Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Volt fiat!

So the federal government tried to will into existence a market where none existed before.

Well, that's not exactly true. There is a market for plug-in pure electric cars, just like there's a market for exotic Italian supercars or 15-passenger vans. And, similarly, you can't wave a magic wand and state that there will be one million Lamborghini Gallardos or Chevy Express 3500s on the road by 2015, and even the reality-insulated current administration has finally had to admit it.

While some people object to electric cars for religious reasons, like they may get excommunicated from their GOP church, I'm pretty agnostic about a car's power source: If it's reliable, reasonably priced, can burn rubber and pass things on the interstate, and can have its fuel tank refilled from empty in about five minutes, I don't care what goes in the tank. You can power it with gasoline or diesel or hydrogen or unicorn farts 'n' moonbeams for all I care.

And pure electrics just aren't there yet. Seriously, a car that could reliably get someone around town and be refilled in their garage every night will always have a niche among urban commuters as a second car, but until costs come down, ranges grow, and performance improves, electrics are going to be stuck in that tiny niche.

41 comments:

Bob said...

Your title made me think for a moment that you were taking the Cross against the infidel. That was "Deus Vult!" though.

Anonymous said...

Halfway home from work some Friday night, I could suddenly decide to make a left turn, drive to Des Moines and pick up a friend, then continue on thru the night to Las Vegas. Just like that.

Assuming I'm not stupid enough to be driving an electric lawnmower, of course. In which case I'd be stalled on the side of the road still within sight of my house about twelve inches past the longest extension cord I own.

Impractical doesn't even begin to touch on the problems of storing energy for vehicle propulsion in batteries. Wake me up when my iPhone can last a whole billing cycle on a charge.

Stuart the Viking said...

With current battery technology, Electric cars are not viable. To buy one, you pay thousands more than you would for a similar gas powered vehicle, then 5 or so years down the road (sometimes as little as 3, sometimes as much as 10) when the thing is finally paid off, the battery pack reaches it's end of life and needs to be replaced or you have a huge, expensive, paper weight sitting in your driveway. The battery packs cost around $5,000. Might as well scrap the car at that price. Not very environmentally friendly that.

Also, this cracked me up.

"...swing toward an unusual but promising new alternate power source: hydrogen."

Unusual? New? Where the hell have these people been? The auto industry has been talking about Hydrogen for YEARS. Nearly as long as the whole "flying cars" thing has been going on. It's goes something like this *whine* "We don't have the infrastructure for that, it would be too hard" *whimper* and the idea would be cast aside once again. Unusual... my ass...

s

TCinVA said...

I'm right with you, Tam. I'd happily take an electric powered car as a transportation appliance if only for the fact that it will probably be a lot more reliable and less maintenance intensive than the sleds we're all driving now.

...but it's that transportation bit that is the sticky wicket. A vehicle isn't much use to me if it doesn't work as transportation because it can't go more than 40 miles without needing an 8 hour recharge.

Yrro said...

I will submit that the population of people who rarely ever need to travel more than 40 miles in their daily commute is pretty high. Most of them, though, probably live somewhere with a functioning public transit system, and only really need to use the car to take holiday trips to grandmas.

It's not so much the "oh, I can't just decide to take an unexpected long trip" as the "oh, I will *always* have to rent or buy a second car to take those trips."

Anonymous said...

StV:

We haven't just been talking about it, hydrogen powered cars are OLD NEWS.

Storing hydrogen was really hard until somebody discovered that by bolting 4 hydrogen atoms onto a carbon atom, it suddenly became a much more manageable fuel, and quite practical.

They decided to call this technique "natural gas"

Samsam von Virginia

Douglas2 said...

Moving to another country is strange. Everything is different. One night I awoke with a start at 4AM, not able to work out what had awakened me. I sat and listened, and a strange whine was getting louder outside. Peering out the window, I could see a milk float approaching, making no sound but that of the tires on the tarmac. Soon that was a familiar sound worthy of no notice.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk_float

Steve Skubinna said...

My objection to electrics is two fold: one, they aren't necessarily cleaner, depending on how the power is generated. CA gets smug about their laws mandating hybrids and electrics, yet they're happy purchasing 30% of their electricity from out of state. They just shift the burden of producing the power and pretend their shit doesn't stink. Environmentally speaking.

I live in Western WA, where much of our power comes from hydro. So an electric would make some sense, except that I live in rural Washington, so driving 40 miles to get groceries and having to wait eight hours for my car to recharge just isn't going to work.

But that's the great thing about being in government - consequences do not exist and all laws, even physical ones, are malleable.

Boat Guy said...

Coal and nuke-powered cars aren't so much a "niche" as a "statement", usually some kind of very smug assertion that "I'm better/cooler/'edgier' than you and I REALLY REALLY care about protecting Gaia"
Disposing of all those U-boat size batteries is gonna get really interesting in a few years

Anonymous said...

I would say my boss's Volt is a very good car for the way he drives it. Home most nights and can handle the 140 miles back and forth to BNA without a problem.

I've driven it a number of times and it has good pickup but is rather heavy in the cornering but it just a economy car with a high entry cost. It is gadget heavy but my boss is a PHd engineer and is a gadget guy.

It is price competative with TVA electric costs. I don't know if that would be true with PECO or Con Ed pricing.

The great unknown is how will it hold up and true cost over time. Herr Doktor keeps cars 10 years or more so there should be a battery swap in that time frame somewhere.

What a Volt really should cost is unkown. They let Herr Doktor drive the Volt off the lot with no money down because they can't sell them at $40K.

Gerry

Tam said...

Boat Guy,

"Coal and nuke-powered cars aren't so much a "niche" as a "statement", usually some kind of very smug assertion that "I'm better/cooler/'edgier' than you and I REALLY REALLY care about protecting Gaia""

Or if you're a commuter who lives in the city it could mean "I don't like stopping at gas stations." My roommate's daily commute is 10 miles round trip on surface streets; a reasonably-priced, reliable electric would be ideal for her.

Phssthpok said...

I suspect what will be the lynchpin in breaking electric cars out of 'niche' and into main stream use with be the standardization of 'hot swappable' battery packs. (something akin to those 'blue-rhino' propane tank exchanges)

When you can roll into your local Texaco/BPA co-op fueling station and spend five minutes (and comparable dollars) pulling out empties, and sliding in 'fulls' and be on your merry, pure electric will become more acceptable as a direct replacement for IC engines for most people.

and if you think little Suzie Home-maker cant figure out how to do that, I've got an electric skillet that begs to differ.

docjim505 said...

Boat Guy - Disposing of all those U-boat size batteries is gonna get really interesting in a few years.

As I understand it, disposal is only half the problem: manufacture of the batteries is a pretty nasty process, requiring lots of electrical power (which, sadly, DOESN'T come from magic, non-polluting pixie dust) and generating quite a lot of toxic waste.

Anonymous said...

Tam,

The "religious" objection to electric cars is born from the irrationality that has accompanied their introduction and marketing.

There is an unspoken assumption that these things are better for the environment, yet they are powered by electricity produced in a coal-powered plant. Enviros seem to have a blind spot with these things: their understanding of the grid ends at the nearest socket.

Second, enviros assume that widespread use of electric cars will NOT put any strain on the grid, especially at a time when the Greens are happily shutting down power plants and not allowing any replacements.

Third, if enviros had their way, they would stick all of us into these things tomorrow, commute distances be damned. From their perspective, if you don't live in the urban jungle close to your work, then you need to move. Their utopia is NYC/LA; and they will shoe-horn the rest of us into that model regardless of reality.

Finally, there are some of us who see the parallel development of smart meters, and can project to the day when we will be limited to a 3/4 full car battery to "save the planet". I don't want to have to choose between a hot shower and a fueled car because the utility has pre-determined how much juice my house is gonna get tonight.

So, "religious" objections are rather logical: electric car advocates make claims not backed up by the facts, they ignore the impact of these vehicles on the grid and on general power consumption, and they neglect the horrendous pollution (in China) that accompanies the manufacture of the batteries for these vehicles. As long as the damage is somewhere else, enviros are perfectly happy to strut their wheels.

Dwight Brown said...

"They decided to call this technique 'natural gas'."

True story: I have a couple of friends who bought one of the natural gas powered Honda Civics about two years ago.

Currently, there are two places they can go to in order to get the car filled with natural gas: the airport, and the Honda dealer that's located not terribly far from the airport. My friends and I live on the exact opposite side of town from the airport.

"But they could get a compressor installed in their home!" They did. The compressor died. And, while they got a tax credit for the initial installation, they don't get a tax credit for the repair, and the cost to get the compressor repaired is apparently pretty high...

Rob K said...

I'd buy an electric car that could fully charge in a couple of hours off 15 amp 120 AC and had a 250 mile range on a full charge, IFF it was half as expensive to buy and maintain as the 2001 Cavalier that is my daily driver now.

Until then, they're absolutely impractical.

Boat Guy said...

"Or if you're a commuter who lives in the city it could mean "I don't like stopping at gas stations." My roommate's daily commute is 10 miles round trip on surface streets; a reasonably-priced, reliable electric would be ideal for her. "

Good point. I'm sure there must be at least a couple of dozen people who bought them using that rationale.
'Course you two use an even better commuter vehicle in good weather, and I'll admit that in inclement weather the coal/nuke car would be more comfortable and carry more stuff. The weight of the batteries might even make them good snow cars.

og said...

My issue with electrics and hybrids has always been the complexity of the unit. I have looked under the hoods of Priii, escapes, lexii, and several other hybrid, and the conclusion is always the same: Engineering nightmare, and repair clusterfuck. if you're the type of person that drives a car to the end of it's warranty and then trades it in on the newer model, bully for you- the hybrid is a good fit, if you can afford it. If, on the other hand, you are a high miler, who keeps cars for extended times, the cost of ownership will skyrocket. Much as I'd like a nice jetta or passat diesel with my commute, the eventual cost of ownership is prohibitive. Sure, the engines last forever, but after 200,000 miles, the windows stop working, the seats look like they've been mauled by a rhino, the trans has been rebuilt twice, and the very expensive brakes have needed replacing ten times. If I'm going to buy a car that has a huge cost of ownership, there's gonna be a rampant horse on it somewhere.

Tam said...

Og,

"Engineering nightmare, and repair clusterfuck. if you're the type of person that drives a car to the end of it's warranty and then trades it in on the newer model, bully for you- the hybrid is a good fit, if you can afford it."

That's my big objection to hybrids for my own use. (And a lot of other Gee-Whiz! automotive technologies like CVTs and touchscreen HVAC controls and suchlike.)

If you buy new and trade every three years, it's all zoomy, but if you're like me and drive other people's 10-year-old 150k mile hand-me-downs, it's a different kettle of fish altogether.

Still, there's no reason that a bare-bones pure-electric commuter pod needs to be an engineering nightmare; a golf cart is hardly NASA-level technology.

Anonymous said...

"Seriously, a car that could reliably get someone around town and be refilled in their garage every night will always have a niche among urban commuters as a second car"

And therein lies the rub. "Urban" commuters generally don't live in areas where a garage is feasible, and any extension cord running out their front door to the street at night will be at the copper dealer by morning.

Suburban commuters, OTOH, who may actually have real estate with garages, live too far from the office to get there and home on a single charge.

Tam said...

"And therein lies the rub. "Urban" commuters generally don't live in areas where a garage is feasible, and any extension cord running out their front door to the street at night will be at the copper dealer by morning."

*Looks out window*

Um, okay...

A lot of folks who live in the 'burbs or the country have odd ideas about The Way All Cities Are. Not every "urban" area looks like an episode of Seinfeld or Friends. In both ATL and IND I have lived in distinctly in-town neighborhoods, within a stone's throw of downtown, that were dominated by street after street of single-family dwellings; these are the old "streetcar suburbs".

But you're right, if someone doesn't have off-street parking, an EV isn't going to be very handy, unless they work at the local NPR station or someplace else with EV recharging spots in the parking garage.

og said...

Still, there's no reason that a bare-bones pure-electric commuter pod needs to be an engineering nightmare; a golf cart is hardly NASA-level technology"

Exactly! Ideally, you could buy an electric car with a decent range battery pack, then at some point, if you desire, upgrade to a small gas or diesel "battery charger" for extended range, and eventually use turbines to power the batteries- like Jaguars concept car. The complexity of the hybrid drive, as well as the cost of the exotic materials required for their repair, will put a lot of priii in the wrecking yard while your zed drei and my explorer are still racking up the miles, doing what they were designed to do.

tweell said...

I worked for a battery company 20 years ago, they came up with a NiCd battery that could take an 80% charge in 15 minutes. They had excellent performance and averaged 20k cycles before reaching 50% capacity (with a nice straight line). The company thought the car folks would be jumping all over those batteries, but found that politics were much more important.

The other problem is the amount of electricity involved. That quick charge would use 175A at 220V for a single vehicle. To get a full charge at 110V 15A (regular house current, max sustained plug current) would take over 30 hours. Physics is brutal stuff.

Kristophr said...

We still need a nuclear powered SUV.

Fuck the NRC. I want a Strontium-90 pebblebed in my Suburban.

PoppaJ said...

There's only one problem with using unicorn farts to power a car. All that glitter tends to bind up the engine something awful.

David said...

I'm out in the Bay Area for work at my company's headquarters, and got to drive my boss' BMW ActiveE Monday afternoon. It was the first electric vehicle I had driven, and I have to admit it was pretty cool. It works well for my boss' lifestyle, he drives the ActiveE and his wife drives the Volt, so they have had zero gas consumption for a while now (with $60 extra on their electrical bill). But the only reasons it makes sense for his family is all the tax incentives at both the federal and CA level and the fact that they rarely drive more than 100 miles, and can use the Volt on gas if they do. Their daily commute is about 10 miles each way.

Still, I do have to say, 184 lb-ft at 0 RPM and a direct drive (no transmission to speak of) made the car incredibly fun to drive.

Anonymous said...

Exactly:

Whenever someone suggest an alternative to "the usual" zero in on the potential downsides:

WindPower: Downside -wind stops blowing -
solution: Fossil Fuel or Nuke plant on standby -
Problem: Unless windpower has no capital cost you have double investment costs Result: FAIL

Solar: See sun setting, week sun in high latitudes. See Wind power FAIL

Electric Cars: Problem:
Poor energy density of batteries, slow charging, potentially require "wierd" electrics, expensive, running the heater in winter, A/C in summer 1/2's your range or more...
Solution: Drive less.
Result: Fail

Etc...



Note, I'm not against any of those things, it's just that extrapolating certain things past their niche markets is doomed to fail.

USUALLY IT'S BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS WHY

Somehow our damn governments spend tonnes of money showing it, rather than sending it right back to the lab and investing (a pittance, relatively) in basic research to overcome the problems.


The Great and Powerful Oz said...

I think that putting a diesel genset on a trailer for long trips would be my preferred solution to extending the range of an electric vehicle.

But what do I know? I drive a 25 year old diesel Mercedes that I paid $1800 for.

Robin said...

Anonymous, you can't back up windpower with coal or nuclear generators. Both of those really need extended ramp up and ramp down and work most efficiently as base load. What you have to back up windpower for is faster peak load style generation with is almost always natural gas. The pricing of which fluctuates a lot more than the others.

Douglas2 said...

Recently in someones blog post about Lipidleggin' I was directed to the blog of my neighbor Bill St. Clair, who was briefly tempted by the following passenger vehicle:
http://www.theautomoto.com/
I dare say that with a pair of well-fitting side curtains that would be perfect for 98% of the "the volt is perfect for..." stories above, at a fraction of the purchase and operating costs. Zipcar is fine for the rest.

the real Mr.O said...

Eh..apparently the Japs are bailing on battree-powered vehic's.

Kindly do your own net search for the confirm; and if you own a Volt, get rid of that POS right now while the residual value approximates 25% post tax credit.

Don't bother sending your complaints to the bloated billionaire of global-warning bullshit either...he doesn't care.

Tam said...

Douglas2,

"I dare say that with a pair of well-fitting side curtains that would be perfect for 98% of the "the volt is perfect for..." stories above, at a fraction of the purchase and operating costs."

1) Chevy's Volt is not a little strippo commuter pod; it is a plush-bottom hybrid in the Civic/Corolla size class at the Accord/Camry price point.

2) The linked vehicle would be pretty much unusable around here in winter. A little tiny 4-wheeled urban runabout in the Smart/500/iQ would make a much more useful year-round commuter pod.

staghounds said...

This comment thread is hilarious.

Boat Guy said...

"... But the only reasons it makes sense for his family is all the tax incentives at both the federal and CA level..."
which is a nice (but obfuscatory) way of saying that THE REST OF US are subsidizing them...

Ken said...

What Boat Guy said.

I have occasion to attend university poster presentations and the like now and again, a number of which (recently) have been on the topic of "sustainable entrepreneurship." It never ceases to amaze me that people continue to believe that because "sustainability" and "subsidy" can be found in relatively close proximity in the dictionary, they must go hand-in-glove in the real world too.

NotClauswitz said...

What's tickles (is that he word?) me is to see is the very REAL number of back-patting Portola Valley types driving their $72,400(base)85Kwh Tesla-S all of 6-miles down the hill to the Venture Capital office on Sand Hill Road and back, such a horrendous commute!
And similarly the jaded Menlo Parkian and Palo Altoans who do the awful same - driving that horrible slog from Waverly St. to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods and back.
The poor dears must spend a FORTUNE on Bikram Yoga, just to get their arms to stretch around like that.

CGHill said...

Then again, the Tesla Model S does 0-60 in under five, and with the battery pack under the body, the center of gravity is close to the ground, the opposite of our tall, tippy SUV things.

And its biggest battery pack can do over 250 miles.

Still, it costs four times as much as a workaday Prius.

Tam said...

CGHill,

"Still, it costs four times as much as a workaday Prius."

...and you still can't drive it to Knoxville. ;)

Will said...

I read somewhere that if you leave the Tesla unplugged for more than a month, the batt pack is toast. Very very expensive toast.

NotClauswitz said...

The Los Altos (& MenloPark, Atherton, PortolaValley, ShallowAlto) cops love it when you do 0-60 in under five! I can assure you they have a tall-tippy Porsche thing (Saffron?) for the SUV-to-Tahoe effort. Take it on the freeway? Heavens, that's where people listen to AM radio! Basically they're Ultra-Liberals in Display-and-Posture mode, using $90grand vehicles as a shopping cart/iPhone holder - and some have kiddie stickers plasters on the glass, proving that it's not just poor-dumb Liberals with demon spawn but rich-dumb Libs too. If they drove to SF for the Opera it might get keyed or scratched in the horrendous traffic, and maybe they could make Napa RT but that involves going over the Bridge and the wine-tasting traffic-of-drunks - it's all just revenue enhancement to support the decaying State.

markm said...

og: "if you're the type of person that drives a car to the end of it's warranty and then trades it in on the newer model, bully for you- the hybrid is a good fit, if you can afford it."

That's assuming there's a decent trade-in value left by the time it reaches the end of its warranty. Most likely, in 3 years the trade-in value will be barely over zero. The battery pack will have lost half its capacity so the dealer has to choose between an "as-is" sale or replacing the batteries - and new batteries will still cost nearly as much as a 3-year old gasoline-powered car of similar passenger and cargo capacity.

And that's *before* the people who buy late model used cars instead of new learn how much of a dog a used electric is.