Why did the electric car die?

David Friedman cites one critic of the idea:

General Motors lost two billion
dollars on the project, and lost money on every single EV1 produced.
The leases didn’t even cover the costs of servicing them.

The
range of 130 miles is bogus. None of them ever achieved that under
normal driving conditions. Running the air conditioning or heater could
halve that range. Even running the headlights reduced it by 10%.

Minimum
recharge time was two hours using special charging stations that except
for fleet use didn’t exist. The effective recharge time, using the
equipment that could be installed in a lessee’s garage, was eight
hours. …

NiMH
batteries that had lasted up to three years in testing were failing
after six months in service. There was no way to keep them from
overheating without doubling the size of the battery pack. Lead-acid
batteries were superior to NiMH in actual daily use.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t because of an oil company conspiracy.  Here is an article on the importance of range.  Here is a negative review of the new movie on the electric car.

Comments

I'm convinced that we were robbed of the electric car by a cabal made up of big-oil, big-pharma, big-tobacco, and Halliburton! ;-)

Chris

BTW, the range discussion I think pulls us into the false mindset that having "electric cars" means having only electric cars. The stats are that the average American drives 29 miles a day(*). Some of us, perhaps those of us with more than one car, might choose to own an "electric commuter" that that fit our needs. I mean, what's wrong with an electric commuter and a big SUV in the garage for less frequent but more adventurous travel?

* - http://www.ridetowork.org/docs/2005trans_facts.html

In Britain our milk is delivered by electric-powered vehicles. All praise to Big Milk.

GM's EV1 used an inductive paddle. California changed their regulations to require a direct connection, in effect banning the EV1. While direct connect loses less energy in the charging, direct connection can involve shocks and electrocution hazards in rainy weather. It *does* rain in LA sometimes, you know.

As for the "electric commuter" car, here in Colorado, there is a category for "neighborhood electric vehicles." But the rules for them prohibit driving on, or across, roads with speed limits of 40 (or maybe its 45) mph. Although Denver has quite good public transport.

For brevity I didn't mention NEVs (neighborhood electric vehicles). I agree that they are the other growth path. If any of the many battery/capacitor research programs pay off, I expect NEVs and Hybrids to meet in the middle, as a future-gen EV.

Peter, I note that you say 'most of them' ;-). Consumer Reports' updated numbers put the Prius ahead of the smaller Corolla in total-cost-of-ownership, and the Civic Hybrid ahead of it's non-hybrid counterpart (link).

Also, a business columnist explains his hybrid-buying decision (link)

I wonder what the global warming apologists' response will be?

The WRX is a sports wagon. The Outback is a full capacity station wagon. The WRX has 23.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The Outback has 33.5 cubic feet. The Outback's towing capacity is 3,000 pounds, versus 2,000 for the WRX. A minivan is a seven-passenger vehicle versus the five-person Prius. I'm not even going to get into the cargo capacity or towing ability of a minivan versus a Prius.
The Prius is a commuter passenger car. The Outback and the minivan are designed for hauling people and stuff. This is a major utilitarian difference. Unlike you, odograph, people are using these vehicles to carry more than bicycles.
The Prius has a very significant self-branding and status symbol value. That's why it's the only hybrid that really sells well.
Meanwhile, for most people the real monthly car payment outweighs the theoretical value an economist would place on a vehicle. This is, of course, when you compare a Corrolla to a Prius, not a Hummer to a Prius. Both of those vehicles are status symbols.

BTW, I was going to ask about car payments in those comparisons. Do we consider buying on time to be rational at all? I pay cash, and my advice would be if you don't have cash for any of these choices ... switch downward.

I know what fraction of my power comes from non-fossil fuels. I suppose that puts me ahead of those who think power comes from the wall, and those who assume it's all coal or something ;-)

this issue is a weird case where you see liberal environmentalists making economic arguments and conservatives trying to counter them with engineering ones. if you're trying to make (or refute) the case that the ev1 was killed by some sinister conspiracy rather than market forces, who cares what the actual range of the car was? the relevant point is whether the customers who used the cars were happy with them, and willing to keep paying for them. if the customers were happy, then clearly the range was "enough" in their individual judgment. allowing each customer to make that decision separately is what markets are for, right?

the movie apparently claims that the customers were wildly happy with the vehicles and offered huge sums of cash to buy them outright when the car was cancelled. saying that claim is overstated would be an answer; saying that recharging the cars was actually a pain is not.

but, wickstrom, the engineer friedman quotes, says that gm was heavily subsidizing the program, losing money on every lease. and that they feared unbounded liability claims from the high voltages involved in servicing the batteries, which is why gm would only lease and not sell. those seem like pretty good answers; i wish i saw them repeated more often, instead of these piddly details about battery design. (personally, i'm intrigued by the engineering details too; but they don't answer the political questions.)

as for "relocating" the problem of co2 emissions: that *is* an engineering question. it could well be more efficient to retrofit or redesign one (already heavily regulated) power plant to reduce its emissions than to do the same to the thousands of vehicles in the area that power plant services.

this issue is a weird case where you see liberal environmentalists making economic arguments and conservatives trying to counter them with engineering ones. if you're trying to make (or refute) the case that the ev1 was killed by some sinister conspiracy rather than market forces, who cares what the actual range of the car was? the relevant point is whether the customers who used the cars were happy with them, and willing to keep paying for them. if the customers were happy, then clearly the range was "enough" in their individual judgment. allowing each customer to make that decision separately is what markets are for, right?

the movie apparently claims that the customers were wildly happy with the vehicles and offered huge sums of cash to buy them outright when the car was cancelled. saying that claim is overstated would be an answer; saying that recharging the cars was actually a pain is not.

but, wickstrom, the engineer friedman quotes, says that gm was heavily subsidizing the program, losing money on every lease. and that they feared unbounded liability claims from the high voltages involved in servicing the batteries, which is why gm would only lease and not sell. those seem like pretty good answers; i wish i saw them repeated more often, instead of these piddly details about battery design. (personally, i'm intrigued by the engineering details too; but they don't answer the political questions.)

as for "relocating" the problem of co2 emissions: that *is* an engineering question. it could well be more efficient to retrofit or redesign one (already heavily regulated) power plant to reduce its emissions than to do the same to the thousands of vehicles in the area that power plant services.

Noah, I'll take that a general agreement ... even if you don't like the words I used. BTW, brakes and center of gravity suck on a WRX, get an S2000.

Rear-wheel-drive ragtops don't cut it in Colorado ;)

But some of the new Civics red-line at like 10,000 rpms. One auto columnist described the decision to buy one as being like "dating a stripper" because it was so exciting but possilbly hard to take long-term. Doesn't sound that boring.

"When my wife was in college, there were students in her World History class who honestly believed that the reason there are poor people is that the government refused to print enough money."

They were probably more right than they knew. As I understand it, the Fed attempts to decrease inflation by increasing interest rates, which ultimately decreases employment, thus increasing poverty.

Jeff, this covers the relationships between interest rates and employment:

http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/pdf/Lec_Notes_Stabilization.pdf

I just took it as obvious that less employment means more poverty, but I'm not an economist either.

London is crawling with electric cars.

http://www.goingreen.co.uk/ They run about 40km and can do a max of 40km/ hr.

Partly this is subsidy-- they are exempt from the £8 (USD12)/ day congestion charge, and Westminster Council gives 4 hours free parking a day (but try explaining that to the parking vultures!).

They cost about £8,000, so competitive with a small runabout car (or a mercedes Swatch car). And you get a £1k subsidy from the Central Government to buy one.

The externality gains of encouraging driving in them are huge:

- they tend to drive at lower speeds, and they have a radically sloped bonnet (hood), so if they hit someone, that someone will live. The UK has a very high death rate for children crossing roads.

- they don't pollute (locally, on a CO2 basis they are still pretty good even given transmission losses in charging)

- you can park 2 in the same bay where you park one ordinary car

- they don't emit noise pollution

- they take up less road space. Most cars, even in Central London, still only have 1 driver and no passenger

The biggest single problem is there is no recharging infrastructure. Londoners don't have garages at home, if you plug it in via a cord out of your house, you are blocking the pavement (sidewalk) and that is illegal.

The key with electric cars is where and when. They work well in densely packed urban areas-- they would work well in NYC, for example.

A related problem is safety especially if you are hit by an SUV. The solution would be to ban SUVs from the city core. This too would be a significant positive externality for the rest of us!

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