“After the Chevy Volt’s battery runs down, [Tesla founder Elon] Musk says, ‘You’ll have a tiny engine pulling around a big car with a dead battery — you’ll be the worst car on the road.’”
You don’t hear that kind of comment much in today’s shallow, green MSM coverage. But when a reporter actually gets past the political “car of the future” bromides and simply asks, “Does the technology serve the marketplace?” one finds all kinds of problems with electric vehicles — the same problems that have dogged them for over a century. The kind of problems New Yorker reporter Tad Friend found when he went asking the current crop of EV pioneers to critique each other’s inventions.
As the above comment from Musk reveals, the Chevy Volt’s limitations are very real once its lithium ion battery is drained. Musk prefers the pure electric solution of his expensive Tesla Roadster or Model S.
But, of course, there is a very good reason why GM adds a gas engine to supplement its battery: Range anxiety. I’ll let Mr. Friend (who — again, contrary to most media ciphers — actually drove an all-electric Tesla in real-world conditions) explain:
After a few days of motoring around without recharging, I drove to San Francisco to conduct some interviews and suddenly realized that I had only forty miles left on the battery’s original 240-mile charge. So I drove to my sister’s house and plugged the car into a 110-volt outlet in her garage. Two hours later, the car had gained nine miles. On Highway 101 back to Menlo Park, I eyed the gauge the whole way, trying to suss out the optimal energy-conserving speed. . . . When I arrived at my hotel and left the car in its parking lot, which, like almost all the world’s parking lots at the moment, lacks charging equipment, I had nine miles to spare: exactly the amount I’d gained through my sister’s outlet. The next morning, magically, the car’s battery had gained eight more miles. This seemed worrisome, somehow.
Yes, worrisome somehow. Which has led yet another EV entrepreneur to emphasize not the car, but the battery. Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place and a global-warming zealot, says that the answer is bringing the cellphone model to the auto market. That is, manufacturers will build cheap, standardized equipment (the car) that takes a standardized battery and that everyone can afford. Agassi’s Better Place hopes to make its money building the battery-swapping infrastructure and charging you for battery use.
But Agassi’s speed bump is convincing manufacturers (only French government-subsidized Renault has bitten so far) to build standardized vehicles that take standardized power plants in a market that has traditionally been highly individualized with proprietary engine technologies — like hemis, purring V-6s, turbo 4-bangers, etc.
One again, Friend goes to the other experts: “None of the auto executives I spoke with expressed any inclination to build their cars to suit Better Place. . . . Herbert Kohler at German automaker Daimler Benz, said tartly, ‘a standardized battery would have to result from a standardized car, and a standardized car didn’t work under socialism in East Germany.’”
Ouch. No one disputes the genius of EV technology. But the question always is, compared to what? The gas engine is one tough competitor.