TCS Daily

Who Killed the Electric Car?

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - June 29, 2006 12:00 AM

Upon hearing the word 'electricity,' I paid closer attention to the vehicle which was going by me at that precise moment and it was easy for me to notice that, in fact, the 'soul' of the movement was indeed electricity.
-- Abbe Moigne encounters an electric vehicle on the streets of Paris, April 8, 1881.

Who killed the electric car?

Don't be ridiculous. You can't kill the electric car.

It's been around for well over a century.

It's the Frankenstein's monster of automobiledom. No, no, it's the Orphan Annie of automobiledom -- eternally singing "Tomorrow! Tomorrow!"

And tomorrow is only a battery away.

An odd (at first glance) amalgam of greenies, electric vehicle worshipers, energy independence conservatives and La-la Land liberals are all excited about Who Killed the Electric Car? (See the Sony Pictures trailer here) the "documentary mystery" film premiering this week which alleges the "murder" of the EV1, General Motors' electric car that cost the corporation billions and was leased to less than a thousand select customers between 1996 and 2003.

Hate to ruin the plot for you, but, yes folks, according to this film, the sleek little EV1 met the same fate as that myth-shrouded carburetor that could deliver more than 100 miles per gallon (and fueled millions of bull sessions for the past half century or so). It was done in by Big Oil and the Big Auto Makers and the whole gang of muffler shops, service stations, oil change stops, auto parts retailers, shade tree mechanics, engine rebuilders -- the evil spawn of the "infernal combustion engine."

According to the movie, this cabal does not want you to drive around in a silent, clean, cute and responsible vehicle like an electric car. So when a "viable" electric car came along -- brought to you by General Motors no less -- it had to die.

And, oh yes, before I forget, aiding and abetting this crime was, of course, the Bush Administration and particularly its slippery Richelieu, the Vice President. Indeed, this conspiracy is so big and dark that the Smithsonian Institution has removed the EV1 from display at the museum. It now rests in a warehouse somewhere in the Maryland suburbs.

Electric automobiles have been pronounced dead many times over the past century. Automotive history in the U.S. and Europe is littered with their names: Morris & Salom Electrobat, American Electric, Bushberry Electric Dog Cart, Jeantaud, Krieger, Woods, Baker, Detroit, Columbia, Riker, Foster, Rauch & Lang, Flanders, Studebaker, Waverly, Van Wagoner, Standard Electrique, to name a few.

Like strange, silent techno-zombies EVs keep rolling back into the public eye, earnestly appealing to us to ignore basic economics and fall under the sway of their swift, silent, non-polluting mobility. But despite the most ardent labor of various entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers; despite some of the most ingenious inventions, adaptations, modifications and applications of all sorts of technology, EVs have not been able to become the car the public wants them to be.

They have succeeded as purpose-built vehicles -- fork lifts, golf carts, "city cars," airport shuttles and the like. But they have never become the car for the open road, the let's-drive-over-to-the-shore-for-the-weekend car.


Let's go over this one more time, class: Range. Range is the problem. Electric cars do not have sufficient range to be the practical, versatile, every day car most people want.

They don't have range because they operate on batteries -- those mysterious sealed devices that convert chemicals into stored electrical energy. And batteries can't store enough energy to keep an EV going more than 50 or 60 miles, or in rare cases (with experienced drivers and the latest and very expensive nickel-metal-hydride battery packs) 150 miles, before they have to be recharged.

Put it this way. I can drive my wife's big Lexus 55 miles on two gallons (about 16 pounds) of gasoline that cost me six bucks. An electric car like the one featured here could travel the same distance by exhausting its 1000-pound battery pack (lead-acid, costing $2000) which would then have to be recharged. The recharging would take about four hours. I could replace the two gallons of gasoline in about 30 seconds, but I wouldn't have to because my wife's car can easily go another 450 highway cruising miles on a tank of gas.

I have always been fascinated by electric cars. And I appreciate the enthusiasm of EV partisans. But, frankly, I'm a little tired of hearing people brag about heroic 120 or 200 mile trips in their EVs. And how they only had to wait three or four hours before their batteries were charged up enough to go another 100 miles, provided they kept a feather foot on the accelerator.

And I am weary of how impressively fast EVs are. Of course they're fast. The direct power to the wheels is impressive. But at what cost? A huge drain on the batteries and dramatic decrease in cruising range.

Look, I drove the EV1, and I liked it -- for what it was. But it seemed like an awful lot of technological fuss -- super hard, low rolling-resistance tires, epoxy body construction, plastic panels, magnesium seat frames, advanced electronics -- at, according to one estimate, about $80,000 per car -- just to deliver a driving experience I could pretty much replicate and easily eclipse in a Miata or a Scion or a Honda S2000.

No matter what high hopes one may have for them, electric cars are cars of low expectations. They are, at their best, "only" cars -- cars for people who expect to drive only a few miles, only on generally flat roads, with only themselves or perhaps one passenger, with only light cargo, and only in moderate weather.

In the "urban environment" so cherished by enlightened folks, EVs are adequate to the task. Electric propulsion is wonderful in a closed and somewhat predictable environment like, say Catalina Island. You just silently glide along, accelerate instantly, and have a general feeling of well being. But, alas, we can't all live on Catalina Island.

(I write this fully aware of that handful of dedicated devotees who soldier on with electric cars in freezing temperatures, haul their families in converted electric sedans or vans, and manage fairly long trips.)

I do like the idea of electric cars. And I am always hoping that the latest enthusiasm about a revolutionary battery will in fact be true. But I have also found that too many EV enthusiasts seem to be a little bit contemptuous of ordinary folk who want to pack everyone in the van and go to the gymnastics competition a couple hundred miles away, or throw their dirt bikes into the back of the truck and head for the mountains.

These votaries of the EV religion get real heartburn when they see people barreling around in SUVs and pick up trucks that appear to be empty most of the time. They don't seem to grasp the fact that millions of motorists do not see their cars as spare and ascetic tools to get them from point A to point B. Like it or not, American motorists see their cars as full of potentialities and possibilities, some of which may seldom or never be fulfilled.

Yes, some of them may only make short trips from their townhouse to the organic food store or that global warming seminar at the university. But many, many more of them will more likely pick up a load of drywall at Home Depot or take the guys to a football game with all the impedimenta for a tailgate party piled in the back. They will drive 300 or so miles searching for an antique or a quaint place to eat. They will revel in the freedom of the road and the ineffable "feel" of a big sedan or a rugged truck.

I believe in technology and I believe in markets. If the EV1 was such a great car, its demise, for whatever reason, has merely opened the way for some competitor to build its equivalent or its superior. There are people trying. EV people are always busy, busy, busy with the next big thing. Maybe it will be Tesla Motors, the "new American car company" forming out in the Silicon Valley of California and promising "a performance-oriented electric vehicle with remarkable range, zero emissions, and spectacular mileage."

Maybe it will be Ian Wright, an entrepreneur from New Zealand (and former Tesla employee) who has built a prototype electric car he calls the X1. It is impressively fast. Wright has won some drag races with Porsches and Ferraris and he envisions a high-end ($100,000 a pop) electric roadster. Maybe Commuter Cars, a Spokane, Washington based firm, will hit with its Tango EV. Or there's the little ZENN (zero emissions, no noise) a 25 mile-per-hour top speed "neighborhood car" being built in Canada.

But if any of these builders aspire to the mass driving market they face a formidable barrier. Thus far, the subtle nudging of physics, the endless exploration of exotic materials and fabrication techniques -- the modern day alchemy -- to produce an affordable, quickly rechargeable and robust battery has not borne the hoped for fruit. It has resulted in wonderful advances in, for example, batteries for hand tools and small machines. But in the case of the electric car, the irreverently wise observation still holds:

It's the battery stupid!

It's the battery that prevents EVs from being real players. It's the battery that keeps EVs tantalizingly close to the technological curve but well behind the market's stern curve.

People who go around grousing and moaning about who killed the electric car are people with a schooled ignorance about markets and the realities of physics -- and an intellectual arrogance -- not only about what you and I should drive, but about how we should live.

Ralph Kinney Bennett is a TCS contributing editor.



Who Killed the Electric Car?
Unfortunately, US corporations and the belief that you (in the States) have an inalienable right to cheap gasoline and gas-guzzlers. If you were paying the same rate as say, the UK, the screams would be audible in Antartica.

Your technology is failing the nation and the world. Another shuttle will explode or crash and space will be out of the question. What then of the famous 'Yankee ingenuity?" By now the US should be leading the world in alternative fuels but it's all part of that mindset that dominates at present.

I could run my car for a year on the gas (or the petrol equivalent of JP4) used by an Abrams tank, in a trip from Kuwait city to Bagdad!

So your mindset is that America should eschew the cheapest form of energy available, and lead the world in producing more expensive ones, right? Why mention the UK, if the sheikhs of araby gave oil free to the UK, it would STILL be expensive beacause their predatory government imposes such high taxes on it. In any case, why should the US have the responsibility to do anything like that for the rest of the world. After all, whatever energy the US uses it actually PAYS for. Don't bother saying that they steal it from other countries. Batteries are good for some things like cell phones, and MP3s, etc. but they're just plain no good for cars. But if the rest of the world wants to ride around in golf carts, that should be OK with the States. Wait a minute, the States probably invented gold carts too, so that might hurt the self esteem of the rest of the world.

Tesla's Radiant Energy
Is the X1 to be powered by radiant energy?

"Unlimited electricity could be made available anywhere and at any time, by merely pushing a rod into the ground and turning on the electrical appliance. Homes, farms, offices, factories, villages, libraries, museums, street lights, etc., could have all their lighting needs met by merely hanging ordinary light bulbs or fluorescent tubes anywhere desired- without the need for wiring -and produce brilliant white light 24 hours a day. Motor energy for any imagined use such as industrial applications, transportation, tractors, trucks, trains, boats, automobiles, air ships or planes could be powered freely-anywhere on the planet from a single Magnifying Transmitter. This new form of energy even had the ability to elevate human consciousness to levels of vastly improved comprehension and mental clarity. Undreamed of therapeutic applications to improve human health and to eliminate disease conditions could have been achieved fully 100 years ago had Tesla been allowed to complete his commercial development of Radiant Energy. But powerful barons of industry, chiefly in the person of John Pierpont Morgan, colluded to deny him the financial backing he needed and in doing so, effectively denied mankind one of Nature’s most abundant and inexhaustible gifts of free energy."

A truly fabulous hoax
but if Ken believes this stuff he should take it to James Randi's million dollar challenge.

Sorry to burst your Bubble - Radiant Energy isn't.
Tesla's "Radiant Energy" was not killed by JP Morgan. It died the same death as the perpetual motion machine. The experiments by Tesla and his staff in the late 1800's proved the power of static electricity and lightning. The Tesla coil is Nikola Tesla’s legacy. Large Tesla devices are able to produce high frequency high voltage energy that defies most insulating materials, can transmits energy without wires, produce heat, light, and a lot of noise. They can produce 200 foot lightning bolts and lightning up to 25 miles away. The effect has been the subject of many studies for well over 100 years. But, light lightning, the electricity produced by the Tesla coil is a short burst of very high voltage – it cannot be harnessed for home or commercial use.

Sorry to burst you bubble – Nikola Tesla’s radiant energy is an interesting phenomena but not yet a practical source of energy – free or otherwise.

gas rates
The reason gas is so expensive in the UK is because your govt taxes the h e c k out of it.

As to your second paragraph, tell me again about the wonders of the UK space program. As to the shuttle blowing up, there's a reason why it's called bleeding edge research. Or does every research program in the UK end up 100% successfull. We are researching alternative fuels, probably spending more on that research than the rest of the world combined.

As to your comments about the Abrams, I guess your just jealous that the US has a military.

Then again...
I am in the process of getting liscensed and buyng a mototcycle... a Kawasaki KLR-650.

It lists at 120 MPG (194 KPH), but riders say 80-90 MPG (~138 KPH).

In Sunny Southern California, too.

We know that...
50-60% of your gas prices are taxes.

Taxation wothout representation... that's why we broke away.

Also, for the price of one of your tanks of gas, you could run your car for a year in Kuwait.. they pay 85 cents, or 47 quid, a gallon there.

Our screams aren't from the price, necessarily. It's the fact that it went up $1-1.50 a gallon overnight, not gradually. I went from paying $35 for 15 gallons to $55. I'm also the only one who seems to realize that that cost for fuel is passed on by manufacturers to the consumer. I am now paying $150 extra a month for fuel and groceries, all of the sudden, without any pay raises to compensate. Meanwhile, the gas companies report $37 billion in profit? I dare you NOT to scream when faced with that situation.

It's here, isn't it?
Funny, just when hybrid EVs are making a success in the market place someone makes a movie on the killing of the EV, and TCS publishes an article that says they cant be done. Wrong, on both ends.

The near term future is for hybrid vehicles, and the long term is probably fuel cell EVs. Good for all of us!

Who killed the Electric Car?
The EV reminds me of the dream of mass transit here in Southern California. It can't get me to where I want, or need, to go and bring me back again.

And, what of that dream of a Sunday drive into the mountains in a big convertible, wind in my face, good friends beside me. I might never return in that EV.

Try reading the article
It quite clearly says Electric Vehicles. Not hybrids. Do you know what the difference is?

A fuel cell vehicle is an electric car too.
Batteries are large, heavy storage devices that require many hours to recharge and may never be suitable for electric cars.

The hydrogen fuel cell, on the other hand, is about the size of a battery but it can generate more electrical energy per pound of weight and be refueled quickly with liquid hydrogen and oxygen which can be sold through the existing network of gas stations. The cost for fuel is still about double the cost of gasoline but technology is driving it down and it will be cheaper in the future. The biggest danger from hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells is the problem of a hydrogen fire or explosion during an accident.

Tesla could help!
He was born before his time. He could have harnessed the ether. Or whatever it was he theorized. Maybe we'd have big whonkin' antennae on our cars.

I Scream...
but my screams are not at 'Big Oil' they are at the US government that seeks to bar any and all attempts to increase or update our domestic energy production.

An Electric Car Could be an Ideal Second Car
I would buy an electric car that seated four and had a 50 mile range with the airconditioning on, assuming the price were within reason. It would be great for commuting and errands after work. We would use the other car for long trips.The EV1, however, was a third car; a toy for people who didn't need four seats and could afford $500.00/month lease payments.Furthermore, if the cost really was $80,000.00 each to build, GM lost money on each and every one. It's no wonder they stopped making them.It was a shame and a waste to crush them, though. Now that would be a subject for a wonderful documentary: Why did GM have to crush 800 perfectly good cars? Could it have been product liability issues? Imagine GM's legal position if people zapped themselves trying to fix their EV1s after production and service ended.Of course, the film makers would have had to do their homework finding out why. Then they would have had to figure out how to present the material. Instead, they took the easy way out and blamed Hollywood's favorite bogeyman.

you scream...
And if you see all the votes, like on ANWR, the dems are the ones doing the blocking. We Need More Refineries. We Need To Drill Offshore. If we want energy independance, we need to look at and use our own resources.

Funny thing is, as a South Park Republican, I fully believe and support using alternative fuels. I can run my car ('72 Pont Lemans) on E85 with a simple carb adjustment and a different engine oil.

What is needed for electric cars to succeed
The author is right - range is the problem with electric cars. We are an open, spread out nation and our cars reflect this. Until an affordable electric power source comes along that can be recharged as quickly as I can fill up my gas tank, the EV will never become widely utilized. Hydrogen fuel cells have the potential, but they are still much more expensive than conventional fuel.

That's why we should try PRT
"The EV reminds me of the dream of mass transit here in Southern California. It can't get me to where I want, or need, to go and bring me back again."

Here's a new dream:

useage guidelines
I think an EV would be great to use in a metro area only. New York, San Diego, L.A., ect... They are places where you wonh't go that far, and every parking area could have a recharging station. But, that makes sense, so it'll never happen.

Remember the 60 MPG Geo Metro? It's called a METRO because it's really intended for city driving: slow, short distances, and you could go a month or more before refueling. Unfortunately, people drove them hundreds of miles a day, and they "burnt up".

With EV cars, and even the little Metro, you will have to change the driver's perception and attitudes toward driving. Short trips, under 10-15 miles a day, use the EV's. They're perfect for them! Longer trips: regular cars. Again, this makes sense, so it will never happen.

Does it make sense to replace one car with two?

Plug-ins and the Rich Niche
The electric car is developing before our eyes through a bottom-up approach led by Toyota and Honda. Hybrids, of course, are but the first step.

In the coming years, plug-in hybrids will offer a mode for electric-only operation of hybrids which extends the range of the vehicle while reducing fuel consumption. In the meantime, battery and solar cell manufacurers continue to make important advances that will impact the development of the fully-electric, mass-produced vehicle.

Even so, the all-electric sports cars soon be here thanks to Tesla Motors. Their first vehicle has a top speed of 130mph, can hit 60mph in 4 seconds, and has a range of 250 miles per charge.


Silicon Valley racing ahead with electric cars
CNN, June 29, 2006

...With about 80 employees, Tesla just raised $40 million from high-profile investors including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk. It plans to start selling its first model next year.

...By tapping the Bay Area's engineering expertise and culture of innovation, a cluster of entrepreneurs, engineers and venture capitalists here are racing to bring their own electric cars to market. But unlike the Detroit and Japanese automakers, they are working on high-performance sports cars for wealthy car enthusiasts.

At least three Silicon Valley startups -- Tesla Motors of San Carlos, Wrightspeed Inc. of Woodside and battery maker Li-on Cells of Menlo Park -- are among a small cadre of companies nationwide developing electric cars or components...

Does it make sense to replace one car with two?
Whatcha getting at?

I agree with the author but I think that the only obstacle to the success of something like the Tang
I agree with the author but I think that the only obstacle to the success of something like the Tango is cost. Like the author I would love to see it happen but I am realistic enough to see that battery costs are still way to high. If batteries could be made much cheaper and a Tango could be made for under $10,000 I think that it would be a great fun commuter car. It would be used like a motorcycle as a second car for an individual (rather than a second car for a family). In this case 50 mile range is plenty.

Best hope, and it is just a hope, today is Firefly energy’s lead acid batteries that they say will cost less per WH stored than current lead acid batteries. Such a battery would make a plug-in hybrid economical.

Right now I have one car that performs both functions. Short trips and long. Under your plan I would buy two cars, one for short trips, and one for long.
I would be very surprised if the operational savings of having two cars, each tuned for a specific function, could overcome the capital costs of having to buy two cars. Not to mention the capital costs of finding some place to store two cars.

And no, two cars for two spouses would not work. Not unless one spouse only took short trips and the other only took long trips.

The batteries have arrived...
Its true the battery technology has been the Achilies heel but that is in the process of changing. Companies like A123 Systems and Toshiba are coming out with a new lithium ion battery that can charge as fast as it discharges (minutes instead of hours) and with power densities (a critical figure of merit for mobile applications) many times better than the lead acid or even NiMh the article mentions. First applications are apparently power tools and laptops.

Also, these days many families own multiple cars. You could have one long range gasser for the long 4th of July road trip and an electric for around town, groceries, kid pickup, predictable commutes- the stuff most of use spend our driving on.

Also, sure gas is ultra cheap at the pump, but thats partially because the true costs are hidden in general taxes and recently, future borrowing. The money your defense budget spends supporting unpopular, albeit secular, dictators in the mid east is really money you're spending to have cheaper gas. Roads are built with bonds whose principle and interest are payed with future general taxes (income, property, etc). Just because you haven't got the credit card bill yet doesn't mean the price is cheap. Also, whats with all these subsidies to oil companies. After their profits got everyone excited they themselves were even too embarassed to take the money. Thats just gas money that you payed April 15th instead of standing next to your car at the gas station.

And the guy that said we need to build more refineries- they've been closing them in California and consolidating operations to increase profitability. Sure it makes the market more sensitive to fluctuations, but it isn't the refiners job to buffer the market. If an extra $20 a month during a Katrina disaster breaks the bank, you aren't responsible enough to own a car.

Regarding ANWR- if and when that is tapped, it will likely be shipped to the far east, thats the closest market, and its a world market after all. The effect on your ARCO tap would be negligable under ordinary circumstances. Lets just leave that oil where it is and call it our "national strategic reserve". It'll still be there, getting lighter and sweeter by the eon. Put a sign on it and say "Do not open unless national emergency."

smart post - amazing that this gets little attention
rhampton - you wrote "In the coming years, plug-in hybrids will offer a mode for electric-only operation of hybrids which extends the range of the vehicle while reducing fuel consumption."

This strikes me as the ideal and most logical solution. A hybrid with a smaller gasoline engine and a more capacious battery pack would allow extended electric only operation for short to medium trips. And a mechanism allowing the engine to run and partially recharge the battery pack while one is at work or having lunch or stopping for coffee would make for a much more flexible vehicle.

I envision a system that asks you where and when you plan to drive today and then regulates the battery and gasoline engine to maximize use of the cheaper plug in power.

Another thought is that virtually every car in America spends most of its day parked in the sun while its owner is at work. Solar panels integral to the roof would add to range.

Are you allowed to say that?
You wrote "If an extra $20 a month during a Katrina disaster breaks the bank, you aren't responsible enough to own a car."

I didn't agree with all of what you wrote, although your post hit a lot of good points.

The sentence above, though, is brilliant and succinct.

Are we still allowed to say things like that in mommy state america where we're not supposed to imply people should be responsible for themselves and accept the consequences of their own folly?

Well, if the 2 cars were one of each but 2 for one family (not 4 cars for hubby/wife), it would work.

What I was getting at was, when you buy an EV or an under powered Metro, you should use it "properly". Hubby and Wife, let's say a Housewife, the hubby takes the car in to work, the wife uses the EV for all the short, around town trips.

If you read my other post above, "then again", I'm going to have 2 vehicles soon. Just not an EV. My car won't be the daily driver anymore, my KLR-650 will. I ran my numbers, and the ammount of money I will save on gas alone will pay for the bike. My plan is to ride normally, and drive every 1st and 3rd Monday (street sweeping), Fridays for food shopping, and on rainy/inclement weather days. A neighbor already does that with his Harley and Suzuki Sidekick.

And, frankly, those that can actually afford an EV usually can afford 2 cars.

reality check
How expensive are these batteries going to be. Small lithium ion batteries are very expensive. Unless there is a huge economy of scale, you could buy a small house for the price of an LI big enough to power a car. Additionally, fast recharge comes at the cost of high amps. A recharging station that has enough amperage to recharge a dozen cars at once (I know of several gas stations that fill 20 or more cars at a time) is going to have the kind of electrical service that normally is used in small factories. (Let's not talk about doubling or trippling our national electrical generation capacity just yet.)

Families own multiple cars, because they have multiple drivers. Each driver has a need for both a long range car and an about town car. It's highly unlikely that a two car family can just replace one of it's cars with an electric.

Only a tiny percentage of our military goes to protecting the oil flow.

It doesn't matter how roads are paid for, electric cars need them as well.

As to ANWR, following your logic, ANWR would never get drilled. Since oil will always be more expensive sometime in the future. That statement will be true up till the day we stop using oil. Therefore since time is money, it makes more sense to use it today and invest the savings.

And while the output of ANWR is small compared to the total world demand, since oil is not very elastic in the short term, small changes in world production have a large affect on current prices.

If we wait for an emergency to open ANWR, it will be too late. It will take at least 5 years from permission, till the first barrel is flowing. We also need to get ANWR producing before the N. Shore fields run dry. The pipeline will degrade unless it is in use. Rebuilding the pipeline will cost a ton of money.

Read it again.
It's more like an extra $20 A WEEK. And, it's long after Katrina, the prices still hasn't gone down.

You missed the other point about the cost of that fuel. It drives (pardon the pun) up the cost of shipping and manufacturing. That is passed right onto the consumer.

No, the extra $150 a month I have to spend on everything hasn't broken my bank, but it makes what I can save much less. And it does make me a little angry to see record profits reported as a result. For some people, like the working poor, people with families, FIXED INCOMES, and even the properly budgeted, that sudden $20/week up to $150/month loss would hurt them.

What do you offer for us to get rid of our dependence on foreign oil, then? (By the way, ARCO is owned by the British)

Plug It In
The plug-in hybrids are just starting to emerge as expensive convserion kits for the existing hybrids. But in the years ahead, production model plug-ins will be available.


With an EDrive upgrade installed in your 2004 or later year Toyota Prius, you won't miss those trips to the gas station as your daily commute DRIVING RANGE EXPANDS TO WELL OVER 1000 MILES PER FILL-UP. EDrive allows a substantial amount of gasoline to be displaced by electricity when you charge nightly and drive locally. Using any 110-volt wall socket, your EDrive Prius can be plugged in overnight to recharge an expanded lithium-ion battery system. With a full charge, expect to see over 100 miles per gallon for the first 50 miles of your daily drive under average conditions. On the open road past 50 miles, or if you forget to plug it in, your EDrive Prius will behave like a normal Prius gasoline-electric hybrid.


Toyota to Double Hybrid Lineup after 2010
American Auto Press, June 26, 2006

...Taking the hybrid to new levels, Toyota is busy developing new plug-in hybrids, which can be charged at home or the office to allow longer distances on electric-power only mode, and also, theoretically, could be used to generate power in a pinch...


GM Plans Gas-Electric Car to Rival Toyota, People Say
Bloomberg, June 23, 2006

...The so-called plug-in hybrid would travel MORE THAN 60 MILES ON A GALLON OF GASOLINE, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the research is secret. GM, which had the first modern electric car in 1996, lags behind Toyota in hybrids, which combine electric motors and gasoline engines.

...The plug-in designs GM is testing MAY BE READY IN TRIME FOR THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW IN JANUARY, the people said. Any commercial production is at least a year away, they said. The people declined to say how much the company is investing.

re: Tesla/ marjon
If Teslas' idea were real, why wouldn't other countries which are affected by big-oil, or patents, and are known for stealing ideas and pirating everything, not make use of the system? If it really existed why would the Chinese not be using it? It's the same with all those other hoaxes like the Pogue carb, cold fusion etc. if they existed they would be used.

What's the advantage?
There is an assumption here that electric cars are much cleaner than internal combustion cars. That's not really obvious to me. In fact, because most electricity is generated by burning coal, I would guess that an electric car causes greater emissions of carbon dioxide and possibly greater pollution emissions as well.

might work for some
What if the wife works, and also needs a long distance car?
What if the family has several kids, and a small car isn't safe enough for them?
What if the family has several kids and frequently needs to make a large number of short trips, such that there isn't time to recharge between trips?

Not that many families could get by on one in town car and one long distance car.

given the multiple inefficiencies of the electric grid, electrics also use more energy.

The wife should be in the kitchen!
OW! Sorry, Honey, just kidding...

What about the families that can't afford a car at all?
What about the families living in the city with good access to mass transit?

You are missing the point. All of those families the 2 of us described have to budget. They have to plan. Of course no one described situation will work for everyone. So, what if the 3 you described are just part of the 10 I described? Then we can get a "70%" reduction in emissions and gas demand.

The environMENTALists want everyone, no exceptions, to drive ZEV's. And, like this article and all of the replies, the tech ain't there yet to replace gas and the internal combustion engine practically.

unless there is a massive investment in nuclear power, switching to EV's would not reduce emissions, instead they would increase emissions. Of course they wouldn't be producing polution where the car is being driven, so people can pretend that since they are helping their environment, that they must be helping they environment.

Electrics take more energy per mile, than do standard IC cars. And that's before you account for the fact that they are heavier. (I'm talking pure electrics, not hybrids.)

Electrics and hybrids are too expensive
Considering life cycle costs, hybrid-electric and battery electric automobiles are pretty expensive.

You don't see or hear anything about how long the battery pack, engine, controllers or electric motors are expected to last, or how much it will cost to replace them. Moreover, the hardware is so specialized that owners are stuck with getting service done at dealerships, where labor rates are about twice those of certified, independent repair shops.

As for battery electrics, Ford developed the Th!nk vehicle, which never made it beyond the press rollout circuit. Interesting to drive, but seemingly impractical. When I was doing auto journalism the Ford PR office in DC offered me a day to drive the electric-converted Ranger they had. I drove all the way from Baltimore to DC, only to learn that the battery pack in the truck had discharged.

The technology has a long way to go to match the operating cost and convenience of internal combustion.

We'd have an easier time of it convincing Americans to change their commuting habits, i.e., live closer to work, or vice-versa.

Emissions? I have alot of natural gas this morning.
And under the other "Killing the EV" atricle, they won't be ready for 20+ years.

Today, the best bets for families seem to be the Ford Escape, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and the Lexus RX Hybrid. SUV's, all with 32+ MPG. And the Lexus has record orders.

Yup, the batteies are in the mail
Long ago I learned an engineering truism. The design triangle. Let me apply it to ev batteries.

EV batteries must be fast (to charge) efficient (holding lots of energy per unit mass) and cheap.

Now draw a triangle. Lable one corner fast, one efficient and one cheap. You can tweak your design anywhere in that triangle but you can't be in all three corners. Anything fast won't be efficient or cheap, anything efficient won't be fast or cheap, and anything cheap won't be fast or efficient.

Nobody's come near changing the law of the triangle.

Cost not so important if...
If the manufacturer of the battery-powered car could also have a monopoly on the power source, ie where you can stop to get a charge, they could take a loss on the cars themselves and then do the traditional nickel-and dime, pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later idea. They'd make plenty.

Thanks for educating me further...
I know another triangle. This one is about whether to tell someone about something, or not:

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Two of those have to be a yes, or you shouldn't say it. I guess this is something put forth by "social engineers." :-)

funny thing
just a couple of hours ago, I was involved in a water cooler conversation with two other engineers regarding a new board design that we are waiting on.
The subject of the triangle was brought up.

Where are the diesels?
"f there were such a thing as an eco-friendly racecar, the new Audi R10 TDI?would be it. The machine made history in March when it nabbed the checkered flag at Florida’s 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race, becoming the first diesel-powered car to win any major auto-racing event. Not only is the R10 more fuel-efficient than its gas-slurping counterparts—and therefore able to go two laps longer between pit stops—its low-revving engine generates roughly half the noise.

The message? Modern diesel engines are no longer the smoky, technologically stunted dinosaurs of yore, especially not the 5.5-liter 12-cylinder in the R10 or its newest road-going cousin, the 3.0-liter V6. "

Lisa maybe that is why some electric power companies...
...are big backers of plug-in hybrids. Still there is a lot that can be done to improve mileage short of installing a plug. Rumor has it that the next Prius (due out in 2008) will have a plug but with only a 9 mile all electric range. The nine mile range and the plug are more because batteries that are needed to capture more of the energy captured through regenerative braking have enough capacity to store enough energy to make a plug worth while.

But there are diesel, HCCI, direct injection, improved aerodynamics, hydraulics and lighter cars that can greatly improve mileage without retorting to expensive batteries. Also smart cars could allow drafting greatly improving mileage. Radar curse control is a step in that direction.

Of most of this does not make sense if the price of petroleum does not rise from here. The amount petroleum that we use is very much a function of the price of petroleum.

Also GTL, Coal to liquid etc. etc. etc.

Who Killed the Electric Car?
In response to Dietmar, I certainly appear to have put the cat among the pigeons. My original comment was not in any way intended to be anti-American, which appears to have put a burr under his saddle. I mentioned the UK only because the government under Margaret Thatcher put huge imposts on what was boiled derived from North Sea reserves - a UK sovereign area.

Yes, the US pays for oil but its origins (oil) are in the Middle East, South America and possibly, the former Soviet Union. America's own oil suppliers are tied up as part of the strategic reserve, which is very necessary in a post-9/11 world. However, in paying for oil it is necessary to prop up feudal Islamic kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia, which has an appalling record on the treatment of women and non-Muslims; and to compound the matter further, certain South American countries that supply the US with oil are in the hands of Fidel Castro's acolytes. Have you stopped to consider the strategic implications of total reliance on foreign fuel sources?

When I made my original comment, it was to praise old-fashioned "Yankee ingenuity" and the "can-do" mentality, not the big oil companies or the government with which they enjoy a cosy relationship.

Sooner rather than later, you will be hit harder in the hip pocket and wallet. I suggest you enjoy your SUVs and unnecessarily large vehicles while you can. In the short term, every society reliant on the internal combustion engine will get away with hybrids and diesel engines but not for ever.

Hydrogen fuel cells appear to offer potential but that potential will not be realised until the voters of the US get behind someone prepared to take on the corporations.

The electric car mentioned in the original TCS article may well have been killed but if it is seen as desirable to have individual, private transportation when public transport is clearly inefficient and dangerous, it is high time that a priority was given to finding a substitute for the infernal combustion engine!

Who Killed the Electric Car? -3
In response to MarkTheGreat, I suggest you read what I have said in a reply to Dietmar.

I do not know of any research program in any country ending up 100% successful except in the former communist countries where they manifestly fiddled the figures. In addition they stole most of the technology they use from the West.

Is America really researching alternative fuels at the rate you suggest? If so, why do we read so little about it in the public domain, if not, why not?

Lastly I am a great believer in tanks. I not only admire the US military but the Abrams tank itself. However, when I see the carnage that unmanned weapons systems can wreak, I wonder about the tank as a weapons system. However, that is getting away from the subject matter. Perhaps you would have been happier had I cited the German Leopard tank or another in a lesser class?

I sometimes wonder why Americans are so touchy about a little gentle criticism. I'm prepared to willingly admit that the US saved the West from Hitler and the Japanese in World War II and convincingly won the Cold War. It's high time some bloggers grew up.

US energy independance
The US in not independant because they're not even allowed to use the oil that exists in their own country already, not in ANWAR, not off the coasts, etc. Neither are companies allowed to just build the refineries they otherwise would like to; neither can you just go out and build nuclear plants, etc. If all these things were simply allowed, then there would be no energy problem at all. It hasn't hurt the coast of Norway, the UK, Nigeria, Canada, etc. so why would people think it would hurt the seas off the US coast? It's the wacko envirofreaks, and the government that are the holdups.

Article Missed the Biggest Point!
Great article, but I though it missed an important reality: Electric cars are NOT environment friendly. One cute one, yes. Small fleet of cute ones, yes. But there is no "organic" electricty commercially available, and it doesn't grow on trees. Tens of millions of the little guys recharging would require signicant increases in electricity production, which currently is NOT enviromentally friendly. And what would we do with hundreds of millions of tons of toxic batteries? EV's have to have range but also need to make economic and enviromental sense as well.

This is a good point and yet I question the value of having voters try to leverage politics and corporations. Those interests are strong. Do you think that voting with our wallets is enough, or do you think political ideas will help?

Currently the big split in society, whether it's mosty hype or not, runs against getting things done through political means. I think it's the money that matters.

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