Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Tuesday, June 11, 2002

 

Electric Cars - why not?



Back when I lived on the side of a mountain, I'd look out, most days, over Silicon Valley, at a sea of dark, Impenetrable smog. Most of the time I could make out Mount Diablo, 60 miles away, and nothing else.

It doesn't have to be this way, but the barriers that face the Valley in clearing up the smog seem nearly insurmountable.

California's government once mandated that 2% of all cars sold in the state be emission-free by 1998.

In 1997, GM announced with great hoopla and excitement the EV1, an electric two seater that used many advanced new technologies to maximize it's range and performance.

Free recharging stations were established in popular areas such as fry's electronics, California cleared the HOV lanes for electric car use, and everyone sat back and waited for the inevitable take-up by consumers and the average environmentalist in the street.

And waited. And waited...

GM sold less than 200 cars in california before they pulled the plug.

The cars have basically three problems - range, price, and performance.

The performance problem is largely solved. The EV1 can do 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds, which is better than the old diesel beater I got partway through school on.

Price is a really hard one. Even with a major government subsidy, the two seater EV1 cost 35,000 dollars, which is a bit more than your average environmentallist can afford.

Worse, the car had a maximum range of about 55-130 miles. Most cars have a range of 300 miles or more with some cars pushing 600, which reduces your fill-up time to once per week, at 6-8 minutes per. A typical californian drives 60+ miles a day, which leaves little margin for error in the inevitable lunch or coffee shop run..

And "Filling up" a GM EV-1 takes 6-8 hours per day!

Run out of juice on hwy 85? Getting a jump from a stranger takes on a whole new level of obligation when you're talking about taking an hour or more to transfer enough electricity over to get you home.

The electric car problem is compounded by the lack of infrastructure. It's the public transportation problem all over again.

I've got a way of solving half the recharging problem. Why not change out the batteries instead of recharging them? You would pull into a service station, drop out the batteries near discharge and get new batteries, freshly charged overnight. Driving patterns for most people don't change much over time, well, there might be a few alternate routes, but mostly you spend each day going from point A to point B and from point B to point A again.

Or better yet, have the swap out operation take place at your office location.

Yes, this approach has inherent problems. The batteries on a Toyota weight 1600 pounds, which isn't something that grandma is going to be able to easily deal with.
 
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