Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New York Times, On Our Side?

Well, no, not really.  But even the blind squirrel, as they say, occasionally finds a nut.

First, the scenario:  A writer for the NYT, John Broder, took a test drive in a Tesla Model S Sedan.  The cost for this "family car" is $101,000.  He test drove the car from the suburbs of Washington, DC to Milford, CT.  Let's just say it did not go well.

Next, the analysis: This from the Washington Post.  WaPo writer Charles Lane points out the generous federal subsidies (read: taxpayer money) given to Tesla to build and market the Model S.  He points out other analyses where scientists are saying that the electric car is a non-starter, at least for now.

Now, my own take:

I'm actually a fan of the idea of an all electric car.  I don't give a rip about "peak oil" or "global warming."  I'm a tech-geek, and I think an all-electric car is just cool.  If we can add lasers, so much the better.

On the other hand, I also bow to reality.  The reality is that energy storage technology (whether batteries or fuel-cells) simply is not ready for a car that replaces how most people drive.

First, there's the cost.  Electric vehicles, from the Chevy Volt, to the Nissan Leaf, to the Tesla line, are much, much more expensive than their "conventional" counterparts.  I don't think I'd get to $101,000 total cost of ownership on my Toyota Camry in years.  And, let's be honest, in the same amount of time, an electric car would also increase it's total cost of ownership.  You have to pay for the electricity which would power your home-charger.  Unless you want to get home and not go anywhere until you get up to go to work in the morning, you'll have to buy a special charging station.  And that's on top of regular maintenance.  I don't know of an electric engine uses oil (I suspect it does), but I do know brake-pads are brake-pads, and they'll need to be replaced.  Same with parts of the suspension, tires, and so forth.

Second, there's the fact of American driving habits.  Now, maybe if you live in a great big city like NYC, it makes sense to have an electric vehicle.  If your total round trip is going to be 40 miles, you're fine.  For those of us who live in "fly-over country" they're just not practical.  My total commute is about 80 miles a day.  And that assumes I don't have to take any detours, or run any errands.  Certainly that's well within the range of a Tesla (~200 miles, or so), but, then we're back to that price tag.  It is not "well within the range" of a Volt or Leaf.  And that assumes the only places you'll be going are work and home, with the occasional grocery run. 

My parents live over 200 miles away, across the flats of Texas (they live near Abilene, I'm in the DFW Metroplex).  Between here and there is a whole lot of nothing.  The drive, at slightly-over-highway speed takes around 2.5 - 3 hours (thank you, Texas Legislature, for the higher speed-limits).  Using the "high performance" Tesla Model S as your baseline, and using their driving guidance, the trip would take between 3 and 4 hours, not including at least one stop to recharge the battery (about another hour).  What is now (for this Texan) a "Hey, let's go get dinner with my folks" turns into "gee, can we take the two days?  We'll have to do something with the dogs..."  And I'm hardly alone in that.

Now, back to that WaPo article.  Even that talks around some of the problems, and I've been basing my analysis on their rather generous (if still "disappointed") coverage.  Let's look at some quotes:

As an American Physical Society symposium on battery research concluded last June: “Despite their many potential advantages, all-electric vehicles will not replace the standard American family car in the foreseeable future.”

"Potential advantage" is scientist for "Pipe dream."

I accept the president’s good intentions. He didn’t set out to rip off the public. Nor was the electric-car dream a Democrats-only delusion. Several Republican pols shared it, too.

To quote our illustrious Vice President: "That's a load of... stuff."  Consider exactly who got all those green energy subsidies, and to whom they donated.  Yeah, it was a scam from the beginning.  The fact that some Republicans bought into it (note he doesn't point out which Republicans.  Why do I think I will not find Jim Demint or Rand Paul's names on that list anywhere?) does mean it wasn't a scam; it means they got snookered, too.  That, or they were in on the scam.  Possibly both.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he of the Nobel Prize in physics, epitomized the regnant blend of sanctimony and technocratic hubris. He once told journalist Michael Grunwald that photosynthesis is “too damn inefficient,” and that DOE might help correct that particular error of evolution.

This is the man behind the boondoggle.  Seriously, he believes that we can "correct" photosynthesis.

Electric cars will almost certainly not replace conventional, internal combustion engine vehicles any time in our lifetimes.  Certainly not in the United States.  Physics has said "no" just as physics said "no" to wind energy and solar energy.  It is time to stop wasting (taxpayer) time and (taxpayer) money on these things.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I live in Iowa, and I just shake my head at the way "city-dwellers" (East coasters, mostly) think I should live and travel. Electric cars will have to become a LOT more practical and reliable before they could ever be used regularly in Iowa (although, strangely enough, I actually saw a Tesla on the street in Iowa City on Wednesday...)