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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Go Electric?

Why drive an electric car? Why bother with all the fuss of having to worry about where you can plug it in, how far you can go without needing a charge, how long will the batteries last and how much they cost? Who needs that? Gas stations are everywhere, gas isn't so expensive that it prohibits you from buying it and driving where you need and want to go - at least here in the States. So why bother with all this EV nonsense?

I talk to a lot of people about electric cars. Many of which are complete strangers that see me with my ActiveE, others are customers of my business that see my car plugged in and charging all the time, and still others are friends, family members and various acquaintances. Some people are really in to them. They know the current models, understand the benefits and the disadvantages and have obviously done a lot of research into electric drive, but that's the overwhelming minority. Most of the people I come across know very little to nothing about EV's, yet they seem to have a preconceived notion that they aren't really viable, and some actually believe they are worse for the environment than gas cars. I've even talked to people that claim EV's are some grand scheme by the liberal left to scam us into believing the "hoax" of global warming and take away our freedoms. To what end I don't know, but yes I have met people that have made that claim and actually believe it. I often wonder why so many people seem to have such negative thoughts about electric vehicles. Is it simply because they are different? I know we are creatures of habit and tend to prefer familiarity, but who actually likes going to gas stations? Nobody I know, yet many seem disinterested in considering an alternative that is available and has already proven to be viable option.

Tesla Model S is a top-of-class performer
I'm not advocating taking away anybody's right to choose what they want to drive or what fuel they can use. I believe once people get the opportunity to drive modern electrics, they will simply want to continue driving them as was the case with me. It's true some of the recently introduced EV's have been somewhat less than outstanding vehicles, but we are only seeing the first wave of electric cars now and have just scratched the surface of how good they will be. Just look at the recently released Tesla Model S if you want to understand how good electric cars can be. It has been showered with awards like Motor Trends Car of The Year, Automobile Magazine's Automobile of the Year, Popular Science's Innovation of the Year and many others. Yes, it's an expensive car, but it's in a class with other cars of the same price and beating them at their own game. It's actually a remarkable thing for a new automaker to enter the scene and sweep the years automotive awards like the Model S has. Still, we are a long way from widespread acceptance of EV's. Tesla has certainly helped open the conversation and with established automakers like BMW launching their own line of plug in electric vehicles soon, more people will start opening up to the possibility of plugging in instead of filling up.

Here's why I think people will eventually overcome the inertia of the status quo and transition to electric drive:

1) Electric vehicles ARE better for the environment. The long tailpipe theory doesn't hold water. For anyone that doesn't know what the long tailpipe theory is, it's the argument that because EV's don't have tailpipe emissions, you need to extend an imaginary tailpipe all the way to the power plant that made the electricity that powered the car, and count the emissions there as 'tailpipe emissions". This does have some truth. Grid powered electricity didn't come out of thin air and there are nasty emissions from coal powered power plants. This is an argument I hear a lot. Someone will say "You aren't accomplishing anything. Your electricity causes more greenhouse gas than my gasoline does." Of course they can't back up that claim, and they certainly don't want to hear that I power my car with renewable energy made by my solar array, they just want to blurt out something they heard somewhere and assumed it was true. However if I didn't have solar electric and plugged into the grid for all my electricity, driving my ActiveE would still be better for the environment than driving any gas car. Yes, depending on where you live in the US it makes a difference based on what fuel mix is used for electricity generation. However regardless of where, even if you use electricity that is made 100% from coal, an electric vehicle always generates less emissions than any gas car does.  The US Department of Energy has a great site that lets you plug in your zip code and it calculates your emissions based on the fuel mix of the electricity provided to your area. You can clearly see than in any case, driving electric emits less toxins into the air we breathe and that is better for us all.  Of course if you charge your car with solar electricity, then you do truly have a zero emission vehicle.

I'd rather give him my money!
2) Relying on foreign countries for our energy is dangerous and costly. We currently spend nearly $400 billion dollars on foreign oil annually. That's over a billion dollars a day and that money leaves our economy and doesn't come back. Every $10 increase in a barrel of oil costs our economy about 75 billion dollars. Can you imagine how much good that money could do if we were spending it on domestic energy? Electricity is entirely a domestic product. Every step of the supply chain keeps money circulating in our economy and that money gets reinvested time and time again and helps stimulate growth. When you buy gasoline, about 65 cents of every dollar leaves the US and the 35 cents that does stay is mostly for lower-paying service jobs like gas station attendants and truck drivers. Committing to electric cars that run on domestic energy will create thousands of jobs in infrastructure and grid related improvements, installations of EV charging stations and solar electric systems. Plus keeping the money in our local and regional economies will have an exponential effect as the money gets reinvested and spent locally, instead of being shipped overseas. No matter how much oil we pump out of the ground, the US can never dictate the price of oil. It's a global commodity and we are at the whim of the OPEC Board of Governors. If they decide to pull back production, prices will go up regardless of how much we supply. When we get sudden spikes in oil prices it destabilizes our (and the world) economy. We need to become less dependent on it. We will still need oil, but we can drastically reduce our need for it. The best way to do it as quickly as possible is to transition our personal transportation to domestic-energy powered electric cars.

3) Plugging in is more convenient than driving to a gas station. This is difficult for people that haven't lived with an EV to grasp, but it's true. When I plug my car in, I am usually home in my garage or at work and have just parked my car. I didn't need to go somewhere to refuel, it came to me. I was already going home or to work, I didn't go there to refuel. I simply take about 5 seconds to plug in once I arrived at my destination. Yes, I need to do it more frequently than you have to buy gas because the cars don't have as far a range as gas cars do - not yet at least, but it's so simple and quick it isn't a problem at all and I didn't have to go out of my way to refuel because it was already at the destination I was going to. Many people that have never driven electric can't get their hands around this because they have become so conditioned by the refueling process of gasoline because that's all they know. They assume you'll spend so much time worrying about where you can find a charger, whether or not it will be available and working, and how long you'll have to sit there and wait for your car to charge. That's just not how it works 99% of the time. The vast majority of the time you'll simply charge at home and that will be enough for your daily duty. If you need to drive a lot of miles every day, then perhaps an electric vehicle isn't the right choice for you just yet. Give it a couple years and there will be longer range EV's, EV's with range extenders, there will be quick charge stations that charge your battery to 80% in less than 30 minutes, all this will make electric vehicles a viable choice for even more people than they are today.

4) It's better. This is really the knockout punch. Even if there were no other reason to drive electric, the simple fact that it's a better driving experience is going to be enough to change the industry and the world. The silky-smooth linear acceleration, the instant torque, the quiet and vibration-less cockpit experience simply cannot be matched by an internal combustion engine car- any of them. When you hear someone talking about how they would never want to drive an electric car it's probably because they have never indeed driven one. Just about everyone that is open minded enough to give an EV a try walks away from it smiling and thinking "Yeah, that was pretty cool". I have let hundreds of people drive my MINI-E and ActiveE over the past four years and I can't remember a single one of them that didn't like it. Yes, there are still hurdles for mass adoption, quite a few of them in fact. The lithium-ion batteries are still expensive so that keeps the initial cost of the cars a little higher than a comparable gas car, although prices continue to drop at a rate of approximately 8% per year. This of course is off set by the lower refueling and maintenance costs but people have a difficult time looking at the long term cost of a car when they are buying it. They tend to look only at the purchase price and not the fuel and maintenance they will have to pay for. I think BMW should spend some time and make it a point to demonstrate the total cost of ownership when perspective customers are shopping for an i3. Show them that they may be paying a little more up front, but overall the car will cost them much less than comparable gas cars would. The best tool to selling them however is to let them take one for a drive, the longer the better. It doesn't take much to get hooked on electric drive.


  1. Well said Tom. The electric revolution is upon us! Peace, Bill

  2. Good points Tom. There are many reasons why I prefer electric cars but performance is definitely up there. You can't duplicate that instant torque feeling with an ICE. Prices are dropping too. Have you seen the latest Leaf price drop?

  3. TKO in the first round! If folks just start with a nutral opinion and drive one for week they will be knocked out!
    Great post Tom.

  4. Very well said, Tom. I feel vey much the same way about our experiences with our Nissan LEAF over the last two years. I summed up my thoughts in as balaced a way as I could in my most recent blog post.

  5. Nice post, Tom.

    I find the reason that people argue the first 3 points is that they don't understand the last point (that they are fun to drive), so they don't WANT an EV. They are looking for excuses to not buy one.

    Let them drive one, and suddenly they have a new attitude about the first three points - rather than arguing to find a reason they can ignore them, they ask serious questions to figure out how to fit it in to their lives.

  6. Tom, from one Electronaut to another, thanks for the excellent post!!! - John Kalb

  7. Well said Tom! I think it would be important to add the fumes at the gas station as well. It is, in addition to all of the above, an important reason for me to electric.

  8. Very well said Tom!