The Electric Vehicle Tipping Point?

Geoff Ralston, a partner at Y Combinator, argues that electric cars will soon dominate the world. He gives several arguments regarding cost and convenience that I take no issue with but his most interesting argument strikes me as wrong:

Gas stations are not massively profitable businesses. When 10% of the vehicles on the road are electric many of them will go out of business.  This will immediately make driving a gasoline powered car more inconvenient.  When that happens even more gasoline car owners will be convinced to switch and so on.  Rapidly a tipping point will be reached, at which point finding a convenient gas station will be nearly impossible and owning a gasoline powered car will positively suck.  Then, there will be a rush to electric cars….

Why is this wrong? Consider that in 2009 there were 246 million motor vehicles registered in the United States. A 10% reduction would be 221 million vehicles but that is how many vehicles there were in 2000. Was driving an automobile so much more inconvenient in 2000 than it was in 2009? No. Even a 25% fall in gas vehicles would bring us back only to the number of vehicles circa 1998.

More fundamentally, the argument goes wrong by not thinking through the incentives. Suppose that gasoline stations did become so uncommon that finding one was inconvenient. What will happen? More gasoline stations will be built! Ralston has implicitly assumed that building gasoline stations will add so much to the price of gasoline as to render that option uneconomic. In fact, gasoline stations are relatively simple, small businesses that easily expand or contract in response to the pennies on a gallon that people are willing to pay for convenience.

Addendum: By the way, even though the number of vehicles in the United States has been increasing, the number of gasoline stations has actually been decreasing, largely because greater fuel efficiency means that we want fewer stations.

Hat tip: Vlad Tarko.

Comments

gasoline stations are relatively simple, small businesses that easily expand or contract in response to the pennies on a gallon that people are willing to pay for convenience.

Except for how the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act makes it difficult for franchises to be terminated (and most gas stations are franchised.) It's remarkable that the number of stations has fallen so much despite the PMPA. It's similar to car dealerships, where the gas station owners / franchisees are influential local businesses but the franchisors are generally bigger out of state companies.

In spite of having 90% of the market share if there's a disastrous tipping point for gas stations, how come the electric charging stations will thrive at 10% market share? Is the electric car charging business 10x as profitable as a gas station?

Most charging will be done at home, presumably. The road-trip charge thing is a bit of a niche and is easily dealt with by charging stations on interstates, which need be far fewer in number than gas stations.

I still think the tipping point argument above is silly and am quite skeptical about electric cars in general, but not for charge-availability reasons. Mostly it's just that batteries are an awful technology with little prospect for improvement.

Considering how often people drive with their Gas Tank on fumes only, I find it hard to believe that planned driving is going to catch on.

For electric cars to get wider adoption away-from-home charging options will have to proliferate.

Plus the recharge time is long. If it takes 3 hours to recharge an electric car, nobody is going to want to drive it further than half the charging distance. Which rules out long road trips.

Home charging is a lot more chancy for people who don't live in a single-family home.

What fraction of people who don't live in a single family home are twenty-somethings who can't afford a car anyway?

Why would there need to be fewer charging stations for electric cars? A gasoline car need a five minute fuel stop for about every 400 miles driven. An electric car needs a 20 minute charge stop for every 150 miles driven, assuming the charger is a Tesla SuperCharger. Converting to electric should increase the number of cars currently fueling by a factor of ten.

I agree that home charging should reduce the need for public charging in residential areas, but "fuel stops" should increase dramatically on roads used for long trips (highways).

The author seems to assume electric cars will be charged overnight ("It is always “full” every morning one drives it and you never need to go to a gas station"). Although this doesn't work so well if one lives in an urban area where population density is too high for private garages, nor does it answer where all that off-peak electricity is going to come from (nuclear power?). Nor does it provide a solution for vacation or other long-distance travel beyond the range of any electric vehicle.

Having noted that, there are certainly advantages to electric cars. Such as, electric motors provide much more power per pound than an internal combustion engine, and they're far more reliable. With electric drive one has much less of the tradeoffs one must make in order to obtain a high peak power for rapid acceleration. And their relatively small size, scalability, and ease of electronic control may make one-motor-per-wheel drive practical, which (combined with regenerative braking) could produce impressive improvements in handling and overall driveability.

The limiting factor is always the battery: its weight, its cost, its limitation on maximum charging rate limit how competitive electric cars are compared with internal-combustion cars. I could see electric cars offered with a more modular design, such that buyers could choose how much battery capacity they wish to buy and perhaps also choose an internal combustion engine used solely to power an electric generator as an option.

That, and the word electric-car dreamers dare not mention: fracking, and the possibility that low petroleum prices might persist for decades.

Home batteries from Tesla are a factor here. They can charge from solar cells and they can charge off the grid during off peak hours.

Cheaper natural gas means that gas turbines can be economical for more than peak load (which already may be true, IDK). Also, the proliferation of solar and wind means that gas turbines are everywhere as they are used to back up unreliable and unpredictable solar/wind power.

What percent of US consumers have Time of Day pricing? Except in some outliers like CA, is the day-night price differential high enough to pay back a Powerwall?

In any case, the more consumers adopt off-peak power, the less attractive the price differential becomes.

Rahul, from the blog post a month back or so, the Powerwall is marginally break-even in CA and HI. And not even close to break-even anywhere else. In point of fact, most of the country has an average cost of electricity close to CA's night time pricing.

US average = 12 cents per kwh

Super Off-Peak Southern CA Edison = 11 cents per kwh

That being said, the differential in CA is so large that if Powerwall's drop in price substantially, either all of the CA homeowners will buy one or the utilities will buy industrial versions.

Tesla's home batteries make very little sense to the individual. Look up the price of the battery, and the number of charge cycles the battery will do before it needs replacement. This will give you the kw/h cost of the battery alone. Right now, that battery would more than double my cost of energy. It will come nowhere near the cost required to profit from shifting energy consumption from peak to off-peak hours.

As a buffer for a solar installation it can certainly help to make the solar power more available and less dependent on instantaneous sunlight conditions, but again, the cost is prohibitive, and once you factor that into the already extremely high cost of solar power, it prices it completely out of the market.

I think the real purpose of the Tesla battery is to leverage more government grant money and subsidize their battery production so that economies of scale make the per-unit cost lower for their cars. As a consumer, buying one would be a bad idea unless you have a very specialized need.

Although this doesn’t work so well if one lives in an urban area where population density is too high for private garages

This is kinda sorta the reason I won't be getting one soon. I don't live in a dense city, but I do live in a townhouse and don't have a garage. If I wanted to charge a car I'd have to run an extension cable from my townhouse, which I doubt the condo association would tolerate for long.

The electric motor might be more powerful per pound than an ICE, but they are held back by the awful energy density of batteries.

The Model S gets it's range from a 1200lb battery pack. The ICE equivalent (by weight) is close to 200 gallons of fuel. Even my old 7L Buick could go 300 miles with that much fuel.

Selling gas is a low-margin business. You make the real money by selling other stuff too, like soda, cigarettes, lottery tickets, etc. I don't know how the economics of selling electricity would differ, but that part of the business would probably be the same. I'd expect charging stations to appear at existing gas stations, because they already have the operation selling the other stuff.

Exactly. An existing gas station seems best positioned to add in a charging station. There's just huge synergies there.

Even Tesla drivers need to pee.

"Even Tesla drivers need to pee."

Dedicated Tesla drivers wouldn't be caught dead at a run of the mill convenience store surrounded by the hoi polloi. Ergo, they use TravelJohn's to minimize the fueling/de-fueling stops. ;)

I see advantages to having the charging station at the current convenience store. The charging takes longer than gasoline refueling so more opportunity for food, beverage and other purchases. I'd expect to see more of the combo fast food/convenience store/fueling places.

How quickly can a car be charged?

Who wants to wait in a gas station for thirty minutes?

The incentive is to make the charge cycle as long as the customer will bear, so they browse the merchandise and buy something. On the other hand, if they've already bought a coffee and breakfast, you want to turn over the table as quickly as possible. This suggests a variable-rate charger based on customer behavior.

I agree. When raising gas prices cut profits in selling gas most stations without other products disappeared.

It would make sense that stations add electric charging stations alongside gasoline similar to how diesel is offered. It's not hard to imagine that a gas station would have some kind of speed advantage over home charging as they could have specialized, higher amperage equipment.

I can see gas stations start advertizing the cleanliness and usefullness of their restrooms as they try to become the end all and be all of rest stops (fuel, food, smokes, bathroom breaks, etc) like full service truck stops. If you have never back to a truck stop before I suggest you check it out, it's a great example of giving customers what they want and need.

Amperage asides, isn't commercial power a good 10-20% cheaper than residential, per unit consumed?

Yes. One needs say 2% price hike to compensate on the marginal loss from 10% less vehicles. (2% hike = 10% profit increase assuming 20% margin and zero marginal operation cost)

Margin is more like 10% than 20%, making your math even more persuasive. Offsetting this is convenience store sales... fewer visits by customers to refuel means fewer candy bars and cigarettes sold. If the stations can provide refueling or other services for electric vehicles, the argument quickly falls apart.

So far, the rush to electric cars is driven by generous tax breaks.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/04/20/norway-autos-idUKL5N0XH34320150420

No doubt gov't incentives are a factor (and ignoring the unaccounted for externalities of fossil fuels and any indirect subsidies), but I would argue that the biggest reason for the recent "rush" to electric cars is something entirely different:

Tesla made electric cars cool. The Tesla Model S is one of the best (maybe the best) looking cars on the market. The P85D version is just unbelievably quick. It even made converts out of the guys on Top Gear, who had for a decade mocked and derided electric cars. Until Tesla, no one ever thought of an electric car as cool. But now pretty much everyone, even people who don't want to spend the money for a Tesla, would put it at the top of their cool cars list. Several partners at my firm drive Ferraris, but showing up at a firm event with a Model S P85D would get more people asking for a ride. And that leads to a halo effect taking the stigma away from electric cars generally.

How long and how widely can "cool" sell itself is the question. It is one thing to sell to a niche cohort who can afford to signal with their $$. Another thing to capture a 10% car market. Fads are fickle things.

It's both cool and better. It's kind of like the iPhone. There were other "smartphones" around at the time the iPhone was introduced (i had a Samsung Blackjack, sadly), but when the iPhone came out all of a sudden everyone said "oh man, that thing is cool!" No one ever said that about my Samsung Blackjack, even though I could kind of surf the internet on it. iPhones have been selling like candy ever since--and inspiring all kinds of other smartphones to follow and get better. Yeah, there is still a market for simple non-smartphones, but now it's the niche.

I don't think the move from gas to electric will happen as quickly as the move to smartphones, but the advantages of a gas-powered car are starting to fall way. The Model S is pretty much universally regarded as the best car in its price point, and some reviews have called it the best car ever. Still not a great car for road trips, and road trippers should still look elsewhere (or have a second car). But for the vast majority of people it is nearly a perfect car, albeit expensive.

I'd like to live in the neighborhood where for the vast majority of people a Tesla is the perfect car. Meanwhile in other places, Teslas deppreciate faster than Hondas.

"in its price point"

Its 70-100,000. How many people can afford that?

People can afford $500 for a cool phone a bit more easily.

Aside from the pricing issues Tesla's aren't anywhere near as "cool" as iPhones. Somebody with a Porsche Cayenne or Mercedes C500 isn't going to feel less "cool" than someone with a Tesla. If anything they will be relieved that they still have their hair. That's not always the case with the iPhone vs. Samsung comparison.

This is silly. Tesla buying skews young: http://www.cnbc.com/id/100970641

The Tesla is perfectly designed for Silicon Valley and as a hobby car for those with the wealth to afford one. But the fact remains that pure electric cars serve a niche and until they can "refuel" in 5 minutes and there are ubiquitous refueling stations their market share will be limited.

"until they can “refuel” in 5 minutes"

No, I think you are probably wrong about that. Sure, refueling in 5 minutes is nice, but if it took 20 minutes to refuel versus 5 minutes for a gasoline car, you'd still have people willing to accept that. Particularly since it's much cheaper to refuel you'll have a large potential customer base. There is a huge chunk of America that would trade 15 minutes of their time every 3-4 days to save $15 on a fill up. Think about it. To most American's $1 per minute is a behavior changing inducement.

Not sure that's true. If the inconvenience of substantially longer refueling time vs. saving $30 or $40 bucks seems like a good tradeoff, that might mean you're not able to afford the higher up-front cost of the EV in the first place.

"...you’re not able to afford the higher up-front cost of the EV in the first place."

Certainly the current high upfront cost will prevent wide spread adoption. I was just posting that I don't believe charging times of 20 minutes will be a critical factor.

"If the inconvenience of substantially longer refueling time vs. saving $30 or $40 bucks seems like a good tradeoff..."

And to most of America saving $30-$40 twice a week is a pretty big deal, assuming two cars for the average household.

Really? So I'm late for work, and realize I don't have enough electric charge to get there. At that point, what do you think 20 minutes of my time is worth?

People aren't filling up their cars during leisure time when they are bored. They fill them up when they are using them to achieve some other goal, such as driving to work, delivering to a customer, taking their kid to school, etc. At that point, an unscheduled one-hour charge is a huge deal. And if you are carrying passengers, how much pressure is going to be on you to try to make it to your destination? And what if you judge wrong and the car dies? An electric car without a charge is a large lump that is likely going to remain a lump for an hour or more. I can imagine emergency boost vehicles driving around that will give you just enough charge to make it to a charging station, but that's a long way down the road when there are enough electric cars on the road to justify it. Until then, every time an electric car runs out of charge on the road it's a towing job.

Also, if a car is going to tie up a charging station for 20 mins to an hour, just how many stations is a service station going to need? A gas station can put maybe 20-50 cars through a single pump in an hour. Reduce that to 1-3 cars, and how much are you going to have to charge each vehicle in order to make a profit? If you have to provide parking space for 20 cars at a time, where are you going to find the real-estate? A gas station can be placed on the corner of a city block and take up no more space than a convenience store. If charging a car takes 10 times longer than fueling it, you'll need 10 times the parking space. That seems unlikely.

Also, when non-engineers talk about this stuff they tend to ignore or greatly underestimate the devils that live in the details. For example, charging a car in 20 minutes requires a LOT of energy flow. How many city blocks are wired to allow for a huge energy sink to be added on top of everything else that has been planned for? How much infrastructure would have to be built out to even allow for that much juice to be available instantaneously all over the city?

"A gas station can put maybe 20-50 cars through a single pump in an hour."

No standard consumer gasoline pump on the planet rotates 50 cars through in an hour. That's closer to a NASCAR pit stop than an average gas station.

Average gasoline sales frequency in the US is roughly 10 minutes. So 6 cars per hour.

http://www.consultingcase101.com/how-many-gallons-of-gasoline-a-gas-station-sells-per-day/

That number would include idle pumps. 20 per hour would be 5 minutes per vehicle. At busy gas stations I think that's a reasonable number for self-serve with debit payment at the pump. But even if it's 10 minutes per fill, and your electric car takes an hour, that's 6 times the space requires to process the same number of vehicles. Real estate for gas stations is very expensive, which is why you don't see as many downtown as you do out in the sticks.

Let's say you save that fill-u[ 2.5x per month, 30x per year. So that's $15 x 30 = $450. Use a payback period of 3 years, and you get a price premium of about $1500 which an electric car will bear.

From this, you have to subtract the time of filling discount. If that's 30 min at $25 per hour (average household income), then your discount is $6 x 30 or 200 / year. With a three year payback the discount is $600, that is, an electric car can be $900 more expensive than the gasoline equivalent.

I would not that if you earn more than $120,000, you would prefer the gasoline to the electric vehicle, because your time is more valuable then the incremental cost of gasoline over electric fuel.

Note however, that all the drivers I see of Tesla's are in their 50-60s, and use the car for local commuting. The car is charged over-night at home, primarily, and they use their wives' Lexus 450s (seems like more men drive Teslas) for long-trips.

It's not about the cost of gasoline.

"Several partners at my firm drive Ferraris"

I think your personal experience is atypical. Most people do not know anyone who drives a Ferrari, let alone "several". Heck, most people have never seen a Ferrari.

Electric cars will remain a luxury item for decades.

The whole point is that a $70k sedan, which is pricey but in line with other luxury cars, out-cools the most classic of supercars! I mean, how crazy is that??

Yeah, $70k is a luxury item, but to be fair, the Cadillac CTS runs from $45k to $70k, and even the Toyota Sequoia tops out above $60k, so we're not talking about celebrity or fund manager money here, But if Tesla is successful with the Model 3 (still a very big "if"), it's $35k price (before subsidies and tax breaks) will put it right in the heart of the sedan market.

Also, there's the the boring Nissan Leaf. A unsexy car that had twice the global sales of Tesla S. The Tesla 3 needs to starts selling before the Leaf driving range is upgraded.

Axa - Agree entirely. I think Tesla's biggest challenge is dealing with the majors using their substantial physical and financial capital to build great electric cars at cheaper costs. My point is not that Tesla is the future (maybe, maybe not), but that electric vehicles are, and that Tesla's great looking and great performing cars accelerated their adoption.

Today Wilson Sonsini partners, tomorrow the world

Before the Model T came the Mercedes 35 hp!

Ferraris are "cool" too. The last thing on earth Tesla wants is to become the kind of car that 19 year old Persians and balding 55 year olds buy when the mid-life crisis sets in. But thankfully that's exactly what's happening. And all the balding 55 year olds in the world posting about how cool their Tesla is isn't going to change that.

Is this true? I don't know a Tesla owner older than 40.

They're priced such few 20 year-olds will buy one, but are mainstream competition for things like a 5 series.

I agree about Ferraris having a bit of a taint.

""How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him"; referring to George McGovern's loss to Richard Nixon in in the 1972 presidential election" -Pauline Kael

I'd agree that Teslas don't have quite the "taint" as you say as do Ferraris. But a lot of that is because they been embraced only by the aging cohort not the Persian club kid cohort which is the kryptonite of branding.

It's 2013 numbers, but 65+ % of customers are 45+ year old people. Not surprising, it's a 100K car.

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100970641

"It’s 2013 numbers, but 65+ % of customers are 45+ year old people. Not surprising, it’s a 100K car."

Fine, but that strikes me as pretty normal for car numbers. How does that compare with, say, a 5 series? Nobody argues a 5 series is an old-guy car. The median age for Accord drivers is 54.

For the price, I think Tesla's tilt young.

The article Axa cites is all about how Tesla buyers are younger than the buyers of the competition, FWIW.

I know plenty of 28 year olds earning $120-150K/year plus stock options. All of them have no kids and live with a girlfriend who also earns six figures. It's entirely possible for this couple to afford a $75,000 electric car before their 30th birthday.

The 50 something VC manager can also buy a Tesla if he wants to show off to his friends at the country club.

Age isn't the relevant factor here, it's high levels of free cash flow.

I'm in the Bay Area, BTW*

"And all the balding 55 year olds in the world posting about how cool their Tesla is isn’t going to change that."

Particularly, since the current crop of 35 year olds will not agree with what their father's thought was cool, in 20 years.

There's not going to be a Tesla in twenty years thankfully so they won't even have the chance to agree.

Hah, totally. Tesla is the car for old men thinking that a car can make them cool. What is the correlation on Tesla drivers and guys that have to pay for sex?

Hey that's not fair to people that pay for sex. Charlie Sheen would never be so lame as to drive a Tesla. On the other hand Eliot Spitzer probably owns three Teslas.

To clarify - My point was not whether a Ferrari or a Tesla is cool enough for the experts in the Marginal Revolution comments section, who have made it clear that they do not pay for sex and most certainly know what is cool.

The point is that until Tesla, electric cars were not taken seriously by anyone who had even a passing interest in cars. Now Tesla has made something that looks great and performs extremely well. That has caused a lot of consumers to seriously consider buying an electric car in the future, whether a Tesla or another make. The Model S may still be a luxury item, but cheaper options are on the way and will meet the needs of the vast majority of drivers. There will still be a market for gas/diesel powered cars for a long time, but there will be electric options as well. To me, that seems like a really good thing.

A few corrections: 19 year old Persians are well known for their love of white BMW M3s, not Ferraris. Ferraris, Lambos and McLarens are loved by members of the 3-comma club, who want "doors that go like this, not like this."

There seems a widespread inability to grasp just how wonderful petroleum-derived liquid transport fuels are.

Indeed.

They are freedom.

Ignorance Is Strength

The electric car will create the demand for advanced nuclear power which will make cheap renewable hydrocarbons a reality.

That would be nice but there's no reason to think it will happen.

Personal cars are freedom. Whether they're burning gasoline or hydrogen or discharging a battery to get you where you're going is irrelevant, except that right now, it's hard to get as much range or as fast refilling as you'd like when your car is discharging a battery instead of burning gasoline.

This reminds me of the campaign to encourage the young and horny to use condoms. Wonderful things but unreliable and fail at the most inappropriate times. Yes you can get them in strawberry flavor, but the whole experience is far better without.

Hype. Batteries still need to get much better. Everyone I know still stresses about their phone battery running out. A dead car is a much bigger problem.
Then there is the grid issue:
http://www.technologyreview.com/news/518066/could-electric-cars-threaten-the-grid/

+1

"Coolness", subsidies and signaling are the three things the Tesla is selling on currently.

http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/09/autos/tesla-model-s-consumer-reports/

Oh, no doubt. I'd give a Ferrari a very high rating too. But doesn't mean I will buy it.

PS. If you added in $70,000 worth of improvements into my Toyota it'd become much nicer too.

Rahul,

+1,

"“Coolness”, subsidies and signaling are the three things the Tesla is selling on currently"

What a cynic

Are you applauding my cynicism or regretting it?

I'll applaud your waggish use of "currently".

Gas stations used to be even more abundant per car. At the commercial intersection near where I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, there were gas stations on three of the four corners in the early 1970s. Now there are none.

Have time adjusted property values remained the same? Gas stations keep shifting to cheaper land.

Prior to 1970, the oil business in the United States was mostly vertically integrated and de facto cartelized. the major oil companies were trying to grow the market so they could place all that cheap Middle Eastern oil. That made service stations into loss leaders, and they were everywhere. Since competing on price was problematic, there was a lot of non-price competition. Those days are long gone. The Middle Eastern governments seized the upstream end of the business, and the downstream end had to figure out how to make a profit on its own. The number of service stations has been declining ever since, depending, at various times and places, on rising real estate values and auto repair.
Nowadays, gasoline is still something of a loss leader, but the money is in the convenience store--they will sell you gasoline at close to cost in exchange for the opportunity to sell you overpriced snack foods, soft drinks, and cigarettes.
There is ample evidence that gasoline could be a whole lot more expensive without much reducing demand. Keeping service stations in business is a matter of a few extra cents per gallon.

Gasoline is a commodity (that is, few drivers really prefer one brand over another) and therefore the market will favor vendors with the lowest marginal cost.

One consequence of this has been consolidation: especially in suburban areas, gas stations are fewer but larger (more pumps).

Gas stations used to offer many vehicle maintenance and repair services, but as vehicles became more complex, and as specialized retailers appeared (e.g., quick oil change places) that lost viability; thus the toward convenience stores. Although pay-at-the-pump must surely have reduced sales in these?

"At the commercial intersection near where I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, there were gas stations on three of the four corners in the early 1970s."

California is not necessarily representative of the rest of the US. I hate trying to find a gas station in CA and it seems like there's always a line.

Huh? Lower demand should have a short term shock in lowering gas prices, then as the supply shifted to compensate, a rise in the price due to a drop in the economies of scale. And long term rise in price should accelerate the switch by making the substitute goods relatively cheaper. I think we'd agree that the effect would be pretty small, but I don't see how you end up with something neutral.

"More gasoline stations will be built!"

Either that or remaining gas stations will become more profitable as they face fewer and fewer competing stations nearby. Duh.

Ralston's is a silly argument. The advantages of special access to carpool lanes, freedom from road taxes on 'fuel', and large tax credits for initial purchases would certainly be lost if the cars became popular. And the problem with electric cars is not just the limited range on a single 'tank' of fuel, but that the range is very significantly reduced in cold weather (when the battery capacity falls and the heater is needed) or very hot weather (when A/C is needed):

http://www.forbes.com/sites/energysource/2010/06/11/warning-your-mileage-may-vary/

But, above all, re-fueling is so very much slower than for a gasoline vehicle (even when a 'supercharger' is available), so taking road trips in a Tesla is exercise requiring plenty of patience and logistics:

http://blog.caranddriver.com/alexander-and-the-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-tesla-model-s-p85d-road-trip/

The C&D entry was interesting. I was struck by the conclusion of how good the car was apart from the very serious refueling problems. But the refueling problems would have nearly been resolved with more stations in better locations (ie, along the preferred route and not in Hobby Lobby parking lots...). If the driver had been able to drive directly from Michigan to Virginia stopping along the way at convenient times, it sounds like it would have been a great trip. As more electric cars hit the road, more recharging stations will be installed. And those recharging stations are just so cheap and easy to install and operate compared to burying a giant tank of fuel underground, insuring it, paying for a guy to man it 24 hours, etc., that they will be installed quickly.

I think even electric car fans acknowledge that road trips are not the electric car's forte, but I am not sure how significant the "road tripper" market is. The vast majority of driving is made up of trips under 200 miles. As of now, I suspect most people who take long road trips will have two cars, one of which is probably a minivan or SUV to fit the kids and all their gear. And lets be honest, if you're looking to take a long road trip for fun, it should be in something with an open top and built in the '60s, and probably should say either "Lincoln" or "Cadillac" on it somewhere.

Also, I've done my share of cross-country drives, but heaven help me if I ever have to take a road trip from Michigan to Virginia.

"But the refueling problems would have nearly been resolved with more stations in better locations"

But even with the quick chargers, the charging process is still up to an hour vs a couple minutes at the gas pump. As for road trips, the C&D trip started in Ann Arbor where I also happen to live. The most common road trip starting here is a weekend 'up north'. For most people, even under ideal temperature conditions, the Tesla would be hard-pressed to make it without a recharge along the way, adding an extra hour to a 3-4 hour drive to Traverse City, for example.

Yep, Ann Arbor to Traverse looks like 240 miles. Would be tight in a Tesla, although a stop at a Supercharger on I-95 for maybe 15 minutes would be plenty to top up. No Superchargers on that route yet though!

BTW, Traverse City is beautiful! And coincidentally, back in 2011 I saw a Tesla Roadster there--with Florida plates. That must have been a very long drive...

That Tesla was likely owned by a someone who winters in Florida, summers in Michigan, and switched their residency to take advantage of Florida's lack of income tax. I know a few folks like that (none who own Tesla's though). I also suspect the car was shipped north rather than driven.

I am not sure how significant the “road tripper” market is.

Really? I think just about everyone wants to use their car on occasion to get out of town for vacation, whether that means driving to a different city or driving out to a beach or camping trip?

How many people do you know who *never* use their car for anything but local commutes? Also consider the logistics and expense of having to rent a rental car and/or use air travel for all vacations.

The key is "on occasion" and "out of town."

Granted that my friends may not be representative, but among them I am an outlier in that I've made several cross-country 2000+ mile road trips. (Including one 2100 mile trip in under 33 hours including stops!) While people in my parents generation would not bat an eye at driving 800+ miles in a day, that seems to be less and less common. I believe most trips to the beach, lake, mountains, are substantially less than 500 miles. For example:

Charlotte NC to Nag's Head - 360m
Washington DC to Rehoboth DE - 121m
New York City NY to Martha's Vineyard - 263m
Pittsburgh PA to Ocean City NJ - 370m
Chicago IL to Traverse City MI - 320m
Salt Lake City UT to Las Vegas NV - 420m
San Francisco CA to Lake Tahoe - 200m
Los Angeles CA to Mammoth - 313m

These are what I think are the typical sort of driving trips. Each of these can be done with a single stop to charge, maybe two. There are some people for whom it is unacceptable to stop to charge once for 40 min or twice for 20 min on these trips, but I do not think there are many such people. The trips above should all require very minimal charging time, at least once fast chargers are more numerous.

When I say I'm not sure how significant the "road tripper" market is, I'm talking about people who regularly use their car for 500+ mile trips. That may be old-school travelling salesmen, people who simply want to take cross-country trips routinely, or people who live in very rural places where it will be a while before fast chargers are ubiquitous. Similarly, places where it is very cold may not be suitable for electric cars for awhile.

Maybe, but everyone wants the *option* of a 500+ mile road trip. And you might also not know if you will lose your job and not be able to afford air travel. So even if you wouldn't normally drive all the way to Florida from DC, you might think you might need to at some future date. You can't necessarily predict how much longer you will own the car or whether you will ever need to drive it a long distance.

Hazel - Clearly you do have the *option* of driving from Florida to DC (or all the way across the country) in an electric car! The only difference difference would only be the additional time charging (and eating/using restrooms) v. filling a tank (and eating/using restrooms). Right now driving a Tesla from DC to FL adds maybe 1.5 to 2 hours of charging time to what is otherwise a 15-16 hour trip (without significant stops). So the question is not whether everyone wants the option of a 500 mile road trip, but how badly everyone wants the *option* of not adding 90 min of charging time to a 1000 mile, 15 hour trip (assuming the worst case scenario that chargers are not in a location that lets you use that time for eating and using the restroom). I'll admit, if you plan to do that kind of trip regularly, the benefits of an electric car may be outweighed by that extra time. But if this is an annual trip? Or a hypothetical trip because you may lose your job and need to drive instead of fly? I mean, I'd love to have the option to move a couch or flat screen TV on demand, but that marginal utility not important enough for me to buy a pickup (which I would love to have as a second car if I did not pay for parking!) over a more comfortable, better performing car.

As for choosing a vehicle based on the possibility of losing your job, probably the safest thing to do is drive an ice cream truck so that if something goes wrong you always have something to fall back on.

Slocum,

Some friends owned a Tesla. They decided to move to Boston. They put their Tesla on a trailer and shipped it. The road trip to Boston used a conventional car. Conversely, the Tesla worked OK on a day to day basis. Essentially a high cost status symbol, at least so far. Long-term electricity is likely to be cheaper than gasoline. Of course, electricity has been cheaper than gasoline for 100+ years.

Batteries were the real constraint back then. They still are. However, battery technology hasn't quite stood still. NiMH batteries didn't exist back then. Nor did Lithium batteries. Both are significant improvements over Lead batteries.

New battery technology has materially improved the prospects for electric cars. The fraction of the market that can tolerate the restrictions (range, heat, AC, charging times, cost, etc.) will shift to electric cars. The rest of the market won't.

"However, battery technology hasn’t quite stood still. NiMH batteries didn’t exist back then. Nor did Lithium batteries. Both are significant improvements over Lead batteries"

True, but NiMH and lithium batteries are no longer new -- they're pretty mature technologies at this point and major improvements in capacity are proving to be very difficult to achieve.

Slocum,

"True, but NiMH and lithium batteries are no longer new — they’re pretty mature technologies at this point and major improvements in capacity are proving to be very difficult to achieve."

Agreed. I don't see anything on the horizon (currently) to replace/supplant/supersede NiMH/Li batteries. However, NiMH/Li batteries are so much better than what came before them, that electric cars are considerably more viable than they were before NiNM/Li.

Basically, Tesla can be viewed as a delayed consequence of technological innovations (very real ones) in battery technology that took place years earlier. Sort of like PCs coming some number of years after then invention of the microchip.

The Tesla folks probably don't like thinking of themselves as as "derivative technology". However, that is exactly what they are.

Is residential electricity really much cheaper than gasoline? I ran some numbers to calculate the $/mile of a Tesla Model S versus a Toyota Prius. They both come to approx. 5 cents a mile.

Do I have my numbers wrong? [Gas at 2.75 $/gallon; electricity at 13 cents per unit and 2.8 miles/kWh for the Tesla versus 48 mpg for the Prius]

Your numbers are probably right, but its a little unfair to compare a Prius to a Tesla. The latter seats 7 (five comfortably) and competes in comfort with MB S-class, BMW 7 series and Audi A8, and is faster to 60mph (the fun zone) than a Lamborghini Murcielago.

Well, give me something on the electric car side that I can fairly compare against a Prius.

The Nissan Leaf.

Or you could just compare it to a Benz S65 with its 15 MPG combined.

Rahul,

"Is residential electricity really much cheaper than gasoline?"

Yes. Here are my calculations. Electricity at $0.13 per kWh is $0.03611 per megajoule. A gallon of gasoline is typically around 114 megajoules (on an LHV basis). That's $0.02412 per megajoule. However, the conversion efficiency of gasoline to useful work is low (21.5% is a reasonable guess for average gasoline engine efficiency). That raises the effective cost of gasoline to $0.1122 per megajoule.

Now electric cars have their own sources of inefficiency (batteries, motors, etc.). A good guess might 60%. That raises the effective cost of electricity to around $0.0602 per megajoule.

Why is electricity cheaper than gasoline? There are two key reasons. First, electricity is typically produced from cheap(er) fuels (coal, Uranium, natural gas, falling water, wind, etc.) that cars can't use. Second, power plants are much better heat engines that gasoline engines. Those advantages are (partially) offset by electricity distribution system (the grid) that is more expensive than the comparable system for gasoline.

Also, its very unlikely that the cost of crude will drop much below $45 (WTI), so there is a bit of a floor for gasoline prices. Electricity prices are likely to drop over the long term due to technological progress in nuclear and solar. Yes, the move from liquid petroleum in autos to electricity will shuffle the supply and demand curves for awhile and may offset the structural supply-side changes, but the long term trend is clearly more favorable to electric generation.

BDK,

I wouldn't bet on a long-term downtrend in power costs. AGW (global warming) considerations will tend to increase power prices for decades to come. However, power is likely to remain (considerably) cheaper than gasoline in any likely scenario.

Peter: It would depend on the terms of that long-term bet! But yes, you make a fair point. While all price comparisons over time are necessarily relative, the significant comparison is electricity v. gasoline, not electricity v. a broad basket of goods and services.

The article is so bad it's made me lose faith in the potential of electric cars (I don't even think this is irrational).

*

Self-driving (gasoline/electric) cars will be able to refuel themselves on a small number of stations.

*

Many of the advantages of the electrical car fall into one of "it has better software." These are not intrinsic to the electrical car. Maybe Tesla will realise that this is their real selling point and start doing gasoline cars, or maybe Toyota et al. will copy them.

I wonder how much of the everyday cost advantage of the electrical car right now is in the tax arbitrage of buying subsidized energy (electrical power) instead of taxed energy (gasoline). This may not be politically sustainable over the long term. At least, in Europe, it won't be: gas taxes are a significant chunk of budgets. What other tax will go up to compensate?

I'm pretty sure if I bought a Tesla, it'd be the nicest and fastest car I ever owned. No car I ever owned was worth even half a Tesla (even new, my current car would be worth less than half the cheapest Tesla).

*

The Tesla Model S sold 31k units last year (world-wide), the Toyota Camry sold more than that in the US just in June.

what about faith in the transcendent genius/divine right of venture capitalists and "founders"

Yeah, a lot of those reasons he gave for thinking Teslas are teh awesome have nothing to do with the mechanics of the car itself.

•It has a user interface - including, notably, its navigation system - as superior to that of other cars as the iPhone was to earlier phones.
•It is connected to the Internet.
•It continuously gets better with automatic updates and software improvements.
•It comes with an app that allows you to manage the car from your phone.

I'm sure those are pretty sweet features and all, but there's no reason you can't add all of them to a conventional automobile. I'll bet higher-end BMW's, Acuras, and whatnot already have most of them.

Yeah, these are good points. I remain somewhat skeptical of electric cars in general.

But the Tesla in particular? Man, that's a wonderful car. If that level of engineering had gone into an IC car it would sell very well indeed.

The Tesla is major competition for German luxury cars. It's arguably better than anything the Germans make, which shows in sales. It doesn't hurt that the competitors have been fairly complacent in recent years.

Shows in sales? How? Tesla sold 10,000 cars in the first three months of 2015. BMW-USA alone sold three times as many cars in just one month.

http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/13/autos/tesla-sales-bmw-mercedes-audi/index.html?source=linkedin

You need to match product categories to do a reasonable comparison. BMW is selling a lot of low-end cars to get its numbers. In its price range, Tesla is walking away with the prize. Which is obvious to most commuters, isn't it?

Look, I drive a BMW. I have huge doubts about electric cars. I'd cancel every subsidy in a minute if it were in my power. But Tesla's a success, it skews younger than its competitors, and it's just better engineered (at least if you overlook the architectural decision to be electric).

The number of gas stations is falling, but I'd be interested in seeing whether the number of fuel dispensers has declined commensurately, if at all. Anecdotally, I see fewer and fewer service stations within town limits -- the kind that have two or three pumps -- and more and more large stations near interchanges, of which a Sheetz with two dozen pumps would not be an atypical example. In this case, the result may owe less to declining demand for motor fuel (we're down less than 3% from the all-time peak: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MGFUPUS1&f=A), but rather to a shift in preference and a greater attention to economies of scale.

Years ago, instead of pulling into that Sheetz, for instance, one might have been most likely to fill up at a two-pump Liberty station that closed at 9 PM. It's not clear to me that the decline in the number of stations owes significantly to greater fuel economy, but rather to shifting preferences. After all, even though our vehicles go farther on a gallon, there are more drivers than ever before.

In 2014 US consumed 137 billion gallons of gas. Peak gas consumption was approx. 140 billion gallons, right before the last recession.

I don't know if there's a decline in gas stations or dispensers, but the gas consumption itself seems pretty robust. (I'm assuming cars are the main sector driving gasoline use.)

Jared's point is spot on. More pumps per station means fewer stations. Also, not mentioned is that modern pumps are 2x or 3x faster per gallon than the old ones, so more cars per hour can refuel per pump now.

Exactly. It's either more pumps per station or faster pumping rates or both.

"Also, not mentioned is that modern pumps are 2x or 3x faster per gallon than the old ones, so more cars per hour can refuel per pump now."

Yes, that's an excellent pump. Until you mentioned it, I had forgotten how long it used to take to fill up a vehicle. Also, currently US law restricts the rate to 10 gallons per minute. But this is still much faster than the average pump in the 1980's.

LOL, should be "...that's an excellent point..."

I don't know much about the gas station industry, but it sure seems like credit card readers at the pump make the whole filling up process a *lot* faster.

Those old urban stations had aging, often leaking tanks, in an area where people complain a lot. Not to mention, they were not the most economical use of increasingly expensive real estate. Move the stations out of the dense areas with modern tank and leak technology. But the marginal cost of installing larger tanks with more pumps isn't that much after you've cleared the initial hurdles. Plus, more pumps = more traffic for the convenience store = more food/bev sales.

I would still think that the EPA shut down more of the old stations with new tank regulations than declining demand.

Gas guzzlers prove that consumers are irrational. Why else would consumers devote so many resources to something that is so inefficient. For an academic discipline committed to efficiency, it's inexplicable that any economist would defend such an inefficient means of transportation. But there's hope. Younger adults aren't as devoted to gas guzzlers as older adults; indeed, they don't even wish to own gas guzzlers, preferring instead to reside in places with convenient, and much more efficient, alternatives. That doesn't mean there's no place for cars; rather, it means that cars should be designed and used for the purposes for which they are efficient. And what purpose is that? The short trip to the grocery store or the doctor's office or the church or synagogue, too far to walk but not so far as to require a gas guzzler. And what would be the best design for the short trip? Certainly not the gas guzzling behemoths designed for the super highway or the long vacation road trip. Of course, It's not just the irrational consumer that perpetuates the use of such an inefficient means of transportation, as most of the blame, or credit depending on your point of view, belongs to the politicians who devote billions in public resources to the gas guzzler, from direct investments in highways to indirect promotion by approval of urban sprawl. Anybody who resides in a city knows about daily gridlock on the highway, but so does anybody who travels by car on the interstate highways during the holidays. Ralph Nader came to my college campus decades ago promoting his book, Unsafe at Any Speed. He asked the thousands of impressionable students standing on the lawn to raise their hands if a family member or close friend had been killed or seriously injured in an automobile accident. To see every student raise his or hand was a shocking revelation about the automobile and what it has done to us all.

I'm not an engineer so I'm willing to be proved wrong, but all the STEM folks I know tell me that gasoline is a highly efficient fuel. I assume you're not opposed to lots more nuclear power, because if we replace all the gas-burners with electrics it strikes me that's what we'd need. I'd love to see less fuel-burning; I hike, and I don't like seeing that brown ring around the city when I look back from the Appalachian foothills, but I don't think the arguments against internal combustion cars are very thoughtful.

We don't use public transportation for the same reason we don't live in certain neighborhoods, but more importantly, we're not all widgets in company towns. Individualized, rapid transport is exactly what other folks have said: it's freedom.

Efficiency, in the meaning of "useful work / energy consumed" is a characteristic of the engine, not the fuel. Overall internal combustion engines are much less efficient than electric (even when you consider generation losses), and current ones are very near the theoretical optimum, what means they won't get much better. Also, internal combustion engines have a good power density. In fact, they have an amazing relation of power density to efficiency, beaten by nothing but electrical motors (what won't help them now).

What gasoline has is a great energy density. It's not the best in any way, but it is very good on the several different meanings of "energy density". But here, batteries are not a mature technology. Theoretical limits for batteries are much better than what current batteries provide, and there's no reason for batteries not beating gasoline at some time in the future.

Batteries have been around for a couple centuries, and have been in widespread industrial production and use for more than a century, so it's kind-of a stretch to say it's not mature technology. I haven't got the chemistry knowledge to have an opinion on how much improvement is possible, but it's not like this is some clever idea that was just proposed a couple decades ago and is still trying to find its way into commercial applications or something.

Efficiency in terms of energy stored per unit of density is a characteristic of the fuel, and gasoline is much better than... anything else. I remember a few years ago reading an article on SA that was basically a long rant from a Mercedes german engineer about how electrical cars made no sense within any commercial future timeframe, and they were ignoring that market, concentrating themselves on increases in efficiency for internal combustion energy.

Yes, cars are terrifying. Don't ever use one or associate with people who do. Your life will improve dramatically.

What are you ranting about, "gas guzzling behemoths"? Its not 1970.

"To see every student raise his or hand was a shocking revelation about the automobile and what it has done to us all."

I wager this occurred only in a dream.

Consumers arent irrational, they just value other things more than fuel efficiency. Other things that 'gas guzzlers' provide. Just because you value efficiency highly doesnt mean everyone else does.

Gas-powered vehicles are actually quite efficient compared with the alternatives for travel beyond a couple of miles. For distance travel, single-family autos aren't particularly efficient when compared with trains or aircraft, but those are also powered by petroleum derivatives.

BTW, back in the 70's when Nader was doing his thing fatal car crashes were *far* more common than they are today.

"For distance travel, single-family autos aren’t particularly efficient when compared with trains or aircraft..."

You might be surprised. I looked up the fuel efficiency of your typical passenger train one time, and was shocked at how low it is. By my calculations, it was slightly more efficient than a large sedan with one person in it when the train was at full capacity, but a half-full train couldn't compete with any road car on a passenger-mile basis, and even a full train couldn't compete with a modern efficient compact car with more than one person in it.

And the reality is that many passenger trains run well below passenger capacity, and therefore have terrible fuel efficiency. Even light rail can be an energy disaster if the train isn't running full most of the time.

The thing with trains is that most of the weight is in the train itself, meaning it costs just as much energy to haul one person as 100 people. So to be efficient you really need to be running near capacity all the time. And even then, it's not that much better than road cars.

The same is true for modern aircraft. An Airbus A380 at full capacity runs around 3L/100km average passenger mile fuel efficiency. A Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost will burn 4.8L/100km. So the Fiesta is more fuel efficient if it's carrying two occupants or if the airbus is only 60% full.

A Fiesta with four people in it will crush the fuel efficiency of almost any form of mass transit. No electric car needed.

A primary problem with public transportation is the multi-seat problem.

A car provides door-to-door transportation, but a public transportation journey usually involves a walk to the bus that takes you to the train (or the long-distance bus) and then another bus and another walk. Even if the middle link is fast, the need to take multiple vehicles (with waits between each) makes public transportation inconvenient (especially if you need to carry anything substantial with you) and time-consuming.

Perhaps automated (CNG powered, or electric) taxis will finally solve the multi-seat problem, making low cost door-to-door public transportation practical. But until then, practically everyone who can drive will do so. Except for the few who live in cities that are just too dense to easily accommodate cars.

(And yes, I enjoy walking but not so much if I have to cart home a big load of groceries from a local store that offers less selection and higher prices than the big store I pass on my way home.)

Perhaps if one was charged by how much road and time their car used we would see people use vehicles like this: http://www.commutercars.com/ or like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_C1

Albigensian,
Good points although for individual transport (with small loads) I've found a combination of a push bike and public transport almost unbeatable. With public transport schedules online it's often quicker to ride to the station, jump on train and then ride at the far end to my destination than drive (which often involves traffic and parking) and it is definitely cheaper and more relaxing.

Gas guzzlers prove that consumers are irrational. Why else would consumers devote so many resources to something that is so inefficient.

Why, other than irrationality, do people buy big trucks instead of small sedans? I can think of a few reasons: Towing ability, off-road capability, greater cargo storage capacity, etc. etc. It's not "irrationality" that leads someone toward a lifestyle that involves frequent trips off-road, carrying or towing large objects. Millions of campers, farmers, and tradesmen do it every single day.

Children, especially small children, pretty much require a bigger car. If you have a 6 month old, a 3 year old, and a 5 year old, you have two carseats (anchored into the car) and a booster seat (to raise the 5 year old to the level where she can get the seatbelt around her properly). That simply can't be made to fit in the backseat of a small car like a Honda Civic.

If you want to go on a long drive, or take your kids and their friends somewhere, or take your in-laws and your kids out to eat in the same car, you've pretty much sold yourself on a minivan or a largish SUV.

My little tyke and I completely and emphatically agree.

It can be done and non-Americans do it constantly.
But what would I know, I grew up in a medieval city, travelled by bus and the first car came into my family when I was in high school.

Americans used to do it constantly, too. But most states now have laws *requiring* car seats and booster seats, depending on the age and size of your kids. This probably broadly improves safety, but it also means that small cars and big families are very hard to mix. I speak from some experience, here.

Gas guzzlers prove that consumers are irrational. Why else would consumers devote so many resources to something that is so inefficient. For an academic discipline committed to efficiency, it’s inexplicable that any economist would defend such an inefficient means of transportation.

Wow!
We do not maximize chemical energy or FF use we optimize most human enjoyment for the least human effort!

"Gas guzzlers prove that consumers are irrational. Why else would consumers devote so many resources to something that is so inefficient."

Because efficiency is a lot more than just energy efficiency. Cost efficiency overall matters - saving $2000 in energy over the life of the vehicle is not worth it if such a vehicle costs $5,000 more to purchase or operate. Time efficiency also matters - if my time is worth $30/hr, sitting for an hour in a charging station is extremely inefficient for me.

Then there is the efficiency of universality - my Ford Escape is an efficient commuter vehicle, but it's also a great long-distance road trip vehicle. It drives well in snowstorms and has great AC for hot days. It has enough cargo space that I can take a lawn mower in for service or buy a patio chair and get it home - two things I had to do just in the last month.

An electric car may be a great commuter vehicle for 80% of the uses of a vehicle. But losing the other 20% of utility can be a disaster for a homeowner in the suburbs - which is why you see so many SUVs on the road.

The fact of the matter is that the cost of energy is not the highest cost of owning a new vehicle. Depreciation is a much larger expense. Most people do not drive brand-new vehicles, but instead drive vehicles that have already depreciated at least by half. That means trading in that 'inefficient' gas guzzler for a new electric vehicle is extremely expensive - and inefficient. Perhaps when you get to the point where you have to buy a new vehicle and you are an apartment dweller with your own underground parking space, it might make sense to buy an electric car. That's a very small portion of the market. And even then it won't make sense if the subsidies stop - which they must if electric cars become ubiquitous.

The other factor is that modern cars are already extremely energy efficient - they are a far cry from the old land yachts that used to get 5-10 mpg. Incremental gains in efficiency are not necessarily all that valuable when you are starting from a high efficiency point. Increasing fuel mileage by 5mpg makes a huge difference when starting with a vehicle that only gets 10 mpg. But with one that already gets 30 mpg? Not so much.

Gas guzzlers prove that consumers are irrational. Why else would consumers devote so many resources to something that is so inefficient.

People buy gas guzzlers (SUVs) because they are multi-purpose vehicles. You only need one car to use for commutes, hauling stuff around, or going on long road trips. Having one vehicle for commutes and then either renting or keeping a second car only for road trips would be even more inefficient.

Couldn't you also see a combo charging and gas station?

No, no, its not possible for gas stations to change.

That's why every station has two pumps, an attendant who pumps it, gives green stamps and has repair bays.

I think there is a world market for maybe five electric cars.

Tesla probably has a bigger chance of going out of business than most gas stations?

There might be fewer gas stations in cities, but what about people going cross-country. There's still scope for charging stations (or the ability to switch out batteries). Moreover, gas stations already can serve as convenience stores. The demand for places to stop while driving isn't going away either.

The thing that offends me about this largely terrible article is the claim that nobody in 2005 could see smartphones coming. Sure we could. Everyone predicted them. In forms not too far off from how they turned out to be.

In 2002, I was predicting combination PAs and mobile phones that were all touchscreen. This isn't because I'm terribly prescient. It's because it was in broad stripes obvious.

I wrote a spec screenplay in 1998 for "Arliss" about the sports agent trying to get his quarterback client the endorsement contract for the Palm Pilot smartphone that I was sure was going to sweep the market in 1999.

All,

I did a presentation on smart phones in 2001. This didn't require any real prescience on my part. I just copied an earlier presentation by Bill Joy (of Sun fame). Part of my presentation was a prediction that Palm was doomed.

Yeah, Palm actually hurt their sales quite a bit at some point when their CEO announced that the future for PDAs was as phones.

In early 2004 I had the SMT 5600, a Windows-based smart phone made by HTC. It was a true fully functional, internet-connected smartphone, not even a prediction.

Unless trucks go electric too, there will still be truck stops and diesel stations. For many gas stations, even those focused on trucks, it often makes sense to keep regular unleaded pumps around (in my observation across the country). So if stations become less common, and the cost of gas falls, then it makes sense for truck stops to maintain or augment their gas station offerings.

Most gas stations make their money on other items, such as snacks, drinks, grocery, lotto, auto supplies and convenience items. The gas gets you to come by. That dynamic doesn't change, it just means that electric car drivers are not brought by for that purpose. I imagine gas stations could do other things to attract electric cars, like speed charging stations (especially near freeways) and maybe just focusing more on being a convenience store by emphasizing easy parking access to the door (as many stations already do).

Exactly. I see gas stations perfectly positioned to offer charging points as an add-on.

It would be far more reasonable for that article to predict a future where gas stations will service a mix of electrics & gas. But no, he must be ridiculous and prophesize an all out death for gas stations.

"Unless trucks go electric too, there will still be truck stops and diesel stations."

Trucks can't go electric with modern batteries. The math doesn't work out. They'd have to stop so often to recharge they'd never be economical. They can switch to natural gas, though.

Many fleets are already switching to LNG. I had never imagined LNG technology could become viable on scale as small as a truck.

You know that you can install a LNG tank in any car, taking the place of the extra wheel, right?

LNG or LPG? I've never seen a car run on LNG. Have a link?

Replying to Rahul below:

Honda was selling LNG cars for a while. You could get a refuelling point the mooched off your home gas lines. I was desirous of one for a while, but Honda stopped selling them.

I'm really overwhelmed by your thoughts for this particular story. A deeper knowledge and organization will be good for me.

Any idea what the average startup cost, workable life, and ROI are for gas stations ?

Those, and the speed at which battery technology improves, will determine whether Ralston's prediction is reasonable or ridiculous.

The only thing I know is that the average sales margins are pretty low, and have been for a long time.

Suppose that gasoline stations did become so uncommon that finding one was inconvenient. What will happen? More gasoline stations will be built!

Not if prospective investors foresaw a continued decline in the gasoline market, and didn't believe they'd have the (10?) years of steady business they'd need to see a return on their investment.

Right now, no one really knows what the rational expectations are for battery tech development.
But the direction of travel is clear.

Yes, this line makes absolutely zero sense.

Technology has and will continue to make finding gas stations easier even if there are fewer stations.

For those that say gasoline his highly inefficient, I'd point out that it really depends on what metric you use. Gasoline has a very high energy density. And vehicle manufacturers are getting more out of gasoline by using turbo/super chargers, etc. For example, Volvo is coming out with a 4 cylinder, 2 liter engine with a super and turbo charger on it that will produce 315 hp. The reality is that the consumer has opted for performance/size over mileage over the last 5+ decades. The average vehicle HP has increased much more than efficiency.

With that said, gasoline price per BTU, is much more expensive than natural gas. That is why efficient electrical storage is the holy grail. There is no doubting the potential of EVs from an efficiency and performance perspective, but in terms of cost, we're not there yet.

"The average vehicle HP has increased much more than efficiency."

I think classically there are three trade off's in modern consumer Internal Combustion Engine design. Environmental restrictions (which cost engine power), horsepower and mileage. Roughly speaking, over the past 30 years, as engines have become more efficient all three have regularly been increased.

"The average vehicle HP has increased much more than efficiency."

What most consumers really want is higher peak HP, as there's little need for high average HP in most vehicles. Peak HP is needed for rapid acceleration; it just doesn't take that much power to keep the vehicle moving at a constant speed, even at high speed.

There is a market for vehicles that really need 315 HP: full-size trucks used to tow heavy trailers. But for most, a better solution (one that delivers both high peak HP and also high efficiency) will be a conventional parallel hybrid drive (such as used in Prius), as this permits the use of a smaller engine (because average power is not that high) but can provide high peak HP on demand by using the electric motor.

Of course, technologies such as turbo- and/or supercharging can be applied to an engine of any size. The real challenge in commercial engineering is always providing an attractive product at an attractive price (i.e., not just an attractive product).

Except in luxury markets, where a higher price may perversely increase demand.

Another fundamental problem with Ralston's point is his assumption that gas stations are not particularly profitable. It is true that the selling of gasoline is not, but they have other businesses (convenience sales, auto repair) that bring in the bucks quite well.

I would strongly encourage people interested in the future of electric cars to study the prices of used electric cars, for example, by studying the listings on Ebay. The cost of owning a new electric car is extraordinarily high because they depreciate so quickly. You can get a 2 year old Nissan Leaf (new price $30,000, net of tax credit) with 10,000 miles on the odometer for $10,000. A $100,000 Tesla Model S Performance, with the 85 kwh battery can be had for $60,000 used.
It isn't clear (to me) why resale prices are so low. Battery longevity may be a problem, since much of the cost of the car is in the battery. Perhaps many owners find that the range is a bigger practical problem than the imagined. Incidentally, plug-in hybrids like the Volt and the Prius seem to hold their value much better.

So the cost of owning a used electric car is extraordinarily cheap? Seems like this is a zero sum game. I agree that people probably underestimate how inconvenienced they'll be.

Buyers and sellers are treating the Model S like what it is - a luxury car. Luxury cars always lose their value much faster than mass-market cars.

I just looked at the numbers. Tesla S model depreciation is right on the average: 30% after 2 years. Some Toyota or Honda models but fare better but not by much: 20-22% depreciation after 2 years.

People know and understand IC engines. There are 40 year old IC engines still chugging along.

I think people (wisely) tack on a risk premium to a used Tesla.

It's got to be the batteries, 40 year old electric motors are pretty much all expected to whir along, they have vastly fewer moving parts and don't have to keep an air fuel ratio within a fairly narrow range.

Here's a 130 year old electric motor:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctoUBMly1AE

That is a impressive video and electric motors are amazing. You're right it's all about the batteries.

Essentially ICE's are complicated, expensive machines powered by an absolutely amazing fuel and Electric motors are simple, durable machines powered by an expensive and non-durable power source.

"Essentially ICE’s are complicated, expensive machines powered by an absolutely amazing fuel and Electric motors are simple, durable machines powered by an expensive and non-durable power source."

This really gets it. Best articulation I've seen.

Care to say anything about speed of charging vs battery life (number of charge cycles before replacement is called for) in electric cars? I know it depends on many variables but any rule of thumb would be interesting.

The batteries and the power electronics. The latter is still innovating so an old EV will be very obsolete quickly without expensive refits. Although, new power electronics could be simple to install if the original design of the car's electrical system is forward thinking.

The batteries and the thyristors / SCR's / triacs or whatever power control device they use. That might have some scope for design mistakes.

Uber + Electric Vehicles + Google self driving = end of the internal combustion engine.

Uber + Gas Vehicles + Google self driving = no need for electric cars

I don't necessarily believe this, but it makes as much sense as the previous equation.

Hybrids + Self Driving Cars + Gas-to-Liquids Technology = no need for electric cars.

Seriously, what's going on with "electricity + atmospheric CO2 --> liquid fuel"? You've got dense liquid carbon-neutral fuels there.

It's expensive, very wasteful (you'll throw the result into an internal combustion engine), and the marginal power generation uses hydrocarbons anyway so why not just burn them at the car?

The amount of electricity required is prohibitively costly. So much so, that lithium-ion batteries that cost $70 per pound (not counting the cost of the actual electricity they store) seem like a good deal.

I was thinking more along the lines of "Coal to Liquids" or "Natural Gas to Liquids".

That stuff isn't fantasy. Hitler had the first running plants. Also SASOL in South Africa. Last I heard Shell commissioned a multi billion dollar facility in Quatar.

> The amount of electricity required is prohibitively costly

Back in 2008 some Los Alamos guys said it would cost $3.40 per gallon. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/science/19carb.html Maybe they were wrong but there's some number that goes in there.

"Battery technology is difficult". Yes, yes it is.

We are definitively at the point where you are paying a premium for a worse car unless you meet a constrained set of usage parameters. It's 1.5 hours to visit dad from my house. How much planning do I need to make sure I don't have to have a 3 hour charging session somewhere in the middle of a round trip?

Which comes first the hair loss or the Tesla? Asking for a friend. Also did everyone who bought an electric car also own a minidisc player. My friends a curious guy.

Funny, all the people equating Ferrari and Tesla to "cool." What's cooler than a soft-bellied white guy in his Ferrari?

If it helps you get through your existence as a lawyer, by all means enjoy.

Don't forget the 19 year old Persians and Armenians in their Ferraris.

The writer is assuming WAY too much movement here. Just think there are still pay phones standing in the US at this time and cell phones have been coming for 25+ years. And there are all kinds of ways for stations to adjust with charging stations or other products.

Given that most vehicles last 10+ years and this demand decrease spiral ain't coming anytime in the next 20+ years.

The author's tipping point argument may have some merit in the reverse. For example, the Israeli "Tesla" electric car refilling stations have a problem being profitable even though there's plenty of them around, since not enough people use them. So electric cars face this 'activation energy' threshold barrier.

More importantly do you think Teslas are cool? I think you could settle the argument if you do?

The root problem with electric car recharging stations is that they charge at between 20kw and at the extreme high end 120kw, with approximately 50kw being pretty common. Gas stations pump gasoline at ~10Mw. That is why gasoline stations work and electric recharge do not. The end.

What about "swapping" instead of "recharging"? With the right sort of winch / robotic arm I suppose you could achieve 10 MW with even a battery pack?

Yes, if they could design Teslas to have swappable battery packs of consistent quality, you could just trade in your dead battery for a fresh one at every station. Like how I keep a fully charged backup ready to swap into my electric power drill. I do wonder why people don't do this with phones though. Probably the annoyance of rebooting the phone.

Effectively people do by using all of the USB/iPhone battery chargers that have become so common and cheap over the last year or so.

The problem here is that to make the battery big enough to power a car they have to wrap it around the frame, filling every open space with battery. To make it removable it would either have to be much smaller, or you would have to have a huge battery pack hanging off the back of the car. Here's a picture of the Model S's battery:
http://www.technologyreview.com/sites/default/files/images/tesla.3x519.jpg

Yes this has the possibility of working. And clearly someone at Tesla can do the math and came to the same conclusion. However it runs into technical issues, like it is complex and adds failure modes. However, the larger problem is one of trust. A 40k piece of capital equipment is being swapped between the entities. How is such a transaction facilitated? The equipment must be checked for issues, it must be tracked carefully, the swap will be moderately expensive. All of these issues are why the battery swap instituted by Tesla was somewhat expensive (both in terms of money and in terms of bureaucracy) which led to its downfall.

Maybe someone will overcome these challenges in the future, but today battery swap has significant issues.

Wikipedia says that regular unleaded gasoline produces 33.44 kWh per gallon.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasoline_gallon_equivalent)

Wikipedia also says that electricity costs about $100 per MWh.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source)

My math could be all screwed up, but this seems to suggest that we need about 29.9 gallons of gasoline to get a megawatt hour of power. I know the price of gasoline varies - here it's at about $2.50/gallon right now - but if we say gas costs $3/gallon, then that means that it costs about $90/MWh, which means that gasoline is still more efficient than coal-powered electricity, wind, solar, some forms of natural gas, and even nuclear-powered electricity.

Doesn't this mean that gasoline is still the most efficient form of fuel? Won't we need some kind of major engineering change to make electric cars more attractive from the standpoint of cost and efficiency?

And maybe I'm totally wrong, but isn't the most efficient form of electricity generation also by definition the most Earth-friendly?

Gasoline ICE engines are only roughly 20% efficient. So multiply the effective cost by 5.

Well to be fair, a lithium-ion battery's charge cycle is only 90% efficient so you need to multiply its cost by 1.1.

You also need to factor in the charge loss while the vehicle is sitting, the energy lost to keeping the battery warm or cool, wiring losses, losses in the speed controller electronics, etc. Some of an ICE vehicle's energy is reclaimed to heat the vehicle in cold weather - electric cars need electric heaters. In hot weather the electric car's battery may need to be cooled, and in cold weather it may need to be heated - both energy sinks that ICE vehicle do not have.

In short, the amount of energy saved by an electric vehicle is highly variable and depends a lot on climate, the type of driving you do, and myriad other factors.

20% is on the low side. Large stationary diesels give us the top of the range (50%), but ISTR seeing recent numbers like 40% for a well engineered economy car.

You can get about more movement out of a KWh of electricity than a KWh of gasoline because the electric motor is about 90% efficient, compared with the ICE which is about 20% (although the waste heat could be really valuable in winter). The hangup for EVs is that gasoline is about 8x more energy-dense.

Really, you are overthinking this. An electric car gets around 4 miles per KWh, which might be 10 cents, so ~2.5 cents per mile. A gasoline car that gets 30 MPH when gas is $3 is ~10 cents per mile.

It's not hard and fast, and the best gas car probably beats the worst electric car on consumables-per-mile when the stars align. But in general EVs are cheap on the electricity front. It's the battery depreciation that's the problem.

Thanks for the thorough explanation and correction! :)

"It’s the battery depreciation that’s the problem."

This! And it's generally expressed as the Duty cycles the given battery is good for. It's also why the continuously expressed idea of using electric cars in their garages as grid storage are economically insane.

If it were economically sane, we would have seen Battery powered grid storage instead of those gigantic pumped storage hydroelectric plants. The first guys to jump on the arbitrage opportunity would be the power utility itself.

But try telling that to the Tesla Powerwall Crowd.

You can't think of efficiency just in terms of how much energy is lost when converting electricity to motive power. You also have to consider charging losses, storage losses, transmission losses, etc.

Electric power at the station has to be converted to high voltage power for transmission. That causes losses. Then you lose energy per mile in transmission. Then you have to convert the electricity back down to household voltages, which causes more losses. If you have a Tesla powerwall, you lose energy charging it, storing it, and discharging it. Then you lose more energy charging your car battery, and yet more when your car is sitting with a charged battery. Finally, you lose some energy in the car's electronics when converting the battery power to motive power, and that's the 10% you are talking about.

For gasoline, you have to consider the energy losses in transporting it, storing it, and burning it. A proper comparison of the efficiency of a gas powered engine vs an electric engine will take all this into account.

"And maybe I’m totally wrong, but isn’t the most efficient form of electricity generation also by definition the most Earth-friendly?"

Efficiency is earth-friendly, but there are some things we do that decrease efficiency to create some needed environmental gains. One example: In power plants, there is equipment to remove ash and sulfur oxides from the exhaust stream, a very good thing to do. In the design of that equipment two questions are always being asked: How much are we failing to catch? and What is the pressure loss? The pressure loss is a necessary inefficiency that we work to minimize while removing all the ash we can.

An environmental advantage of electric vehicles is that more can be done to treat emissions at a stationary power plant.

I hope that he is right but batteries look too expensive pretty far into the future.

"look too expensive pretty far into the future."

Is that true? If you assume that gasoline ICE's are nearly maxed in efficiency, but that batteries will continue their historical average price per efficiency decline of 5% per year, how long before they're equal? How long before the math makes batteries a far better deal?

If electric cars are less than marginal today, but are consistently improving faster than their competition doesn't that mean the switch is inevitable?

I don't believe the pie in the sky projections that electrical cars will replace gasoline cars in the next 10 years, but assuming the trends of the last 50 years continue for the next 50 years, the results seem inevitable. It won't be instantaneous, nor even the 10 year time frame of smart phone dominance. However, I'd feel safe in predicting that 10% of the passenger cars on the road in 2035 would be electric. And that they'll be gaining 1% per year in market share thereafter, until they are 50% of the market. At that point, convenience issues would probably dominate. With your average American household owning 1-2 pure electric cars and then 1 hybrid car/truck for long distance traveling, towing, etc.

"If you assume that gasoline ICE’s are nearly maxed in efficiency, but that batteries will continue their historical average price per efficiency decline of 5% per year, how long before they’re equal? How long before the math makes batteries a far better deal?"

Past performance does not guarantee future performance. I think we are biased in our predictions of future cost due to the rapidly declining cost of computers. But Moore's law does not apply to everything. Computers get cheaper for one simple reason - there was a lot of room at the bottom to shrink circuitry. That's a very special case. Batteries become limited by chemistry and by the amount of physical material that has to go into them, and that's a much more complex problem.

The reason batteries don't have the kind of energy density as gasoline is that batteries have to carry their own oxidizer, while internal combustion engines use the air. If you had to carry a tank of compressed oxygen for combustion ICE would look a lot worse.

We are getting very near the limit for conventional battery technology. The next breakthrough will be in batteries that use ambient air, such as zinc-air batteries. But right now we don't know how to make those that can deliver reliable power in the quantity a car needs. One day we might, and then batteries may come down in cost by half or maybe more, but after that we run into very diminishing returns.

The same is true of the rest of the system. Once you get to a certain level of efficiency you start being limited by basic physics, and then there's nowhere to go. Until and if we have superconducting materials that are usable and inexpensive, we will always lose significant amounts of energy when generating, transmitting, storing, and using electricity.

Tesla's PowerWall, for example, would immediately increase our electricity needs by 20% or more if everyone had one, simply because it's adding another device to the mix, and that device cannot charge, store, and discharge electricity with 100% efficiency. So for it to be useful, it has to reclaim that 20% in facilitating other efficiencies.

I think it will be in less that 50 years.

I was just reading a post regarding a recent report on peak timber, peak farmland, peak car, etc at Conversable Economist. In regards to cars, the author of the report expected a decline in the total number of cars but the same or increase in total miles. The "hour a day" car driving is to be overtaken by services such as Uber, with the car being driven 6-10 hours per day. No way in the foreseeable future that an EV will be able to operate 6-10 hours out of the 18 hours (6 am-12am) of normal auto need. Right now, Uber seems to be the competitor for EVs. And occasional use car ownership will be for long trips, for which EVs aren't the best choice as well as emergencies, such as evacuations for which EVs are the worst choice. (not much hope for a dead battery on a clogged interstate and an approaching storm)

In any case, the profit on the pumps at your typical convenience store (not that many gas stations anymore) is not a lot. They make their money on the snacks and drinks that the gas purchaser pops in on impulse to buy. But on the other hand, the pumps do increase traffic in the store. In addition, the pumps are usually owned by the fuel company and their incentive is to make their fuel convenient to purchase.

I read an interesting book last summer about the last decades of shipping freight under sails. Steam was uncompetitive for crossing oceans until the 1870s. Once steam became competitive, builders of tall ships competed back and innovated in ways they weren't motivated to before, so it wasn't until the 1890s that steam had a clear edge. Already existing tall ships continued working and aging and gradually becoming fewer in operation over the next couple decades. The First World War created a boom for shipping, and all the remaining tall ships still floating around harbors were put into service. Then the war ended, and shipping freight under sails ended too.

When did it become normal for cars to have a range over 300 miles? As a youth I had an old '62 Ford F-100 pickup that could manage a bit more than 200 miles on a tank. Later I had a small Datsun pickup that had better gas mileage, but a smaller tank and even shorter range, and I took to carrying a filled gas can. I drove those things across Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, so refueling was on my mind almost half the time. It would be a step back to have those worries again in an electric car, but not unprecedented.

Growing up I had a motorcycle (Honda CM400 Hondamatic) with a 2.6 gallon tank (with a OMG thank you, I'm not stranded on the side of the road 0.45 reserve). It got roughly 45 mpg. So, a fill up every 120 miles if you were feeling adventurous.

It was a minor pain to be riding with other bikes that generally got better mileage with bigger tanks. But frankly stopping every 1.5-2 hours for a pit stop wasn't a deal breaker on long trips. Particularly if you had female passengers.

Well, imagine if your car had a range more like 60-100 miles. And you couldn't just carry an extra gas can for emergencies. And gas stations were more rare...

My Ford Escape has a highway range of over 300 miles, and that's pretty normal these days.

Imagine if it took 3 hours to fill your gas tank instead of 10 minutes.
Also, it's kind of hard to swap out a tesla car battery on the road, though that might be the right technical solution.
If you could drive up to a station, have them replace the battery with a fully charged one in 10 minutes and then recharge the old one at their leisure that would solve the problem.
Are tesla batteries pluggable?

Hazel, super chargers are a lot quicker than 3 hours.

Per Tesla's web site: 80% charge in 40 minutes. Granted, it takes 75 minute to get a full charge due to the limitation of the battery.

http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger

That being said, it's a laughable 30+ hours to charge a Tesla using a household 120V charger. And even in the 12+ hour range for 240V charger. And the super charger damages the battery.

Tesla has displayed battery swap at a press event.

Oh, I just found this while googling for a link: http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/9/8754667/tesla-elon-musk-battery-swap-fail

So maybe not.

Theoretically there's no reason a battery swap wouldn't work, but economically there are two aspects that make it very cumbersome. 1) The cost and time. It needs to be compatible with the cost of filling up a car's tank with gasoline, which limits the cost of swapping to a charged battery to the $25-40 range. However, swapping a battery is going to be a cumbersome and laborious process, similar to an oil change. You can get an oil change for that price, but it's pretty common to wait at least 30 minutes and the only way to drop that wait would probably involve raising the price. If you have to raise the cost by 50% to lower the time to 15 minutes, it's probably not economical.

2) The quality of the battery would be a major issue. There would be a major financial incentive to bring in a heavily used battery with a lot of duty cycles and not worth much money and swap it out for a newer battery for a nominal price. And you couldn't rely on reading the state of the battery from it's on board CPU, since the customer would be able to reset the settings with minimal effort. There are potential mitigation strategies, but effectively they'll all add cost to the process.

An Israeli company tried this and went insolvent (it doesn't really matter if used with Tesla's or not - they aren't a particularly good example if an electric car). Maybe they were just 50 years ahead of their time.

Perhaps Ralston is applying for membership in the VSP club. Making stupid mistakes seems to be a qualification.

I think what electric car fans aren't doing is comprehensively assessing the whole energy production and distribution chain.

This is not about gasoline engines vs batteries. This is about oil production plus refinement plus distribution plus small distributed gasoline-fired engines vs natural gas production and transportation plus large centralized natural gas-fired engines plus electric power distribution plus small distributed batteries.

The latter is a less efficient, small-market luxury product, preferred by some for its lack of local emissions and prestige and to lend support to manufacturers of products the buyer believes are heading in a better direction.

The EIA is only writing the obvious in its prediction that electric cars won't make a dent by 2040. The pace of efficiency improvements in electric cars has for a long time been about the same as the pace of efficiency improvements in gasoline-powered cars. There's nothing on the horizon that would change that.

"The pace of efficiency improvements in electric cars has for a long time been about the same as the pace of efficiency improvements in gasoline-powered cars. There’s nothing on the horizon that would change that."

I don't think that's true. I don't have a convenient source, but I believe gasoline ICE improvements have been around a 1% average annual improvement and batteries have been closer to a 5% average annual improvement. (Last 30 years or so).

Maybe you need to re-read what I wrote, especially the paragraph that starts: "This is not about gasoline engines vs batteries."

Try thinking of it this way. A gasoline-fired car is powered by crude oil. An electric car is power by natural gas, in marginal terms given US market realities. Your efficiency contest starts with the energy content per work applied to get the fuel out of the ground. Then each step of the way from there to the delivery of power to the wheels will involve some degree of loss. For a battery that loss is both the actual electricity lost between input and output and the cost of the battery over its lifetime. I don't know what you're measuring but if for example electric or hybrid cars were losing 20% of energy to the battery 30 years ago, after 30 years of 5% efficiency improvements battery losses would be down to 4.3%. I don't think anything near that scale has happened. The Prius was introduced in 1997, 18 years ago.

"I don’t know what you’re measuring but if for example electric or hybrid cars were losing 20% of energy to the battery 30 years ago, after 30 years of 5% efficiency improvements battery losses would be down to 4.3%"

That's pretty irrelevant and not what I was referring to. Batteries have had a roughly 5% increase in energy density per unit of cost per annum. Even if you assume the 20% loss is fixed, the constraint on batteries is the amount of charge they can hold for a given cost and how quickly they can be recharged.

The actual cost of energy to recharge a battery is historically substantially less than the cost of energy to drive a car with gasoline. Sure, you might drive a Prius for the same cost as a Tesla, but a Tesla is a luxury car with a 50% curb weight. Comparing apples to apples, an electric car is always going to be cheaper to fuel than a gasoline car. If logically has to be. A large power company can always burn gasoline if it's the cheapest source of fuel and a large steam plant is at least 25% more efficient than a small ICE.

Should be a Tesla has a 50% greater curb weight than a Prius.

Electrical vehicles are higher in overnight capital cost and lower in variable O&M. The effective consumer discount rate for fuel economy is 20%. (i.e., similar to credit car interest rates).

If people are (empirically!) not willing to pay up front for higher fuel economy, than why would they pay up front for an expensive battery?

If the price of batteries drops massively, that's another matter. I certainly hope they do, but it's a pretty big if.

Wishful thinking.

The big disinecntive for electric cars is the recharge time. If you could recharge an electric car in 10 minutes, it would compete with a gasoline powered engine. But if it takes 1/2 hour, it starts to be an inconvenience on a long road trip.

People buy gasoline powered cars because they are versatile - you can use them for your every day commute, but you can also load them up with gear and drive them across country for vacation, hook a camper trailer on the back, or take them into remote national forests. Ironically, the kind of hippies who are most likely to favor electric cars are also the one's most likely to want to go on a backpacking trip in a wilderness area where they need a 4WD vehicle and enough juice to get them 100 miles from the nearest gas station and back.

True. I foresee a two car family having a commuter electric car and a hybrid general purpose car/SUV/truck. Most middle class families today, have one larger vehicle that's the preference for long distance travel.

Well, if both parents work (which is the usual thing), then both cars are going to be used for commuting.
I do see how it would be pointless to own TWO SUVs. S

I really think the long trip issue is overblown. A Tesla Model S has a range around 250 miles per full charge. That means you could travel 500 miles with one 75 minute stop. how many people really drive 500 miles in a day with the only stop being one ten minute gas fuel-up? I would guess the number is really small.

It's probably worth noting that if the charging time is 1/2 hour, any line at the charging station is a long line. It's only a matter of time when that 1/2 hour charge will be an hour wait to get to that 1/2 hour charge.

I always wonder when I see an office building offering 3 charging stations what will happen when the fourth person working there buys an electric car, and they all need to charge to get home that night.

If electric cars become widespread, and recharging is generally a pretty time-consuming operation (thus adding cost in real-estate for recharging as well as inconvenience for users), I can imagine businesses rising to exploit this. You don't recharge at a gas station, you recharge at a sit-down restaurant, and you get a text message when your car is charged and ready to go. Or you recharge at a mall or store that you can entertain yourself browsing in for an hour or so.

It's entirely possible you could get those businesses to subsidize the price of the electricity to get customers to spend an hour having lunch at their restaurant or shopping at their store. (Or to subsidize it at off-peak-dining times--eat here between 1:30PM and 4:30PM and we'll knock 10% off the cost of the recharge.)

These stores already often exist along highways, and they're already paying for the parking space. They'd just need to put in the charging infrastructure, a one-time cost and probably not too expensive except for the cost of getting the power company to run extra lines to furnish the recharging stations with power.

I wonder if it would make sense for recharging stations to generate their own power, say with a gas turbine or something. Intuitively, the power company will be able to do it cheaper, but if it's a choice of starting up a gas turbine a few hundred miles away and sending the power down the wire to the station, or generating it right onsite, I'm not sure which one wins.

Generally on a long road trip people don't want to waste time dicking around in a shopping mall for an hour. You want to get to your destination as fast as possible.

Is that really true? If it were, I would think that all the roadside stops like the "world's biggest ball of twine" would never have existed. I drove from San Francisco to San Diego last week and had two half hour or longer stops on the way because I was tired of sitting in the car.

There used to be lots of people who would take road trips for the road. Hence the "Worlds Biggest Ball of Twine" stuff. I don't think that really exists anymore though. People take road trips to get to a nice destination like a beach cabin. No point in wasting time at a roadside rest stop when you can be at the beach sooner. Also, a half hour is tolerable if it's only once to get some food. If you need to do 2 one hour stops in a day, that a huge difference. You get to the hotel/beach cabin two hours later, which can make the difference between having time to shower and have dinner at the hotel, or eating junk food from the vending machines at midnight.

I enjoy road trips with some ad-hoc activity. If you have a sat transponder you can work from anywhere. I wouldn't spend time at a mall, but I suppose if they put charging stations at every campsite in every national or state park accessible by vehicle, it might be OK. That said, I would still need to drive several hundred miles at a stretch to get to the right region.

Traveling by yourself is much different than travelling with two kids in the car when are we going to be here he's touching me stop picking your nose shut up why are we here this is stupid

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