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A View from the Altar / Electric cars… and such like
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Electric cars… and such like

Electric cars

Cutting to the chase on electric cars: People don’t want and cannot use what the car makers are selling.  The range on the cars is just too darned limited at roughly 100 miles.  Recharging time for the batteries is too darned long at several hours. The price of the cars is too darned high at $35K for the Nissan Leaf.  The size of the cars is too darned small to accommodate four passengers and their stuff.  And towing?  Forget it.

If there’s anything that makes power company execs have vivid and pleasant dreams, it’s the prospect of a huge fleet of electric cars out there getting charged up each night.  From the perspective of power generators, it’s as near to perfect as you can imagine.  Much of the nation’s generating capacity is on standby late at night.  Existing plants could recharge huge numbers of vehicles nightly, providing greatly increased sales with no additional capital investment. 

But available electric cars are simply not suitable for the American driving environment.  Our fleet of gas-powered cars has its current size, speed, range, and hauling capacity because a century of auto evolution has determined what the best mix of characteristics is.  Think of it: Cars that are too small aren’t safe, can’t carry all your stuff, etc.  Cars that are too big are wasteful.  And who really needs a 200-gallon gas tank?  You can’t drive coast-to-coast without stopping for a bio-break anyway.

A lot of car evolution has been determined by the American landscape, i.e., how and where we live. Example: My daughter lives 250 miles away, and the route to her house passes by the waste howling wilderness of the Okeefenokee swamp in Georgia where there are virtually no living humans and definitely no charging stations.  There is no practical way to travel to her using an electric car.  For Americans who live in large western states, the problem is magnified.  You don’t want to assault Montana with an overnight re-charge required after every 80-mile leg of your journey.

So, for electric cars to sell well in America, they’ll have to meet Americans’ driving needs which are determined by our unique geography.  I can’t really use a car that won’t carry my family of four plus luggage a full day’s journey from where I live.  Heaven forbid I should need to haul six or seven like my worn out Chrysler minivan can do.

Solve those problems, ye Admirals of the Car Fleet, and I might be a customer.  Until then, you guys are really just selling gilded golf carts.  I can’t use one of those, and certainly not for the money you’re asking.

Kicking the dog as I walk by…

While on the subject of transportation, I’d recommend against buying into Boone Pickens’ latest energy scheme.  He wants to set up natural gas refueling stations to enable big-rig trucks to use natural gas.  This is certainly better than having the government try to palm off electric cars onto us.  But the reason you’d likely want to avoid it anyway is that truck drivers don’t like natgas powered vehicles.  If you’ve ridden a big city bus and gotten aboard one powered by natgas, you know why.  Big truck engines converted to burn gas are seriously underpowered, primarily because the fuel itself has far less energy content than diesel fuel.  That’s a problem you can’t solve by putting in natgas refueling stations.  The big truck industry will have to do some fundamental restructuring for natgas machines that can produce the power levels needed for heavy hauling.  They’re not there yet.

That’s not to say that Pickens has no chance of succeeding.  He might… savvy guy, lots of cash, powerful connections.  But he’ll need to overcome a lot of drivers who want to stay with diesel.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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