, and the LEAF is our perfect city car. It handles absolutely great in all circumstances, low center of gravity, great pick up. It is a blast to drive and has an amazing turning radius. Combined with our 4 kWh solar panels our total electric bill for house and car has been under 150 dollars, total, not monthly. We figured we save 150 dollars monthly on gas just driving our kid to school and back. Range anxiety quickly dissipates with experience, and your actual range increases. We are good for a solid 80 miles a charge and we live in Pasadena, CA. (hilly) Which also brings me to mention that the city has an aggressive green power program, and you can choose to purchase only green renewables for a slight upcharge on your power bill.

    I drive in Los Angeles on Sun and Wind power exclusively. 80% from our roof. Can’t get greener than that, if you must have a car.

    My wife changed from a great Audi A4 and she loves the LEAF. We use it for all our around town trips and errands. We both choose to drive it. We also own another 2008 Audi A4 that we use to take longer trips and that is a very fun car too!

    There is no silver bullet. But with 235 watt solar panels going for 300 a pop, the shift to the individual to make personal choices increases significantly. Become your own source of power and conserve where ever you can. Just getting in the game changes your habits. My wife had no idea how much a kWh was or what it could do. Now we talk like that all the time. ie. “hey didja’ see we made 21 kWh on the roof today?” It is personally empowering to to take back control and not complain about the situation.

    Previous posts covered all the appropriate battery issues.  GOOD THREAD!

  29. foobar says:

    Range might matter if you’re in Kansas, but then most people experience Kansas at around 900 km/h.

    • I’m sorry, all I hear is, “blah blah blah New York and San Francisco blah blah blah.” 

      • MrsBug says:

        I’ve always read people that talk about “flyover country” as being afraid of nature. ;)

      • foobar says:

        Yep. New York and San Fransisco are going to have very different transportation profiles than Kansas.

        That a car isn’t a good fit for the latter doesn’t mean it isn’t for the far more numerous former.

        • Actually, my point is that you can’t compare New York and San Fran driving profiles to all of Kansas. You have to compare that to people in Kansas City, where there are also a lot of people who have driving profiles that would work well with electric cars. 

          Basically, in the Midwest (yes, even out here in flyover country) more people live in metropolitan areas than outside them. 

          The rest is just my Midwestern rage at people who assume that there’s nothing interesting happening out here and nothing but vast stretches of cows. 

          • foobar says:

            Then it seems we pretty much agree, and I’m sure your vast stretches of cows are lovely. <3

            My point was that the number of people for whom the ~600 km range of modern electric cars is going to be rather small, and probably live very far away from New York, San Francisco or Kansas City.

  30. “Then stop telling people they have to buy electric cars, and start telling zoning boards that cities, and exurbs, have to be denser with more multi-story, mixed-use development and fewer single-story buildings that group all the services in one place far away from where all the people live.” +1

  31. Others have made most of the points I’d otherwise offer, however a couple of items to consider:

    First, those lampooning tree-huggers miss the point in spectacular fashion. This isn’t just about the environment. This is also about the country’s economy and security. Even if it were the case that electricity production were as harmful as using gas (it’s not…), it’s still in the country’s interest to use electricity rather than gas because the US can produce all the electricity it needs without relying on other countries that we generally don’t like very much. This improves the balance of payments, and improves national security (consider Iran at the moment…). (And no, offshore drilling and tearing up ANWR aren’t going to provide enough oil to satisfy the country’s needs).

    Put in a more blunt fashion: those hating electric vehicles are traitors who are going to do more harm to the country than Osama bin Laden ever did.

    Second: Nor is this about cost. No-one seems to mind praising a Porsche that costs over $100k, or criticising it for the fact that you’ll “never make your money back”. As it turns out, when you take maintenance etc. into account the total cost of ownership of a electric vehicles may actually be comparable to that of an equivalent new gas car, but that again misses the point. The point is to use less oil. For whatever reason you want to use less oil.

    Third: A factual error in the original article. 83% of the country’s electricity is not generated using fossil fuels. Here are the government figures:
        http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=electricity_in_the_united_states
    It’s rather less than 70%. And to reiterate points made by others:
    * The overall “well to wheel” efficiency of an electric vehicle is better than that of a gas vehicle.
    * The country actually has plenty of electricity to spare.
    * Converting the grid to use more renewable resources would be trivial, given political will.
    * Many EV owners have solar panels that cover their requirements.

    Fourth and finally: The assertions that electric vehicles aren’t fun to drive are simply asinine. It may be that historically many have resembled golf carts, but the Tesla Roadster showed this needn’t be the case, and the point is made more emphatically here:
    http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/07/zero_to_60_mph_in_less_than_3.html

  32. Vincent Maldia says:

    In the philippines, the prius has a 1.8 liter engine and costs maybe 2-3x as much as the most popular toyota car, the vios which has a 1.3L engine. I’ve always said that the prius is geared to american driving habits and not ours. So a prius is inappropriate for our country, except for rich folks

    • Jerry House says:

      Vincent, excellent point. A Prius with a smaller engine would be even more efficient. Don’t believe for a second though, that engine size alone determines the overall fuel efficiency of a vehicle. 

      The Vios is essentially the same car Toyota sells as the Yaris in the US. With its 1.5L engine, the EPA gave it an overall rating 33 mpg (2012 MY). The Prius gets an overall rating of 50 mpg using the same test cycle. Yes, the 1.3L model might be slightly more efficient, but the point of adding a small battery to a conventional car, and making it a hybrid, is to recover the kinetic energy when slowing down. Instead of just letting it go to waste as heat in the brakes.

      This is a non-trivial amount of energy, which cannot be easily compensated by driving a smaller engine. Just think how often a vehicle is stopped and accelerated over its lifetime. 

      Yes, hybrids are more expensive than regular cars. But this is largely because the manufacturer can sell them at a higher price, not because they couldn’t optimize the technology and make it cheaper than it is today. 

      The internal combustion engine by itself is incredibly complex, and yet it can be manufactured quite cheaply today due to effective competition and efficient manufacturing. Apply the same principles to hybrid and electric cars, and we will never look back. There is no reason why we should be burning up so much gasoline in our cars.

      • Gordon JC Pearce says:

        A smaller engine won’t make it any more fuel efficient.  A larger engine might.  Even then, it’s highly sensitive to the kind of journeys you use it for.  If I get in a Prius and do the sort of trips I use my van for, it will be sitting with its little engine screaming its nuts off at full power for most of the trip, once the batteries are depleted.

        • Jerry House says:

          I’m not sure if I get your point about a larger engine. Yes, perhaps it would be more efficient at highway speeds. Perhaps, but I’m not sure. It depends on how it’s driven, each car is good in a certain speed range, but not so much outside of it.

          What I do know however is that most of the driving occurs in urban situations in metropolitan areas, and this is precisely the use case the hybrid addresses with its regenerative breaking. A smaller gasoline or diesel engine would make it more efficient in those situations, absolutely. And allowing it to plugin into an outlet when it’s parked would make it even more efficient. 

          The new plugin Prius reportedly gets 100 mpg in EPA-style test cycles. Bear in mind however, that these tests are designed to be representative of the average typical journeys made every day. They are not representative of cross-county freeway driving or delivery routes taken by long-haul commercial vans or the like.

          These are valid use cases, mind you, it’s just hybrids were not designed to address those.

  33. coffee100 says:

    America is no longer capable of building or inventing.   The sooner we admit this to ourselves, the sooner we can start addressing the reasons.

    It’s not that we aren’t inventing.  We can’t.  America no longer has the adult supervision and leadership required to advance itself technologically or otherwise.  

    The reason for this is simple: the current generation of (expensively educated and talented people who should be) business and technology leaders were economically destroyed between 1998 and 2005. That would be Generation X – the most unique and famous generation in the history of America, because they will be the first to have a lower standard of living than their parents.

    This nation sits on the floor in its own filth and mutters of past glories while its people lie to each other about how things will improve.

    Want proof?  Between 1950 and 1975, America practically invented modern society.   We haven’t done jack shit since.   Go ahead.  Look it up.

    • Rob O'Daniel says:

      American automakers -CAN- innovate.  But they haven’t had to bother to do so because we’ve been securely under their spell for so long.

      For over half a century, they’ve very successfully conned us into believing that you’re a cheap-ass, weenie, momma’s boy if you drive a small car. U.S. automakers (and their marketing gurus) have shucked & jived us all into believing that bigger is always better & the more horsepower the better. We’ve been snookered into believing that we NEED to do 0-to-60 in 6.5 seconds or else we’re wussies.

      If you’re driving a small car with a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine, you must either be destitute (because affluent Americans drive big ass cars with big ass, rumbling engines) or maybe you’re just a rice-eating commie…

      • Guest says:

        Please tell us how you broke out of the spell of automaker’s siren song! All this time I thought it was because they offered products that people wanted to buy.

        • Ito Kagehisa says:

          Yeah, American automakers are building the products Americans want to buy.  That’s why American presidents have to beg Japanese automakers to to limit their exports to the USA, because people are being FORCED at GUNPOINT to buy those non-American cars!

          Seriously, did you not notice the US automakers begging for bailouts while people were waiting in line to buy Japanese cars?

  34. Modus Tollens says:

    Wow, surprise: guy devoted to gushing about gas-driven cars hates electric vehicles. Who saw that coming?

    I only hope I live to see the day when we can look back with bewilderment at how enthusiastically everyone celebrated these noisy, stinking, and wildly complicated combustion engines. Also, the way we used to have to actually drive our vehicles by hand; so lame.

  35. Every form of electric car we’ve built since the EV-1 depends on lithium in some form. There isn’t enough lithium in the world to give everybody who wants one an electric car, and much of that lithium is in countries not especially friendly to the US, the country that drives the most. So, in that regard, lithium-ion battery powered cars have almost all of the same problems that gasoline powered cars have.

    Sooner or later, we’re going to realize that for everything except agricultural use, private use by the richest 0.5%, and maybe aviation and local delivery, the future of personal transportation will not be a vehicle that has to carry its own fuel on board. The future of personal transportation, just like its 19th century and early 20th century past, will run while plugged in, and gods’ pity on the people in the exurbs who wait to the last minute to move within streetcar and light rail range of the cities; they’re living in America’s future banlieues.

    • Jerry House says:

      Switching from petroleum to lithium is not a shift from one finite resource to another, and the U.S. did not invade Afghanistan to secure its massive deposits of lithium. That is one of the biggest myths perpetuated by the oil guys.

      Potential controversies about the lithium reserves depend on lithium becoming a hot commodity. But if the electric car industry took off, people won’t need to tap into new sources of lithium for about ten years. That’s assuming that the technology doesn’t improve to make Lithium-ion batteries more efficient.

      Every five years, you need half as much lithium to create the same battery, a pattern of advancement that mimics Moore’s Law for semiconductors. But if you stayed on the same technology,we’d still have three billion batteries. That’s about two centuries of cars, even with growth, so lithium is not the problem.

      Lithium doesn’t combust like oil either. Because it doesn’t chemically change while it provides energy, it can be recycled. Only one company recycles lithium now, since saving it is more expensive than mining. The company is called Toxco, and it received a $9.5 million grant from the Department of Energy in 2009 to boost its lithium recycling abilities. 

      More players will step on the scene, if electric vehicles take off. Then it will make economic sense to recycle car batteries not only for lithium but also for other more valuable materials.

      • Thanks for the reply. In particular, the info about it taking less lithium per kilowatt*hour stored is new information to me; can you recommend somewhere, preferably online, I can read up about that?

        Really, I’m not a tool of the petro-chemical industry; on the contrary, I think of them as evil incarnate. I’m a volunteer tool of the streetcar industry. I understand why we paved over the streetcar lines. It’s NICE being able to just get into a personal-sized weather-resistant enclosure with its own motive force and go wherever you want to go, whenever you want to go, without having to wait for some bureaucrats to clear the right of way and lay down the rails for you to ride on. (Although roads aren’t THAT much easier to clear the right of way for, and your average driver has seldom driven more than a few dozen feet away from the pavement.) Roads do have advantages over rails.

        But resources are finite, and we’ve blown through around half the world’s reasonably accessible oil in less than a century, and we’ve spent the last 40 years trying to find another high energy density fuel to switch to. Electric vehicles are the closest thing we’ve found after half a lifetime, and their thrust to weight ratio is about a quarter that of a gasoline engine. Maybe I can be convinced otherwise, but right now it seems to me that we’re running out of time; I still feel like our descendants will call it folly that we expect ALL vehicles to carry hundreds of pounds of fuel with them, when they can just as easily run plugged in and not have to spend so much of their fuel just moving the fuel around.

        • Jerry House says:

          Brad, thank you for your thoughtful response. I’m in favor of mass transit too, but if personal vehicles must be manufactured, it would be best if they were as fuel efficient as possible. Both pure electrics and plugin hybrids offer some unique advantages that should not be overlooked.

          In terms of world lithium use, Argonne has put together a detailed and authoritative study. 

          http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/B/584.PDF 

          As to the claim of less and less lithium being used for battery manufacturing. This statement was put out by Better Place, but I cannot find anything in support of it. The closest I got was a research report from France, but this paper would contradict the Better Place claim.

          http://www.meridian-int-res.com/Projects/How_Much_Lithium_Per_Battery.pdf 

          Be it as it may, lithium should not be the gating factor when it comes to adoption of electric cars and plugin hybrids over the next couple of decades, and even beyond if batteries are properly recycled.

          • Thanks for the links, I see what you’re talking about, now. But I don’t think they prove your point.

            The first summary was very handy, but note that it depends on two separate assumptions, both of which I think are false to fact: that world automobile sales aren’t going to go up, and that a lot of current automobile commuters will, when they need to, switch to scooters and electric-assist bicycles. There’s a third assumption that is possible, but reasonable people can disagree as to how likely it is, and that’s economically feasible 100% recycling of the lithium in used-up batteries. What that first summary shows is that if, and only if, we meet all 3 of those constraints, we can sell an electric vehicle to every current automobile owner at current world production rates of lithium. Except that demand for automobiles is rising fast in India and China, and I’ll be startled if it doesn’t start rising soon in Indonesia and maybe the Philippines — four big markets that, as they come online, will swamp the lithium supply even if we assume the other two things. Note also the rapid rise of the Tata Nano in India — it is unlikely that if people are given a choice, they’ll keep settling for electric bicycles. (Although I readily grant that, at some point, some of them will have to.)

            The second one (unsurprisingly) took me longer to digest. If I’m summarizing it fairly (am I?): the need to accelerate an object the size of a car from a standing start means current draw that limits the theoretical efficiency of a lithium-ion battery pack to probably just a little less than double what we have now. So, if we assume that this will happen and happen soon, maybe, just maybe, we can keep up with it as long as the number of automobile drivers in the world no more than doubles.

            It seems to me that what happens after that is what I suggested we do instead: we give up on enclosed self-contained transportation that carries its own fuel. So if we’re going to have to do it anyway, and in our lifetimes, why spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a short-term stopgap that we’re just going to have to abandon around the time we get it done? Wouldn’t it be cheaper (not to mention safer) to go back to what we know works, urban-density development with passenger rail for everybody not engaged in agriculture or mining? Reserve gasoline, diesel fuel, and kerosene for aviation and agriculture and construction, use electric vehicles and electric-assist bicycles (or, in declining economies, go back to horseback) for rural transport and deliveries? We know how to do that, we know it’s cheap, we know it would work, and it looks like we’ll have to do it eventually, anyway.

  36. greggman says:

    I actually do expect most people to be driving electric cars in 20 years time. 20 years is a long time. Looking at the new Teslas, in 20 years electric cars will be beautiful, cheaper, long range, and go much faster than gas. 

    Cheaper = the non-rich will buy them over gas
    Long Range = the middle class will buy them over gas
    Beautiful = the upper middle class will buy them over gas
    Faster than gas = car fans will buy them over gas

    There’s also the plus that you never have to go to get gas

  37. RJ says:

    @twitter-732073:disqus

    I think the current lot of electric vehicles are too compromised to be worth the premium price.

    There – that is the last word on electric cars as of right now. I agree with Maggie; they’re fun as hell. If I could afford a copy of the electric drag racer “White Zombie,” I’d end up in a Blues Brothers-style police chase by the second day. The problem is, my chase wouldn’t last nearly as long, because electric cars peter-out so quickly.

    On another note, for those of you looking to go as light and small as possible, check out Zero Motorcycles or Brammo. Their prices are kinda-sorta reasonable, but the point is that Zero claims a 114 mile range, while Brammo claims 100+. They’re not sluggish, either. If you twist the throttle too hard on a high-end Zero or Brammo, your ears might touch.

  38. Alan Goulding says:

    You mention petrol cars having the potential to achieve 50mpg but there are already cars that do this unless I’m missing something (I know the US has differently sized gallons to the UK for example). According to wikipedia, the Toyota Aygo for example which has been on sale in Europe since 2005 does 57.4 miles to one of your oddly-sized gallons. That’s a seven year old car. I’m sure there must be better than that out there if anyone cared to look.

    Edit: There’s a list here http://www.roadtaxprices.co.uk/Best_MPG_Petrol.htm albeit in UK gallons.

  39. Alan Goulding says:

    Incidentally, as a cyclist who knows that people don’t use their eyes when crossing the road if they don’t hear an engine, there’s going to be carnage out there when electric cars are widely adopted unless (a) people wise up or (b) they make them quite noisy.

    • Camp Freddie says:

      They are making them noisier, by putting speakers in the bumpers. I think the EU intend to do some sort of minimum noise legislation to protect deaf people (and lazy people).

      I saw a BBC news story over Xmas about the sound engineers working on making a suitable sound for an electric vehicle.

      I’m just waiting for the aftermarket mods that allow me to replace the default electric whine with the sound of a TIE fighter.

      And on the subject of Americans; I think they need to learn that diesel is not just for trucks. Many (probably most) executive saloons in the UK are diesel, so it’s not like it’s incompatible with luxury and power. As a diesel driver, I like the fact that all the power and torque is at an accessible rev range, rather than having to rev the bearings off a petrol engine.

      • Gordon JC Pearce says:

        It’s worth pointing out that the VW Golf GT TD has far better performance than the Golf GTi.  Leave those wheezy gutless petrols in the past – or in the garden machinery.

      • John Irvine says:

        The US does not get super high efficiency euro-deisels due to California particulate emissions standards.  Kind of a bummer, really.

        • Eric Rucker says:

          Actually, the particulate mass emissions standards aren’t the really bad part. (And, coming soon in California, particulate count emissions standards, which favor diesels (which emit large particles that settle out of the air quickly, and don’t go deep in the lungs) over gassers.)

          The really bad part is nitrogen oxide emissions standards, which in the US, are completely wrong. Basically, NOx standards are aimed at reducing smog… but in an environment rich with volatile organic compounds, NOx actually reduces smog. Oh, and almost every area in the US with a smog problem is both densely populated, and is VOC-rich, due to the emissions from transferring gasoline, and from various alcohols evaporating. The ones that aren’t densely populated are also VOC-rich, due to emissions from trees – so to eliminate smog, your options are deforestation, or increasing NOx emissions.

          Oh, and most things that reduce NOx emissions significantly reduce the efficiency, and increase the other emissions, of an engine, especially a diesel engine.

  40. Gordon JC Pearce says:

    The heffalump in the room is that electric cars will always need to take a long time to charge.  When you charge the battery, you are moving quite a lot of electricity from one place to another.  Now, if you want to do this quickly, you need to either use a high voltage or a high current.  Even then, to “fuel up” an electric car as quickly as you fuel up an oil- or gas-fuelled car you’d need frankly terrifying levels of voltage and current, and an easy-to-use charging connector would be impractical.

    The idea of swapping batteries at a filling station might work, but you’ve still got to devise some sort of connector that will cope with a couple of hundred volts at a couple of hundred amps, be easy to connect and disconnect by unskilled people, and be safe when exposed to salty water, even if it’s completely immersed.  This is a bit of a tall order.

    The battery technology might well be on its way to give electric cars a useful range, but that’s just going to make the charging problem worse.

  41. D. Keith Higgs says:

    I own and drive the very first Ohio sold Escape Hybrid. I now have 93000 miles on it and average about 30MPG in what is essentially a half ton truck. The advances in standard power plant efficiency since the ’05 Escape have made it possible for my wife’s new 2011 Edge to compete with it for mileage. Accounting for the additional weight of the Edge it may be more efficient per pound than the ’05 Escape Hybrid.

    With current research in photovoltaics, batteries, and lightweight composite materials I hope someday to see a production all solar electric vehicle with a 600 mile range at highway speeds.

  42. Joel’s article is provocative for sure, but he makes some great points. This sentence sums up the problem with most EVs nicely:

    “If EVs like the Leaf aren’t able to be used as sole transportation for a person, then we’re selling $35,000 machines to people because as totems of a possible future…”

    We’ve done a fair amount of research into the topic, and not only are EVs not nearly as “green” from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint, but the toxic chemicals and specific minerals post serious problems to the environment. Not to mention the energy required to manufacture them (estimated HALF of an EV’s total lifecycle emissions are in manufacturing phase).

    Then we get to the issue of cost effectiveness. To be honest, most new transportation technologies and alternative fuels take off with commercial and public fleets – it’s more cost effective to try new technologies in scale, rather than at a consumer level. Natural gas has big rigs but isn’t really suitable for passenger cars, EVs have price and driving range problems.

    You can view our white paper on EVs here: http://autogasforamerica.org/resources/fact-briefs

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      Natural gas is the future… as long as we stop fracking and start fermenting.  Otherwise, it’s just another way for the entrenched energy interests such as yourself to retain their money and power at the expense of everyone else’s health and wealth.

      • Guest says:

        Dispute what you’ve seen in the propaganda films, hydronic fracturing is a safe way to release natural gas. The US has enough natural gas to power the country for 300 years, IF the greenies get out of the way.

        • Jerry House says:

          Yes, environmental protection and sustainability are for sissies!

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ApZkNsXfJE

        • Ito Kagehisa says:

          I suggest you travel to a region where fracking is underway, do some simple observations, and then reconsider.

          Your comment history suggests you judge everything on a “my team .vs. your team” philosophy, and you don’t do any research.  That’s not the best way to evaluate fracking, or mountain top removal, or the Centralia coal fire.  Go there, look at it, start from a non-biased perspective and think.

          If you invest the money needed to frack for 300 years in sustainable natural gas production, you can power the country for ten thousand years instead of 300, and stop the vicious cycle that has resulted in fewer and fewer petroleum tycoons exerting greater and greater political and social influence.  Unlike nuclear power, sustainable natural gas from fermentation can be done by anyone, nearly anywhere, without creating militarized exclusion zones that are natural targets for enemy action.  Methane from sustainable sources is the future, fracking is an expensive boondoggle.

  43. acidrain69 says:

    Maggie, RE Point #3:

    Gas cars can do this too; it’s called CVT, for Continous Variable Transmission. They have been around for probably a century, but were only feasible in vehicles more recently due to better materials. Honda just happened to use one in the Insight, so people associate them with hybrids and electric. Wikipedia tells me they had one on a Civic back in 1995.

  44. anansi133 says:

    With an electric car, you’d be changing one significant impact of the automobile, and that’s something, sure. But even if we all bought one, we’d still be stuck in the commuter’s rush, driving single occupant cars on congested roads, with all the problems of unsafe driving, wasted urban space, and over-consumption in our glass and metal boxes.

    No electric car is as green as a light rail train or bus. Instead of shifting to electric (or hydrogen, or propane…) getting people out of their cars and into real mass transit, would do a lot more for us than clean up the air, it would rebuild some concept of community.

     But no one really wants to sit next to a smelly drunk, and cars are fun to drive, so that’s where the discussion ends.

    If we ended the gasoline subsidy and charged what the stuff really costs, then suddenly all kinds of alternatives would be economically viable. It would just mean saying no to the most powerful lobby in D.C.

  45. ill lich says:

    I had issues with that Jalopnik piece too.

    Mainly it was kind of knee-jerk dismissive of electric cars, and kind of asshole-ish (phrases like “those wacky Europeans” for example).  I WOULD like an electric car, but I can’t afford it, and there isn’t good infrastructure to support millions of electric cars right now.  There should be.  Electric cars are good for 2-car families– the gasoline car for long drives, the electric car for around the city.

    Plus his basically neo-con statement “They’re a solution for a problem we don’t have.”   Look– the Earth is not hollow and completely filled with oil (and if it was, do we really want to convert that much oil to soot?) so it’s going to run out some time, and in the meantime we are destroying the climate.  Maybe it’s not so obviously desperately necessary right now, but when it gets to that point it wouldn’t be convenient if most of our cars didn’t need that scarce oil anyway?

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      the Earth is not hollow and completely filled with oil (and if it was, do we really want to convert that much oil to soot?)

      At least million people will put their hands over their ears and shout “LA LA LA LA LA we can’t hear you” if you keep talking like that.  What are you, a commie?   A hippy?   Of course the Earth is completely full of oil!  American Oil, of course, every bit of it, even though some of it is inconveniently located under other countries.

    • Guest says:

      We’re not destroying the climate, the Chinese are. Anything we do in the positive is offset 5x by the Chinese.

  46. Woofie says:

    I can’t understand why the American auto industry can’t make a “basic high mileage” vehicle.  They just can’t. Seems like every other car company on the planet “can and does” make some sort of efficient inexpensive car.  But Americans, with all their technology and computer modelling just can’t do it.
    If I could make 1971 Datsun 1200′s, I would. Some minor mods and you have a car that gets 50 mpg on the interstate and over 40 mpg around town.  Been there and done that– not once but twice. Had a 71 that got 50 mpg and a 72 that got close to 60 mpg.  Both were modified with Holley/Weber carbs and Honda CD distributors (They fit the Datsun with a spacer). Both had balanced tuned exhusts. Both passed smog with numbers that are below CARB specs (California specs).  They were kept tuned.

    The point is this– these are basic no-frills transportation. No air conditioner and no power anything. Yeah, the window cranks can get ugly. I drove one between San Jose and Salinas for several years doing the commute thing.  These little cars took a huge beating– both had over 200,000 miles when retired.  Yet, they were fun drives and very reliable — once I replaced the original Japanese electrics. 

    I can’t remember ever missing a car like I miss those two. Wish I had one now.  We used to laugh about grabbing a 5 dollar bill, for gas, to drive all day. .. and that was only 1998.

    Come on America… build a cheap reliable car !! No frills… just a body-mover !!

    • Same comment, only in my case it was my old ’89 Geo Metro LSI convertible, which was the single most fun car I’ve ever driven, and it got 36 mi/gal even with the world’s worst automatic transmission; the manual transmission models got 51 MPG.  Because it had slightly lower than average floor boards and a slightly higher than average roofline, it was also the most comfortable car I’ve ever sat in. And it only cost $10k. We know how to make cheap, fun, comfortable, and super-efficient car. We just don’t know how to sell it to Americans who (a) size their cars to the maximum load they’ll ever transport in a lifetime, rather than size their cars to their normal usage and rent larger vehicles as necessary, and (b) have given up on learning collision avoidance, and want their cars armored to survive any imaginable collision. I think it’s madness; at the very least, as someone who misses that old car, it’s maddening to me.

      I have half an eye on the Tata Nano. If it ever goes into broader distribution, it has the potential to make up for my disappointment with the price of the BMW Mini Cooper and the Daimler Smart ForTwo.

    • Same comment, only in my case it was my old ’89 Geo Metro LSI convertible, which was the single most fun car I’ve ever driven, and it got 36 mi/gal even with the world’s worst automatic transmission; the manual transmission models got 51 MPG.  Because it had slightly lower than average floor boards and a slightly higher than average roofline, it was also the most comfortable car I’ve ever sat in. And it only cost $10k. We know how to make cheap, fun, comfortable, and super-efficient car. We just don’t know how to sell it to Americans who (a) size their cars to the maximum load they’ll ever transport in a lifetime, rather than size their cars to their normal usage and rent larger vehicles as necessary, and (b) have given up on learning collision avoidance, and want their cars armored to survive any imaginable collision. I think it’s madness; at the very least, as someone who misses that old car, it’s maddening to me.

      I have half an eye on the Tata Nano. If it ever goes into broader distribution, it has the potential to make up for my disappointment with the price of the BMW Mini Cooper and the Daimler Smart ForTwo.

    • Guest says:

      Government safety regulations which add weight and emissions standards which kill mpg.

  47. ferrarimanf355 says:

    Try to explain your opinions to gear heads. You’re not going to get many sympathetic ears.

    Not everyone wants to give up their high performance speedsters. And please spare me the Tesla talk- they’re not going to be around five years from now.

  48. bolamig says:

    The real promise of electric vehicles is that while gas will continue increasing in cost as we pass peak oil, electric technology will continue decreasing due to economies of scale.   Battery Electric cars will be a bridge out of petroleum dependence that will save many people from needing to walk, bike, or ride the electric bus to their interview on a stormy day.  Buying electric now may not help the environment, but it will push up economies of scale so that the world economy doesn’t fail as quickly when we run out of oil, which will save lives and preserve standards of living for all.  It’s about civics, not the environment.

  49. Rob O'Daniel says:

    Seems that the biggest hurdle here isn’t technological, but psychological. The typical anti-electric argument can be distilled down to something like, “Wimpy electric cars just don’t make the crotch of my jeans bulge like Detroit steel.”

    Because by golly, if you’re not driving a big-ass, rubber-burnin’, God Bless America, gas-guzzling GM truck, well,  Bob Seger & John Mellencamp are gonna come over to your house, kick yer ass, drink yer beer, and prolly take your girlfriend!

    After more than 50 years of profiting handsomely (to put it mildly) from skillfully shaping our desires & purchasing habits by building false perceptions and stroking our redneck egos about how horsepower equals manhood, the automotive industry has a social responsibility to apply that same moneygrubbing fervor towards making Americans feel ok about more practical, less resource-wasteful cars.

  50. CelloMom Cars says:

    Thank you for a nice and balanced piece on the EV, remarkably hard to come by!

    One day electric vehicles will come with more pedestrian (=less oversized) electric engines. When that happens (I did a back-of-the-envelope estimate http://bit.ly/xzqtWN) their range will increase, perhaps even to the point that they can be run largely on solar cells installed on their metal skin (one has to dream big, right? — there are already several such cars around, mostly concept for now).

    I just wish that manufacturers would stop slapping that annoyingly misleading “zero emissions” label on the electric car.  http://www.cellomomcars.com/2011/10/charged-issue-of-electric-cars.html  It’s a gimmick, and a turnoff.

    And I totally agree with your point (5) that, as far as get-it-now and I-can-afford-it now gratification, high efficiency gas a diesel engines of the German mold are the way to go.  We need to pressure car companies to start selling them in the US like they’ve been doing all over the rest of the planet.  (e.g. VW Polo (the size of a Honda Fit) Bluemotion 1.2L, a proven real-life 57 mpg.  A lot cheaper than a Leaf).

  51. Guest says:

    Don’t buy an electric car, buy a cheap, used Japanese compact car instead and save tens of thousands of dollars.

  52. rick52 says:

    I find it amusing that Maggie and Joel Johnson are debating electric cars without having actually lived with one.

    I have owned a Nissan Leaf since August and put over 5,000 mile on it. Before I bought it, I kept track of my driving habits and found that I rarely drive over fifty miles in a day. As I ususally charge the battery to 80% capacity, as recommended by Nissan to maximize battery life, I assume that my range is about 50 miles. My round trip commute is 34 miles. An 80% charge gives me enough range to commute and run some errands. If I know I am going to drive more than that, I can either charge to 100% (which I do rarely) or charge at work, for $1.50/hour. In the five months I have owned the Leaf, the closest I came to running out of charge was when the meter showed five miles remaining and I was about a mile from home. It is unusual for me to show less than 20 miles remaining and very rare to show less than 10.

    I live in Portland, Oregon, which has a much milder climate than Minneapolis. The three things that will drain the Leaf’s battery quickly are running the heater, high speeds and hills. The air conditioning has much less impact on range than the heater. I am not sure what range you could expect when it’s twenty below outside.

    I do not buy cars very often. The Leaf replaced a thoroughly beat up 1990 Subaru that I bought new. The Subaru had over 280,000 miles on it when I got the Leaf. The Leaf has very little scheduled maintenance. There is no reason that it shouldn’t last twenty years with the only major repair being battery replacement

    The complaints about charging time miss the point. When asked how long it takes to charge my car, I tell people about thirty seconds. When I get home and park in the garage, I plug in the charging cable and the car’s built in timer starts charging late at night when electric rates are about 30% lower than during the day. When I am ready to leave in the morning, the car is charged to 80%. If I charge at work, it takes a little more time as I have to swipe my charging card and plug the car in. Either way is a lot better than waiting in line at a gas station. Since Oregon prohibits self service gas, people driving gas vehicles don’t have to worry about weather, but I don’t relish the thought of pumping gas when it’s twenty below as you do in Minneapolis.

    I would not have bought my Leaf with the substantial tax subsidies. Oregon gives a $3,000 tax credit on top of the federal $7,500 credit. In addition, I got a “free” charging station (worth about $2,000) and quick charge port ($700) through the federal EV project. At about $25,000 after subsidies, the Leaf was in the ballpark of what a typical new car costs. If electric cars are going to succeed in the long term, they will need to get the costs down. As the drive train should be much cheaper to manufacture than a conventional drive train, so that means that they need to get battery costs down and range up.

    My Subaru cost me about $.18/mile for gas. The Leaf costs about $.02/mile for electricity. As far as environmental impact, our local electric utility (Portland General Electric) gets 25% of its power from coal, 28% from natural gas, 33% from hydro and other renewable sources and the rest from unspecified “other” sources. I would expect that the mix late at night would have a much larger percentage from renewable sources as natural gas is used to meet peak demand.

  53. Itsumishi says:

    I don’t like the idea of hedging bets too much on technology that doesn’t yet exist, but the idea of “Cambridge Crude” makes me think electric cars won’t be run on batteries that resemble the sorts of batteries being installed in current models for long.

  54. Hippo says:

    Alot of people overlook that there is a far superior electric car, from a manufacturer witha proven track record for high end electric cars.  The Telsa model S, has ranges of 160, 230 and 300 miles per chnage but with corresponding price tags of 50k, 60k and 70k.  If you want to spend that extra money, it will more than pay for itself.

  55. Don’t you think that with enough R&D, the range of electric cars could increase exponentially, making all these arguments moot?

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