Is it Time for an Electric Car?
I’ve been a car enthusiast for a long time. In my early teens, I would take a bus from my town in the mountains, down to the city. I walked to the avenue where most of the car dealers were. To their chagrin, I would end up with a large collection of their glossy (and for them pricey) auto brochures. I would pore over these with great interest.
In those days, a fast car would run the quarter-mile in roughly 13 to 14 seconds and do 0 to 60 between six and eight seconds. Such a vehicle would need a large 6 to 7l V-8 and with essentially no power accessories or air conditioning.
Today I drive a small German wagon. It has full luxury appointments and accessories that we could not even conceive of in the 1960s. It has all-wheel drive which makes it extremely capable in the snow. With the climate control engaged and Mozart on the multi-speaker sound system, it will run 0 to 60 in the low five-second range with a 2 liter, 4 cylinder engine. I routinely drive it on long trips around 80 miles an hour and get 30+miles per gallon. This is not to brag. Routinely automobiles made today are capable of this kind of performance and comfort and with scant emissions.
So why are they trying to convince me to buy an electric car?
Based on their advertising, it seems that every automotive manufacturer has decided that I need to drive a battery-powered vehicle. This is at a time when internal combustion engines have become much more efficient and refined, with pollution almost eliminated. I grant you we are going through a time of expensive fuel. There is, however, plenty of supply and eventually, prices will come down. We just need the will to extract it from the ground which can be done with less impact on the environment than for instance, mining rare earth elements needed for car battery production.
There is also the issue of the electrical grid. Places like California already have rolling blackouts. Remember the huge power outages in Texas after a winter storm several years ago. At least those affected could still drive. I also understand that at least currently (no pun intended) most neighborhoods lack the electrical infrastructure to handle multiple fast chargers in each home.
Manufacturers brag about the” range” of their electric vehicles but understand that those maximal ranges are obtained without any accessories operating. Those amenities compete with the car’s motors for battery power and shorten the drivable distance. I don’t know about you but I want my air conditioning running on a summer car trip. A little music would be nice.
An electric vehicle would be anathema to my nature. When I go on a trip like most men of a certain age I want to get there as quickly as possible with as few stops as possible. Think NASCAR. My wife, who is much more rational, has been forced to play along all these years. When we get to a rest stop, I want to wolf down some food, take care of nature, fuel up and get on the road in the shortest possible time. I am told that even fast charging cars take 30 to 45 minutes to gain additional meaningful range. 45 minutes? I’d need a sedative, and then I’d have to let my wife drive. With an internal combustion powertrain, I can get 300 to 400 miles of energy back into my vehicle in five minutes.
There is also the problem of the batteries themselves. They make up a large portion of the cost of the vehicle, and when they become dysfunctional, the car becomes a white elephant. At least so far, batteries are not readily serviceable. When they fail out of warranty, your hundred thousand dollar Tesla model S needs a $20,000 replacement or it will become a very lovely driveway ornament.
Now I know that some electric cars are very fast. Unlike gasoline engines, electric motors produce all their torque with the first twist of the armature, and because of this, they accelerate very quickly, as fast as some truly exotic gas-powered performance cars. But who cares? Without the sound of an internal combustion engine and a lively exhaust, there’s no soul in the performance. It may as well be a bloody appliance.
I know I’m not alone in this. Then why are automotive manufacturers trying to shove vehicles down our throats that very few people want? Is this corporate virtue signaling? Is it to meet the CAFE standards coming up in the next 10 years? I think it's both.
I may be old, but I’m not a troglodyte. I enjoy the benefits that technology has provided. I have willingly embraced computer technology and smart home systems. I have the tech to reprogram some of my current car’s subsystems. And maybe someday when the problems associated with electric cars have been mitigated, I will own one.
Just not now.
Henry F. Smith, MD FCCP is a Pulmonary and Sleep Physician practicing in Northeastern Pa.
He blogs at: henrysmithscottage.com