Missing the Point on Electric Cars

2013 Tesla Model S

I feel like a lot of people miss the point on electric cars.  I see all kinds of debates about whether they actually get 100mpg or if this is some kind of synthetic and propped up metric designed to delude eco hipsters into thinking they’re more green then they really are.

Who cares?

The point of an electric car isn’t that it’s greener (although it may be, and is nice if it is) and it isn’t about range (most people don’t drive far enough regularly enough to really need to worry about range), it’s about the fact that the fuel can be generated through a variety of different mechanisms.

Do you like nuclear power? Or wind? Or solar? Or wave energy? Then electric is the car for you.  If you believe we need to invest in a range of different energy generation schemes in order to burn less oil, then electric is the car for you.

To me, the flexibility on fuel source is the entire point.

4 thoughts on “Missing the Point on Electric Cars”

  1. What about the point of convenience and livability? I’m a pretty typical car guy and love petrol engines, but actually considered going electric for my last purchase. Between the instant torque, tax incentives, and other benefits, an electric car is a pretty attractive proposition- especially when I factor in the little use my car sees outside of commuting. But therein lies the rub: my daily commute is only 30 miles round trip, so range isn’t really a deterrence if I plug it in… EVERY night or at best, every other night. The Nissan Leaf: 75 mile range. The Focus Electric: 76 mile range. If I spring for the entry level Tesla (at a significant price premium over my budget), I’d get a whopping 208 miles. All of those figures are under ideal circumstances to boot!

    If I want to do anything spur of the moment, my car had better be charged. If not, I’m going to be stuck on the side of the road. And then what? I wait an hour for a tow truck to show up and charge me for another hour? Or worse, I get towed to a charging station? And that assumes I can charge the car at my residence, the logistics of which are difficult as a renter.

    All that to say, I’m one of the few (Americans) who would actually consider the electric option, but the reality is inconvenient at best and untenable at worst. All of these problems can and will be solved as the technology and infrastructure improves, but slowly as petrol (and better yet diesel) engines continue to improve. I don’t object to your arguments, but they seem to… miss the point of owning a car as opposed to, say, using public transit.

    1. Just a thought, using your own words:

      “I bought a cell phone the other day. If I want to do anything spur of the moment, my cell phone had better be charged. If not, I’m going to be stuck without a working phone. And then what? I wait an hour for someone to show up and charge me for another hour? Or worse, I get brought to a charging station? And that assumes I can charge the phone at my residence, the logistics of which are difficult as a renter.”

      People are well equipped and very familiar with managing charging and power consumption. This isn’t a new concept to anyone who’s had a cell phone. Yes, you have to charge the car every day, just like your cell phone. Maybe it’s not the most convenient thing in the world, but again – that’s not the point. The reason electric cars are great is because we don’t need oil anymore, not b/c they’re so geeky or amazing or efficient – we can actually stop using oil! I’m not a diehard environmentalist, but you factor in 4 wars in the Middle East in the last 20 years, and all of a sudden oil starts becoming a really bad bargain. The big hurdle for the USA is we can’t get rid of oil until we fix the major consumer of it – the personal auto.

      1. The great thing about my dead cell phone is that the infrastructure exists to charge it basically anywhere- including in my car. In how many workplaces is it possible to charge your cell phone? How about my electric car (in a practical sense)? There’s no comparison.

        The reasons for moving away from oil are numerous & there’s very little argument to be made that [insert your favorite alternative fuel source here] doesn’t have the same drawbacks. But, “gosh, if I buy an electric car, I can use solar power & maybe we won’t have another war in the Middle East” doesn’t cross the mind of a consumer plunking down 25 grand on a new car. This is what economists call a moral hazard. Within the space of personal transportation, the only viable alternatives to petroleum are fuel cell & electric cars. The only way to convince the general public to switch their routine is to a) build out an infrastructure that is equally or more convenient than the present one, b) lower the cost enough for people to cope with the inconveniences, or c) introduce a more direct incentive against petroleum: increase the cost, make the violence personal, etc.

        The cell phone market took roughly 10 years to go from 18% to 97% market penetration (based on the best information I can find), but arguably during that time, the benefits to the customer were greater & there were less competing technologies. The electric car market will see improvements which will make them a more viable alternative, but I’m willing to bet the market penetration will be much slower. That’s a dumb wager given that cars have a longer useful life, but I’m willing to take the same bet in terms of new sales as well.

      2. Nobody will buy a car to save middle east oil, but the point of electric cars is we can use a balanced approach to fuel them. It’s still early days, but charging stations are really easy to implement compared to gas stations, for example, and we’re very close.

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