The Allure of Electric

By Miranda Lightstone-Styker

In celebration of Earth Day …

Alright, so enough with the hype already — give me all-electric vehicles all the time, or shut up about it. Really.

Nissan opened up the electrical lines, so to speak, on their brand new LEAF electric vehicle on Monday. Eager LEAF enthusiasts and future buyers were able to register online to be in line to purchase a brand new LEAF come summer of 2011. It kind of reminded me of lineups outside Chapters for Harry Potter book releases at midnight.

MINI released pre-production test vehicles of its MINI E about a year ago to a select few (600) drivers in the US, UK and Germany. And the Volt has been driven in CA for about 10 months now, but only a very select few are on the road right now as they are still working stuff out.

Tesla seems to be the only ones who know what do to when it comes to all-electric vehicles. Since 2003 they have dedicated themselves to making phenomenal EVs that not only run zero emissions but are also fun to drive and last on one charge.

And this is why I find it so hard to believe that a company like GM has spent the past 3 (is it 3 now?) years dicking around with a car like the Volt, and why companies like Porsche and Lambo have waited this long to produce hybrid/electric vehicles.

The technology is there! And maybe I’m just being bitchy (it is, after all, early on a Thursday morning and I’ve only had one cup of tea), but if there’s such a need for these types of vehicles (and there seems to be) then why aren’t manufacturers pursuing the creation of cars like the Tesla more intently?

Obviously, Tesla’s cars aren’t exactly affordable, but that’s because they are so unique and different in their genre. If everyone could produce electric vehicles that jump from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds then wouldn’t the market be a bit more saturated and you could pick yourself up a Tesla S for $25,000 or maybe a BMW M3 EV for $40,000? And again, maybe I’m just dreaming, but it seems feasible.

Designing, engineering and building EVs takes more time, energy and money. Which, in the end, means a higher price tag on these planet-saving vehicles. So, in the end are they really the better choice for us motorists?

True, we aren’t paying for gas and most countries are now offering federal tax cuts on “green” vehicles, but in the end are we saving more? And do we know the long-term drivability on these vehicles? No. So we know what the lithium-ion battery packs will look like 10-15 years down the road? No. Do we know, roughly how long the batteries are supposed to last? They say yes, but it hasn’t been truly tested because EVs haven’t been around long enough to test.

Just like early adopters of the badly named iPad, problems will be found and first-time buyers are going to regret their hasty decisions.

But what gets me is that there shouldn’t be early adopters to this genre of vehicle anymore! Come on! We’ve had years to develop this technology and, as I said before, if Tesla can do it then why the hell can’t anyone else? A whole seven years after Tesla was first born in CA, major companies with oodles of funding and backings are just now starting to emerge with viable EV models that could change the face of all vehicles as we know them today.

I’m all for the advancement of EVs on the market, as long as they’re good EVs. I’m not about to get into a car that drives like a golf cart just to keep the air a bit less toxic (sorry Mother Earth). Nissan, Mits, BMW, Chrylsler, Mercedes-Benz; they’re all riding on the right electrical current, they just have to make sure they stick it in the right plug.

Drive on,
– M.

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5 thoughts on “The Allure of Electric

  1. Adam says:

    First off, full disclosure: I work for GM. And I am also acute aware of what our competitors have been up to. Unfortunately, I’d have to agree with your own assessment of your mood (in paragraph #6), and point out that GM–and others–have not been ‘dicking around’ for three years.

    To compare a startup company who took an existing lightweight super-expensive, highly impractical sports car “off the shelf” and fitted it with 6,800 laptop batteries and attached a six-figure pricetag to attempts by GM, Nissan, and others to get this technology mainstream is an uninformed opinion, at best. It is the sort of perceptual gap that automakers battle on a daily basis. In my case, it’s right up there with “Obama attends GM board meetings and tells us what to build.”

    The Mini E? $800 a month for a two-seater whose range drops 30-50% in cold weather. As with Tesla, it’s a good start, but the technology is by no means perfected.

    Price? It’s not the time and energy that drive cost up–it’s materials. A lightweight aluminum-and-carbon-fiber structure costs a lot more than plain steel. And that Leaf battery costs somewhere far north of $10,000–far more than a conventional internal combustion engine.

    And, unlike the iPad, which has a built-in infrastructure–app store and desktop PCs, as well as 3G and WiFi connectivity–there is no infrastructure for EVs. If you live in a major city, you likely don’t have a garage, which means no place to plug your car in over night. Would you buy a car if the nearest gas station ws 20 miles away?

    I could go on, but I don’t want to suck up all the bandwidth…

  2. Adam says:

    Oh, and, for the record, I’m not an official GM spokesman–just a passionate employee.

  3. Adam says:

    One correction–yes, there is technically an infrastructure for EVs. It’s the plug in your wall. The Mini E takes 23hrs to recharge off standard household current (http://www.worldcarfans.com/109060519772/mini-e-electric-car-glitch-results-in-23-hour-recharge-time). Therefore, I should have said there is no consumer-friendly infrastructure available.

  4. Hi Adam,

    I knew I’d get somebody riled up with that post – just didn’t think it would be someone so significant!

    First off, thanks so much for clearing up a lot of the details I left out.

    As it turns out, I was just in a really foul mood that morning and I think the constant “electric is the future” “look how cool it is” “oh my God electric IS the future, screw petrol” talk ALL THE TIME just gets to me — especially when so few fully electric models have hit the market and those that have just aren’t practical for the masses.

    I understand the pull the petrol companies have as well, so clearly the development for electric cars is going to be hindered by them. I also understand the need for infrastructure to charge and house electric cars correctly. And I think that’s what annoys me just as much.

    Manufacturers talk about EVs like they’re arriving tomorrow and they are the best thing since sliced cheese – when really, there’s so much more to it (like taking 23 hours for one charge and costing nearly $1,000 per month to own), so it’s really NOT the future – at least not for everyone.

    I love that automakers are so innovative and really looking at improving how we drive, what we drive and how long we drive them. I think it came down to me being sick of having it drilled into my head because it really is still a bit far-fetched because there is still so much more to do to make a Nissan LEAF as practical as a Chevy Aveo for a daily city driver.

    I hope I made some sense there Adam – and I appreciate you taking the time to read my (rant?) blog and respond! I hope I haven’t put you off my opinions for good. 😉

    Drive on,
    – M.

  5. Adam says:

    Miranda,

    Points taken, and, no, you haven’t ‘put me off’. I would note that it’s not the automakers who ‘talk about EVs like they’re arriving tomorrow’ but misinformed (and sometimes overenthusiastic media). Obviously, GM’s challenge is to keep the enthusiasm going after showing the concept, but our initial announcement said the first Volts would be out by the end of 2010, and GM has not wavered from that stance. Ford and Nissan have also been pretty crystal clear about their plans. I think you’d have to place some blame with Fisker (first cars due out late last year, now not due until early 2011) and Tesla (Model S sedan due this year, now delayed until 2012), as well as their enthusiastic followers.

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