Reader Question: Velomobiles?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Steve writes: I have listened to your conversations with Bill Meyer on KMED/KCMD for many months and I know your opinion of electric cars. For the most part, I agree. I don’t know if you ever covered the Elio, a non-electric car who’s time has come and gone with a failure to launch, and I wonder if you have heard of Opener’s Black Fly? Not a car per se, but a vehicle that, if reports are true, is limited by regulation, not physics. I am a private pilot and aircraft mechanic and find it hard to believe they are achieving the 42 horse power on two pounds of motor they claim. If they have developed an electric motor that powerful, then the future of ultra light aerodynamic vehicles could change transportation in America. Logically, we don’t need to move two tons of metal along with us from point A to point B. With the law changes Elio was working on, (no helmet required to drive a three wheeled enclosed “motorcycle”, carbon fiber velomobiles could be the ticket for daily commuters in all weather. Mass produced, costs could be cut dramatically. I am interested in what you think of the possibilities.

My reply: I’m very interested in these – and other possibilities – which is why I am so opposed to the stifling effects of the regulatory mandates and the subsidies which have created Frankenstein cars like the Tesla and prevented the development of economically sane and practical alternatives such as those you mention, including the Elio.

EVs – absent the much-promised but yet-to-appear “breakthrough” in battery design – are inherently unsuited for long-range/high-speed driving because of their comparatively short range and very long recharge times.

It does not make sense, given current battery technology, to try to make EVs that are “road trip” cars or even family cars for this reason. And making high-performance EVs – like Teslas – is idiotic and absurd – if the premise is that EVs are necessary for “conservation” and “environmental” reasons.

But EVs could be excellent “city cars” designed for short-distance, lower-speed driving. Take away the need to be able to travel more than 150 miles on a charge – or maintain highway speeds of 75 MPH for several hours at a time – and an EV doesn’t need 1,000 pounds of battery pack.

It could be much lighter, far more efficient – and cheaper than an IC economy car. I am certain a small “city” EV with a range of say 100 miles could be made and sold for a profit – without subsidies – for around $12,000.

For many people, this would be a godsend. But instead, they are sent $30,000-up electric absurdities like the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt and Tesla 3.

As you know, weight is the key to performance and efficiency. Leaving aside the EV thing, it is quite possible technologically to build small, ultra-light commuter IC powered cars that have highway capability  – like the Elio – that could be sold for less than $10k.  But they can’t be sold because of the government – which seems to think it has the right to decree how “safe” the cars we drive must be.

The result is much heavier, far less efficient cars.

Also more homogenous cars. Notice the absence of real variety – relative to 40 or 50 years ago, when you could buy everything from a 1,600 lb. Beetle to a 6,000 lb. Mercedes. Back then, it was up to us as grown-ups responsible for our own ssssssssaaaaaaaaaaaaafety to decide the appropriate balance between cost/economy/performance and ability to withstand an impact.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had that choice again?

In re the high-output/lightweight motor. I’m not familiar with it but even if the claims made are true, the problem remains. Electrically-propelled cars aren’t slow. They just don’t go far enough  – and take much too long to recharge.

Even if an EV cost no more to buy than an otherwise equivalent non-EV, it would still be functionally and practically inferior if its range on a charge was not at least as far as the IC car could travel on a full tank and it could be recharged in more time than it takes to refuel the IC car.

That it’s even necessary to put this into words is an indicator of the demented times we live in. People are “embracing” a retrogression in their mobility.

And they ask my why I drink!

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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