FORD Pulling Plug on Electric Car...
August 31, 2002 10:09 AM   Subscribe

FORD Pulling Plug on Electric Car... Ford Motor Co. on Friday said it was pulling the plug on its Think electric vehicle division due to poor customer demand and lack of government support for the environmentally friendly cars. "The bottom line is we don't believe that this is the future of environmental transport for the mass market."
posted by DailyBread (32 comments total)

 
I've been meaning to write a review of the Th!nk Car that I've been driving on and off for the last six months. I'll give MeFiers some rough and ready comments: The university that I work for got into a cooperative arrangement with Georgia Power (who got into it for the tax break purposes) and they have a fleet of the cars. They're used by commuters to campus who are willing to give up their $400 per year parking pass for a free transit card, 12 daily parking permits, and access to this fleet of cars once they are at work. You can take them out for business or for personal uses (like getting groceries, dentist appointments, etc.). I think the university has eight cars.

I believe in electric and SULEV transportation and I think that the Th!nk cars is about the best we can do with the present technology.

All in all, it's a shame to see this program go.
posted by zpousman at 10:51 AM on August 31, 2002


One way of looking at "poor customer demand" is that we're still able to breathe the air (more or less) and that our political leaders are still dancing to the corporate tune. Bush's absence at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg is pretty eloquent support for business as usual...
posted by 327.ca at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2002


Carmakers create electrical car with no fanfare, little promotion.
Cars don't sell.
"Well, guess THAT didn't work. Back to the Oil Well, Kids!"

Sheesh.
posted by owillis at 11:40 AM on August 31, 2002


owillis, I'd hardly call the Th!nk's campaign as "no fanfare, little promotion". Even here in the relative time-warp that is Utah, I heard of them months before they were available, so I'm satisfied they were promoted adequately.

At the moment, however, the main problem with the Th!nk (as with most any electric vehicle) is range. As zpousman points out, the Th!nk was good for about 50 miles. Sadly, this would leave me about six miles short of a round-trip to work (without factoring in a side trip, or going out to lunch), in addition to its 56 MPH top speed leaving me vulnerable to being run over from behind.

The range problem could be overcome by installing charging stations in public parking areas (perhaps like parking meters they could be pay-as-you-go, with a debit or credit card), but the top speed would have to increase in order to keep me from being a hazard to other traffic. Acceleration sounds like it's sub-par as well, but all things considered it's probably adequate for my commute.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:15 PM on August 31, 2002


Yes, Oliver, it's all a plot to keep polluting the world until there is no clean air left so they can sell us that. too. Sheesh indeed. The simple fact is that the technology required to make a viable electric car doesn't exist. All the marketing in the world won't sustain in the long term a product that does not perform the job it is meant for properly. As soon as alternative tech transportation matches petroleum in cost-efficiency, it will take off, whether there is a petroleum industry plot against it or not.
[snotty remark]Just as an aside, you did know that "Kryptonite" is imaginary, didn't you? [/snotty remark
posted by BGM at 12:21 PM on August 31, 2002


I didn't think straight-up battery vehicles were part of anyone's plans for the future. It might be for the best anyway. We'd probably use Clean-Air-exempt coal burning plants to produce the electricity for them. Everybody calls out fuel cells over the electricity requirements of producing hydrogen; how come electric cars get a pass?

Besides: what's the enviromental impact of all that battery production and disposal?

(Slightly off topic, but I'm driving a hybrid Honda Civic this weekend and it seems pretty cool; surprisingly peppy and not so distant from the normal car-experience. The rental companies lease them for $10 MORE per day than their full-sized rate; who says there's no market for hybrids?)
posted by coelecanth at 1:00 PM on August 31, 2002


I'd go with hydrogen.
Mechanical Engineering Magazine article on new methods of transporting hydrogen for use in internal combustion engines.
Common algae can be valuable source of hydrogen fuel.
Hydrogen from biomass
Harnessing the Big H. An article from 1995, but extensive.
Thermite not hydrogen the cause of Hindenberg disaster I hesitate to put this Real Video here as it is amateurish, and at one point he illustrates a point by remarking on the color of the flame in a photo, that he earlier tells us is colorized. But it is too funny to keep to myself. Though I think his basic premise is valid.
posted by gametone at 1:21 PM on August 31, 2002


Electric may not be working out so well, but GM seems to be poised to bet its future on hydrogen fuel cells.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:24 PM on August 31, 2002


A radio report I heard the other day said they were moving away from pure electric because they thought the future was fuel cells. So, this isn't a move away from environmentally friendly vehicles so much as recognition that batteries aren't going to get us what the consumer demands right now, and their money would be better directed into other research and development.
posted by willnot at 1:28 PM on August 31, 2002


Natural gas is actually pretty far along as an alternative fuel -- but it necessarily works best for fleets rather than individuals. Fuel cells are a longer-term future, but aren't here quite yet. Hybrids are about where it is for individual consumers now.

The biggest problem with any battery vehicle is that you can't sell them anywhere it gets cold -- because battery life can be diminished, even cut in half. Even if that would work for someone, the efficiency of the energy conversion makes it a wash from any ecological standpoint. Remember, electric vehicles are really "coal burning vehicles" most parts of the country, with exhaust pipes several miles away.
posted by dhartung at 4:31 PM on August 31, 2002


Oh, and up-to-date gov list of alternative-fuel vehicles, and California-only maps of fueling/recharge locations. I don't see how we can do much better than this, without autocratic rules that would probably lead to a popular revolt.
posted by dhartung at 4:34 PM on August 31, 2002


I've read several places that while techology in so many fields has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, boring old batteries have just plodded along. Anyone know more?
posted by gimonca at 5:44 PM on August 31, 2002


Oh, and about the "playground plastic": plastic means no rust up here in the Snowbelt, a definite selling point if the plastic is strong enough to stand up to the abuse we put vehicles through.
posted by gimonca at 5:48 PM on August 31, 2002


A couple months ago I went out and gathered up a bunch of info on various small electric cars - blogged about it here. A favorite is Canada's Feelgood Cars, and their retro-stylish Dauphine. Also, a similar car to the Think is the E-Motion car, currently testing in Atlanta as well.
posted by kokogiak at 7:18 PM on August 31, 2002



Remember, electric vehicles are really "coal burning vehicles" most parts of the country, with exhaust pipes several miles away.

This is true, but the dirtiest coal-fired turbine is still cleaner than most IC engines. Car engines have very stringent power/weight ratio constraints compared to power plants.
posted by electro at 7:46 PM on August 31, 2002


I want to build a car that runs on hate. It'll never run out of fuel, and will go faster through the shady parts of town.
posted by zanpo at 8:20 PM on August 31, 2002


you, a date, some groceries, the end.

This kind of thinking might just turn the environmental outlook around. Don't go out to dinner and a movie, just throw your date and some whole-grain foods in your Think and go home!

It also has a top end range of only 50 miles. That's pretty much absurd -- many of my meetings in Atlanta and surrounding office-park suburbs are easily 25 miles or more one way.

The first cars changed the layout of cities about 60 years ago. Can we come up with technologies that will motivate a similarly radical change? Thus the challenge. Let's all buy Segways.
posted by rschram at 8:43 PM on August 31, 2002


STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania, August 20, 2002 (ENS) - A Penn State engineering graduate class has found solutions to many of the barriers preventing development of a hybrid fuel cell automobile using hydrogen fuel cells and battery storage.
posted by sheauga at 9:07 PM on August 31, 2002


The first cars changed the layout of cities about 60 years ago. Can we come up with technologies that will motivate a similarly radical change?

Sure, it's called the Internet. I have been able to cut my emissions, fossil fuel consumption, and contribution to traffic jams 20% by working at home one day a week. Other people I know do it even more.
posted by kindall at 10:00 PM on August 31, 2002


The first cars changed the layout of cities about 60 years ago. Can we come up with technologies that will motivate a similarly radical change?

Just my opinion, but it's difficult to imagine the positive technological change that will make cities more densely populated. Maybe some kind of hyper-efficient sound insulation that also kills cold viruses and the germs that cause bad breath.

(On preview, I don't place the Internet in this category because it doesn't obviate the need to own a car. And it hasn't helped my breath much, either.)
posted by coelecanth at 10:11 PM on August 31, 2002


I've read several places that while techology in so many fields has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, boring old batteries have just plodded along. Anyone know more?

Well, there are certain problems -- we can't just invent super-efficient batteries by throwing money at the problem. We need to find materials that chemically combine to throw off electricity, better than what we have now. Still, progress can be made, and the latest holy grail is lithium polymer, which may be efficient enough to cross a consumer resistance barrier in terms of capability and cost.
posted by dhartung at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2002


The first cars changed the layout of cities about 60 years ago. Can we come up with technologies that will motivate a similarly radical change?

Sure, it's called the Internet.


i love to compare the rise of the auto to the computer and internet. when i have done it on mefi, i got slammed. Kindall is more then right, the computer/internet revolution gonna make Detroit look tame.

America had electric cars at the turn of the last century and where in use until WW I. (my great-grandfather had a charging station on Cass Ave.)

the old electrics where a superior vehicle (Even in Detroit, circa 1910 dhart.) they did not have the mechanical failures as gas powered . They were quiet, a real selling point to the rich.

Remember, electric vehicles are really "coal burning vehicles" most parts of the country, with exhaust pipes several miles away. so true, i would like to do some research on battery related fires in Detroit between 1901 and 1916. dhart hit it, the power transfer loss is too great if electrics were in any sort of numbers.

The first cars changed the layout of cities about 60 years ago. hmm, maybe not the first cars, but they did change the landscape of many cities. a micro example is here in Flint, the city planned alot of it's road and highway system upon auto factory hours and traffic congestion points (used Detroit as model). Now that GM is all but gone, we are left with a maze of one-way streets and still some of the worst roads in america.
(the early Buick was the most powerful engine for a while. the ads claimed it could climb any hill, hence the phrase "thats a buick hill"). I believe Mason and the boys where inspired by our terrible roads to invent the beauty that was the early Buick.
(D.D. Buick also invented the first feasible marine engine (outboard) and manufactured ceramic lined bath tubs, as he had broken the secret german bathtub cabal which had kept the cohesion process secret for so many years)
posted by clavdivs at 8:55 AM on September 1, 2002


the old electrics where a superior vehicle i take issue with me self. to blanket. they where 'perfered'.
posted by clavdivs at 10:10 AM on September 1, 2002


On preview, I don't place the Internet in this category because it doesn't obviate the need to own a car.

A change that reduces automobile use by 50% is the same as everyone suddenly getting cars that are twice as efficient. Give it another twenty or maybe fifty years; the rise of hybrid vehicles and an increase in telecommuting will quadruple the effective fuel efficiency of this country and, later, the world.

Yeah, lots of people will still own cars. So what? Even if I could take a bus or walk or bike everywhere I needed to go, I'd still own a car, because I'm not poor and I refuse to act like I am. I'd probably use it a lot less in such a scenario, but that would merely help me feel less guilty about using it when I felt the urge.
posted by kindall at 10:36 AM on September 1, 2002


"The category" in question was, "technologies that change the layout of cities." Cities will remain as they are for as long as everyone feels compelled to own a car; cars take up space near apartments, limiting density, increasing the space between dwellings, etc. The farther apart things are, ... the more we need cars. The Internet won't change that unless it makes you give up your car; and, incidentally, in places where the density is high enough, nobody feels poor for not owning a car -- they feel relieved.
posted by coelecanth at 3:12 PM on September 1, 2002


The layout of cities doesn't much need changing, as far as I can tell.

in places where the density is high enough, nobody feels poor for not owning a car

That's true; they feel poor because they're paying ridiculous rents.
posted by kindall at 8:33 PM on September 1, 2002


Hydrogen power is wonderful. Burn it and all you get is water vapour. Perfect.

Except that water vapour is responsible for 95% of greenhouse gases. Bummer.

And there is no "free" hydrogen on Earth. It all has to be obtained from disassociation of water, which takes power and energy. More energy than you get from burning hydrogen. Bummer.
posted by alrob at 6:25 AM on September 2, 2002


Alrob, I don't get your remark about "water vapour is responsible for 95% of greenhouse gases. Bummer." Could you provide some links on that. Is the ocean covering most of this planet the real culprit in the greenhouse effect?

I'm no expert in hydrogen, but I think most of it now comes from processing natural gas, not dissociation of H2O. The links I provided above point to research that could lead to generating hydrogen from solar power (via algae and biomass). But I also think useful paths to pursue would be using solar, wind, geothermal and tidal power to generate electricity which could be stored as hydrogen dissociated from H2O. Which I think is a more efficient way to transport power for vehicles than current battery technology.
posted by gametone at 8:28 AM on September 2, 2002


And there is no "free" hydrogen on Earth. It all has to be obtained from disassociation of water, which takes power and energy.

I always kind of wondered: hydrogen is light and escapes easily. What if we split a bunch of water and then lose the hydrogen? Could we run out of water?

(No, I'm not serious; there are plenty of other places to get the hydrogen and make more water. Natural gas, for instance.)
posted by kindall at 9:49 AM on September 2, 2002


Kindall,

I live in Queens, do not own a car, am not poor and am not paying ridiculous rents.

I do feel relieved.

I loved living in Chicago, but the worst thing about living there by far was the necessity of car ownership.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:22 PM on September 2, 2002


Gametone, read this Global Warming Primer.

Water vapour is the major greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, accounting for about a 33° C increase in the temperature of the atmosphere. Without water vapour in the atmosphere, the average air temperature would be a chilly -18° C (ref: end of page 3)

Water vapour is a greenhouse gas because it absorbs infrared radiation emitted by the earth. It is actually a much more efficient greenhouse gas than CO2 because, (unlike CO2), it absorbs radiation over a wide range of wavelengths in the infrared spectrum.

The above article is an excellent read, but it is fairly technical and requires a good understanding of high school chemistry and physics. Hope that helps.
posted by alrob at 12:36 AM on September 3, 2002


Alrob, thanks for that link. That report indicates that CO2 has relatively minor effect on global warming compared to water vapor. They bring up variability in the solar output as being the possible real culprit . I worry about this as well, considering the wacky way the sun has been acting of late. (The eleven year sunspot maximum that was due to die out last year is still going strong)

But I just don't believe that the water vapor produced by burning hydrogen would be a significant factor. First off I have to think that almost all of it would condense to liquid water before it gets into the upper atmosphere. And besides right now gasoline combustion itself is producing water vapor with every piston stroke. HC + O -> H2O + CO2.

And this is not even dealing with gasoline's products of incomplete combustion: hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and soot that I don't care to be breathing. Yes, hydrogen combustion does produce nitric oxides, but so does gasoline.

Even granting this report's thesis that the industrial age's piling on of CO2 to the atmosphere has not been proved as the main cause of global warming, we still have to do something, not having a cosmic rheostat for the sun. But reducing our CO2 emissions sure can't hurt. I think Hydrogen is a path worth pursuing.
posted by gametone at 2:28 PM on September 3, 2002


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