Where the Big Gains Would be Made for Electric Vehicles (updated)

Well, the Nissan Leaf is available (sort of) and we can expect the 2012 Ford Focus to have a pure electric variant.  Ford also has (thank you Ford), the Ford Electric Transit van.

These are good things, but I think in the overall marketing and bang for the buck category of pure electric vehicles, all of these will fall slightly short.

I mean, the Focus sedan gets pretty good mileage (25mpg/35mpg) while the Nissan Versa (very similar to the Leaf) gets 28/34.  Those aren’t numbers to sneeze at… oh wait… they are sneezable.  In fact, they are crap.  I drove the Versa with the 1.8 Liter engine.  It’s crap.  Epic crap. You might reach 60 before you run out of gas.  I was scared to take the thing on the highway.

Let’s compare with my personal vehicle.  The kick-ass 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX sedan (link to the 2011 which is gorgeous). With only a little careful driving, I can get 25 MPG with it’s 2.5 Liter turbo-charged engine.  On the highway, again with careful driving at the speed limit, 33mpg is easy.  Plus, the car actually moves when I hit the throttle.

OK, I digressed, apologies.  Back to the topic at hand… the electric vehicles.

Yes, the range is poor.  But for their environment (daily commuting and errands), they are perfect.  Electric engines provide much more torque, which makes the care fell ‘peppy’.  The electric motors are quiet and smooth (no gear changes).  OK, I’m not sure I’d want to drive one in the Texas summer, when the temp on my way home is 107°F, but it’s a small price to pay.

Unfortunately, I can’t get an electric vehicle.  I can’t afford a third car.  Our first car (my wife’s fantastic Hyundai Santa Fe) is getting a little long in tooth (it’s over 120,000 miles).  Plus, we have to have room for four adults or three adults and a car seat.  Plus my wife is an artist and we need to transport some large paintings that just won’t fit in an EV.

Which brings up my main point.  What is the most common vehicle in the most suburban households?  What vehicle, tends to have much lower gas mileage.  What vehicle tends to be driven mostly in town?  What vehicle tends to be purchased by the more affluent who could afford a dedicated around the town runabout?

The answer is the big-ass SUV (The Chevy Tahoe for example).  Now, I’m not saying that the Tahoe (and Ford Expedition and even the larger mini-vans) aren’t fine vehicles.  But they are overkill 95% of the time.  Sure, they can pull a boat trailer, but honestly, how often do they do that?

What they are is large.  They need lots of torque.  They have lots and lots of room.  They have huge fuel tanks.  They tend to be people and light cargo carriers, restricted to runs around town and trips to the store.

Wait, that sounds like a perfect EV!

They are large… lots of room for batteries.  They need lots of torque, which is what electric motors do way better than gas engines.  They have lots and lots of room… for more batteries.  The have huge fuel tanks… which can be replaced with batteries.  They tend to be people and light cargo vehicles for around the town trips… which is what electric vehicles are for!

According to the Chevy website, the Tahoe can be expected to get 15mpg in town and 21mpg on the highway.  (Again, this is just a representative sample.)

Getting one Tahoe off the roads would be the equivalent of getting two Versa’s off the road.  Environmentally speaking, it would be much better to replace the large SUVs with pure electric vehicles than the small cars, which already get pretty good gas mileage (kinda).

I mentioned the electric Transit, that’s not as good an idea as you might think.  Even with advanced charging systems, it takes about 30 minutes to get to 80% charge on these things.  If a vehicle like the Transit has to travel 400 miles in a day, then it has to be charged an additional 3 times at 30 minutes each.  Maybe that could be loading time.  OK, might not be such a bad idea.

I still think, that for best benefit, a pure electric large SUV would get more bang for the environmental dollar than the small car SUV.

Ford, Chevy, Dodge, if you want to get American dollars, that’s where your next big push needs to be.  Get the soccer moms and dads excited about pure electric (and stopping that $90 a tank fill up cost) and you guys will make a mint.

And if you need a test driver, let me know.


You heard it here first: http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/18/land-rover-develops-range_e-hybrid-will-show-it-off-at-the-gene/

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2 Responses to Where the Big Gains Would be Made for Electric Vehicles (updated)

  1. Sorry to flog the dead horse but talking about the environmental benefits of driving an electric car is redundant in a culture that has yet to embrace clean energy. I know you guys are getting there (I’m assuming your American here) and nuclear is pretty clean which your guys use a lot of but coal powered energy fed into an electric car is no different from feeding a car petrol. I don’t mean to single out the US, everyone is pretty bad really. Just a thought.
    But nice post anyway. I’m just bitter.

  2. ogremkv says:

    Oh I agree totally. I’m working on an energy related post. And currently, I live in Texas which has the most wind power of any US state (and all but a few countries). We also have the US’s largest solar thermal plant going in just a few miles away.

    I honestly don’t like nuclear for a couple of reasons and the prime one is that it takes 9-21 years to get a plant from concept to operational. You can build a lot of wind turbines in that amount of time.

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