Monday, October 9, 2017

Why the All-Electric Family Car Is Something the Average Family Will Likely Never Own

In the foreseeable future, the closest thing to an electric car that the average family is likely to own is a hybrid, which may have, as a five- or ten-thousand-dollar option, a battery providing an all-electric range of not much more than 50 miles. And that's fair-weather range. When it's cold, the heater will draw almost as much power as the motor, reducing range accordingly.

Why not a Tesla in every garage? Because a present-day, state-of-the-art lithium ion battery to store the energy equivalent of 50 liters of gas (about 400 kwh), would weigh around a ton, cost something like fifty thousand dollars, and require several hours at a fast-charging station to recharge. What is more, it would have an environmentally unfriendly embodied energy content equivalent to about 20 tons of fossil fuel.

The E100, a GM-built electric car that sells in China
for five thousand dollars.
To curb carbon dioxide emissions, the focus needs to be on energy efficiency, not unfulfilled and possibly unattainable plans for technological change. Better to lower commuting distances and increase the efficiency of existing auto designs, than seek through legislated and publicly funded incentives to bring about a technological revolution that may never happen.

That a large proportion of the work force in Europe and North America spend many hours a week commuting, illustrates perfectly the limitations to human social intelligence. The layout of Western cities is the result of planning without thought for either energy-use efficiency or the care of the human soul.

A typical Western city, is, in other words, a botch, a stupid aggregation of buildings, roads, bridges and tunnels built in a largely ad hoc fashion in response to development driven by profit maximizing builders, usually in collaboration with venal municipal officials.

The thing now should be not to replace cheap efficient gas-powered automobiles with Tesla-type electric cars that do not yet exist at a price most people can afford, but to begin rebuilding cities to minimize both commuting distances and the need  for frequent escape to remote places to relieve the stress of urban life.

It is probably too much to hope that existing cities can be largely re-constructed according to a rational design for human health and energy efficiency. Rather, the way forward will be to construct new, engineered communities connected by non-stop, high-speed public transit to commercial, industrial and financial centers in adjacent pre-existent mega-cities.

If the all-electric car ultimately dominates in the urban space, it will surely be not in the form of a Tesla, but in the form of a modified golf cart, with a small battery, a top speed governed to the posted limit, the capacity to pick-up power by induction from the road bed, priced at ten thousand dollars or less, and most likely made in China.

General Motors, in fact, currently produces such a low-cost electric vehicle in China for sale in China. Will it be for sale in the North American market or Europe anytime soon? Not, likely, so long as folks continue buying Volts and Bolts and Leafs and Teslas for thirty thousand dollars and up. But someone may soon force their hand: a British company better known for vacuum cleaners, perhaps.

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