Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Electric Vehicles: Back to the future?
April 8, 2003 12:56 PM   Subscribe

The General Motors EV1 electric car is soon to be a museum piece: "As California retreats from its strict pollution regulation, GM is taking the cars off the road when leases expire because it can no longer supply parts to repair them", according to this article. CARB (the California Air Resources Board) has proposed pushing back its Zero Emissions Vehicle timetable another two years [PDF link], to 2005. Is the success of the hybrid vehicle killing progress on the all-electric vehicle?
posted by mr_crash_davis (23 comments total)

 
The lack of advancement in battery technology is killing the all-electric vehicle. In terms of hybrids, I'm expecting the hype to die down when people realize that it costs ~$5000 to replace the batteries in their hybrid when the eight year warranty ends. As soon as people realize that fact, resale value will be negligible for hybrids. Personally, I think you'd be crazy to buy a hybrid outright, that is of course if leases are even available.
posted by machaus at 1:04 PM on April 8, 2003


I didn't know that, machaus--and thanks for giving me something to look into, as we've been seriously considering an Escape hybrid, and also were talking about shelling out for a minivan hybrid that Honda's got in the works. Can you point me to a source that I can in turn point my husband toward?

I do think that hybrids are a good thing though--at the very least it encourages people to be a little more environmentally conscious, and if they keep catching on like they are, it can only lead to improved technology and service.

And from there, I would think it would lead to vehicles that rely more on battery power than petroleum, and eventually to fully electric vehicles. I always thought that one of the things hindering the advance of fully electric vehicles was pure culture shock (among other things, like expense, and the fact that they're not necessarily all that convenient in many areas, etc.)
posted by padraigin at 1:11 PM on April 8, 2003


Any room left on that bandwagon, Machaus?

It's almost like there's some sinister oil company conspiracy to make all low- or non-gas-using cars look like utter crap. Or perhaps to stifle research in areas such as long-life batteries.

I mean, look at the current offerings. There's lots of hybrids (which merely cut profit margins) a few gas-using fuel cell cars in the future (Only an oil company could take something beautiful like a fuel cell and make it run on gasoline) and maybe a far-off hydrogen-only fuel cell.

Honestly, it does look like there's a conspiracy. Either that , or all this "science" crap is just smoke and mirrors, as I've always assumed.
posted by fnord_prefect at 1:19 PM on April 8, 2003


Can you point me to a source that I can in turn point my husband toward?

This link says that replacement batteries for "a honda" are $3000, but I specifically remember reading that the Honda Insight batteries cost 5K to replace. Perhaps that's a byproduct of being the earliest adopter.

The other thing I find puzzling is that no one makes a hatchback hybrid with four seats. Wouldn't people who buy hatchbacks for practicality overlap with hybrid buyers like a concentric venn diagram? Oh, I forgot, this isn't Europe.
posted by machaus at 1:30 PM on April 8, 2003


Just because the car companies are trying to lessen the apeal of hybrids doesn't mean that Machaus isn't right, fnord. If what he says is true, hybrids are less viable for many consumers. The situation sucks because it's really up to congress and the states, not consumers, to move these technologies forward - I wouldn't buy a crappy "enviromentally sound" car to prove a point to some company, and most people wouldn't either. But I would buy a good "enviromentally sound" one.
posted by Spacelegoman at 1:32 PM on April 8, 2003


Re: hatchback hybrids--isn't the Prius? Or does it just have one of those lumpy butts?

I don't know, I'm still going to be eagerly watching developments on the alternative-fuel-source fronts. We're driving "recycled" cars right now--all older than I am, and we've got a kid. And we want more kids. And we camp and ski and surf.

I really want a minivan (words I never thought I'd say, let me tell you), but the environment hangs over my head. I feel like, if I'm going to get something that expensive, and that big, it really needs to get better mileage than my '66 Mustang. I just can't justify the expense to my pocket or my planet otherwise.

I'm a couple years away from buying though, so I guess I'll just pay attention.
posted by padraigin at 1:52 PM on April 8, 2003


It's almost like there's some sinister oil company conspiracy to make all low- or non-gas-using cars look like utter crap.

That would be an impressive conspiracy. Why would GM or Honda or Mercedes really give two shits whether their cars run on gasoline, diesel, farts, electricity generated by whatever means, sunshine, or sunshine-in-a-bucket fusion, as long as they can sell them?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:57 PM on April 8, 2003


Here's what I find funny about electric cars: they just move the pollution away from the car. The electricity has to come from somewhere, and in many cases, that somewhere is *gasp* fossil fuels.

I think hybrids are the most realistic way to go at least for the near future. I'd be curious so see how the price of the battery is offset by the savings on gas. However even if it works out to 0 (which I doubt), I don't expect to see an attractive, sporty, and fun-to-drive hybrid for a good long while. The second someone makes one, I'll be first in line. Meanwhile, I'll stick to my dreams of a superchared V-8.
posted by pheideaux at 2:00 PM on April 8, 2003


Re: hatchback hybrids--isn't the Prius? Or does it just have one of those lumpy butts?

butticus lumpicus
posted by machaus at 2:02 PM on April 8, 2003


The electricity has to come from somewhere, and in many cases, that somewhere is *gasp* fossil fuels.

In most cases, even. But it's probably easier to transform different forms of energy in various places into electricity, flow it through the grid, and plug your car into it than to develop some other combust or energy transformation in the car itself. Plus, it's easier to legislate target goals for renewable energy production at the level of power plants and utilities than on the level of individual car ownership.

I don't expect to see an attractive, sporty, and fun-to-drive hybrid for a good long while.

How about the hybrid Civic?
posted by claxton6 at 2:18 PM on April 8, 2003


In what universe is a Civic sedan attractive, sporty, and fun-to-drive?

They're sort of cute, and they don't suck to drive, but still. And I'm talking as the person who dreams of a minivan, yo.
posted by padraigin at 2:55 PM on April 8, 2003


*shrugs*

I think they're attractive and sporty. I haven't driven one, but I assume they're able to enough.
posted by claxton6 at 3:04 PM on April 8, 2003


Here's what I find funny about electric cars: they just move the pollution away from the car. The electricity has to come from somewhere, and in many cases, that somewhere is *gasp* fossil fuels.

The difference here is one of economy of scale -- it is easier to make a relative handful of power plants "greener" than it would be to fit every car likewise.

The EV-1 was a lemon, don't know why anyone would want anything that ugly and undersupported in the first place. I managed to get behind the wheel of a Prius this very weekend and found it quite reasonable to drive through a number of driving conditions. Plus, there was a certain joy in passing, doing like 90mph and thinking "and I'm WAY better for the environment..."
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:25 PM on April 8, 2003


I forgot to mention that aside from the coal burners, most power plants burn LPG which runs cleaner than gasoline.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:26 PM on April 8, 2003


The electricity *could* come from nuclear of course. That only pollutes a tiny bit of the environment.
posted by smackfu at 8:21 PM on April 8, 2003


To those of you wondering about why you would want a fuel cell to run on dino juice [for the time being]:

When was the last time you passed a hydrogen fueling station? There's nowhere to get the stuff, and storing high pressure gasses is a bit difficult to do with the relative ease and safety that gasoline or diesel offer.

Do you ever drive more than 200 miles in a day? 300 miles a day? Then an electric car, with it's 100-ish mile range is laughable. Driving from home in Minnesota to school here in New York would take me at least 6 four-hour recharge stops. Give me a second to think about that. er... NO. Although I could use the coal-burning car ferryfor one of my recharges -- in the right season.

on preview: smackfu - what if we have little tiny internal fusion motors?
posted by mr_mindless at 8:33 PM on April 8, 2003


I want an electric motorcycle. Powered front and rear wheels. Oooh, the torque would be killer! And the sucker would track like it was on rails. mmmmmm.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:03 PM on April 8, 2003


Here's what I find funny about electric cars: they just move the pollution away from the car. The electricity has to come from somewhere, and in many cases, that somewhere is *gasp* fossil fuels.

This is a common misconception - yes, most of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, but the reduction in pollution is significant. Plus, power plants have higher temperatures and can recapture waste heat to produce more energy - it is hard to beat the efficiency of a combined-cycle natural gas power plant. True, many of our power plants still run on coal (gasp!) but even taking that into account, it is still cleaner than driving with gasoline. Read this report fom Calstart for more information.

Electric cars also become cleaner as our power supply becomes cleaner - not true for gasoline cars which become dirtier as they get older.

The EV-1 was a lemon, don't know why anyone would want anything that ugly and undersupported in the first place.

Obviously you've not driven one - I used to own one and it was a great sports car. You just can't beat glass-smooth acceleration that throws you back in your seat. The coefficient of drag is 0.19 - same as some fighter jets (most cars have a COD near 0.3). It slipped through the air wonderfully.

I think hybrids are the most realistic way to go at least for the near future.

Today's hybrids run 100% on gasoline, which make them an incremental improvement on our current automobiles. If they would develop the plug-in hybrid, which would allow peole to drive on pure electric power 90% of the time, that would be a true revolution. I hate the marketing of the current hybrids: "You never have to plug it in". I like plugging my car in - I hate going to the stupid gas station!

Regarding hydrogen - it is inefficient, hard to produce, hard to store, and hard to transfer. It is also dangerous - the flame from hydrogen is invisible. (Admittedly, gasoline is much more dangerous!) This paper by Alec Brooks of AC Propulsion talks about the limitations of hydrogen fuel cells.
posted by fishbrando at 11:03 PM on April 8, 2003


Doesn't this all warrant further development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient autos? Yes, price is always an issue, but unless I'm mistaken, auto makers tend to release brand new models of their vehicles every year and will usually make improvements upon each release.

The argument that the Li-ion batteries would cost $5000 (or less) in 8 years is rather a moot point. Most drivers usually sell or trade in their old cars after ten years, no? Otherwise, I can't see the harm in reinvesting in a new battery at that point — from what I gather, the hybrid cells would save more than enough in gasoline and maintenance bills over that time span.

What it's boiling down to is whether the cars handle well on the road and whether they're "cool" or not. At this point, they have a fringe popularity, but I'd wager that by 2005, we'll see more fun and higher-class models of hybrids that will be more affordable and gain more public interest, which could lead to renewed support for full electric vehicles in the future.

...Provided that automakers, Congress and energy suppliers play along, of course. Engineering can only go so far on well-wishing, but it'll take the backing of corporations and politicians to bring cleaner fuel to our transportation.
posted by Down10 at 12:56 AM on April 9, 2003


The main problem that I see with moving to Fuel cell technologies is that the car companies are using the same frames and other technologies and trying to shoehorn the new power system in.

This is the reason that the auto manufacturers are having difficulty. They have too much invested in the current technologies. And saying that they should just do it now is more than irresponsible. Tens of thousands of jobs would be on the line, and that's just the execs and middle management. So hybrids are the logical choice for the company.

I can't remember where I read it, but I believe GM was working on a new system including drive-by-wire and had 4 smaller motors supplying power to each wheel. (The body frame was essentially a big skateboard.

besides, I want my Jetsons flying car anyway.
posted by tj at 8:17 AM on April 9, 2003


A related development:
"The House Ways and Means Committee has dropped the hybrid tax break from the next budget. It's not needed because people will buy hybrids without the government's help. Turns out the people still need 75,000 worth of help buying SUVs." - pwan
posted by sheauga at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2003


Most drivers usually sell or trade in their old cars after ten years, no?

Yeah, but if you lop 8 grand off the resale value of a car that'd probably only have a resale value of about 10 grand anyway, you've got a pretty damn unattractive car. Who's gonna buy a car if it retains no value whatsoever? Who's willing to buy a 4 year old car knowing they're gonna have to drop the price they paid for it again in a couple years to keep it running?

If the battery life is that short, and costs that much to replace, it's a pretty damn short-sighted approach to environmental friendliness. The majority of those cars will probably hit the junkyard as soon as the battery goes bad. 6-8 years is a significantly shorter lifespan than a traditional car. What's the environmental impact of having to build more cars to replace the hybrids that're trashed after 8 years? It may not negate the benefits of driving a hybrid in the first place, but it sure does offset it a lot.
posted by chrisege at 4:49 PM on April 9, 2003


I want an electric motorcycle. Powered front and rear wheels. Oooh, the torque would be killer! And the sucker would track like it was on rails.

If I ever get back into off-roading, I want to build an electric jeep. I'll buy an old Suzuki Samurai, rip out the transmission, transfer case, and driveshafts, and bolt a motor onto each differential. Add on a dozen or so deep-cycle batteries in the back, a whopping big alternator mounted on the crankshaft in place of a transmission, and some control circuitry, and I'll have a torquey monster of a rock-crawler that won't stall no matter how slow I drive it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:31 PM on April 9, 2003


« Older The Roots of a Haunting Song...  |  The CRACK Program (Children Re... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments