Tesla has no more business being in business than Yugo.
Which isn’t anymore.
So why is Tesla?
Because political correctness, crony capitalism – and a hallucinatory desire to believe in a mirage; to refuse to admit that what you think you see in the distance isn’t actually there; that your mind isn’t playing tricks on you.
But then, the Yugo was just a bad car.
The Tesla is a bad electric car – and the electric part effaces the bad part. Electric cars can do no wrong – to an extent that is quite literally unbelievable. Unless you’ve seen it – and then you will believe.
Ok, how’s this:
An extremely embarrassing story broke the other day that two-thirds of Tesla drivetrains – their electric motors, specifically – are destined to require replacement before the cars reach 60,000 miles. This according to an independently commissioned Weibull Reliability Engineering Resources analysis of actual Tesla failure rates and customer reported problems to date (see here).
Before 60,000 miles roll by.
Let it roll around in your mouth for a little bit.
How’s it taste?
It is inconceivable that any normal car company could survive such a revelation. The likely – the near-inevitable – failure of the car’s very heart, the thing that makes it go? If a third of new Chevrolets needed a new engine before 60,000 miles elapsed, Chevrolet would not be selling cars at all.
But two-thirds of them?
People would be rioting.
And the government would be ululating the regulatory equivalent of allah akbar. Yet the government is silent. No outraged congress cretins are holding press conferences, demanding hearings. NHTSA is not threatening to recall the electric lemons.
Solely and only because these Teslas are a protected class of car, the affirmative action hires of the automotive world. We are not allowed to mention their failures, to discuss their inadequacies. Instead, we must do the four-wheeled equivalent of pretending that George Washington Carver is as historically significant a personage as George Washington. We must pretend that Elon Musk is a real life Tony Stark, a brilliant engineer rather than a crony capitalist.
His cars cannot be conceded failures – even though they are.
Economically, they always have been.
When you can’t sell a car (or anything else) at an honest profit, without needing “help” from government, then what you have to sell is (cue Donald Trump voice) a loser. Doesn’t matter that the Tesla is pretty or that it’s quick. It is not able to stand on its own two legs. It has to be subsidized. Both its manufacture and its sale.
Now we learn that it is also a mechanical failure.
That most of them – two thirds of them – will probably need their guts replaced before they reach 60,000 miles. It ought to shutter Tesla’s doors. Crater “sales.” But people – some people – will continue to “buy” (air quotes used because when someone else is “helping” you pay for your purchase – against their will – it is not really a “sale” and you are not really “buying”).
Because they believe.
IC cars are evil; electric cars are good – the future.
Even though, in fact, they are the past.
Electric cars predate the internal combustion-engined car. But 100 years ago, the IC car proved to be more practical – and much more economical. Electric cars became museum exhibits. Until government “help” resurrected them. Take away that “help” and they become museum pieces once again. They are still too expensive. Still gimped by functional problems such as inadequate range and unacceptably long recharge times.
But because of the Green Mania that sweeps the land, they are not only tolerated – they are venerated. And subsidized, to an obnoxious degree.
Using, of course, other people’s money.
The Weibull analysis measured the actual survival rate over time of a sample of Teslas from model years 2011-2013 to plot a graph of predicted future failures of these models generally.
Because an unusually high percentage of failures actually did occur among the sampled population, Weibull extrapolated a likely high failure rate among the entire cohort – that is, of all Teslas made during those model years.
When the story broke the other day, Green Car Reports – a publication very friendly toward Tesla – asked the company to reveal exactly how many electric motors it has repaired or replaced and the percentage of the total production (for model years 2012-2013) this represents.
Tesla has – so far – not provided any facts to counter the Weibull analysis. Instead, Elon Musk insists that the reliability of his electric wunderwagens has “doubled” – however that is quantified.
Musk is very good at PR. And at mulcting the populace to fund his ventures.
As for the objective data about Tesla, there is this Weibull analysis – and the earlier (and very embarrassing) Consumer Reports “worse than average” report card. So much worse than average that CR openly says the cars have “too many problems” to recommend buying them.
Coming from CR – which seemed to bend over backwards to give Musk favorable press for years – this ought to be devastating. A similar don’t-go-there directed at, say, GM would be fatal or at least extremely damaging.
Instant lemon aid.
But Tesla continues to get away with building crap cars – on our nickel.
Because they are electric cars.
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if you don’t mind, I’d like to translate this and post it on my blog.
Thank you (and a happy and prosperous new year to you).
You bet, Leonardo – as always, thanks for asking!
Good post. It is interesting though how the name of some cars becomes synonymous of “bad cars”, sometimes undeservedly. For example, the Yugo was basically a FIAT 127 (with a Yugoslavian body); and the 127 was one of the most successful and best selling car (in Europe, of course) FIAT ever built.
The perfect lemon: a Tesla whose batteries have to be topped off with ethanol.
Ross, I get what you say but that’s even a worse scenario than what the truth is, a power absorbing motor whose battery packs are in fact, topped off by the most rank pollutant, coal……coal with no clean smokestacks, a deal Clinton made back in the 90’s where the coal fired plants would get their money back for scrubber stacks via govt. tax breaks. Not a perfect plan for sure but one that the evil GWB’s administration(not saying Clinton wasn’t evil, just slightly less…..maybe)immediately nixed. It saved everybody an infinitesimal amount of tax while an entire part of the country continued to be bombarded with carcinogens on a very large scale…..not to say it doesn’t work it’s way round the world.
Best scenario is Tesla batteries being topped off with petroleum or wind and nuclear if they’d drop the requirement of producing fissionable material for bombs. No free lunches pops up again since things that fly such as birds, other things in the air we don’t normally see or think about and low flying planes don’t fare so well with the current type of supposedly passive solar panels…..which require petroleum and rare earth metals to make.
We could return to eating roots(esp. politicians and bureaucrats….being led by clover), berries and bark with the occasional unlucky animal but fire is out of the Genie’s bottle too so we’d choke on each others fires of whatever natural type source(think cow chips, how expensive they’d become, more expensive than beef)that wouldn’t be renewable any more than wood with our huge population.
Shit Ronnie, there just ain’t no free lunches……dammit.
Coal is cheap, reliable, and abundant. Coal plants have been forced to clean up their pollutants and have done a good job of it. Forcing these relatively clean plants to close will cause large increases in the cost of electricity. Perhaps this will be justified as paying for externalities we ignored before, but with China opening a coal-fired plant every 10 days and India nearly as often, our fastidiousness will cost us dearly and change nothing in global pollution.
Wind farms are springing up all over around here. It’s interesting to see those monsters motionless on calm days. Other “green” alternatives have also proven to be boondoggles when applied on a large scale. Witness ethanol.
I’m sure all those people who live in the path of those pathogens produced by coal would disagree with you since waterways are badly polluted by holding ponds that commonly leak and even break and kill by flooding. I guess historical sites destroyed by open top mining are neither here nor there.
Wind farms in Tx. are motionless when the wind shifts to an opposite direction but not for long. I’ll leave the house in a bit and stop on the top of the hill to see the flashing red lights of four of the largest farms in the world. I wouldn’t call it beautiful but it’s fascinating. I’ll spend the day driving through them. The moving shadows are really distracting to me.
I’m not suggesting closing the coal plants, just cleaning up their acts. China is having to do that now because of pollution. Of course China has larger issues such as displacing millions of people by damming the Yangtze and the Ganges should be THE example of how bad a river can be, a great spot for evening bathing and getting hydrated with some “mineral ” water.
Why can’t we go back to steam cars? For that matter, why can’t we go back to steam locomotives. A lot more fun to watch and listen to and I love the wisp of coal smoke in the air.
I have an electric car, and I fall under the libertarian (lower-case L) umbrella (anarchist), and I don’t feel one bit compromised about that. I think this has become a left-right paradigm divisive issue based solely on the fact that it’s a green car, and green cars tend to be favored by the left, therefore, let’s attack green cars- despite the fact that more “right” car companies like Ford or GM have and continue to accept way more tax credits than Tesla has and likely ever will.
As far as the owners of EVs: The $7500 tax credit is non-refundable. It’s not free money- it’s simply deducted from the theft that the IRS would normally engage in. If the IRS is only planning on stealing $5000 from me, I would only see a $5000 reduction in my tax obligation. The state isn’t going to cut me a check for $2500 difference. This is in contrast to a refundable tax credit where they will cut a check for any difference. For example, how many of us got the refundable tax credit associated with the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. Did you? If so, did you refuse to cash that check on the basis that you are accepting social welfare? Hell no. It barely made a dent in the future and past theft that the state has been victimizing us with.
The same applies to whatever tax breaks that Tesla is receiving. If a thief breaks into my house and steals my stuff, and then he goes to your house and chooses to not steal as much, how can anyone rationalize going after you and not the thief?
If you don’t like the fact that people are doing whatever they can to not be taxed to death by the state, your beef is with the state, not with the individual or group of individuals that are trying to avoid said theft.
As far as tax breaks- Tesla gets the same tax credits that every other manufacturer gets (Ford, GM, Nissan, Toyota, you name it)- they are just playing the game better than others. I know they got some free land from the state of Nevada (as an anarchist, I reject the idea that the state could legitimately give away land period). A while back, they also got a loan from the DoE (and paid it back early, with interest). They get credits from CARB (which, again, all manufacturers dabble in).
I’m not a fan of crony-capitalism, but Tesla is not Amtrak or USPS. It’s not Yugo. It’s also not funded by state-contracts (such as the case with Elon’s other project, SpaceX).
But is it “green”?
Sure, it emits no tailpipe emissions. But the utility plants that generate the electricity it runs on do. And how about the “impact” on the environment of several hundred pounds of very caustic materials (i.e., the battery pack)?
Yes, the major automakers also receive subsidies. But they – unlike Tesla – sell cars that are economically and functionally viable. Ford could exist without government “help.” Could Tesla?
My ire is not directed at electric cars per se. It is directed at the unctuousness of Musk – a billionaire who demands that ordinary people subsidize the toys he makes for rich people.
eric, no other form of energy I’m aware of emits anywhere near the amount of carcinogens that coal generated electricity does. The only problem I have with wind generation is the amount of birds killed but then again, the roadways that rely on petroleum and a tiny amount of electricity for locomotion are wastelands for all animals.
And you should see the patch now. It’s practically devoid of spilled oil even on drilling locations. Just think of the waste on the land if everyone walked to their destinations…..but the grass would be green.
Now we find out DEF is a carcinogen. clover should be tickled.
When charged on-peak, the global warming emissions vary between that of an equivalent 34MPG car and a 126MPG car, depending on your region and how green its power generation is.
When charged off-peak, however, the equation changes drastically. Base-load power plants, like a coal fired plant, do not spool down during low-peak usage. Because they burn pretty much the same amount of coal during night as they do during the day, but because demand is very low, there is an incredible amount of excess capacity- meaning there is no net increase in ‘longer tailpipe’ emissions (until we come to the point where off-peak charging increases demand so much that). No one really factors this net-zero increase, but almost all EV owners charge during off-peak hours (because it’s cheaper, and because it’s just convenient to charge while you sleep).
As far as recycling batteries- at end-of-life (30% degradation) the batteries are no longer useful in transportation applications, but they still have a decade or two of practical use for grid stabilization and UPS applications. I’m a systems admin in IT. Large UPSs (which power small datacenters during the brief outage between grid blackout and generator power) are currently very expensive. Reclaiming old car batteries and using them in UPSs could become a big business. An end-of-life Nissan LEAF battery still has 21kWh of useable energy. Value at that point is around $1,000 (core price set by Nissan) to $2,500 (used market price if all cells are sold individually). A 21kWh UPS for a datacenter could bring a $10,000+ pricetag easily. It would open up a whole new industry of repurposing EV car batteries for home and business use.
After secondary-use recycling would probably come destructive recycling where raw materials are reclaimed. This would be no more complicated or costly than Pba batteries, which are incredibly hazardous, but are one of the most recycled components of a car. I don’t think there’s any argument on the recycling front. These batteries are incredibly valuable and if you are an entrepreneur, you should look into creating a business that re-purposes and recycles them- because they are going to start flooding the market soon.
Musk isn’t demanding anyone subsidize anything for anyone and more than when you take a standard deduction or have dependents, I am subsidizing you and your kids. He’s taking a top-down approach to product development, which is how it works in the technology world. The high-end, low-volume product (Roadster) funds the mid-range, mid-volume product (Model S), which funds the low-price, mass market product (Model III), which will then fund an even cheaper product that sells in even higher volume. If you actually look into the guy, he’s actually a libertarian. Read some of his quotes- this isn’t something a big-government guy would say:
“Funded by the government just means funded by the people. Government, by the way, has no money. It only takes money from the people. Sometimes people forget that that’s really what occurs.” (understands taxation is theft)
“Air Force official awards $10B+ contract uncompeted & then takes lucrative job w funds recipient http://nlpc.org/stories/2014/05/18/space-launch-deal-puts-spotlight-revolving-door …” (against crony capitalism)
“Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.” (is anti IP)
“I think Bitcoin is probably a good thing. It’s primarily going to be a means of doing illegal transactions but that’s not necessarily, entirely bad because some things shouldn’t be illegal.” (oozing libertarianism in that quote)
“To make an embarrassing admission, I like video games. That’s what got me into software engineering when I was a kid. I wanted to make money so I could buy a better computer to play better video games – nothing like saving the world.” (and he’s a capitalist 🙂 )
I forgot to mention that the graphic put out by the UoCS has been revised a few times over the years. Every few years, you’ll notice the grid gets cleaner and cleaner. Over the past 4 years, my state has gone from 36MPG to 40MPG. The grid keeps getting greener every year. As far as gas cars, last I heard, the average fuel economy of the US fleet has actually gone down .1MPG from last year. :/
“Over the past 4 years, my state has gone from 36MPG to 40MPG. ”
You mean your state’s regulatory requirement has gone from 36 to 40 mpg. That is meaningless in terms of actual fuel consumption even in your state’s own “publicly owned fleet” of vehicles, let alone the privately owned cars on the roads there.
No, the equivalent emissions from an EV in Michigan have dropped to that of a 40mpg car based on how green the grid is getting.
It’s odd (as I see it) to characterize carbon dioxide as an “emission” – that word being synonymous with “pollutant.” In terms of chemistry, C02 is an inert gas; it doesn’t contribute to smog or cause respiratory problems. We exhale (“emit”) C02.
I know, I know. “Climate change.”
A deliberately dishonest way of framing the debate. Because climate always changes. It’s interesting that “global warming” had to be abandoned. And before that, “global cooling.”
My bullshit detector has been on tilt ever since.
Carbon is not a “pollutant”. If anything more of it would be an improvement as a warmer climate would probably help people more then hurt them.
“When charged on-peak, the global warming emissions vary between that of an equivalent 34MPG car and a 126MPG car, depending on your region and how green its power generation is.”
I don’t give a rat’s ass about “global warming emissions.” The whole idea is a massive scam being purveyed by the criminal element (that is, the State). CO2 is not a pollutant and I do not take “carbon footprint” into consideration when making purchases or making any other decisions.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about “global warming emissions.”
I’m withchoo there, Jason. I almost give a shit about global warming emissions. Well, actually, to tell the truth….I fail, utterly, to give a shit about “global warming” anything, and I would cheerfully slap the piss out of anyone who tries to argue with me face to face using such nonsense terminology.
There. Now I feel better.
Recycling the battery packs is one thing. But how about the energy inputs (and “environmental cost”) required and entailed to obtain the materials and make the battery packs? This is an aspect of electric cars rarely discussed by advocates – understandably. Because if discussed, it paints the “macro” cleanliness of electric cars in a not-so-favorable light.
The idea that Musk is a Libertarian makes no sense to me. His entire business is based on government. Without government “help,” Tesla would disappear tomorrow. If he were a Libertarian, he’d put up his own money to fund his venture.
Not yours and mine.
Finally: The idea that $70,000-up cars will fund $25,000 cars is ludicrous. Cars are not iPads. High-end cars are niche/low volume cars by definition. If that’s all he sells – he’ll never sell very many cars. The only viable high-end car lines are those that are offshoots of a “bread and butter” line of cars (e.g., Lexus, without Toyota, would not be viable).
Note that Tesla touts the looks, the acceleration and “tech” of his cars. Not their economy. Not their practicality. And economy and practicality are the primary criteria that matter when it comes to cars intended to serve primarily as transportation.
Tesla cars are judged according to the standards that apply to high-end luxury/performance cars.
He has yet to make any progress at all in terms of making an electric car that makes sense.
eric, exactly so. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out millions of Chevy’s resulted in A Corvette.
If it’s such a great technology, why don’t I drive an electric truck? I figure with the weight of a battery pack large enough for that, I’d have several hundred pounds of payload from a gross maximum of 40 tons. I might even make a bit of money to get stick figure thin but probably not enough to even feed a stick figure what with DOT work hour restrictions. We’d certainly save on trailer size though.
I can see the Walmart drivers arrive with a few hundred pounds of goods……after several days on the road doing 20mph with no wind and no grade. That oughta satisfy clover and the bureaucrats and politicians who’ll be exempt from complying with any of the things us mundanes must. No doubt limousines will still be in vogue in DC and other capitol cities…….and bullet-proof will take on a whole new meaning.
Quite a few large vehicles that do short haul and frequent stops in the city have been outfitted with a supercapacitor + electric assist + regenerative braking purely on an economic basis.
The YT202-EV is a electric semi with a 40 ton (36 metric tons) capicity and 62 miles range. It won’t replace the entire fleet of truck but there are niches where it works just fine. (combined rating is 65 metric tons).
But I think this all misses the point, Tesla had to design an entirely new drive-train and there are bound to be kinks in it at least until you can start examining hundreds of failed units to know what needs tweaked.
Heck there are electric drive-trains that have been used in freight locomotives for decades. Electric motors are pretty damn cool.
It’s the batteries that suck and that are the limiting factor, but they don’t suck that much. If you a a fast charging/discharging battery came onto the market with a capacity/price ration improved by even 3 or 4 times we’d all be driving electric cars (especially in housholds with more than one car). This is perhaps plausible especially considering advancements in a nano-scale manufacturing.
General motors had to be bailed out by the government, and the auto industry in general has greatly benefited from government policies favoring urban sprawl and the automobile.
But regardless of that, maybe Tesla wouldn’t exist today without certain favorable government policies, but electric cars will and would have their day. Internal combustion is approaching it’s endgame, squished between concerns over polluting emissions and the entropic limits of the ottoman cycle. It’s the physics for improvement of the IC that will soon be impossible. The physics for improved batteries is just very hard. Eventually very hard will beat impossible.
“Heck there are electric drive-trains that have been used in freight locomotives for decades. Electric motors are pretty damn cool.”
Yep, in fact diesel locomotives are actually DC drive train tractors. The big follow cars behind the locos are diesel powered DC generators. DC motors are very smooth in acceleration and nearly infinitely controllable for low speed loading such as switching cars while making up a freight train, and dropping cars at delivery points.
“It’s the batteries that suck and that are the limiting factor, but they don’t suck that much.”
Yes, they suck. They “do suck that much” at the current state of development. In fact, they suck out loud for a fat man’s ass. Even with its IC “auxiliary”, today’s hybrids are weighted down with very heavy batteries. An all electric auto is a dead concept until the state of the art for batteries makes a quantum leap.
Yet China continues to improve on their super-capacitors. That may be because they don’t have so much tax money to waste on batteries for technology that isn’t there yet. Lots of buses there that use capacitors.
I got a plethora of checks in 2008 all saying the same thing, “insufficient funds”.
What Tesla seems to be missing, other than a sufficient warranty on its powertrains and unaided entry into the free market, is some stiff competition.
I owned a Yugo. If ever there was a car with a bad rap. It cost literally nothing and got you from point A to B almost trouble free if you took care of it.
It has ice cold air that never failed, unlike my Ford.
The only time it ever left me stranded is when the clutch failed on the highway one day. It had a metal cable clutch and it snapped.
Easy and cheap fix, unlike whats going to happen to Telsa.
MD, in about ’88 or thereabouts, one of my coworkers had a Yugo. It was a real joy to him, because he was a young guy trying to work his way through college and he couldn’t afford to be saddled with a car payment.
Back in the ’80s it was still somewhat common to meet young college students who worked full time and carried full or nearly full class loads. That young guy was one of that type, which is seldom seen nowadays. Though the Yugo was unattractive and not overly crashworthy, it was cheap to operate and cash strapped owners could do their own wrenching on it.
I did night shift at UPS for awhile while I was in school. Unloading trucks at 3 in the morning. Then class afterwards.
Hats off to you, Eric. So few students nowadays do what you did then.
First, let me preface my comment by saying I’m not a greenie. I’m not CO paranoid, etc. I don’t have anything against gas/diesel.
What I do see is Tesla being a really bold and forward effort to take an old and poorly pursued different technology, and see if it can work. This car has taken a plodding, static effort to make electric cars, into a futuristic, hopeful effort, that has far surpassed anything done so far. And if their efforts so far are any indication, these Tesla cars may actually end up as reliable as any other type of car.
Just because Tesla is having some parts failure doesn’t make it a worthless project. Just take a look at any of the car companies and their lists of recalls. It’s just a part of technology and progression.
Eric, I’m sorry you’ve painted yourself into a polarized corner on this subject. I think it requires more patience to give this effort a chance to progress or fail. If everyone approached the efforts to expand and progress technology into new dimensions like you are, we would never have anything new.
The issue here isn’t “patience.” It is being forced to subsidize a rich man’s toy.
As transportation, as an economically reasonable alternative to a conventional car, the Tesla is ridiculous.
I have no objection to toys. I have many myself.
I just object to paying for other people’s toys.
Jeez. I wish people could read.
Well, reading comprehension IS at an all time low…..for at least a few hundred years anyway. It ain’t getting any better say TPTB, just like planned. I spoke with a Canadian trucker yesterday and some things transcend languages and cultures. For instance, in his English he clearly said “fuckin politicians”. He’d even heard the skit of how to tell if your child is destined to be a politician on the John Boy and Billy Show. He was cussing his new Peterbilt with the sharp, tiny snout he said saved him $1,000-$2,000 in fuel costs at the expense of cancer causing DEF with the EGR system and computers that leave new trucks dead in the water with their new European PACCAR engines. He looked at my old long nose Pete and sighed(really). Nice guy and smarter than Americanos.
YES, a lot of “new and improved” stuff is really a lot crappier than the old stuff. Just one example is all MS programs after XP.
10-4 on the XP. MS will even put winders 10 on your winders 8 for free in case you got a version without the hardware/software spyware.
Don’t forget that those regen diesels with a piss tank have a disturbing tendency to randomly catch fire.
I had heard about that. . . but sort of poo-pooed it as an old wives’ tale – until I had to jump out of my 2013 Pete with a fire extinguisher in my hand.
It’s no longer an old wives’ tale to me – I was there.
“Don’t forget that those regen diesels with a piss tank have a disturbing tendency to randomly catch fire.”
Thanks for bringing that up, Rev. I didn’t know about it. Hope your tractor didn’t burn down to the frame, and I’m glad you got out.
[…] Read the Whole Article […]
The next year should be very interesting for Elon Musk.
I haven’t followed Tesla much the last year or so, but last I read they were expecting most of their growth to come from China.
HaHa! Good luck with that. With the Chinese economy on fire and the current reputation being cemented on Tesla I think the odds of success are zero. I don’t know if the low gas prices matter much because most of his customer base is composed of self righteous pricks that want to show everyone they are saving the environment without having to drive a Prius. A Tesla purchase for these people has nothing to do with economics/price of gas.
When you factor in that Amazon(another mostly zero profit entity) has now taken the space race lead for Federal dollars by accomplishing a successful rocket landing for reuse, the future for Musk seems cloudy.
Given his comfy relationships with Obama and the US government in general, he might be able to continue to find a way to extract dollars from the American taxpayer and US government printing press for Tesla & Space X- but for those who step back and assess his track record, it’s hard to conclude by any measure outside crony capitalism that he is a “success”.
He burnt through his Paypal money, had to secure a DOE loan to save Tesla(despite his claims that Google would have propped him up), & Space X’s sole existence is/was predicated on government contracts/money.
I’m actually convinced that the only reason we see his weekly outrageous claims on Drudge is so he keeps relevant to the masses, which helps his rent seeking.
The local Gov in my town provide free charging stations for the affluent few who can afford these vehicles. Also available for up to 8500 of my tax dollars, it’s mind blowing. I run CNG vehicles that are offered zero tax incentives and that’s fine with me but lets keep the playing field level for all.
WARNING: Long post ahead!
The thing that gets under my skin about the Tesla and other electric (and hybrid cars, for that matter) is that they’re touted as a solution to the problems of gasoline and diesel (G&D for short) cars, when they really aren’t, and in fact create problems of their own. Allow me to explain.
First, electric cars are touted as a solution to G&D cars’ pollution problems.
For one thing, the pollution problem with G&D cars has been 90 percent solved with technology that has been around for more than 40 years, like catalytic converters, PCV and EGR systems, EFI, and electronic HEI ignition. Because modern engine combust their fuel more completely thanks to these systems, the exhaust stream of a 2015 car is orders of magnitude cleaner than that of even a 2005 car, with 95 percent of that stream made up of CO2 and water vaper, or steam — the same stuff all the Lord’s critters exhale. Yes, those are “greenhouse” gases, but they’re not hydrogen sulfide or carbon monoxide.
And while electric cars have no exhaust, the pollution they produce and their impact on the environment is not zero.
The electricity they use is generated mostly by burning coal, oil, natural gas and nukes. So, the energy they use may not produce pollution at the (nonexistent) tailpipe, but it does at the power plant. So, electric cars merely shift the pollution from one source to another.
What’s more, electric cars create their own pollution problems with respect to their batteries. Mining and refining the rare earth metals in their batteries like lithium, nickel, cobalt, lead and cadmium creates pollution…and so does disposing of the batteries when they die.
Second, electric cars are pushed as a solution to the problem of expensive gasoline and expensive diesel fuel, and expensive driving in general. Here’s why that’s not necessarily the case:
Let’s say that for the sake of argument, the “energy equivalent” of 1 gallon of gasoline or diesel is 10,000 kilowatts (kw) of electricity.
Let’s also say that a gallon of gasoline/diesel costs $2.50 per gallon and that 10,000 kw costs $1.25. But if the average G&D car goes 30 miles on a gallon of gasoline/diesel and an electric car goes 15 miles, where’s the savings in that? It costs you the same amount to go the same distance. But if that same 10,000 kw costs $2.50, it costs you twice as much to go the same distance with an electric car.
Yes, gas may go up to $3, $4 or even $5. Or, it may go down to $2 or even $1.50.
And even though electricity may be cheaper or equal in price to gasoline or diesel for the same amount of energy, it’s by no means free. Just as electric cars shift the pollution from the tailpipe to the power plant and toxic waste dump, they shift the cost from the gas pump to the electric meter. And as more people use electric cars, expect the price of electricity to go up due not only to simple supply and demand, but also because electric companies will need to beef up their infrastructure of power plants, transmission lines and transformer stations to meet that demand, and pass the cost on to everyone who uses electricity.
What’s more, electric cars are more costly to buy upfront than G&D cars. While they may have fewer maintenance issues than G&D cars, they’re by no means maintenance-free. And when they do break, few shops now have the necessary tools and mechanics trained and qualified to work on them — which means maintenance, when it’s needed, is more expensive. That’s especially true when the batteries conk out. Yes, G&D cars have engines and transmissions that conk out and cost a lot of money to fix or replace. But electric cars have battery packs and motors that conk out, too — and do so much sooner than G&D engines and transmissions.
Finally, electric cars are supposed to solve the problem of dependence on oil from unsavory, politically unstable and anti-Western regimes and terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere. Well, where does that lithium, nickel,cobalt, lead and cadmium I talked about earlier come from? Primarily China, Afghanistan and Africa — also home to unsavory, politically unstable and anti-Western regimes and terrorist groups.
In short, electric cars are a solution in search of nonexistent problems.
The Nissan Leaf is so unappealing that they are practically giving the car away. My sister signed on a 24 month lease for $239/mo. There is a $5000 tax credit that she will receive for leasing this vehicle. Therefore, it will cost her $736 (excluding tax, registration, insurance) to drive this car for 2 years. If the electric vehicle is the way of the future, why do they have to be subsided and/or practically given away for people to drive them?
Nissan got a huge amount of money from government for the Leaf. It actually makes Musk’s crony activity look small.
A new car for a winter beater seems like a nice idea. $736…. hmm…
The leaf is so hopeless they (Nissan) can’t even send me one to test out. Guess why. It can’t make the trip from the press pool in the DC area to my place in SW Virginia in one day. They’d have to stop for an overnight recharge. The distance is 200 miles.
Same for the electric VW Golf.
It goes about 60 miles… maybe.
Is it that embarrassing to the auto makers to send one out to you on a flatbed tow truck?
I’ve got a LEAF. It’s a great car. It has polarizing looks, but it’s a great value. The Chevy Spark is also a great value but it’s tiny and not available nationwide.
Would it be a “great value” in the absence of a bunch of armed thugs forcibly subsidizing it out of other peoples’ pockets?
I have trouble understanding how the Leaf is a “great value.” It costs about $30,000 and while you may not spend money on gas, you have spent about three times as much to buy it as you would have to buy a decent IC economy car such as a Versa sedan (appx. $30k for the Leaf vs. appx. $12k for the Versa). How many miles will it take for you to reach “break even”?
$18,000 buys an ocean of gas.
And the Versa can travel almost 400 miles on the highway without stopping to refuel – and refueling takes maybe 5 minutes. Not hours.
I test drive new cars every week. The car companies have them sent to me (and to other journalists) via press fleet delivery services. The press fleet HQ for the southeast is located in Northern Va, about four hours’ driving time from my place. They have not sent me a Leaf (though I have had every other Nissan vehicle at one time or another).
It would need to be delivered on a flatbed. Or it would take them two days to make the trip. Because the Leaf can’t make the trip in one day. Not on a single charge. And because there are no “fast chargers” around, the driver would need to stop overnight to recharge after about 100 miles of driving. Then – next day – he might make it to my place. Which is another 100-something miles away. Maybe.
The Leaf has been a sales disaster for Nissan. See above points.
If the thing cost say $20,000… and if your driving was almost entirely in-city, short distance (no more than about 15 miles each way)… then… maybe a car like the Leaf makes economic (and functional) sense.
All I can come up with is the fetish to appease the “green” god.
“Two-thirds of Tesla drivetrains – their electric motors, specifically – are destined to require replacement before the cars reach 60,000 miles.”
No Worries Mon!
Just limp it or tow it into the closest Authorized Tesla Dealer Service Department, and they’ll fix it right up. 🙂
Eric: Great article.
Being in SE Michigan, I see a select few of these Telsas running around, but I’ve yet to spot one in winter. Any idea how much the battery life is impacted when ambient temp is between 0 and 20 degrees?
Also – one minor correction. You stated: “We must pretend that Elon Musk is a real life Tony Stark, a brilliant engineer rather than a crony capitalist.”
Tony Stark was also a crony capitalist. A “defense” contractor is the very definition of crony capitalist. I believe this is where he started out before the robotic heart implant and all that…
I’m not a Musk super-fan (primarily because of his connection with the PayPal a-holes), but I do admit to feeling that electric cars are the future because the pollution they produce gets moved from 500,000 mobile emitters (the cars) to a few central emitters (power stations) which are easier to keep clean for the environment.
Since the Tesla is new technology, it gets a pass on reliability … for a while. It’s been on sale for almost 4 years now, and one would expect troublesome parts to get redesigned to not only provide a better customer experience, but to also boost profits. Sounds like the motor unit needs to be looked at quite closely.
I also wonder how many of those motor units were replaced because of overly-critical owners. A $70+k car shouldn’t have these issues, but people buying that class of car are also going to expect things to be perfect, despite the realities of mass production.
I’m not going to blame Tesla for EV subsidies – they’re available to any electric car manufacturer. It’s just that none of the others have executed as well as he has in bringing their products to market. Blame for subsidies should rest with the government agencies that requested them and the Congressmen that voted them into existence.
Warp drive would be a new technology. Electric cars are not new technology, the first crude attempts were nearly 200 years ago. That was before the lead-acid battery was perfected. Even the electronics are off-the-shelf components adapted to fit the platforms. Maybe state of the art, but definitely not new. Up until the 1960s, streets in major cities were famous for electric trollies and buses. Tesla cut corners, rushed to production, and motor failures is a result. Think Chevrolet Vega.
Tesla motors, like other electric makers have individual crony deals. Nissan is actually the big winner last I did a tally.
“I also wonder how many of those motor units were replaced because of overly-critical owners.”
Essentially that’s what Tesla has been doing – pulling the entire drive train, swapping another in its place (apparently that takes under an hour), & shipping it off to a centralized location be diagnosed/rebuilt, even for minor noise complaints.
That’s why there have been such a high number of “replaced motor” checks from owners on the survey for the Model S – Tesla does it because it’s quick & easy, & the regional service centers weren’t set up to service the power-train.
Hi Eric i have interesting articles about autonomous cars. I think it is good that someone like engineer from one of the best tech university in the world says that full autonomous cars (without steering wheel and pedals) is very bad idea. Here these articles: http://news.mit.edu/2015/no-driverless-cars-1013 and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-a-mindell/driverless-cars-and-the-myths-of-autonomy_b_8287230.html
And interesting is that Toyta dont want to build robo cars. Toyota will build cars with autonomous technology that will improve people driving skill: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/05/science/toyota-artificial-intelligence-car-stanford-mit.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0
For me it is good news. Something changes. What do you think about this all? i will be gratefull for your response.
It all comes down to density of energy. Wind, Solar and chemical batteries are not very energy dense. Gasoline, hydro and especially nuclear power are extremely dense. No amount of government subsidy will change that fact.
Tech people like to talk about Moore’s Law. It simply states that the number of transistors on a silicon wafer will double approximately every 18-24 months. This is important because if you’re developing a product that uses software, and you have a 24 month lead time, you write software for the next generation chip. It also means that yesterday’s supercomputer is today’s disposable phone. It works well and has been the primary driver of electronics and software engineering for the past 40 years.
The problem comes when non-techies read about Moore’s Law and decide that ALL technology follows this curve, or that by throwing silicon at a problem it will magically be solved. Electric motors don’t use silicon transistors, they use copper and magnets. Yes, “rare Earth” magnets boost efficiency, but they are called “rare” for a reason, there’s just not that much of the stuff. And in an application like an automobile, you’re talking about a few percentage points in efficiency, not a doubling.
Battery technology has improved at a glacial pace. Not for lack of funding or desire or brainpower. It’s just that we’re back to that pesky physics and energy density. Most batteries follow a discharge curve that is pretty bad. You can run a car on fumes to get to the gas station, but a chemical battery will quit working after dropping a volt or two, and can actually be damaged if you discharge too far. So you end up spending a lot of time charging just to get a volt or so out of it, the rest of that energy is just sitting there unused.
The shame of it all is the amount of money and effort we’re wasting on these boondoggles. Several well-placed nuclear power plants will produce far more zero emissions electricity than all the renewables that have been installed over the last 10 years, on-demand and with a capacity factor (operating time producing power) of 98%, compared to well under 50% for wind. Switching automobiles to CNG is cheap and easy, removes “carbon pollution” and doesn’t have too much of a performance hit. “But Eric_G, that stuff is scary – remember Fukushima? Remember the Hindenburg?” Well, kids, engineering can be a b**** sometimes. You learn from your mistakes and move on. You don’t put flammable gasses in a big cloth bag. You don’t build a nuclear power plant in a flood plane (even your engineers told you to build it up on the hill 100′ higher) and without a containment dome. And you certainly don’t bother listening to think tank engineers when they rattle off “facts” about practical engineering (hint: get ready for the cold and dark ages).
“Battery technology has improved at a glacial pace. ”
It’s not by accident; it’s by design. Years ago I came across an article that stated that the US government refused to give research colleges in the USA any research grants for battery development. For battery development specifically. The reason given by the paper at the time was to make sure the Soviets didn’t get better batteries by industrial espionage and thus their submarines would upgrade from diesel to diesel-hybrid, and stay under water longer than our satellites could track them.
Add on the Military-Industrial Complex and you have the energy situation today. Nuclear power advertised back in the 1950s was supposed to make electricity “too cheap to meter”. What a fantasy. The second electricity cost drops below the return-on-investment for building the power plant, the construction on that power plant stops dead. That’s capitalism, even crony capitalism, where you get a subsidy from the government as well as monopoly protection from competition. There are reasons why we have never seen nuclear power plants go below a certain mega-wattage and decentralize the power grid sources with smaller plants.
Eric_G, a fellow employee and I drove by a town square gathering about 11 am with a sign that said Free Lunches. The other guy said “wow, we need to be back in town for a free lunch”. i laughed and said TANSTAAFL. He didn’t know what I meant so I translated. Then I said in west Tx. vernacular, there ain’t no free lunches. Well, the sign said so he replied. I’ll believe it when I eat it says me. So I’m behind him coming into town since he dropped me off to get a big rig and he calls just as I’m coming into town. He’s already at the yard. He says “Well, come on to the yard and we’ll go eat, turns out that lunch wasn’t free. I laughed, and he did too. Then he told me “well, the lunch is free……with a $10 donation”. You can’t beat a deal like that with local power company people cooking the donated food. I gave him half my sandwich and half my pear bread. That was as close to free as you’ll get.
I don’t know the figures on wind generation but it has to be much better than 50% in these parts and probably anywhere else they’re installed. They do/did multi-year assessments of wind before putting up a single generator. It might have been subsidized but not nearly to the degree nuclear and petroleum are.
I left at 0500 and was sorta awe struck looking at all the blinking lights of the 5 wind generation fields I saw this morning. I know the subsidy was cut to nearly nothing or maybe nothing a couple years ago. It hasn’t slowed the growth. I’m not sure it could be worse than coal no matter what. Besides, Truman was the first to say the US military would commit every resource no matter what to keeping the mid-east oil flowing. It would appear that’s been done.
According to this PDF pamphlet, those wind farms produced 9% of the energy produced in the state of TX (I’m assuming you’re a Texan). The very next bullet point in the pamphlet points out the “potential” power generation is 1,418,439 MW (1.4GW). That sounds like a lot, but compare to a single nuclear power station: Three Mile Island, even running on one fewer “unit” than designed, has produced 800MW at a 95% capacity factor, for 40 years now. I use TMI intentionally because if the failed unit were still in service it would be producing over 1GW over that same time. And remember, there have been no deaths (or diseases) that have been attributed to TMI, the amount of “deadly” radiation released into the atmosphere at the time of the accident wasn’t detectable by most of the instruments surrounding the plant, and the fear induced by Governor Thornburgh was borderline criminal.
And don’t start telling me that there’s a conspiracy of silence surrounding nuclear power. The last 30 years of politicians have been anything but pro-nuclear. They listen to crackpots like Hellen Caldicott and Amory Lovins instead of their own Navy. If anything they’ve been doing everything in their power to kill off development of commercial nuclear power because they’re afraid of what would happen if abundant, inexpensive (not too cheap to meter, but darn close) electricity were truly let lose on society. Wholesale costs of nuclear power are consistently about $0.03-$0.05/KWh. The more stuff running on electricity the less we need coal, gas and oil. If we don’t need oil, the world won’t need dollars. Our entire economic system could collapse. It probably wouldn’t, but politicians, at least here in the US, like the system the way it is and anything that changes it is something to be feared and avoided at all costs.
The coal industry put up a massive fight to keep nuclear away in the 1970s and pretty much won the battle. Now the natural gas industry is doing the same thing, hiding behind solar and wind.
One last thought: the renewables industry loves to talk about how many homes their products will power. You notice they never talk about how many factories they run. No mention of aluminum smelting facilities, or glassworks. No steel mills, not even datacenters. Fact is, homes aren’t as big a draw on the grid as the used to be, except maybe for HVAC. Insulation, better appliances (remember the heat from that big Magnavox TV?), and even better light bulbs mean they aren’t as big a deal as they used to be.
Hey Eric, you’re right about “renewable” energy never running a factory, etc. but we don’t need to worry about that since the PTB sent most of our manufacturing and heavy industry to Asia as part of their plan to eliminate decent paying jobs here in the USSA. It gripes me that I have to subsidize all these smug homeowners with solar panels via my electric bill; there’s always going to be a power grid, solar panels won’t run my central a/c unit which dims the lights briefly when it kicks in, and that’s with a 200 amp service. Nuclear would be a great solution if they built a bunch of smaller plants and spread them out more, could eliminate a lot of transmission lines that way, but as you mentioned the pols seem ok with the status quo.
@Eric_G “Electric motors don’t use silicon transistors, they use copper and magnets. Yes, “rare Earth” magnets boost efficiency, but they are called “rare” for a reason, there’s just not that much of the stuff. And in an application like an automobile, you’re talking about a few percentage points in efficiency, not a doubling.”
“Rare” earths really aren’t that rare, it’s just rare to have a concentration or light rare earths. Deposits high in heavy rare earth aren’t currently exploited because of issues with the disposal of thorium. However thorium can be put into a nuclear fuel cycle.
The one big issue with nuclear (other than the obvious ones of proliferation and containment) is that they are great as a baseload, you are either more electricity than you need most of the time (which could be mitigated with part-time synthesis of transportation fuels) or you need alternative sources as a supplement (solar, hydro, fossil fuels)
Great article Eric.
I’ve gone the rounds–with libertarians of all people–on Tesla several times. Most libertarians are enamored by Elon fucking Musk. It drives me crazy. Most of them are of the attitude that electric cars are “freedom from expensive–not so much now days– oil”. As if government is going to subsidize things that will make people less dependent on them. Then there’s always the old “oil is subsidized” line.
It’s all so maddening. Thanks for being a voice of reason. I’m glad there is at least one other person that hates Tesla for all the right reasons.
It was a Tesla hating article that made me a regular on your site.
Musk fanboys are the worst.
If the guy had done his car company and his space company on his own paypal money I could respect him. But he didn’t, so I don’t.
It was funny on another site with the Musk fanboys trying to excuse this. So I gave them a little lesson on engineering product the development. Outside of the underlying data being bad for some reason there’s only two ways this happens, one they hired people who don’t know what they are doing, two the car is supposed to last that long. That’s the target useful life. There’s a third, but it kinda falls under one or both of the other two, the car came out this way and they made a business decision to sell it this way. That is they did the testing and predicted the useful life and said that’s good enough or good enough for now.
The whole thing just slays me. A $70,000 ultra-luxury car that we’re forced to “help” extremely affluent people buy. That is quick… but if you use that quickness, the range plummets to the equivalent of having about two gallons of gas left in the tank of a very thirsty IC-engined car … but which you can’t “fill it up” in less than 45 minutes… unless you can find a “fast charger.”
And now we learn it will probably need a new motor by 60,000 miles.
Why is this guy in business, again?
Here’s the thing they don’t tell you about fast-charging. The life of the cells is impaired. They won’t last as many charge cycles. Why is fast charging always to 80% or so of capacity? Because after that the fast charging will do severe damage to the cells. If the fast charging cuts off before where tapering needs to start (80-85% or so depending on cell chemistry, desired safety margins, etc) the damage isn’t so bad. they’ll last the warranty if the math was done right.
No legitimate libertarian would be in favor of any of Musk’s endeavours other than EBay. This is about as far from libertarian as one can roam.
Musk probably doesn’t even know how a four-stroke engine works.
I can’t grok any Libertarian defending Musk. Those who do are either not Libertarians or they do not grok what he does – and what the Tesla does not do. Some may be (as Brent admirably styles them) fanboys, who think he’s “cool” because of PayPal.
Well, PayPal was a clever idea, but it’s not the same thing as building a car – and most definitely not the same thing as subsidizing an exotic electric car.
Musk irritates me because he’s a crony capitalist. But much more so because he could easily have funded his electric car on his own nickel.
That would have been the Libertarian thing to do!
I agree. But many people think he can do no wrong. It’s usually the self styled libertarian anarchists that buy the “starve the state” mantra. They basically have this idiotic idea that if enough people use welfare and other programs then it will “starve the state”. Seems they forgot about central banking in that equation.
They seem to believe Musk rat is “starving the state” and his inventions–I use that term as loosely as possible–are going to lead to the states demise.
I have an electric drill that I still use for heavy duty jobs. It was manufactured around 1960. I should replace the power cord as the insulation is failing but that is an easy repair. That drill cost less than $10.00 new. Needless to say, it outlasted and out performed every single battery powered drill I have ever owned. An excellent purchase by comparison to all the money wasted on short lived cordless models. Just a bit bulkier and not quite as portable as cordless. Technology can be highly over rated.
I’ve had several vehicles that performed admirably for many years. None were particularly high tech or artistically renowned for their time, all were long in the tooth designs when I acquired them. Consumer Reports was not impressed with the performance of any of them. But they sure did the job without much fuss.
CR was quite enamored with Tesla last year. That must have hurt to down grade so sharply, so soon. Once upon a time, CR offered reliable reviews and conservative recommendations. Not so much any more. Like most Americans, they are loving form over function.
C C, that electric drill you and I have, probably rated at a true 1.5HP has a short cord, a safety feature. I’ve had mine nearly eat me alive when I was drilling some very thick steel and the bit caught…picked my 200 # ass up and spun me around like nothing. It just keeps on keeping on. I tore it down a couple years ago to remove mud dauber nests in the motor and remove the ancient grease and replace it with some new, synthetic stuff. Those big gears will do what very few drill will. Glad to have it but feign to use it. I’m careful with it. It’s the big one with the big U handle on one side and the big straight handle to hold it’s torque.
Don’t confuse this drill with anything made in the last 50 years unless you buy from the “badass tool store” and that stuff is way expensive…..and it was way expensive too. You can borrow my old Black and Decker “Wildcat” grinder but don’t call me from the ER. And yes, I want the fucker back too and I’ll clean all the blood and gore off it. Be careful of what you want to borrow. The tool may be bad to the bone but the owner is also.
My drill has a nine foot cord which is usually long enough. New drills come with cords barely long enough for the key molded to the plug to reach the chuck and built out of the cheapest plastics needed to survive the warranty period. Safety first!
When I lend, it’s only stuff I can afford to lose, repair or replace. Anything else and I suggest professionals that specialize in their request.
I’ve used several drills made 30+ years ago with short cords. It’s just a model thing.
I’ve not had much love for CR for some time because – as a guy who knows cars and the industry – I know that the magazine is both biased and often very sloppy, at least when it comes to cars. (I cannot speak with any authority about its other recommendations.)
I sometimes feel like I am howling into a typhoon. Am I the only one who dares to raise his hand about a $70,000 car that cannot be sold on its merits (i.e., without massive subsidies) that can’t be driven fast without dramatically reducing the range, that takes at least 45 minutes to “refuel” (if you have access to a fast charger; otherwise it’s hours) and which is prone to complete failure of its motor before 60,000 miles?
consumer reports does a very poor form of testing which is find a weakness and steer into it. There are other issues with how they test and rate as well. But for cars there’s a big problem, their self selected survey of a self selected population. The biases are magnified. But, when the survey goes bad for a car that CR recommended you know it’s got problems. Because the bias is going to be _for_ the cars CR recommends. So when something is bad enough to overcome that bias, well…. there ya go.
It’s not just cars where their bias’s and omissions show. I have always been annoyed by their electronics ratings. They always try to rate macs with windows based computers, and you really can’t do it in the way they do it.
And they never talk about the relative shortness of the lifespans of most electronics either. They are the ones that could bully manufacturers into building longer lasting stuff but they don’t.
And they love pushing the “safety” society.
In other words; C R is a publication company staffed by Clovers. What could possibly go wrong with that?
I used to subscribe to their magazine in the late “80’s to early ’90’s. I once sent a letter to them requesting that they rate television antenna’s for distance and reception quality. They declined. I guess TV antenna’s weren’t a sexy enough topic for urban publishers who had cable service.
Their bias was most obvious to me when I saw they rated the Pontiac Vibe a full star less in reliability than the Toyota Matrix in the early 2000’s. Same car, same plant, same employees, but the Pontiac was more unreliable they claim. Never picked up CR since and make a point of telling others about that particular “rating” so they can draw there own conclusions about CR’s supposed objectivity.
That drill cost you about $80 in today’s funny money. Today’s $80-100 corded drills are pretty good, but no one wants them anymore. They’d rather go through a couple of Harbor Freight burners instead.
I have quite a few tools from my late grandfathers. Tools (not just hand tools) were made to last forever back then, even inexpensive ones. Some are 80+ years old now, some older then my dad. One of my grandpa’s died in 1979, and thirty five years later his tools are still going strong.
I doubt very many of today’s tools will be outlasting their buyers by decades!