Sunday, July 11, 2010

Not ready for prime time.

I have no real dog in the electric car fight. When it comes to cars that I find interesting, I don't much care whether the drive wheels are turned by a gas motor, a diesel, an electric motor, or a hamster in an exercise wheel, just so long as the elapsed time over thirteen hundred and twenty feet is low enough.

There are lots of cars I think are cool that are impractical as all getout: The original Viper had no external door handles, an interior that made a rental Cavalier look plush, and a "top" with less structural rigidity and weatherproofing quality than a Costco umbrella; you could cook hot dogs on the door sills and the sidepipes pumped a ton of decibels right into your ear, and they weren't even cool-sounding decibels, either; the first Vipers had an exhaust note that sounded almost exactly like a flatulent UPS truck . The KTM X-bow is very interesting, and it makes the original Viper look as practical as a minivan.

Electric motors have some good properties for performance applications, such as producing peak torque right from zero RPM. This is very useful if you only need to go 1320 feet at a time. Tesla Motors exploited this with their first model, which was basically a sunny weekend play toy, a hot rod electric rocket designed to appeal to rich speed-freak techno-geeks with a green streak.

Now that they're trying to branch into the broader automotive market, however, the shiny seems to be wearing off their business model.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

It looks like a great fair weather, sunny day ride, beyond that? See question #4 JV answered.

I also have my doubts you'd ever be able to get one imported.

Gmac

Tam said...

Gmac,

There's a pretty good chance of X-bows being made available here, albeit as knock-down kits.

They're mostly track-day cars, anyway.

Ferrari and Porsche have failed to answer Venlet's Question Number Four with varying degrees of success for half a century. ;)

Anonymous said...

Toy cars for guilt-ridden white liberals in California.

Beyond that market, it will end in fail . . . epic fail.

Shootin' Buddy

Tam said...

The chrondeks don't care what's turning your wheels, nor do they measure guilt, liberal or otherwise.

Eck! said...

Electric cars have for the last century
either been quick and really short on range or slow and still short on range.

Better batteries and motors have not equaled the total energy of a few gallons of gas or diesel.

All I've see between charging time and driving time would get from Boston to Florida in average speed about three times the speed of walking.

It's sad but thats the case.

Eck!

Tam said...

"All I've see between charging time and driving time would get from Boston to Florida in average speed about three times the speed of walking."

Which only matters to those who drive from Boston to Florida, of course.

Like I implied with my post title, battery technology as it stands is fully up to producing weekend toys or urban runabouts for mild climes; it is distinctly not ready for prime time.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

When they make an electric car that charges completely in 10 minutes or less, rather than the several hours it takes now, then I might be interested. Otherwise, I know I'll get caught with a dead battery just when I need to go somewhere and don't have 2-3 hours to charge my car.

Tam said...

Yup. It's definitely not up to being an "only car".

Anonymous said...

GREEN? What we have here are essentially coal powered cars. Ever think about where the electricity to charge these things is generated? Kentucky and West Virginia coal miners love the idea. That Jones guy from KY

Tam said...

You know that and I know that, but have you ever tried explaining it to one of THOSE people?

They don't mind emissions as long as they're NIMBY emissions.

Tam said...

(Of course, if we really wanted them to be green, we'd get serious about nukes. ;) )

Mike S said...

I was a semi-fan of Tesla until they went begging at the taxpayer's trough.

KTM, on the other hand, has been awesome since the turn of the century, and the 2002 640 Supermoto has my favorite streetbike. The X-Bow's a great track toy, and they have all kinds of great motorcycles these days.

Anonymous said...

As a plankowner of the USS Bluefish SSN-675 and a crew member of the USS Finback SSN-670 during the early 1970s, and the proud Dad of three intelligent and productive adult children (no cyclops or criminally insane among them) I figured it out 40 years ago - nuclear power is OK by me. Why don't our "leaders" get it? KY J

DirtCrashr said...

I think one of the reasons they're popular here (EV's) is the accumulated wealth (one of the highest concentrated percentages of trust-fund babies) and the weather - there's no snow. As for coal-fired, there's not much in the way of that out West here, like almost none. California gets just 1.1% of its electricity from coal - and what we get we buy from the Intermountain States where they do the nasty burning.

Also, if you're a BayAryan commuting 9-miles from Menlo Park to a plush Sunnyvale cubicle farm full of geeks who write code, then a Tesla roadster has a big enough cup-holder for your morning triple latte - especially if YOU started and own the cubicle farm that runs off-the-grid on solar cells built over the parking lot. That's free money, pure-profit you don't pay PG&E. I believe Cypress Semiconductor has just gone that route.
If you're going to travel anywhere else at all you take an airplane, or maybe the Lambo. Nobody goes to the East Bay if they can help it, that's flyover country already - unless you're an anarchist and go for the riots.

Saw a thing about racing X-Bows at Road Atlanta so there already are some here? My KTM only goes off-road.

Anonymous said...

"battery technology as it stands is fully up to producing weekend toys or urban runabouts for mild climes;"

Almost. Once we get battery technology that in the space a normal fuel tank tank +/-, gives you the same energy density as gasoline, THEN you a viable car for tooling around town.

But frankly, why would you, unless there's some reason (like gas costs 40$/gallon), a small efficient car like a Fit or a Mini, probably costs less to run ( over all cost of owner ship over 10+ years (those battery packs are $$$)) AND is way more flexible because you can just pull over and refuel.

And let's face it, if gas starts rising like that, they'll start building gas cars that have small engines and less fun, but will be gas misers.

Current battery tech, barring some devoutly to be wished for breakthrough, is a just barely useful technology.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

"Current battery tech, barring some devoutly to be wished for breakthrough, is a just barely useful technology."

And it's best that it stay that way. While I think it'd be really cool to have a super-dense energy source that would eventually make individuals completely independant of (fill in the .gov/megacorp/oil boogeyman of your choice here), it will never be allowed to happen, and if it does, it will be so heavily regulated, you won't be able to get enough of it to transport yourself to the local grocery and back.

Why?

Undeniable Rocket-Scientist Rule of Thumb Number One:

The higher the energy-density of a device, the better bomb it makes. And by "bomb", I really do mean BOMB. As in one of those things that go boom, and creates all manner of mayhem and destruction.

Sadly, there are a measurable percentage of nut jobs even in so-called civilized society that can be relied upon to totally screw up everyone else's day just because they feel nobody likes them, that making such a device available to the public just wouldn't work. At least not for longer than it would take for one of them to figure out how to set it off.

And that doesn't even take into account certain countries on the other side of the planet where entire populations are unstable.

For that one reason alone, gasoline, a relatively safe, fairly dense method of storing energy, that is for all practical purposes inert in the absence of high pressure and a source of ignition, will be the transport motivator of choice for the foreseeable future.

BoxStockRacer

Anonymous said...

Battery technology has been improving rapidly. You don't need the same energy density as gasoline because you can distribute the batteries throughout the dead space within the car.

These guys developed a car for the Automotive X Prize competition working weekends and evenings in an old tractor shed on a shoestring budget. They've proven that it will get 188 mpg equivalent on the highway. The test was done accelerating to 65 mph minimum speed and stopping and restarting every ten miles so it wasn't really constant interstate highway driving. They were knocked out of the competition with a transmission/clutch failure in the acceleration test.

IIRC, the cost of a charge for 450 mile range (single charge)is less than $4. That's why electric cars should be attractive. The cost to run one (ultra cheap) and maintain it (almost zero) offset the initial high cost.

I work with two of the team members. They readily admit that it's a "coal powered car" but as one of the team members said, his motivation was to develop an alternative to continued dependence on oil and stick it to OPEC.

http://illuminatimotorworks.com/index.php

wv: pasen :-)

Ken said...

An acquaintance of mine is a retired NASA engineer, who has some interesting stories about an electric car they built to run on capacitors rather than batteries, and about a Dodge RAM pickup they stuck a 500cc Stirling in and drove all over the country (set up for four fuels, switch on the fly: gas, diesel, natural gas, and JP-4). From his description it sounds like it should've been mated to a CVT for even greater efficiency, but this was a while back and there probably weren't many around. I know I'm noodling some kind of Stirling/CVT daily hauler idea.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"IIRC, the cost of a charge for 450 mile range (single charge)is less than $4. That's why electric cars should be attractive. The cost to run one (ultra cheap) and maintain it (almost zero) offset the initial high cost."

Yes, but how long does it take to get that 450-mile charge?

Like I noted earlier, if you've got 10 miles of power left, and have to go 50 miles that same day, you're out of luck. That's the biggest shortcoming for electric cars today, and it's what keeps them from being true competition for petroleum powered cars.

I don't see us managing to get enough of a charge for 6 hours of driving time squeezed into anywhere close to a useful charging time anytime soon, if ever. Realistically, even 10 minutes like I mentioned before is longer than most people will be willing to deal with for daily use - not when you can go to a gas station and put enough in to get to work and back in less than 5 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Jake,

That 450 mile range on a single charge would get me to and from work plus other trips for a full week. Would also do for a major percentage of drivers.

If you're worried about running out of battery charge, drive a plug-in hybrid setup.

RevolverRob said...

The viability of electric cars aside, Tesla is not a company that will be long for this world. They announced and filed for IPO and opened up the bidding last week. When a company hasn't turned a profit in four years of business and it goes IPO, you're looking at a company that is trying to raise funds to stay afloat.

Tesla is out of business soon and we'll be back to big companies trying to build EV technology. All this money being wasted, in my opinion. We could be spending it on other methods, that don't involve more raping and pillaging of the planet.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not tree hugging hippy (I prefer my cars with 8 cylinders, a manual transmission, a small block rumble, and to do the 1320 in less than 13), but I recognize the writing on the wall. We need to continue working on alternative fuels, improving the infrastructure for them, and marketing them, all while producing more efficient gasoline and diesel engines. EVs don't represent a part of that, they are using predominently Lithium-Ion batteries and if you guys have studied the chemical and industrial processes used to extra the metals and make the batteries...

Well, it's enough to make you pause and say, "That just ain't right."

-Rob

reflectoscope said...

How about this: Wind power used (when it is available) to split water; feed that to cars. You could use IC, or feed to fuel cells, or make it into a pterodactyl.*

That might be useful in the short term. In the long term, fusion power + better batteries.

Jim

*Ok maybe not a pterodactyl.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

"You don't need the same energy density as gasoline because you can distribute the batteries throughout the dead space within the car."

!!!

That means one of two things to me (or both) -

1) you have a car of such incredibly bad design that you have massive amounts of unused space in which to secrete batteries. This is something I have actually never seen in all my years of living. Every part of the car serves a purpose, and most of those purposes are not conducive to being in close proximity to a little chemical factory just looking for something to leak out on. Even at current energy densities, which are below that of gasoline, batteries generally take up the entire floor plan of the car, and THAT battery isn't worth much. Keeping the energy density below gasoline means you're driving a battery around. How you distribute it around the car doesn't change that, which also means that . . .

2) You have a car you don't actually want to *do* anything with, i.e., one with no payload. Even modern batteries aren't light, and making one big enough to cart *you* back and forth to the latte stand doesn't leave much payload capacity left over for more than a bag of chips and a jar of salsa. And even if you could carry more, you won't carry it very far. You can carry weight, or go for distance, but not both.

And if you *should* manage to come up with a big jump in battery technology that allows both . . .

. . . You're back to the Rocket Scientist's dream, and a societal nightmare - a little device sitting around just waiting for some nut to connect the terminals in a way not approved by the manufacturer.

What it comes down to is this - hundreds of thousands of engineers, working on the problem for well over a hundred years, have managed to produce and refine cars into the best compromise of weight, utility, range, comfort, practicality, cost, and performance that the average consumer can afford. They do everything, and for the most part they do it all well. They can also be optimized for single tasks, and *still* do everything else passably well, if not perfectly.

Suddenly deciding that Electric Vehicles are the future for everyone is pretty much saying that all those engineers that came before were wrong, that everything is different now, and that we're *smarter* than all those old dudes that came before us.

Not.

I leave it with a quote I read somewhere else on the intartubes:

"Electric Vehicles are the future. They always have been, and they always will be."

BoxStockRacer

Mike Gallo said...

I remember laughing at some people who had an electric car running 11s a few years ago, and everyone was all "oooh, ahhhh." The amount of money it cost that retard to run 11s could have put a gas powered vehicle of the same size and weight into the 6s, and have been a lot more energy efficient in doing so.

Tam said...

Mike Gallo,

Are you trying to apply logic to drag racing?

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"That 450 mile range on a single charge would get me to and from work plus other trips for a full week. Would also do for a major percentage of drivers.

If you're worried about running out of battery charge, drive a plug-in hybrid setup."


Well, yes, but we weren't discussing hybrids.

Besides, my point is that people probably aren't going to be plugging these in every night if the charge isn't low, especially when you get a cold winter and the power company raises the rates at the same time, like happened in VA this last winter. People's power bills nearly doubled in one from one month to the next. At times like that, most people are going to say "Oh, it's got 10% left on the battery, I don't need to plug it in," and realizing later that it's not quite enough to get to work and back.

Thus, not ready for prime time.

perlhaqr said...

I like that X-bow thing. Same engine I've got in my Jetta SportWagen. Significantly lighter, though. Much like my plan to put a TDI motor in a '71 240z. :)

Zendo Deb said...

Until battery technology gets better, plug-in hybrids are the way to go. (generators making power for batteries and electric motors. The way locomotives have run since the 50s, and the way all new - nonmilitary - ships are being built today.)

But battery technology is getting better. And eventually that recharge to get a 450 mile range will be slightly longer than you spend filling up on a cross-country trip today... something like 15 minutes.

And it won't make a bomb, because it won't have the energy density of a tank of gas, because not a small bit of that energy goes to making all that heat you have to get rid of.

That said, Lotus pulled the rug out from under Tesla when they decided to stop making the base vehicle.

Will said...

Several years ago, there was an article from some tech R+D (IBM?) that said they had figured out how to make capacitors using nano-tube technology. They estimated maybe 7 years to get it to market. They were talking charge your cell phone in seconds, a car battery in a minute or so.
This technology may make it a different ballgame for electric vehicles. Emphasis on MAY.

HTRN said...

Tam, dragracing isn't about logic.

It's about the $h*t eating grin you get when a car just get's up and GOES.

Mike's on the money with this - you can build a Vintage or Outlaw fueler for less than what that guy sunk into the RX7, mostly by using second TF/AA parts ~ linky

Anonymous said...

Zendo:

You said:

"(generators making power for batteries and electric motors. The way locomotives have run since the 50s, and the way all new - nonmilitary - ships are being built today.)"

Those generators making power for batteries and electric motors run on diesel fuel. The same principle is used to run those emergency electric generators the phone company uses during power outages, and peak load generators used by electric utilites during times of peak load, storms, and by small towns who aren't close enough to a large powerplant to get cheap power.

Those generators are neither efficient nor cheap. They burn diesel at an ungodly rate, and the power they produce is (last time I checked) approximately 6 times as expensive as the best coal-fired plants.

Ships, locomotives, and emergency power generators do not have the same space and weight constraints that cars have. They have the benefit of nearly unlimited space to store all the fuel they need. Ships have massive tankage, as do locomotives, and the local emergency generators don't need to carry any tankage at all. They just sit there sucking fuel out of a very large and stationary fuel tank making noise along with their very expensive electricity. (They're also mind-numbingly loud. I've had the misfortune of being in the same building when one came on during a power emergency test. We all had to leave the building while it was running to keep from going deaf.)

If we're going to go the diesel route, we'd be MUCH better off using the very un-sexy but very powerful and very fuel efficient turbo-diesels that have recently been developed in Europe, and just skipping the electric motor part altogether.

BoxStockRacer

Anonymous said...

Zendo:

You also said:

"And it won't make a bomb, because it won't have the energy density of a tank of gas, because not a small bit of that energy goes to making all that heat you have to get rid of."

First off, energy density is a property of the fuel to be burned (in this case gasoline), not the size of the tank it is in.

ANY battery (or capacitor) can be turned into a bomb with the right knowledge. Even those little old double-A's people use to power their Walkmans. That's why they have those little warnings on the sides that say "DO NOT CONNECT IMPROPERLY CHARGE OR DISPOSE OF IN FIRE. BATTERY MAY EXPLODE OR LEAK."

And that's just the warning on a little alkiline battery. The warnings on the instructions for Li-ion batteries usually run several paragraphs, and the fires started by laptop batteries are always exciting to read about.

And those are just itty-bitty batteries.

To make the point, keep the same energy density as the little Li-ion batteries, and their same intolerance to abuse, and increase the size (volume) by approximately 185,000 (the difference in volume between my camera battery and the monster battery in an EV) and you just barely start to see the magnitude of the problem.

Now increase the energy density enough to have a useful power supply for a car (for argument's sake, by one order of magitude), and you've got a truly frightening prospect. Never mind it's intolerance to temperature changes or it's potential toxicity should it be ruptured. Think about the most realistic and probable failure. A simple car accident, where one or more cells of this wonder battery are impacted by a cell-phone distracted driver ensconced in two tons of steel. That battery IS going to fail spectacularly, and the failure will be indistinguishable from an explosive device.

Now put that same battery in the hands of a demented fanatic who knows how they work, and you have a bomb disguised as a battery.

Again, restated for a little better clarity, Rocket Scientist Rule of Thumb Number One: "The higher the energy storage capability of a device, the better bomb it will make."

BoxStockRacer

Tam said...

HTRN,

"Tam, dragracing isn't about logic.

It's about the $h*t eating grin you get when a car just get's up and GOES.

Mike's on the money with this -
"

I spent my share of time at the track during my misspent youth. (With a small block, thankyouverymuch; anybody can go fast with a big block.)

I think the guys at Plasma Boy Racing's grins were probably plenty big enough when they smoked that 455 cid Tempest with a battery-powered Corolla, don't you?

Ken said...

@reflectoscope, call me if you get the pterodactyl thing worked out. I'll take a breeding pair -- I keep teasing my kids about having to feed the raptors and muck out the pterodactyl pens.

Anonymous said...

Start with a battery only car,take out half the battery,add a small diesel generator in the trunk;very high mileage,fast as Tesla car,no wait to charge.
luv Kermitt

Geodkyt said...

Nukes, geothermal, and tidal power (WAY more environmentally friendly than standard hydro) to make cheap juice. Wind and solar are useful to pump water up into an elevated resevoir during off-peak, and use teh kinetic energy of the water to make electricty during peak. As grid backbones, wind and solar suck dead goat farts.

So now we have cheap juice. Run it into battery powered vehicles? Nope. . .

Cheap juice to make hydrogen fuel by cracking water (most hydrogen these days is made by cracking hydrocarbon fuels). So what if it's energy inefficient, if there is no "greenhouse" emmission, and the COST per Watt is low enough?

An H2 fueled transport grid is doable AND "green". . . but you need enough cheap electricty from non-hydrocarbon sources that you can shut down ALL generator systems that use except emergency (NOT "peak" -- "emergency")generators, PLUS produce enough NEW energy to cover the H2 production and distribution network.

Electrical vehicles have some uses in fleet vehicles where trips are regular, scheduled, and planned to take into account the juice situation. You could probaly make all-electric mail delivery "jeeps" work fine, for instance. they'll be doing the same route at the same time of day, five or six days a week. They will be doing it at peak hours, which means they'll be charging off-peak.

But again, dependant on plenty of cheap juice -- and using juice from a diesel or coal fired generator defeats the purpose of using electric. So you have to have enough cheap backbone juice that IS NOT from combustion.

Which brings us back to nukes.

Nukes for a Green Gaia! Save the polar bears, build pebble beds in every small town! {grin}