Electric cars aren’t new – and neither are their problems.
Back in the mid-1990s, I experienced them firsthand – which gives me some standing to comment on them today. To specifically make the comment that very little has changed in the roughly quarter-century (tempus fugit) that’s flown by since I was a young car journalist.
I am now a middle-aged car journalist – and while my belly has gotten bigger and my need for naps, greater – electric cars are still practically and economically uncompetitive with cars that use batteries for starting engines – and motors for spinning fans – as was the case back in 1996, when the “Gen I” EV1 came out.
I can say this because I actually drove the thing when it was the latest thing – unlike probably nine out of ten of the journalists writing hagiographically about the thing today, some 25 years after the fact. Because most of the ones writing stuff today weren’t old enough to drive anything back in ’96.
Back then, I was also driving a ’74 Beetle – which was then 22 years old. Its gas tank held about 10 gallons and that meant it could go about 280 miles on a fill-up, averaging around 26 MPG. The fill-up cost about $12 (ten gallons at about $1.20 per) and the fill-up took less than five minutes.
As it does now.
Today, 25 years down the road, most electric cars still can’t go as far as my ’74 Beetle on a single charge – and the few that can take a lot longer than less than five minutes to recharge.
As it was, then.
Wherever you went in the EV1, where you were going to have to stop was always on your mind.
As is the case today.
The typical new electric car does go farther than the EV1’s roughly 100 mile range. But not very much farther. Most have a range of 150-200 miles or so. Under ideal conditions. Not too cold, not too hot – and not too fast.
And then you wait.
To offset the wait, an electric car would arguably need to be capable of going at least 400 miles on a charge – on the highway, at 75-80 MPH highway speeds, heat cranking or AC blasting – to be practically competitive with a non-electric car capable of going 300 miles on a tank . . . to make up for the time that would otherwise be lost waiting for an EV that could only go 300 miles before it had to stop – and made its owner wait – for at least 30-45 minutes before it could get going again.
The so-called “fast” charge. A hilarity of prose right up there with the “Patriot” Act.
The slow charge problem hasn’t been solved and will remain insoluble unless some way is discovered to safely instill extremely high voltage extremely quickly into extremely finicky electric car batteries.
There is no evidence such a “breakthrough” is pending or even possible, given the chemistry of the batteries in use and the fire safety issues and longevity issues involved in charging them any “faster” than the 30-45 minutes it takes to “fast” charge them now.
That was true in ’96 – and it’s no less true today. Because while it is true that batteries have “improved” they are still fundamentally batteries.
It is extremely unlikely they will ever “improve” to parity with gasoline in terms of how much time it takes to “refill” an electric car’s “tank.” It will take something entirely new – something very much along the lines of Mr. Fusion from the Back to the Future movies – for electric cars to be other than very slow to recharge – vs. how quickly a gas-powered car can be refueled.
Also, the expense. What you pay, for less – in the way of range – and in the way of time, for the wait.
Driving the EV1 was expensive both ways. Would I make it home? Would I make it to work? Who could afford that?
Or the car, itself?
I paid $700 (used) for my ’74 Beetle back in the early ’90s. That’s about as much as a young guy recently graduated from college could afford to spend – without taking out a loan. I never had to worry about the wait – except for DC area traffic – and never had to worry about my VW “bricking” in DC traffic, because I wasn’t able to make it to a plug in time. Sixty year old technology – the VW, in the ’90s – was superior to the latest technology.
And today, too.
Also as regards the effect on finances.
The EV1’s base price back in ’96 was $33,995 – equivalent to about $58,000 in today’s bankster-depreciated dollars. This is why GM leased the EV1 to “buyers.” Very few people could afford to buy one.
And the same is true today, a quarter-century later.
The most “affordable” models – like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt – sticker for close to $40,000 (assuming you want to be able to drive farther than 150 miles on a charge) which means most are leased, again – so as to make them seem more “affordable.” In fact, they are impoverishing. People in serial debt are people who do not own – and those who do not own are by definition enserfed.
Very little has changed – except that back in ’96, the press knew a lemon when it sucked one.
Also, the EV1 didn’t have the muscle of Uncle behind it. GM had trouble finding people willing to be enserfed and so the EV1 never made it very far.
In more than one way.
But GM learned – and has acted on – a valuable lesson: It is much easier to sell people something they have to buy.
That’s the main thing that’s changed since 1996.
. . .
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