Why Do Car Dealers Hate Electric Cars? (SLNYT)
November 27, 2015 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Apparently, they don't break down enough. Wonder why there are so few electric cars on the road? Dealers hate to sell them. They make three times as much from service as from selling cars, and the darn things just won't break down.
posted by musofire (112 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
and the darn things just won't break down.

I'm sure this can be fixed in upcoming models.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 AM on November 27, 2015 [30 favorites]


Tesla recently had a downgrade in its recommendation status from Consumer Reports because its reliability was shaky, even while its road test performance and safety remained at the top. Other reports have shown similar issues with them breaking down. I'd say the EVs are getting plenty of service, but most of it is happening under warranty.
posted by mystyk at 6:47 AM on November 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm surprised it actually takes time to explain to people, in part because I can't imagine anybody walking into a dealership without spending a few hours online first and instead relying on what the dealer tells them. Who in the fucking world trusts a single word that comes out of a salesperson's mouth?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:47 AM on November 27, 2015 [49 favorites]


Surely there's a dealer out there ready to sell electron filters or a lightning insurance or battery additives or fuel leak warranty.

Maybe they could get the customers to come in once a year to get their sparkplugs checked?
Gotta get them checked, it's electric see?

Yearly application of Piston protection spray?
Lifetime carburetor replacement charge?
Crankshaft realignment?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:54 AM on November 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


I really don't think the lack of service requirements is the primary reason dealers aren't selling electric cars. This article doesn't really say that either, it's just one of the reasons dealers don't like to sell them. Customer demand is the other side of the problem. The 80 mile range cited in the article is a definite dealbreaker for many potential customers.

The longevity of electric cars is very interesting though. Tesla seems to be building cars intended to last 20+ years. There's so few moving parts in a Tesla, so much less to break. And the software field upgrades somewhat obviate the need to buy a new car to get the fancy new features. It's a bit of a baffling thing to sell consumers a long-lived car since it cuts into their own market, but I like it!

The expensive maintenance for an electric car is the battery replacement every 8 years. My estimate is the battery replacement cost adds about $0.05-$0.10/mile to the cost of driving the Tesla. (For comparison, gas for a conventional car is ~$0.15/mile). That battery cost estimate is hard to pin down though, and will undoubtedly change as we get more cars on the road.
posted by Nelson at 6:56 AM on November 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Some buyers even tell stories of dealers talking them into [other, possibly higher margin] cars and of ill-informed salespeople uncertain [of basic features of their own products] or pushing [products or services that you don't need].

Sales!
posted by indubitable at 6:57 AM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Selling cars seems to be one of those things that is miserable for the sellers as well as the buyers. I have talked to more than one former car salesman who described a terrible existence in which even if you eject your soul and gleefully rip off people by any means necessary, you are constantly in danger of getting fired and always getting ripped a new one by your sales manager. The last time I bought a car, armed with online research and refusing the unnecessary warranties, it was like you could see the guy's shoulders slump. I mean, I still wasn't going to get any more ripped off than I could help, but I mostly remember thinking, dude, find another way to make a living.
posted by emjaybee at 7:08 AM on November 27, 2015 [35 favorites]


If I were big into car dealerships, I think I'd start selling electrics even if it was at a loss at first. I'd make my employees experts on electric cars on the job while training locals to come to me for everything to do with electric cars. I'd turn my dealerships into charging and service stations, and start pushing extras and upgrades on owners.

I think electric cars and self-driving cars are going to come in together -- they'll offer the kind of smooth, quiet, clean ride a person can relax in -- and that there's going to be a big market for car accessories when people passengering around in their self-driving electric cars suddenly have lots of time on their hands (maybe a couple extra hours a day) for other stuff. At a minimum, you're going to want a computing and entertainment station in your car, and that means lots of options and regular upgrades. Maybe you'll want a food center with a fridge, drinks dispenser, little preparation counter, safe hot coffee maker, etc. Maybe a smoking cabin for people who want to smoke dope in privacy and without blasting other occupants with the smoke. Maybe a shower and toilet and dressing room. Probably various kinds of sleeping cocoons for squeezing in naps while you commute. Each year, there will be new accessories that people just have to have for their cars. Dealers should be able to make lots of money selling, installing, and servicing car gadgets for people who have no idea how to do such things. Dealers will need to hire or train automotive electricians and plumbers.
posted by pracowity at 7:16 AM on November 27, 2015 [22 favorites]


If you want more insight into the life of car salesmen, This American Life: 129 Cars is a good listen.
posted by Nelson at 7:21 AM on November 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


Tesla recently had a downgrade in its recommendation status from Consumer Reports because its reliability was shaky, even while its road test performance and safety remained at the top. Other reports have shown similar issues with them breaking down.
...
Tesla seems to be building cars intended to last 20+ years. There's so few moving parts in a Tesla, so much less to break.


These things can't both be true.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:29 AM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the plus side, even electric cars will still get oxidation problems if you don't get the TruCoat.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:30 AM on November 27, 2015 [28 favorites]


These things can't both be true.

Yes, they can. There are fewer moving parts, so there are fewer things that can break. But what is there is doing a lot more work than in other cars, so more things can go wrong. Petroleum cars have electrical problems; to suggest there wouldn't be problems in a car that was all electrical makes no sense.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 7:36 AM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


car sales is terrible. if you have to buy through a dealership, it's probably best to contact a bunch of them online, collect bids via email and only go to the dealership with your out-the-door price offer in hand. absolutely do not wander into a dealership without an offer in hand. do not speak to them on the phone. basically, lash yourself to the mast and pour wax in your ears, lest they entice you with their offers of nitrogen-filled tires and extended warranties.
posted by indubitable at 7:42 AM on November 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'll gladly comment on this article, but let me check with my manager first, ok?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:50 AM on November 27, 2015 [79 favorites]


The Leaf still has brakes and tires, right? And every 70,000 miles or so you have to buy a $5,500 battery pack or your range starts to dwindle -- I'm guessing the dealer gets a cut of that unless you want to risk a third-party upgrade.

I think maybe there's truth in customers coming back and yelling "THE DURN THING ONLY GOES 80 MILES!" and having to explain over and over how electric cars work.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:57 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]



The expensive maintenance for an electric car is the battery replacement every 8 years


You know, a low end EV with lead-acid batteries would provide the best of both worlds. Much cheaper for customers that just need a short-range urban runabout, and dealers get a steady living from doing battery change-outs. It's something where you want tighter controls than you'd get from gas stations, so it would be at dealerships.
posted by ocschwar at 8:04 AM on November 27, 2015


Oh yeah, and the $1.99/gal gas is probably making it a harder sell too.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:12 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a couple other factors that aren't mentioned in the article: first, the fact that there simply aren't very many electric trucks, SUVs or CRVs, and that quite a few people want those; and second, that once you own a particular vehicle, the dealer is going to offer you lots of trade-in incentives to keep buying the same kind of vehicle.
posted by daisystomper at 8:18 AM on November 27, 2015


lead-acid batteries

No. No heavy-metal technologies please. No NiCad either.

Let's leave the past in the past. There are better solutions than using non-degrading neurotoxins in mind-bogglingly huge quantities, orders of magnitude more than has ever been used in history.
posted by bonehead at 8:23 AM on November 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


Oh, and if anyone is thinking of getting a car today for the Black Friday deals, please go to carbuyingtips.com first.

Shell out the $50 to get the software, do the math, know the tricks, and keep from getting screwed. Best ROI on time and money out there in car land.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:26 AM on November 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


The Leaf still has brakes and tires, right?;

A large proportion of the braking in electrics is done through resistive regeneration, so the physical brakes typically last 50-100% longer than normal cars.

posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:29 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


No matter how much homework I do, how hard I stick to my price, or how many times I say "no" to useless upsells, I have never once in my life driven off a car lot without feeling that I have somehow been swindled.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:30 AM on November 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


I have a Leaf. It's is an awesome car, and have never had to have any major service. We've leased ours, to get around the battery decay issue. Because the battery is the most expensive part. Like, $18,000.
posted by Windopaene at 8:36 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why are there so few electric cars? Because they were introduced very recently, cost a shitload, have restrictions most cars don't, and regardless of whether dealers want to sell them or not, the most famous of them is only available direct from Tesla. How can anyone write this article without addressing that????
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:39 AM on November 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


Dealers will need to hire or train automotive electricians and plumbers.

The inevitable future of self-driving electric cars.
posted by sfenders at 8:51 AM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some buyers even tell stories of dealers talking them into [other, possibly higher margin] cars and of ill-informed salespeople uncertain [of basic features of their own products] or pushing [products or services that you don't need].

This was certainly true when I bought my own non-electric car, the only time I've bought one that wasn't used.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:03 AM on November 27, 2015


How can anyone write this article without addressing that????

Plus
posted by aydeejones at 9:05 AM on November 27, 2015


I have a long IT background and always had sort of a snooty attitude towards sales, because you'd at least expect people selling super-expensive-ass systems to have some basic product knowledge and to be able to steer customers into a happy arrangement. But nope, more often than not in all of my professional and personal experience, salespeople are just singularly good at exploiting human nature and emotions to cajole and subconsciously manipulate and "everything-but-coerce" decent people into buying things they don't need.

What always got me is that product knowledge thing, but I realize it's naivette to think that a person who knows the product inside and out wouldn't be more useful on the back end trying to retain customers after they've been duped into buying more than they want and getting less than expected, or to think that by and large there's any benefit to an organization to having a salesforce that truly knows how to meet its customers' needs. I mean I'm sure it happens somewhere out there and you'd think it would apply when it comes to multi-million-dollar companies with insanely complex requirements but nope, still bullshitting by bullshitters all the bullshitting time.
posted by aydeejones at 9:08 AM on November 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


I have of course dealt with companies that were seemingly obsessed with the customer's requirements but they only turn out to give a shit if you're directly helping them develop the product with little tangible to yourselves other than having some say in what you're getting, and only if they think that's the exact arrangement they are seeking out, you'll be damned if you can convince them that by meeting your needs as a mere customer they'll be better able to meet others' needs too even if you're in a hyper-specialized market segment that of course does things 95% the same as other hyper-specialized competitors but the vendors selling you shit only understand 50% of what you do.

How does that apply to car buying? I don't know, but complex solutions involving major roll-outs and lots of departments in a large organization are experiences fraught with bullshit, and rather than simply designing software to generate revenue over time through routine failure, you get to pay 20% of the cost for everything you buy (in many cases) every year (effective re-buy every 5) for the privilege of being able to call someone and get a response in 4-24 hours after it breaks.
posted by aydeejones at 9:12 AM on November 27, 2015


I would like to mention that our two Japanese (non-EV) vehicles, at 12 and 15 years respectively, have had almost no breakdowns (eg the alternator fried after one mechanic shampooed the engine) and only regular maintenance. So they certainly haven't made much from us from breakdowns.

EV propulsion is much simpler mechanically (fewer and theoretically more durable moving bits) ; if anywhere, I'd bet the control electronics and the added luxury doodads would be the weak spots, like with conventional autos.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:13 AM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also it will only be geopolitically prudent for things to happen like "the federal government pressuring electric car adoption through massive incentives and even possible disincentives for fossil fuel use" when the interests of the government align with the greater population rather than the handful of oligarchs who are guaranteed a constant return on their investment in a world where global skirmishes and instability just give them opportunities to refine their hedging strategies. In a world where two countries going to war doesn't massively benefit some already extremely powerful people, electric car adoption will be encouraged and the price of gasoline will be structured to nudge people towards buying electric cars and perhaps shelling out that 20% maintenance fee instead of getting a bogus "free for recalls" semi-warranty, but it will be somehow cheaper than gas because electricity can be created from pure sunshine and rainbows. Except LOL, no.
posted by aydeejones at 9:16 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Wired exclusively with MonsterCable". That will be the sell.
posted by buzzman at 9:20 AM on November 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm leasing a Fiat 500e, instead of buying, because the CEO is openly dismissive of the electric vehicles that California law requires him to sell (or to purchase credits). It's a great car, and I can't imagine buying a combustion engine vehicle after my lease is up.

There is a huge amount of irrational anti-EV sentiment in the industry and car guys in general. The stupid stupid questions that "car guys" ask me about my EV belie an intentional ignorance and tribal reinforcement of anti-EV propaganda. I really don't get it at all. These things are the future, an internal combustion engine is the steam engine of the 1900s. Terrible effiency, terrible ecological cost, terrible performance characteristics, terrible reliability... It's only inertia that keeps us with this terrible tech consuming a huge amount of our nation's energy and GDP.

I can't wait for Tesla's model 3, because I want a decently sized battery so I can stop renting a gas vehicle a couple times a year.

There's no way that a Leaf's battery costs $18k. Even at $300/kWh, which is the high end of prices these days, it should be less than $8k. And car batteries will have value on a secondary market, for electricity storage. Peaking electricity can cost greater than $0.30/kWh, which is far higher than the cost of cycling a "depleted" car battery. It will take utilities a few years to realize and act on this, but once they do it will both save them money and greatly increase the carbon efficiency of the electrical grid.

In short, irrational pessimism around EVs and battery tech is holding us back. Renewable energy tech has been blowing away the expectations and predictions of the energy industry for nearly a decade now. If only we had started taking this tech seriously sooner, in terms of research and industrial investment, we'd already be living in the future.
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:23 AM on November 27, 2015 [18 favorites]


Dip Flash: " and the darn things just won't break down.

I'm sure this can be fixed in upcoming models.
"

Volkswagen is on the phone. Guy says he's working on it.
posted by Splunge at 9:29 AM on November 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


FWIW, my $0.05–$0.10/mile estimate for Tesla battery replacement comes from a price of $8000–$12,000 for the Tesla battery. That's the price Tesla was willing to pre-sell you a battery for in 2013. My guess is the actual cost right now is probably higher and Tesla is banking on it being cheaper for them to make batteries in 2020.

While I'm here, depending on where you get your electricity that "green" electric car may pollute more than a gasoline car. It depends on where the electricity you buy comes from. In much of the US, that's coal.
posted by Nelson at 9:31 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


if you have to buy through a dealership, it's probably best to contact a bunch of them online, collect bids via email

I tried to outwit car dealers and it was destroying my entire brain. In the end I bought a car through a website that basically does the above: www.carwow.co.uk. Highly recommended.
posted by colie at 9:36 AM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Until this year, Georgia had the best state tax credit for EVs, so I have friends with Leafs, Volts, and even the little Ford electric hatchback. Tesla just opened a dealership across the street from the Nissan dealer in our neighborhood, and I now even know someone with a Tesla. The non-Teslas are great cars, comfortable and quiet and fun to drive, and our employer just installed a bunch of charging stations, including some solar stations, so they are now even more cheap to drive for people who charge at work.

Regarding the pollution issues, consider that more people are installing solar at home and at businesses. Consider that burning even coal in a power plant is more efficient in terms of amount of useful energy available per molecule of CO2 emitted compared with horribly inefficient internal combustion engines burning gasoline. And consider that we will stop burning fossil fuels at some point (or we will cease to be a functional species), and for that to happen, we need to be developing new technologies like electric cars.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:40 AM on November 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


My father just bought an electric car, and I can confirm the dealers are actively pushing back against EV's.

We walked into a VW dealer almost exactly a year ago and he said "If you have a black e-Golf, I'll buy it right this second at list. If not, I'll be here within 30 minutes after you call me to tell me it's been delivered". The sales manager they didn't have any, and the next ship coming in might have 1 black one. But, and I shit you not, he never once got off the couch, put down his TV remote, or even made eye contact. And this with someone coming in with ~$38k in their pocket to burn. He had one of the Sales guys spend a couple sentences trying to push a GTI, but I had to get them to ask and write down our contact info.

Even a few weeks ago, AFTER the VW diesel thing, we had a hard time getting a dealer to take our money. My father wanted to do everything online and then hand them a check, but the two dealers who had the correct car all wanted to have come in and "talk it over". After telling them he was going to walk if they made him come in to get a hard sell, both dealers stop calling back. We finally got one through a fleet broker a couple weeks later.

Keep in mind, every conversation with every dealer started with the sentence "If you have one, I'll buy it right now".
posted by sideshow at 9:40 AM on November 27, 2015 [50 favorites]


I totally agree with the notion that car enthusiasts are dead set against these.

My old boss was a big car guy. He loved cars and spent all his time in car forums and raced on the weekends. His security badge ID was a picture of his car. He argued that you could see his face in it so it counted.

When I tried talking to him about anything electric he was beyond uninterested into scornful.

Even where electric stuff hugely outperformed petrol stuff he said, "Duh the clue's in the name, I'm a petrol head"
Yup, car enthusiasts in Britain are called petrol heads. That's a steep hill to climb.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 9:49 AM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


My impression is that this is a conservative shibboleth. Fox News, Top Gear--both very anti-electric car. The car manufacturers are doing the same smears (electric cars are for pansies) that they used against Japanese cars in the 70s.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:07 AM on November 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


lead-acid batteries

No. No heavy-metal technologies please. No NiCad either.

Lithium, as used in the Tesla isn't exactly light.
posted by fragmede at 10:12 AM on November 27, 2015


I suppose dealers probably are dismayed at the prospect of lower-maintenance cars, but also and probably more directly to blame is the problem familiar to some of us with taste in cars that deviates ever so slightly from the centre of the mainstream; that they basically never want to stock anything but the most popular models.
posted by sfenders at 10:12 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Lithium, as used in the Tesla isn't exactly light.
Lithium ion batteries store 3x-8x more energy per kilogram than lead acid batteries. They also last for far more cycles. Lead-acid makes economic sense in situations where the battery capacity won't be used often: interim backup power before a generator kicks in, starting gas cars, etc. In situations where the capacity is used frequently, lithium ion is far more economical.

But the heavy-metal properties is a big deal for lithium ion too: lithium ion batteries are safe enough that they don't pose big risks when thrown into a landfill, for example. Not that you should, as lithium is highly recyclable, and known sites for extracting for lithium aren't so overly abundant. We'll need all the currently known lithium reserves within the century, if we're the least bit smart when it comes to using electric cars, and no other battery tech surpasses it.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


A lot of the problem is still cost. Japanese cars won in the 70s because they were economical to buy as well as to maintain; electric cars still don't have a good low-cost entry-level that competes with, say, a Kia, and of course, they only have cars, not trucks. A cheap electric pickup would sell like hotcakes, if anyone was offering one. I'd literally buy one tomorrow; we need a truck and I'd love to stop buying so much gas.

Charging stations/infrastructure are part of it, but if, say, QT (which operates more like a grocery store than a gas station in many working-glass neighborhoods) partnered with a car manufacturer and provided charging stations, they'd do a lot to make people more willing to buy. And then those people would still come in to use the restroom/buy snacks and food, a big part of their business.

You can only get so far with the "start with the upper-class, make it aspirational, then bring the price down slightly" model.
posted by emjaybee at 10:40 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


The other reason dealers hate Tesla is that they sell directly and eschew the dealer system altogether. This has been a bit of a struggle for both sides.

Since most cars are morphing into iPads with wheels, it will be interesting to see how the auto manufacturers deal with the increased complexity adding an app store to your car will bring (because everybody needs their own proprietary app store, can't have a digital device without an app store). Jeep's already had a lot of software problems, and I can't wait to see more cars stopped on the side of the road to update software.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:42 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lithium, as used in the Tesla isn't exactly light.

Element #3?
posted by ctmf at 10:44 AM on November 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


lithium ion batteries are safe enough that they don't pose big risks when thrown into a landfill, for example.

Aren't lithium ion batteries the type that burst into flame when not handled properly?
posted by hippybear at 10:51 AM on November 27, 2015


We'll need all the currently known lithium reserves within the century

I don't think you need to be too overly optimistic about the potential rate of technological progress to think that there's a very good chance we'll be done with lithium batteries, for cars at least, in under a century.
posted by sfenders at 10:58 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


> The sales manager they didn't have any, and the next ship coming in might have 1 black one. But, and I shit you not, he never once got off the couch, put down his TV remote, or even made eye contact. And this with someone coming in with ~$38k in their pocket to burn.

Dealers might make a big chunk of their money on service, but they also make more money on financing than on the dealer markup. So, as depressing as it sounds, by offering to buy an unpopular model in cash, you more or less told them that you were their least-profitable kind of customer.
posted by ardgedee at 11:02 AM on November 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Oh yeah, and the $1.99/gal gas is probably making it a harder sell too.

The cheaper gas gets the more I appreciate my Leaf in another respect. It may not be "saving" me as much in gas money, but cheap gas = more cars on road = even better to have my EV stickers allowing me access as a single driver to the carpool lanes.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 11:04 AM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


A local grocery store has the only quick charger in town -- 80% battery in my leaf in 30 minutes. We go there if we have two long driving days in a row, since a regular outlet takes a full day to fully charge our car. We always go in while charging and spend money. I think it can be an effective model, as long as gas-powered cars don't use those spots.
posted by Night_owl at 11:19 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Electric vehicles are needed, but the problem with cars is not just their combustion engines but also the patterns of land use and consumption that they encourage and enable. A significant part of the carbon use of cars comes from paving the immense network of roads needed to support large lot single family homes in convoluted cul-de-sacs which can't be served by public transit. We'll always have small, personal-use vehicles, but building our entire society around them and letting tragedy of the commons eliminate most public transportation was a bad mistake.

Electric's great, self-driving is great, but if ~the future~ is cars, we blew it. I'm not optimistic.

See also Self-Driving Cars: A Coming Congestion Disaster?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:29 AM on November 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


aydeejones: I have a long IT background and always had sort of a snooty attitude towards sales, because you'd at least expect people selling super-expensive-ass systems to have some basic product knowledge and to be able to steer customers into a happy arrangement. But nope

In my experience, IT account execs are just as unknowledgeable about the products that they're selling.
posted by tippiedog at 11:30 AM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Upon reading the rest of your comments, aydeejones, maybe you're making the same point, pretty much. Never mind.
posted by tippiedog at 11:31 AM on November 27, 2015


For all of the invective directed at tech startups for relentlessly disrupting established dinosaur industries, I can't see any downside for Tesla taking aim at the parasitic car dealership model by selling cars directly to customers. Getting mad at Uber for being a unregulated taxi service, sure. But attacking stealerships? Go get those rent-seekers, Musk.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:52 AM on November 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Just this guy, y'know: "Surely there's a dealer out there ready to sell electron filters or a lightning insurance or battery additives or fuel leak warranty.

Maybe they could get the customers to come in once a year to get their sparkplugs checked?
Gotta get them checked, it's electric see?

Yearly application of Piston protection spray?
Lifetime carburetor replacement charge?
Crankshaft realignment?
"

It's all about the underbody coating. Also, offering a cabling upgrade with Monster(tm) cables to allow the electricity to move faster.
posted by Samizdata at 12:00 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


pracowity: "If I were big into car dealerships, I think I'd start selling electrics even if it was at a loss at first. I'd make my employees experts on electric cars on the job while training locals to come to me for everything to do with electric cars. I'd turn my dealerships into charging and service stations, and start pushing extras and upgrades on owners.

I think electric cars and self-driving cars are going to come in together -- they'll offer the kind of smooth, quiet, clean ride a person can relax in -- and that there's going to be a big market for car accessories when people passengering around in their self-driving electric cars suddenly have lots of time on their hands (maybe a couple extra hours a day) for other stuff. At a minimum, you're going to want a computing and entertainment station in your car, and that means lots of options and regular upgrades. Maybe you'll want a food center with a fridge, drinks dispenser, little preparation counter, safe hot coffee maker, etc. Maybe a smoking cabin for people who want to smoke dope in privacy and without blasting other occupants with the smoke. Maybe a shower and toilet and dressing room. Probably various kinds of sleeping cocoons for squeezing in naps while you commute. Each year, there will be new accessories that people just have to have for their cars. Dealers should be able to make lots of money selling, installing, and servicing car gadgets for people who have no idea how to do such things. Dealers will need to hire or train automotive electricians and plumbers.
"

It will make road head so much less exciting, though.
posted by Samizdata at 12:02 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Electric's great, self-driving is great, but if ~the future~ is cars, we blew it. I'm not optimistic.

Socially, there is no way you will easily get rid of one-passenger (or one-family) enclosed private transportation of one sort or another. There are huge groups of people, probably including most women, whose lives would be seriously restricted if they didn't have a nice safe car to travel in. The only thing you can do is change the evolution of cars and how they're used.

Driverless cars are potentially a big equalizer. There's no reason to require that you have a license or special skills to use one, so you could be 12 or 120 years old, have any sort of physical disabilities, and still use one independently, as long as you're capable of telling it where you want to go. No more driving kids to and from things if they're old enough to sit in a car by themselves. No more parking lots in front of every building if your car can park itself somewhere else and come back for you later when you call it. Shared cars (taxis, communal, etc.) would be a lot easier to have. Etc.
posted by pracowity at 12:08 PM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Getting mad at Uber for being a unregulated taxi service, sure. But attacking stealerships? Go get those rent-seekers, Musk.

But then Musk is free to set his car prices at whatever he wants and there's no chance of a deal - like Apple does things?

The actual disruption, at least in the UK, is happening with the 'national dealers compete to offer you a price on the car you want' model of Carwow and Orangewheels and several others.
posted by colie at 12:11 PM on November 27, 2015


If your electric vehicle uses electricity from coal, are you rolling coal when you drive?
posted by Anne Neville at 1:02 PM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


hippybear: "lithium ion batteries are safe enough that they don't pose big risks when thrown into a landfill, for example.

Aren't lithium ion batteries the type that burst into flame when not handled properly?
"

Yes they are. They can burn up to 1000 degrees F.
posted by Splunge at 1:07 PM on November 27, 2015


A pickup with a load rating of 1500 lbs which could round-trip 50 miles each leg would be amazing.

For extended range: I guess I don't understand the engineering, and I'm not sure exactly how the Prius/et al work, but wouldn't it be a lot more efficient to have a small gas engine whose job was to run an alternator connected to the battery pack, but the car was always powered via the battery/electric motors? The engine could be small and designed to run at a single speed. I doubt you need more than 20hp to turn a large enough alternator to fast-charge a battery. It could be a single cylinder, could probably even be air-cooled.
posted by maxwelton at 1:31 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


If your electric vehicle uses electricity from coal, are you rolling coal when you drive?

The good thing about electric cars is that you could get electricity from another source. Wind, solar, or hydro, for example.

The bad thing about electric cars is batteries. Big fucking horrible nasty expensive batteries. That's where all the research money has to go.
posted by pracowity at 1:36 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lithium, as used in the Tesla isn't exactly light.

Element #3?


To expand on this, the “heavy” in “heavy metals” refers to the atomic weight. Metals with high atomic numbers (large nuclei), such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium, tend to be serious environmental toxins. In this sense, lithium is literally the lightest metal. It’s also pretty light in terms of density, as atomic weight correlates with material density. Lithium is rarely found as a pure metal, though, since like the other alkali metals it reacts violently with water in its elemental form.
posted by musicinmybrain at 1:45 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


maxwelton,
You just described the Chevy Volt, which to me, seems like the most logical hybrid configuration. I recall seeing several European car makers (BMW and Mercedes, actually, IIRC) making some inroads with design concept cars around 2008 or so, but they never seemed to make it to market that I have seen.

The thing I like about it is that it is better than a Prius, which is the opposite configuration (gas engire/drive-train with electric assist), and it has the possibility of being even more efficient and cleaner that any other hybrid. And yes, it is a hybrid, as there is still the need for the internal combustion engine, but the car can be run entirely without using gas if only used for short trips and charged consistently. It is really surprising considering it is made by Chevy.
posted by daq at 2:07 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lithium, as used in the Tesla isn't exactly light.

The concern isn't about how heavy the battery packs are, it's about a set of compounds with high environmental persistence. Those compounds classically contained the "heavy" row 6 elements of the periodic table, including mercury, cadmium, lead. The definition has been expanded to include things like nickle and chromium complexes too, as they're often used in similar industrial applications.

The different kinds of metals all have different biochemical modes of action, but they are all highly persistent, and are largely all bioaccumulative. They're implicated in many nasty outcomes, including all sorts of organ and nervous system failure. Lead, among others, is known to cause neural damage as well as developmental problems. These things are long-term scary. Your body has a hard time getting rid of them and they are very hard to remove from the body even with aggressive treatments.

Lithium compounds are much lower risks in term of toxic response and also do not bioaccumulate anywhere near as easily as the "heavy" metals. Your body can deal with the compounds more easily and excrete them, readily removing the toxins. Though lithium compounds are by no means harmless, they're consequently considered much less dangerous then the "heavy" metals both to human and environmental health.
posted by bonehead at 2:13 PM on November 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


The bad thing about electric cars is batteries. Big fucking horrible nasty expensive batteries. That's where all the research money has to go.
Lithium ion batteries are big, but they're not too nasty actually. Yes, they burn, but so does gasoline. But that's about as bad as lithium ion batteries get.

And as far as "expensive" this is changing unbelievably fast. The big breakthroughs haven't been so much in research about batteries, as much as industrial scaleup to bring down the prices. This price drop has been massive and it has beaten pretty much all expectations. 2014 prices were estimated at $300/kWh. Tesla is apparently offering battery replacement at ~$140/kWh. The Chevy Bolt battery has been announced to cost less than $145/kWh. The Tesla CTO thinks we'll hit $100/kWh by 2020. At $100/kWh, prices for a new electric car will be essentially identical to gas cars, and the operating expenses will be much less.

I don't think many in the industry understand how this will change things, not just for transportation, but also for going to a 100% renewable energy supply. Cheap, dense, storage from lithium ion batteries is what the next few decades will look like. For non-mobile electricity storage, I'm also really excited about flow batteries like vanadium redox or some of the cool new organic material flow batteries.
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:29 PM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here's someone's cost analysis on the LEAF. "Does the Nissan LEAF actually save you money? Yes, if the cost of Gas is above $2.86 and the government offers incentives to the tune of $10,000." The crux of the biscuit seems to be that when the eight year battery pack warranty is up, you have to decide between buying a brand new battery pack or junking the vehicle. (lots of assumptions abound however)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:31 PM on November 27, 2015


There are huge groups of people, probably including most women, whose lives would be seriously restricted if they didn't have a nice safe car to travel in. The only thing you can do is change the evolution of cars and how they're used.

I can see how that makes sense, but does it still apply now? In higher density areas with good public transportation and widespread mobile phone use don't make the car as essential. And plus in large cities having a car can be a hassle with having to find parking, pay for it, and then worry if you and your car are safe in big parking garages or parking lots.
posted by FJT at 2:38 PM on November 27, 2015


From that cost analysis, RobotVoodooPower:
Nissan offer a 8 Year/100,000 Miles warranty on the battery pack. For reasons I’ll detail below, I believe the value of the LEAF will be close to zero once the warranty runs out. Used batteries are hazardous waste, the cost of disposing of them will probably equal the residual value of the vehicle. I assume in my calculations that I need to depreciate the entire net value of the vehicle over its lifetime. Another reason is that I typically keep cars for 6-9 years, I keep a car until it is worn out.
That's a terribly bad assumption, and hugely unfavorable to the Leaf. First off, lithium ion batteries are not hazardous waste. And after 100,000 miles, the Leaf battery will still have 70% of its charge capacity, and will be useful for all sorts of storage applications, and there will be a robust market in batteries for grid-scale storage, or backup batteries for offices or homes. Not only is it not hazardous waste, it's an asset that can be sold, for 50%-70% of the cost of a new battery. In 8 years if batteries cost, say, $80/kWh, a new 24 kWh battery for the Leaf will cost $2,000 and you could sell the old one for $1000. A battery replacement will cost no more than a new transmission.

A more likely reason for the car to lose value is that the chassis was not built to hold a larger capacity battery. But if the 80 mile range was ok in 2015, it's likely to be ok in 2023.
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:43 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oddly, at the turn of the last century, electric cars were plagued with breakdown.
posted by clavdivs at 3:08 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


My former hardcore musclecar gearhead neighbor on his third Tesla, has a new Tesla P90D and his gear head friends get very quiet about the car after they first experience a freeway on-ramp acceleration. I have experienced it and, in Ludicrous-mode, it is what I imagine it is like to be fired out of a railgun. It is exhilarating.
posted by bz at 3:11 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'll note - as the son of a mechanic - that's it's generally the sales side that thinks this way, and not the mechanics themselves. What drives many people to become mechanics - the ones for whom it's a passion, anyway - is a strong distaste for broken things. You get good at fixing things because you can't leave anything that's broken alone. You have to fix it.

The only thing worse than something that broke down a lot was something which seemed to be intentionally designed to make fixing it difficult and expensive. "So I have to disassemble half the car in order to get at something that we could just reach in and pull out on the last model...?"
posted by clawsoon at 3:18 PM on November 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'd avoid dealerships on general principle if I needed to buy a car. Fuck that noise! I avoid taxis on general principle for similar reasons, but I used Uber a couple times recently with friends and it seemed more acceptable.

Electric cars desperately need ground-level power supply so that they can drive long distances and use smaller batteries.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:08 PM on November 27, 2015


I'd avoid dealerships on general principle if I needed to buy a car. Fuck that noise!

I'm not sure what you think that means, but in the US, you cannot buy direct from manufacturers. The best you can do is get a used car from CarMax. Or deal in the direct market with people with zero reputation to risk by screwing you over.
posted by pwnguin at 6:05 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


In my experience, car dealers don't ever seem all that interested in selling you any kind of car. The last time I was shopping for a car, it seemed like pulling teeth just to get a salesperson to show me anything or to let me take a car out on a test drive.
posted by octothorpe at 6:53 PM on November 27, 2015


Yeah, CarMax seems a good bet. In the Southeast a 2013 with 24k miles is going for as low as $11,500. (Unless you're in Fort Collins where you can get a new one for $10,600 due to discounts and tax credits.) I wonder if they would make good fleet cars where the routes are predictable. (Seems like a GA county has done just that)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:02 PM on November 27, 2015


This is easily fixed if the government wants to get serious: ratchet up CAFE and let the pure electrics contribute to the average(maybe they do already). Electric vehicles fly off the lot.
posted by Mitheral at 9:34 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


We recently bought a Volt, and the entire state seemed to have about a dozen of them, all of which appeared to sell within a few days of hitting the lot. Clearly someone at GM is reluctant to push them. On the consumer side, part of the issue was that, even as a fairly savvy general shopper, I had no idea that state + federal rebates amounted to 10K, and that a 35K MSRP car could be gotten for 20K after a fairly mild amount of haggling. It really was a weird buying experience.

The car, though, is pretty nice: good 0-60, great 0-30, 50 miles of electric, plus a gas engine that gets 40+ mpg and powers it perfectly nicely on road trips. The only thing that consistently doesn't work is Carplay. Weird again, a world where the GM car works elegantly and the only screwed-up bit is by Apple.
posted by chortly at 9:34 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have been telling friends and family about the near zero maintenance to expect out if the coming electric car future.

I am also prepared to be not at all surprised if manufacturers begin building in failure modes to bring folks back into their repair bays to scalp them for re-tuning their power wires or cleaning out their flux capacitor.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:35 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


As time goes on we are likely to see not only advances in battery composition and efficiency but also new technologies that can contribute. What if electric cars were sprayed with photovoltaic paint and could simply recharge themselves by being parked in the sun? (Bonus $ for dealers and body shops!) I don't think this tech is there just yet, but it would solve one of the largest issues keeping me (and many others) away from electrics: range.

I do think that self-driving cars are the future, however, and a service that could simply dispatch a gasoline-powered car for my camping trips into the woods would also be acceptable!
posted by Feyala at 10:46 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The last time I was shopping for a car, it seemed like pulling teeth just to get a salesperson to show me anything or to let me take a car out on a test drive.

I had the same experience! In the end I just needed a car for various reasons so I walked around the the lot, picked one out, told the sales person and then paid in cash (I did manage to negotiate a pretty good deal, but that took a bit of work.) I assume I don't look like the average consumer/mark.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:11 PM on November 27, 2015


Optimized chainsaw motor to run a generator to provide off-grid charging. You know, like the big girls' diesel-electric locomotives and ships... Use a pint of hemp-ahol a week.
posted by mikelieman at 11:44 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The last time I was shopping for a car, it seemed like pulling teeth just to get a salesperson to show me anything or to let me take a car out on a test drive.

I've run into this before, too. My theory is that while there is definitely an issue of many dealers and salespeople not being all that great at selling cars, it is more that they profile people for how profitable you will be. The most profitable customer is going to be someone who is uninformed, buying right that minute, only caring about the monthly cost, financing with so-so credit, and trading a car in. If you don't fit that in some ways, you are going to make them a lot less money, and I'd bet that a lot of electric car buyers aren't going to be in that profitable category.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:45 AM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is easily fixed if the government wants to get serious: ratchet up CAFE and let the pure electrics contribute to the average(maybe they do already). Electric vehicles fly off the lot.

They already are ratcheting up CAFE to levels that are getting a bit uncomfortable for automakers and are scheduled to get much more so in the near future, and electric cars do already contribute. In fact they contribute quite a lot more than they would if it were a simple average. How much more is hard to say, the rules are complicated enough that they're not widely understood and it's hard to know who to believe if you're unwilling to spend a few days digging into the primary sources. Wikipedia says electric cars are deemed to be worth 6.666 ordinary cars. At least they're no longer encouraging everyone to drive SUVs so much, there's only a relatively mild bias in favour of larger cars in the new CAFE.
posted by sfenders at 6:17 AM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I currently drive a Renault Kangoo. I can see myself replacing it by an Kangoo ZE in the future.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:40 AM on November 28, 2015


Who gets their car serviced at the dealer?
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on November 28, 2015


Who gets their car serviced at the dealer?

Everybody with a warranty does. The dealer gets paid by the manufacturer for the warranty repairs.

So, in a somewhat unplanned fashion, bought two cars in 2013 - we had two older cars, replaced one of them proactively, and the other one died not long afterwards. We ended up getting the world's greatest Frankencar - the 2012 RAV4 EV, a 40kWh Tesla Model S crammed into an economy RAV4 body, everything electric except for the seats (which are manual). A few months later, we also bought a boring gas-powered sedan from a major auto manufacturer.

Both have had very similar service records - both have been in the shop for one major drivetrain issue (motor noise with the EV, a transmission problem with the sedan) and for recall-related firmware updates. The scheduled maintenance schedule for both is pretty similar, with the EV getting coolant changes every 40,000 miles; the gas-powered sedan actually going a bit longer than that. They've both been at the dealer exactly the same number of times.

Then, there are consumables like brakes and tires and air filters and windshield wipers - but those are handled exactly the same across the cars, with no effective difference between the EV or the gas car.

There's really only been one difference in service, and that's the oil changes I get every 5000 miles on the gas car - and I don't even get that at the dealer. The EV doesn't need any sort of regular maintenance apart from recommended tire rotations.

As such, I'm a little skeptical about the maintenance argument. EVs and gas cars have similar consumables, and problems can crop up with an electric drivetrain just like with a gas drivetrain. Are dealers making so much off of standard oil changes that they're down on EVs? I just don't buy that.

What is absolutely clear, however, is that an EV is serviced or sold differently than a conventional car, and that the dealerships do not want to spend the money for training on the sales and service of EVs. While you can take any boring mainstream sedan just about anywhere to be serviced and the techs will have an idea of what they're doing, and you can get someone who knows a little something about cars on the sales floor in just a day or two, a small job on the EV can be a huge and uncertain job for an untrained tech and there are all sorts of considerations that are necessary for a customer buying an EV.

At the outset, just getting a firmware update from the dealer - something that's not much harder than you'd expect - was problematic, since the EV tech wasn't available on the dates we had scheduled repairs, or they didn't have the right software, or a variety of other coordination issues. What I've found is that the dealerships that sell EVs tend to only have one or two individuals - one tech, one sales - trained on EVs, and many dealerships have nobody at all trained on EVs.

In the end, I ultimately think the dealer ambivalence towards EVs is primarily a staff development issue - why train the staff if this is a tiny part of our sales? - not related to maintenance revenue. This will change as EVs become more and more mainstream. We use the EV frequently - we also have solar, so the cost of operation is extremely low - and now rarely use our gas car. Things are moving more and more in that direction all the time, and the dealers will adapt.
posted by eschatfische at 10:14 AM on November 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


In defense of lead acid batteries: in the United States, at least, they've got a 99% recycling rate. They may be full of nasty stuff, but very little of it is leaking out into the wild.

Tesla appears to have achieved a 60% recovery rate from their battery exchange program, with conventional technology, as of 2008. I'm sure they're able to recover more plastic by now, which appears to be the main waste product.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 10:53 AM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Optimized chainsaw motor to run a generator to provide off-grid charging. You know, like the big girls' diesel-electric locomotives and ships... Use a pint of hemp-ahol a week.

Yeah, and then for convenience, carry your franken-generator in the car with you. Just in case, you know? But then you start wondering if maybe a highly-engineered, optimized generator would be more fuel efficient. And then as long as you're carrying it around, may as well have it drive the wheels, too.
posted by ctmf at 11:07 AM on November 28, 2015


Aren't lithium ion batteries the type that burst into flame when not handled properly?

That's kind of misunderstanding things. When you talk about bursting into flames, you're really talking about the energy that was stored being released (enough energy to move a car around). If the battery is fully discharged (as would be the context here), it's figuratively a bit more like an empty box or an empty plastic gasoline tank - yeah you can set either of those containers on fire, sure, most things burn when you burn them. But it's when you fill up a container with energy - regardless of whether it is a battery or a gasoline tank or a warhead - that's when you have to treat that energy with respect and not release it unintentionally.
posted by anonymisc at 11:58 AM on November 28, 2015


While I'm here, depending on where you get your electricity that "green" electric car may pollute more than a gasoline car. It depends on where the electricity you buy comes from. In much of the US, that's coal.

This kind of nonsense comes from agenda, not facts.
Actual honest studies I've looked at concluded that it was possible (however unlikely) to generate such a worst-case scenario that an electric car could barely produce more pollution than a good-scenario gas car, but there are a lot of ridiculously bad "studies" to reassure the climate-change-is-a-hoax crowd that they're the smart ones seeing through the conspiracy unlike those idiot libruls. The one you linked to gives the warning signs of being the rubbish type. I don't have the time to investigate/debunk it, but I'm happy to assume that if it walks and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.

The reality, of course, is that in a fair and complete comparison, electric cars emit far less pollution. (And anecdata - of people I know in the USA with an electric car, I don't know any who don't opt to run it on 100% green power. People who give a shit about climate change typically started throwing in the measly extra few bucks for green power years before electric cars were even an option for them.)
posted by anonymisc at 12:15 PM on November 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


As a former car salesperson, I'm sorry that so many of them suck so hard. I never lied to customers. Most of the lies you might tell are either too easy to disprove or are about things that don't actually matter. Getting caught in a lie is a surefire way to make sure you don't sell a car. The most successful salespeople I know (and I know a lot) are all totally honest.

But even honest salespeople learn pretty quickly that the way to tell if a customer is lying is if their lips are moving.

I'm better equipped to navigate the dealership sales process as a customer than just about anyone and I'm still VERY happy that I don't ever have to (family in the business).
posted by VTX at 12:24 PM on November 28, 2015


The chevy volt seemed like the perfect car for me - 100% electric for all the things I use a car for, but no range anxiety either (for that one trip in 2-3 years where I drive long-distance) due to the on-board generator.

But over time it seemed less than perfect to me to always be hauling around all that extra machinery for long-range trips that I hardly ever take, that machinery was taking up space that could be extra luggage space, adding more weight, reducing handling, etc.

Then I started thinking that it was also a lot of extra parts to break down and need servicing and fluids to change and clutches to maintain, and now it seems like it's not a good fit for me at all and I should just get a simple pure electric car because there is a very chance of enjoying both much less maintenance yet much higher reliability.

The leaf looks to me like a cheaply-built car with an expensive battery. So now I'm waiting for the Tesla Model 3, which will hopefully be a high-quality car due to upcoming economy of scale on the battery. To get the price as low as they're aiming for, and to ensure the model S and X remain flagship in comparison, I expect that the 3 will lack a lot of those very same doodads that are denting the reliability score, eg those pop-out door-handles that add a lot of sweet-but-unnecessary moving parts. I can live with simple door-handles. (My current car does not have normal door-handles, so I will be a little bit sad, but I'll survive) it seems like the 3 might have all the ducks lined up such that if they manage to do it right, it could potentially be the best combination (for me) of reliability with modern features of any car in history. Fingers crossed.
posted by anonymisc at 12:41 PM on November 28, 2015


Something the Volt has over the Tesla 3 though: if I understand the US mileage requirements correctly, the Volt price is heavily subsidized by truck-buyers, while Tesla is not.

Am I reading this right - car manufacturers need to hit a fleet-average mileage, so if you sell a lot of gas guzzlers, you have to also sell enough efficient cars to keep your fleet-average efficiency high enough, and you do that by discounting the efficient cars, even if you have to sell them at a loss, until they're attractive enough to sell enough to make your efficiency average. But you avoid losing money by raising the price of the gas guzzlers so that extra markup on those sales pays for the sales of efficient cars, whose sale allows you to keep quota and sell the gas-guzzlers in the first place.

Tesla has no low-efficiency vehicles, so it will not be selling model 3's at a loss. What you pay for is all you get.

Chevrolet by contrast sells a lot of low-efficiency vehicles, so when you buy a volt, it is significantly subsidized and you are getting a lot more machinery that you are actually paying for. Truck buyers are buying the rest of your car for you. I've heard estimates that you're getting a $70,000 machine for $35,000.

I like the sound of THAT bargain! But OTOH, part of me points out that while the Tesla 3 won't be as much of a bargain, once a car is out of warranty, repairing a $35,000 machine costs less than repairing a $70,000 machine. So... decisions decisions... :)
posted by anonymisc at 12:52 PM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't have the time to investigate/debunk it, but I'm happy to assume that if it walks and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.

I'm sorry you're so busy to not be able to read an article yet not so busy that you can't share your opinion it must be nonsense. The scientific article that the Economist article summarizes is published in PNAS. A peer reviewed journal from the National Academy of Sciences, and about as far from "climate-change-is-a-hoax crowd" as it gets. I don't know the authors myself, but this statement in an article at their university suggests they are motivated by, you know, science.
“Our work highlights the importance of looking at the full life cycle of energy production and use, not just at what comes out of tailpipes,” said Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering Assistant Professor Jason Hill, co-author of the study. “We greatly underestimate transportation’s impacts on air quality if we ignore the upstream emissions from producing fuels or electricity.”
This article seems to make people mad because it violates some hopeful assumption they have that electric vehicles must be "more green". The full story is more complicated than that. If you actually care about climate change you should listen to what reputable scientists say about environmental impact rather than discarding what doesn't fit a bumper-sticker view of the science.

The main conclusion I draw from this particular article is that we really should push the US away from using so much coal for generating electricity. If we have cleaner electricity then using electric cars makes more sense. Even natural gas is a significant improvement for total emissions, although nowhere near as good as nuclear or solar.
posted by Nelson at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know the authors myself, but this statement in an article at their university suggests they are motivated by, you know, science.

That may be, but the economist link you provided seems like the usual junky sensationalist misrepresentation - leaping right to electric cars "cause three times as many deaths from pollution as conventional petrol-driven vehicles" before later admitting that the study reinforces what we already know - that electric vehicles are much cleaner, greener, and safer.
posted by anonymisc at 2:16 PM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you actually care about climate change you should listen to what reputable scientists say about environmental impact rather than discarding what doesn't fit a bumper-sticker view of the science.

Hold up there, this is actually pretty similar to the kind of crap I was talking about - you've taken a study about particulate pollution at ground level, and whether intentionally or not (I assume unintentially), you've now ended up presenting it with an implication that it is meaningful evidence about cars being less green than is supposed by the people who are trying to act on climate change, when of course ground level particulate has little or nothing to do with climate change.
posted by anonymisc at 2:36 PM on November 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


(I think I pretty much agree with you on matters of fact and substance, FWIW. But I look more poorly on the ways that even serious studies are often presented, used and abused, context conflated, etc. Not to mention the bad-faith studies that get trotted out.)
posted by anonymisc at 2:44 PM on November 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Who gets their car serviced at the dealer?

Only when it's a warranty issue. But 95% of the time I just go to my mechanic to get my car serviced. He's cheaper and I trust him.
posted by octothorpe at 7:51 PM on November 28, 2015


Yeah, and then for convenience, carry your franken-generator in the car with you.

It's not *my* generator. It's Original Equipment installed by the dealer. You realize that the diesel engines in locomotives and container ships aren't connected to the drive wheels and propellers? Finding somewhere to stick a tiny engine to run the charger shouldn't be too difficult. Then there's really no use-case that's inappropriate. You have unlimited range as long as you can find a gas station.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel-electric_transmission
posted by mikelieman at 1:39 AM on November 29, 2015


My beloved '09 Fit is still going great and only has 50K miles on it so it's going to be at least another five years before I'm in the market for a car but I'd seriously consider a plugin hybrid at that point. We have this huge 2000 square foot garage/warehouse with a flat roof behind our house and I'd love to put solar panels up there and charge the car as much as possible with solar energy.
posted by octothorpe at 5:57 AM on November 29, 2015


The main conclusion I draw from this particular article is that we really should push the US away from using so much coal for generating electricity. If we have cleaner electricity then using electric cars makes more sense. Even natural gas is a significant improvement for total emissions, although nowhere near as good as nuclear or solar.

Coal is pretty much the worst sort of fuel in common use. It produces the most carbon dioxide per btu, about 140% of natural gas, somewhere between that for petroleum products (depending on how heavy they are). Coal also produces acid rain, (cancer causing) particulates, and is responsible for most of the heavy metal and radiation exposure in the eastern half of the US. Coal usage can't end fast enough for my liking. Natural gas is not perfect either, but it's much, much cleaner as a fuel.
posted by bonehead at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I reeeeallly like the Fit and I'm still sad it's not an old enough model for there to have been any used Fits in my price range last year when I was shopping for a replacement for my dear, departed Civic.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:49 AM on November 30, 2015


Diesel-Electric transmissions are also referred to as Series Hybrids in the automotive industry because the power path goes Engine→Generator→Motor→Wheels and each conversion costs efficiency. It's the least efficient for automotive because cars speed a lot of time at relatively constant speed and load (highway). In that scenario it makes sense to skip the electrical conversion and go straight from engine→wheels. This is what the Chevy Volt, and the Honda hybrid systems do. The Accord is notable because it is a series hybrid except at highway speeds, It only has a single speed connection between the engine and wheels for highway speed operation (40mph+) otherwise it is series.

The Prius and Ford hybrids use a clever transmission that uses two electric motors and an engine that they can mix in at varying speeds and torques to provide a continuously variable transmission for the engine. The drawback is that there is always power going through the electrical path, incurring the conversion losses along the way. The gearing is such that there is an efficiency sweet-spot (though still worse than straight mechanical) at the right place.

Trains and some ships (not cargo ships) use diesel-electric drive trains because of the huge torque and power loads. A mechanical transmission would need enormous gears and shafts to transmit the full power of the engine. It would also need to slip a clutch an absurd amount to get the train moving from a standstill. That is why we basically went from steam locomotives to diesel-electrics. Steam doesn't need a transmission and you can make constant force by keeping high pressure in the drive cylinders, no wear required. Cargo ships don't use them because they speed and load are basically constant except when docking and the propeller→water interface provides the clutch action at low speed.
posted by TheJoven at 8:10 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Natural gas is in some ways better than coal, but in addition to the carbon footprint issue, fracking for natural gas (and to some extent petroleum) is causing a totally preposterous increase in the number of earthquakes.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:18 AM on November 30, 2015


I reeeeallly like the Fit and I'm still sad it's not an old enough model for there to have been any used Fits in my price range last year when I was shopping for a replacement for my dear, departed Civic.

If you come back to it sometime in the future, the sweet spot is probably the '09-'14 model years. The first US generation developed a reputation for leaking water like a sieve. The current generation is the first to be built in Mexico and is cheaply built in a bad way — very thin sheet metal in the body panels that permanently dents just from going over it with a wash sponge, a plastic undertray that will fall off on the highway after any oil change, front bumpers that sag, the top end gear of the manual transmission is so low that it seems to have been deliberately sabotaged to push people into buying the more expensive CVT, etc.
posted by indubitable at 9:01 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dip Flash: ...it is more that they profile people for how profitable you will be.

I have read precisely this, though I forget where.

A guy who looks like he wants to impress any and all women all the time == pure gold. A teacher or an engineer who walks in with a clipboard full of research == nightmare.
posted by clawsoon at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are fewer moving parts, so there are fewer things that can break. But what is there is doing a lot more work than in other cars, so more things can go wrong. Petroleum cars have electrical problems; to suggest there wouldn't be problems in a car that was all electrical makes no sense.

Who suggested an all-electrical car wouldn't have problems? If they aren't reliable, I'm not sure in what sense they are "intended to last 20+ years," which is a statement that implies reliability.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:55 PM on November 30, 2015


My theory is that while there is definitely an issue of many dealers and salespeople not being all that great at selling cars, it is more that they profile people for how profitable you will be.

You say this like those two things are mutually exclusive when they aren't. Good salepeople try to sell a car to everyone. There are too many stories of some 18-year-old that came back with his dad to buy some car at sticker mostly because they were the only salesperson that took them seriously or the guy who was "just looking" that ended up driving a car home overnight to show his spouse (we call this "the puppy dog" close) who came back and bought it the next day to ignore anyone. That last one I've done twice that I can think of off-hand.

More common is the 3M engineer who regularly rides "the be-back" bus and comes in every week or so and looks at the car some more, sometimes he drives it, sometimes not. After six months, he just comes in on a Saturday and buys it. When you're the Chrysler dealer next to the 3M headquarters, you figure this one out really fast (ask me how I know!).

The point is, shitty salespeople profile, good salespeople try to sell to everybody, all the time. Furthermore, salespeople don't care about profitability. A good gross is great, but a unit is a unit and the bonuses count on units and the bonuses are where the money is, especially on new cars. It's also been my experience that cheaper cars are easier to sell. I think it can vary a lot with brand but when every Honda dealer sells the exact same Fit, they tend to all sell them for the exact same price. The car is super affordable so people usually don't feel like they're handing over their life savings compared to even base Accord, so it's usually about getting along with the customer and being trust worthy and then just picking the color you like.
posted by VTX at 6:58 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Apparently, they don't break down enough.

Well, maybe this will get dealers on board.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:23 AM on December 10, 2015


Ford is going to have 13 electric models in 2020. That's a fairly big shift in 4 years. That should hopefully make dealers more interested as well.
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:01 AM on December 11, 2015


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