Skip to comments.Far from Electrifying: Electric car hopes never die — but electric realities keep intervening.
Posted on 12/03/2012 1:55:45 AM PST by neverdem
Exactly two years ago, in November 2010, the Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn assured reporters that his auto alliance would sell half a million electric vehicles a year by the end of 2013. In 2011, it sold just short of 10,000 electrics, but in April 2012 Ghosn still claimed that the 2012 sales would double to 20,000. On November 15, he had to give up and admit that, after selling less than 7,000 vehicles, the 2012 target cannot be reached. That is just the latest in a less than electrifying saga of modern electric vehicles (this qualification is needed because more than a century ago, before the 1908 Model T, there was a similarly misplaced euphoria).
In contrast, General Motor’s (GM) Volt had a record month this October, with 2,961 vehicles sold, but that is only relatively good news. Chevrolet’s plan was to build 10,000 Volts in 2011, but actual sales that year were 7,671; in March 2012, poor sales forced the company to idle Volt production for five weeks. Sales then picked up and reached a record of 2,500 units in August (a strong month for all car sales), but by September 17 weak sales forced the company to shut down its Volt assembly plant in Detroit-Hamtramck for the second time in 2012 (for four weeks). After a strong October, the total for 2012 will surpass 20,000 vehicles — less than half of the targeted total of 45,000 cars set by GM and still only about 0.15 percent of the total estimated12.8 million vehicles sold in 2012.
And it is all rather expensive — energy consultants estimate that GM’s costs for designing, tooling, and production (but excluding all marketing) are about $80,000 for a vehicle that sells, after a rebate of $7,500, for about $32,000. Costs per vehicle will fall as the production volume goes up, but GM may face years of losses before it starts making any money on a car that was to be a game-changer. And, of course, Volt is not a true electric car; it is merely an extended-range electric vehicle with a standard gasoline engine.
And another extended-range electric vehicle, the high-end Fisker Karma, has fared much worse. Consumer Reports found the $107,000 car, developed with a $529 million loan from the U.S. government and built in Finland, is full of design flaws and did not recommend its purchase. The car’s battery failed during the Consumer Reports test drive and Fisker subsequently replaced all of its 2012 Karma batteries. Then, on October 16, the manufacturer of the substandard lithium-ion battery used in the Karma, A123 Systems, (recipient of a U.S. federal grant worth $249 million in 2009) filed for bankruptcy. And another American true electric car has not done any better: Tesla’s deliveries for 2012 were cut from 5,000 to 2,700–3,250, due to production problems.
I do not see how other major competitors can succeed where Toyota refuses to even tread.
Perhaps most tellingly, in September, just a few days before Toyota’s mini-electric eQ city car was to make its debut at the Paris Motor Show, the company announced that it was cancelling its plans to mass produce the vehicle. According to Takeshi Uchiyamada, the company’s vice-chairman, “The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society's needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge.” If a company that has been in the forefront of innovative design, high-quality production, and consumer satisfaction and that in 2012 reclaimed its title as the world’s largest carmaker (lost in the wake of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake) comes to such a conclusion, I do not see how other major competitors can succeed where Toyota refuses to even tread. Toyota said it will concentrate instead on hybrid models, but even that has not been going well: Toyota planned to sell 40,000 plug-in hybrids in Japan this year, but fewer than 9,000 were sold by October.
Technical success of electrics comes down, most fundamentally, to batteries. The lithium-ion battery, with its many flaws, is still the only relatively lightweight commercial option and Edison’s dream of a perfect car battery is now more than a century old. Bold plans come and go: a 1980 report on the introduction of electric vehicles in the United States predicted 1–2 million units in sales by 1985 and as many 11–13 million fully electric cars by the year 2000. But by the end of 2012, the United States had about 50,000 electrics on the road, no more than 0.03 percent of all light-duty vehicles licensed to operate in the country. Undaunted, a campaigning President Obama did not repeal his 2011 State of the Union goal of putting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015.
Clearly, electric hopes never die — but electric realities keep intervening. Motor Trend’s 2013 car of the year is the Tesla Model S, which sells (depending on performance options and after a $7,500 rebate) for between $49,900 and $97,900. Ready to forecast sales of 50,000 units for next year?
Vaclav Smil does interdisciplinary research in the fields of energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy.
Image by Darren Wamboldt / Bergman Group
Thats the problem with fantasyland, reality keeps intruding upon it and screwing up the whole dream.
The ONLY way for an all electric transportation to exist would be for either a surprised invention or a gift from an interstellar race of a power supply that is the size of a D battery but can make your car travel at least 1000 miles.
Or something from a century ago when Tesla proposed wireless transmission of energy, but then you would still have to pay for it.
Who knows, maybe a mr. Fusion is out there, but giving it to the masses would disrupt the economic chain of taxation.
we will see a re-emergence of steam vehicles even if they burn cord wood before we will se an all electric utopia.
Because madmen and zealots control the fossil fuel AND they are sabotaging electric solar and hybrid automotive companies.
Lived in AK from 1980 to 2004. Why would Australia be better?
Unless you lived in Anchorage? Then I understand. Or you need heat? Then I REALLY understand.
I’d like an electric vehicle to plug in at night and get to the park and ride each morning. There are a bunch of problems, even here in Virginia the car would be cold (I have no garage) and I’d have to plug in an electric heater each morning for a half hour before I left. Ideally I would heat it with wood like I heat my house, but like you said, I’d be better off with a steam vehicle.
I wonder what Motor Trend got in the deal.
After over 20 years of living year round up here I want to find a warmer place. Even the best summers I have seen in the last three years only gave me less than 1500 miles of riding time on my motorcycles my latest passion, in summary its sucks even in the summer up here, too short and too wet.
we used to have warm summers, last time was 2004, now every winter is warmer and wetter, more snow, summers are cooler and wetter.
But there is a bright spot maybe, I just bought my first snowmachine, yes after 20 years in Alaska I finally broke down and bought a used Polaris.
Now watch and we have a snowless winter, God must be giving me hints and I am deaf and blind to his suggestions.
I would love to build a steam turbine couple to an AC armature drive system, basically like a locomotive.
To fuel the high pressure turbine would be a fuel system from pellets, very easy to make an auger feed, and its even easy to make your own with a large commercial meat grinder. You just save anything that burns from newspaper to toilet paper, make a slurry out of it using a portable concrete mixer, add some used bacon grease for a binder and get it into a pastelike slurry, and then feed it into a meat grinder so it comes out in short pellets.
Allow to dry completely on racks much like a large dehydrator, keep in a hopper on your personal steamer vehicle, oh and yes you do need to dress for Steampunk.
I lived very briefly in Anchorage in 1992, moved out to the Valley and I live up near Houston now. Just up the road about 11 miles from Wasilla.
If I stay in Alaska any longer I am getting a natural gas converted Silverado, and yes we have them now up here.
This winter is just like the winter of 1975. Cold and little snow. Glaciation and frozen water lines are going to be major problems. -52F at Tok last night.
This winter is just like the winter of 1975. Cold and little snow. Glaciation and frozen water lines are going to be major problems. -52F at Tok last night.
As the father of 5 adults I can say without a doubt “the America we grew up in? it's gone thanks to TV, games & Internet ect... We have been overwhelmed. As parents, trying to keep it out of your own home doesn't work because it's everywhere. I call it the “Electronic Plague”.
God bless and enjoy Australia. Wish I could join you.
Since around last week we have had major winds coming from the NNe, over 60mph, day after day, the volcanic ash is stirred up big time, hardly any snow on the ground down her in the valley. Had a lot of snow last year and the year before, I expect the same this winter and more moderate temps.
Used to be in mid january we would see a week or two of the cold stuff, at least minus 20 to minus 40 but no its barely getting below minus 15 and for a shorter period.
Wasilla lost its Iditarod start some years ago, no snow. Its moved up to Willow.
Global warming AW. Should be -60.
The Oz thing may be just my personal fantasy, but it gives me a goal to work for.
the Volt is a great car.
it just costs too much for what it is.
Go for it! Take care and God bless your new venture.
Thank you, I’ll be 56 tuesday, I have several decades of refined skills especially in the concrete batching business, the operation and the equipment, being on a tourist visa I may not find work but I can barter my services for room and board. And there are ways to skirt the “wall” so to speak of working there, Ox needs skilled workers.
Oz is a frontier, may are turned away because they cling to the beliefs of worshiping a mass ownership of guns and Oz does restrict gun ownership, but they have stores that sell guns and a smart person can make their own, but most would rather brag about their bling on their AR before they look at a vertical mill and broaching mills.
But then again every time I pine for another country someone says don’t let the door slap my ass on the way out of America, well they can say that as much as they want but they will never be brave enough to pass through that door themselves, no they will just add some firing slots and start shooting at the mailmen.
We may fix America and we may just walk away, but the worst thing to do is nothing. I could be a strong internet voice elsewhere as its becoming apparent anyone in America may not last very long if they stir up any rebellion.
Yes, you are currently miserable, but think of the money you could make by being a perfect reverse barometer. If indeed you get no snow after buying a Polaris, I (and many other people in Wisconsin who hate snow) might be willing to pay you millions to move here. Ditto for the driest lower forty states who need rain. You move to one of those states, buy a motorbike, and it starts raining heavily, think of the fortune you could make. (lol)
Another in the series of strategic fiscal failures for the Obama economic interruption team. Glaringly obvious testimony against this Administration’s economic policies.
I suspect Obama’s next strategic energy debacle will hinge upon all US employees installing Zip lines between their homes and place of work, which working half the time (can go downhill one way, but the round trip takes power to return), will still be over 3x as successful as the electric car industry sales he has promoted.
Even a potential electric car buyer can see the coming increase in electric rates with the coal industry under attack. Why spend more to buy a car to save money when the end result might be something yet again even more expensive to drive?
Flying electric cars that go 500 miles on a 5 minute charge are only 2 years from hitting the market.
-——with a standard gasoline engine.———
I don’t know what standard means in this context. How big is the standard gas engine in the volt? Does it power the car or a generator that charges the batteries?
Tell college kids - "You'll be paying on their credit cards till you are ready to retire." Where are the Super Pacs when the noise of campaigns is cut by 90%?
——— -52F at Tok-——
I’ll bet there weren’t many folks in the campground to enjoy that degree of cold
Back in the 60s & 70s, I knew several farmers who converted their pick ups to N.G., I never ran into a single one who actually liked the results for various reasons. Maybe it has improved since then.
“Because madmen and zealots control the fossil fuel AND they are sabotaging electric solar and hybrid automotive companies.”
huh, nobody from the fossil fuel industry is “sabotaging electric solar and hybrid automotive companies”. Heck, they do that all by themselves.
Good point. There are still areas of the northeast without power. After the hurricane, people with gasoline powered cars were sitting in line for hours to buy gas - but at least they were able to obtain fuel for their vehicles. If necessary, you can walk to a gas station and fill up a can with gasoline to bring back to your car. If you own an electric car, what do you do? You can't walk somewhere and get a can of electricity to bring back to your vehicle.
In the Chevrolet Volt there is a 1.4 litre gasoline engine which recharges the battery pack. The actual drive train is all electric.
Aren’t steam engines prone to explosions?
What no one is revealing is that any rechargeable battery has a memory.
If you constantly charge your cell phone while it has a half charge on it, And this does take a while) when it eventually runs all the way down, when you charge it to full, it will only have taken a half charge.
“physics is a b*tch”...
Yesterday, Sun 12/2/12, I was driving down I26 in South Carolina. The speed limit is 70 and there were lots of trucks on the road.
Traffic began to slow down until everybody was barely doing 40. I couldn’t see what the holdup was because of all the trucks.
Finally I worked my way through the jam and saw the problem. A woman was driving a Chevy Volt in the left lane and going about 43 mph. As I passed her on the right I glanced over. She was banging her fist on the steering wheel and, based on her facial expressions, yelling her head off.
Nice car. Wonder where it is today?
“we used to have warm summers, last time was 2004, now every winter is warmer and wetter, more snow, summers are cooler and wetter.”
The only constant with weather is change.
Electric cars are not competitive. Which is why they require government subsidies.
And at least 75% of the Volt sales are government fleet sales.
So those should be chopped out of the counting as those aren’t in consumer hands on the roads being used but sitting in a government fleet park collecting pigeon poo.
Then you have the cars “sold” from one dealership to another to boost numbers.
Anyone know the solid numbers on either of the above?
***we will see a re-emergence of steam vehicles even if they burn cord wood before we will se an all electric utopia.***
Kind of like the old Stanley Steamer?
I remember seeing a made-for-tv movie on the life of Howard Hughes.
In one scene he has his engineers build a car run on steam, but they don’t have enough space for the pressurized steam so they place pressurized containers in the door panels.
Hughes is not happy with the design. He takes a long pipe wrench and says to the engineer,
“Think of this wrench as a Chevy heading straight for your car!”
He then throws the wrench at the steam auto door and pow! scalding steam everywhere! The occupants would have been boiled alive.
Why not just build a car that runs on “Producer gas”? The Russians used them back in WWII.
It is a wood stove, using a smothered fire that burns carbon monoxide and smoke.
Light the stove, suck off the gas, run it into the engine and it runs the piston engine.
I looked into this back when CARTER the INCOMPETENT was occupying the WH. Don’t know how it would work with today’s non-carburated autos.
***Back in the 60s & 70s, I knew several farmers who converted their pick ups to N.G.,***
Back in the 1960s and early 70s, where I worked the company ran it’s fleet of trucks on propane. It worked well, slow on the acceleration, but then the company also operated it’s own propane company for farmers so it got it’s propane at wholesale prices.
I haven’t seen a propane truck in years!
The laws of physics keep interfering with the dreams of government officials and story-book liberals.
Reading these figures of how many “Volts” have been sold, I keep wondering how many of those were bought by our goverment, whether state or federal. I recall some fed announcement of huge numbers being bought by the US, my recollection is on the order of 20,000, but that may not be accurate. I also recall that NYState announced it was purchasing some huge number, I believe in the thousand range. There is also a niggle in my brain about some cities joining the waste of taxpayer dollars...
All in all, I bet that at least half of the small number sold were bought by various governments. I have never seen one of these on the road.
“If you own an electric car, what do you do? You can’t walk somewhere and get a can of electricity to bring back to your vehicle.”
Put the battery in a wheel barrow and take it over to the electricity generating plant, wait ten hours and start back with the wheelbarrow?
“And at least 75% of the Volt sales are government fleet sales.” ... that is what I thought, too, and just wrote a comment to that effect above. I sure would love to know how many of them were bought by fed,state,and local governments...
Or shuffled from dealership to dealership and listed as a ‘sale’.
Consider automobiles using electric propulsion:
As the article states, the real drawback to electric vehicle acceptance in the marketplace IS THE BATTERY. Currently (no pun intended) there are some promising avenues of investigation (non-hyped ones, solid) that might get conventional lead-acid batteries to the point where a car could have a 250-300 mile range. An electric vehicle with that sort of range would largely erase the complaints of most folks, unless you were a travelling salesman. Upping the storage capacity for conventional batteries using advanced manufacturing techniques only increases the cost of the batteries in a way the manufacturer can control, as long the the batteries are not themselves made from exotic and expensive materials.
Another avenue rarely mentioned is the standardization of automobile battery packs, and a rapid way to swap them. You no doubt have many battery powered devices in your homes, using AAA, AA, C, D or other standardized sizes. You probably have electric drills and saws too. When such devices exhaust their batteries, you generally simply swap the battery quickly and continue working, while the spent batteries are either recharged or disposed of. No one caterwauls about how long it takes to recharge their electric drill (unless they fail to have a couple of packs to swap). The same thing could be done with cars, just imagine something like a "Quick Oil Change" station, where you drive your car over a pit to have your oil changed. Instead, your standard auto battery pack is removed from the bottom of the car, and a new one snapped in place, probably in about 5 minutes. This would be a comparable amount of time to filling your tank, and would be similar to swapping propane tanks, with deposits and such.
I have no problem with a free and open market working out possible solutions to these and other weaknesses to electric cars. I am not interested in the Fed Govt subsidizing them on my dime. If I wish to experiment, I will do it with my own money, and if you wish to, you should do it with yours.
The Volt is actually a very fine piece of machinery, it is just very expensive, and suitable for a narrow range of deployment. I would not buy one unless it was about 20K cheaper, and that is not about to happen any time soon.
Someone earlier commented that the Sandy victims would not be considering electric cars now. I'll play devil's advocate here and offer a counter argument:
If I were to be living in some sort of "post apocalyptic disaster" world, I might very well consider an electric vehicle, in that it would be FAR EASIER for me to rig up something to produce ELECTRICITY, then it would would be for me to try to REFINE GASOLINE. If my transportation runs on gas, I would have to find a supply of it ready made, as I could not concoct it on my own. I can however, imagine several ways to "McGuyver" a simple generator to charge my car periodically, even if slowly, so I could use it from time to time.
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