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It’s Over: Five Reasons Why the Electric Car Wins

| Monday August 31st, 2009 | 21 Comments

It could take ten years or more to become apparent, but I’ll call it now: the electric car will replace the internal combustion engine.

A caveat: I am not an automotive industry expert. Which is why I’m right. I’m not mired in the details, the past failures, the what ifs or the buts. All I see are the big, obvious things. When it comes to sea change in human behavior, though, obvious matters.

So, since no prediction is worth its salt without an accompanying list, the following are five overlapping reasons why our children will all be driving electric cars.

(By the way, these all assume that business as usual; that is, running cars on gasoline derived from (imported, finite, polluting) oil is unsustainable. If you disagree, you’re at the wrong website.)

  1. Momentum, aka, Forget Tesla. “Automotive start-up” may be an oxymoron, but it doesn’t matter. Even if electric car company Tesla and its little buddies don’t succeed, the fact is the big car companies are all developing EVs, or hybrid plug-ins, where the emphasis will increasingly be on the electric part, not the gasoline part.

    Meanwhile, a zillion companies, plus many national governments, are furiously developing batteries that are powerful, quick to charge, and inexpensive. It’s practically a new arms race.And then there’s the burgeoning smart-grid industry, which will make charging those cars even cheaper. “Smartness” will also make managing when and where to charge your car much easier.

  2. People get it. I read an interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that predicted the healthcare bill would fail because, unlike Social Security or Medicare, it’s too complicated. People just don’t get it. And while I personally believe in universal healthcare (I’m a freelance writer), I understand the point.

    People get electric cars. People get where the fuel comes from: the wall socket – the same place you plug in your toaster or your TV (cars are increasingly appliance-like anyway). People get how electric cars move, too. Most people are at least familiar with the concept of an electric motor, and they’ve seen a Prius in action, if they don’t already own one.And what people already get, people are more willing to a) fund development of, b) support through government, and c) buy.

  3. Biofuel is foreign oil. And so is natural gas. Not literally, of course; but to an economy dangerously dependent on imported fossil fuels, they might as well be. And that’s bad news for these main competitors to electric powered cars.

    Without going into the details, it would take a long time for biofuel to replace foreign oil as a source of our automobile fuel. Meanwhile, the price of oil will continue to climb, pushing the price of biofuel up with it. The public, seeing no relief from gas prices, will turn to non-oil alternatives, e.g., EVs.So the chief selling point of biofuel, that it is a cheap domestic source of gasoline for our cars, is wrong in the short term and moot in the long term. Sure, we might be using biofuel in our hybrids, but those hybrids will be getting 200+ miles to the gallon, and eventually infinity/mpg.

    Meanwhile, recent discoveries have pegged domestic reserves of natural gas at 2000 trillion cubic feet, enough to last us 100 years at current rates of consumption. If we use natural gas to power all our cars, however, we will run out a lot quicker. And it’s still a dirty fossil fuel with a limited supply and a wildly fluctuating price related to – you guessed it – oil.

    Oh, and by the way: fuel cells are dead.

  4. 4. It’s electricity, stupid. Critics of EVs point out that anyone who lives in an apartment building or parks on the street, or ever wants to drive more than 100 miles at a time, can’t have an electric car, because without a recharge it will die.

    Good point. But let’s put it another way:Which would you rather pay for? New infrastructure to develop, extract and/or grow and then pump and/or truck the heavy, expensive “carbon fuel of the future” to gas stations…

    …or longer extension cords?

    Providing public places for electric cars to charge will not happen overnight, or for free, but the technology is here, it’s simple and it’s easily scalable. The problem of range will be solved either through quick charging batteries, battery-swapping, or an extended reliance on hybrids, until people feel confident they will always find a place to charge.

  5. Dawning Obsolescence. Using gasoline to power your car is the 21st century equivalent of heating your home with firewood. I love gathering and chopping wood for a nice cozy fire on a winter night, but if I had to do it all winter, every winter, I would be eager to find a replacement technology.

    In the future, people will look back on our once or twice weekly ritual of driving to a gas station and pouring a noxious, flammable and very expensive liquid into our loud, dirty vehicle and wonder what “life back then” must have been like.By “dirty” I don’t just mean polluting, I mean actually dirty, the dirt that accompanies any vehicle that moves by means of burning things: rocket ships, steam locomotives, Corollas, whatever.

    Next time you’re at a gas station, think about it. Is it really so hard to imagine the rubber pumps and hoses, and the smell of gasoline and oil as just so…19th century?

Resistance is Futile.

The EV revolution will not happen overnight. Stakeholders in various competing technologies will not allow their ventures to die without a fight. While problems of range and charging persist, consumers will be hesitant to switch, even as they are squeezed by gas prices. And of course, the shift from gasoline to electric can only happen one car at a time.

But my guess is that the shift to electric cars will happen sooner than we think. Change happens very slowly, and then, all of a sudden, very fast. Think of VHS to DVD, or the road from vinyl records to iTunes – four different technologies in less than 30 years (five, if you count eight-tracks).

The automotive industry is a whole lot bigger than the record business, but that also means there’s more incentive to make the switch to the leading technology. It also means once that technology is in place, there’s more incentive to support it. That technology is electric.


▼▼▼      21 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • hsr0601

    Theme : Nissan Leaf will save the world !

    Some say the Leaf and the i-MiEV have a cruising range of 160 km on one battery charge, that is about one-third of the distance a gas-powered car can cover on a full tank of fuel.

    In 21st century, home, workplace, or shopping centers etc also serve as a power station. And cars with a full tank of fuel don’t help MPG, as well.

    In this economy, fuel price is hovering around $60 to $75 a barrel, which indicates the actual value might be much the same as the peak price last year, and it will continue to spiral up unquestionably.

    All it takes for the entire world to live in peace would be to change our antique notion as technology is already here.

    1. The range of terrific EVs are sufficient to meet the daily driving needs of 95% of drivers ((The vast majority of people (95%) drive less than 160/km a day)).

    2. What’s more, as for long trip needs, all but Americans and many of developed nations have existing automobiles, in this regard, EVs are best suited to their daily use until the infrastructure comes into wide use.

    3. The price has not yet been announced, but Nissan says it will be priced similarly to a well-equipped sedan in the vicinity of the high $20,000 and with government tax break.

    4. Manufacturing volume, innovative battery technology will drive down cost.

    5. Little maintenance fee.

    6. MILES PER GALLON : MORE THAN 10 VS 1 (Leaf : 367MPG) compared with general combustion engine cars.
    Even excellent hybrid cars are not comparable to EVs in light of fuel economy.

    7. EVs will likely be less expensive for people to drive with low-cost nighttime charging.
    Sometimes EVs can be charged at workplaces or stores etc.

    8. Batteries will become more efficient on the whole and their price will drop, whereas the oil will simply go up and up as it becomes more scarce. As simple as that.

    9. EVs are simple and felt smoother and more torquey than the petrol models, and quiet, fun to drive.

    10. Better Place is partnering with Nissan to create the charging infrastructure and a system for swapping depleted batteries for fully charged batteries in less than 2 minutes. This can extend the range of the vehicle to hundreds of miles.

    11. Nissan has developed an IT system for its EVs, connecting the vehicle’s on-board transmitting unit to a global data centre to support EV driving 24 hours 7 days a week.
    The system shows the driving radius on a maximum range display under the current state of charge and calculates if the vehicle is within range of a pre-set destination. The navigation system points out the latest information on available charging stations within the current driving range

    12.. It can be recharged off 240-volt mains in eight hours or 80 per cent charged on special quick-charge “pumps” in about 30 minutes.

    13. It features a timer function that will start the car’s air-conditioner or battery charging at a specified time to benefit from more favorable electricity rates by a mobile phone or the Internet, as well. An SMS can be sent when the battery is fully charged and the car ready.

    14. The 24 kilowatt hours laminated compact lithium-ion battery pack is placed under the vehicle floor for more efficient packaging. The battery layout also allows smooth underfloor air-flow which helps reduce drag.

    15. The regenerative brake system employed to recharge the battery during deceleration and braking extends the driving range to more than 160 kilometres (depending on driving style and conditions) under a full charge.

    16. Durability is achieved by employing an additional frame for the battery pack to significantly improve the rigidity of the platform.

    17. The fully-electric drivetrain features a high-performance motor and a compact lithium-ion battery with high power output and energy capacity.

  • Bruce Hall

    Reasonable thoughts. Here is a slightly differing opinion: http://hallofrecord.blogspot.com/2009/08/natural-gas-naturally.html

    The infrastructure is already in place with slight modification. Virtually every part of the U.S. has NG available so all that are needed are the pumps. That is the same argument for electric vehicles… all that is needed are the charging stations.

    • http://www.killian.com/earl/bio.html Earl Killian

      The blog you cite didn’t really say much.

      Let’s say you have say, a thousand cu.ft. of NG. You have two choices: (1) burn it in an internal combustion engine to turn the wheels; or (2) burn it in a power plant, send the electricity over the grid, charge an electric car battery, which later turns the wheels. Which would you pick?

      Hint, you’ll go a lot farther with option #2. More than twice as far if the power plant is NGCC.

  • -R

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  • http://evsandenergy.blogspot.com/ Paul Scott

    Ben Upham is absolutely right. This is well written and hits most all the reasons why plug-in vehicles will take over. Plug In America, the nation’s leading advocacy group for plug-in vehicles, has a “tracker” on its website that follows all of the various plug-in vehicles in development detailing what they are and when they’ll be on the market. Check it out here: http://www.pluginamerica.org/plug-in-vehicle-tracker.html

  • Greg Blencoe

    Ben,

    Dot-com companies, corn ethanol, real estate…and now plug-in battery vehicles. Follow the herd of sheep and you see what happens.

    You should pay a lot more attention to Toyota which built the Prius (which has batteries) and spends nearly $1 million PER HOUR on R&D.

    Here are 7 reasons to love Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (which the company started developing in-house back in 1992 when I was a senior in high school):

    1. 431-mile real-world driving range with Toyota FCHV-adv (mid-size SUV) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (See YouTube video below)

    2. 68.3 real-world miles per kilogram fuel economy with Toyota FCHV-adv (See YouTube video below)

    3. Ability to operate in temperatures as low as minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius)

    4. Irv Miller, TMS group vice president, environmental and public affairs, made the following comment on August 6th:

    “In 2015, our plan is to bring to market a reliable and durable fuel cell vehicle with exceptional fuel economy and zero emissions, at an affordable price.”

    5. Masatami Takimoto, a Toyota executive vice president and board member, made the following comment in January at the North American International Auto Show:

    “By 2015, we will have a full-fledged commercialization effort.”

    6. The Toyota FCHV-adv (Highlander) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has the same trunk and passenger space as the gasoline-powered version.

    Click on the following link to see a picture of the trunk in the Toyota FCHV-adv hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

    7. Here is a comment made by Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager-Toyota Technical Center, in a Ward’s Automotive article (subscription required) that was published on July 16th:

    “We have some confidence the vehicle released around 2015 is going to have costs that are going to be shocking for most of the people in the industry. They are going to be very surprised we were able to achieve such an impressive cost reduction.”

    http://hydrogendiscoveries.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/7-reasons-to-love-toyota-hydrogen-fuel-cell-vehicles/

    Here is an excerpt from an outstanding article on Bill Reinert from Toyota by Preston Lerner of Automobile Magazine that was published on July 14th:

    “‘That’s the first law of Disney at work–wishing will make it so,’ he mutters shortly after bolting out of the conference room and yanking off his tie. ‘Using ethanol for fuel is like electing the dumbest kid in school as class president. As for plug-in electrics, they’re just not plausible right now. Lithium-ion batteries are too expensive by at least an order of magnitude. They’re not energy-dense enough. And we generate a lot of our electricity from coal. I don’t think Shai is being disingenuous. I think he really believes what he’s saying. I see it all the time from those Palo Alto types. They think the whole world is like a computer company, and they’re always trying to recreate the dot-com economy. You see exactly the same mind-set with Tesla. It’s all going to work out. It worked out with eBay. It worked out with SAP. But transportation is a different world. I mean, Shai’s bragging about driving an electric RAV4 with a seventy-mile range. How many of your friends are going to buy that car?’”

    http://www.automobilemag.com/green/news/0908_toyotas_bill_reinert_future_of_the_automobile/index.html

    Greg Blencoe
    Chief Executive Officer
    Hydrogen Discoveries, Inc.
    “Hydrogen Car Revolution” blog

  • http://www.electrifyingtimes.com RemyC – Electrifying Times

    We can also say goodbye to tires… because, from all evidence, with so many people around the world, building ionic lifters, it’s just a matter of time before someone builds an electrical source, that’s powerful and small enough to fit on board!

  • weotui

    Fuel Cells are dead? Not quite. Study DMFC. Methanol based fuel cells will be the best fit for range extenders in our future electric cars. People won’t accept EVs that are a full slave to the wire. And the best news is: you can process Methanol from natural gas; in the not too far future we will make it from waste cellulose.

    • jake

      I believe he’s implicitly talking about hydrogen fuel cells (most of the time this is what people mean when they say fuel cells). I agree methanol fuel cells seems like the perfect fit for range extenders for electric cars. However, I believe they still need quite a bit of work before they can be applied in a car (power output is a big issue).

      However, in the long run, with the speed battery tech is improving and know that rapid charging is already proved to work (just need to build the network), I don’t think for we will need range extenders.

  • Nate dogg

    I hope this is true.
    Think for a minute when was the last time you changed the oil filter on your AC motor…. never right.
    There is a reason that behind every dealership you see 8-20 service bays. Often more folks work in the back than out front, in sales. Between parts and service there could be 25+ people working back there.

    Internal Combustion Engines = Big $$$$$

    That’s it!
    It is called built in obsolescence.
    How long has your average ceiling fan motor been spinning away cooling your house…. perhaps for years silently running ..you never even think about all the eclectic motors in your life. Never needing any service.

    NONE!

    Those service bays behind the dealer should tell you clearly what that [brand name] dealership wants your dollars for.
    The after market service bucks, stays all local too, none goes to Detroit or Japan or Germany. All your service $$$ stays right in that dealerships pockets. Thank you very much!

    When was the last time you had to replace or repair any electric motor. I asked you to think about for a minute.
    There you have had your minute… I sure ope times up for Internal Combustion Engine.
    Its about time!

    NDS, Leesburg, FL

  • millionbells

    Not that I’m against plug-ins or electric cars, but just what would the resulting load on our electric system be if/when we did start mainstreaming plug-ins? I never see that talked about.

  • BBHY

    millionbells,

    That gasoline powered vehicle is also using electricity, just indirectly. Oil refineries use huge amount of electric power. It takes about 7.5KWH of electric power to refine a gallon of gasoline. An electric car can go 25 miles on that much electricity.

  • millionbells

    It is a legitamite comment that the media and bloggers do not address the utility load when talking about electric cars.

    From one of the linked sources
    “If each of the 240 million registered vehicles in the United States charged 5–10 kWh per day, this would require an additional 12–23% electricity generation.”

    That is not trivial to the discussion. It should addressed in articles like this that advocate the electric car.

    • http://evnow.wordpress.com/ evnow

      240 million cars in US. At the rate of 10 million a year – it will take 24 years to replace. And when will we get to 10 million a year of EV starting from a few hundred (Tesla) in 2009 ?

      There is enough time to build the needed grid and power generation infrastructure.

  • coooll

    boooooyyyaaaaayy awesome oh yay don't talk to satrangers you freak

  • coooll

    i c u p

  • coooll

    boooooyyyaaaaayy awesome oh yay don't talk to satrangers you freak

  • coooll

    i c u p

  • http://free-renewable-energy.blogspot.com Hydrogen Cells

    Know what would be cool? Build an electric car that uses every moving part to generate electricity to keep it charged! Especially the wind, I’m pretty sure the wind created by me driving 75 mph could spin enough alternators to never have to plug the car into a charger at all.

  • Pingback: New Hydrogen Fuel Technology an Oil Substitute?

  • Mikey

    There was World War 1 & 2, The War On Terror.
    And now the War To Mass Produce The Electric Car MUST BE WON!
    I believe the rising price of OIL was the REAL cause of the GFC. When OIL goes up! EVERYTHING GOES UP in price.
    This also caused the USA to live beyond their means over many years & HAS NOW LEFT THE USA BROKE and the World Economy in serious financial trouble.
    World Leaders MUST find a way TO MASS PRODUCE the ELECTRIC CAR!
    They MUST IGNITE THE PEOPLE OF THEIR NATIONS, TO MASS PRODUCE THE ELECTRIC CAR and STEER THE WORLD AWAY from THE DESTRUCTIVE PRICE OF OIL. America did it in World War 2 and became biggest manufacturer of planes, ships and guns. And the greatest military force on earth.
    Did U know: Technology to MASS produce the Electric Car has been around for 20 YEARS.
    But the RICH AND POWERFUL OF EVERY COUNTRY who have interests in OIL, will NOT allow the mass production of the electric car, otherwise it would have been invented 20 years ago.
    The World Economy is in FINANCIAL KAOS and WILL ONLY GET WORSE, unless World Leaders find a way to MASS PRODUCE THE ELECTRIC CAR fast!
    World Leaders will need to fight this like a war, because they are up against THE SUPER RICH!

  • Pingback: The Electric Car: No longer a Futuristic Endeavor « [Ad astra per alia porci]