Saturday, February 13, 2016


Think of the typical American mall parking lot—a wasteland of white-striped asphalt rhythmically punctuated with little oil slicks. Not long ago I had the misfortune of crossing one of these dreary places on foot, a lonely pedestrian picking my way through the iridescent puddles of leaked oil, transmission fluid and and antifreeze. Then it suddenly struck me: in just a few years, all of this mess will be history.

These are the parts that make up an internal-combustion V8 engine.
And this doesn't even include the transmission or rear axle that
are connected to it. An electric motor, on the other hand, has
exactly one moving part.
Not the parking lot—that, I’m afraid, will be with us for a long time. But the oil puddles, gas and exhaust fumes, and rumbling engines will all be gone. Electric cars exude none of these things, and they’ll be taking over a lot sooner than anyone—including moribund “industry analysts”—predict.

And amen to that. I’ve been a rabid gearhead all my life, and I love cars even more than most Americans. But knowing full well what a ridiculously complex contraption the internal-combustion engine is, I’m thrilled that electric cars will soon be driving the last nail in its coffin. 

Why are electrics so much better? Just think back to all the maintenance and repairs you’ve done on the cars you’ve owned over the years: Hoses and belts. Spark plugs. Air, oil, and fuel filters. Perhaps a new starter, radiator, alternator, water pump or fuel pump. Or, heaven help you, a new transmission or cylinder head gasket. 

Well, electric cars sweep every last nut and bolt of that complex, inefficient, and trouble-prone hardware into the dustbin of history. They require nothing more than a quiet, reliable, and extremely efficient electric motor, which essentially has only one moving part. An internal combustion engine, by contrast, has hundreds of moving parts, the failure of any one of which can bring the whole contraption to a standstill, or at least make it run lousy and spew pollution.
The Chevy Volt has modest range of about 53 miles
on one electric charge—still way more
than the average trip demands.

In view of the obvious technical superiority of electrics (whose performance, by the way, can inarguably blow the doors off any gasoline-powered car), the arguments made against them are trivial indeed. The most common of these is the tired bugaboo of “limited range”. 

The distance today’s electrics can go on a single charge ranges from 53 miles for the Chevy Volt at the low end to 240 miles for the mighty—and mighty expensive—Tesla S 70D. These figures will only increase in the future.  But in any case, a 2012 study by two Columbia University doctoral students showed that the average one-way driving trip in the U.S. is—ready?—5.95 miles. It also demonstrated that 95 percent of driving trips were under 30 miles, and that a whopping 98 percent of all driving trips are under 50 miles. The study concluded that some 95 percent of all driving trips were within the range of electric vehicles.  

In other words, the phony “problem” of range is just a ruse drummed up by the many people and institutions who are still deeply vested in internal combustion. 

The cabin of the high-end Tesla S 70D, which can go
240 miles on a charge, if you can afford it.
And by the way, it will blow the doors off ANY
internal combustion vehicle.
Ironically, the most worrisome aspect of this revolution is the common perception that electric cars are “clean”. They aren’t. Since the electricity is mainly generated by coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear power, environmental pollution is simply transferred from the car to the generating station. What’s more, the process of generating electricity by these methods is only about 35% efficient. Add to this the losses inherent in distributing electricity—typically between 8% and 15%—and a potentially super-efficient system turns into one that’s only so-so.

Hence, the ideal electric car would be recharged by a source of electricity that’s as local as possible—for example, a photovoltaic array on the roof of your house. Better yet, your car could recharge itself while it’s parked in the blazing sun all day long. All of these things will come to pass, and sooner than you may think. The car you drive today—which after 120 years of refinement is still essentially powered by a bunch of little explosions—will seem downright primitive in comparison.

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