Inspired by the lovely Rory Reid from cnet where he posted ‘10 reasons electric cars still suck.’
We are surrounded by millions of them, we sit on rows of them, their engines running but going nowhere. They are normal, they have become a seemingly indispensable part of our lives. We put up with the high running costs, the contradictory government thinking, the pressure from oil companies, the obscenity of some of the people we give money to for oil. They sucked in 1900, they sucked in 2000, and they suck now. Here are ten random reasons, in no particular order, why I take this position.
10 They are a massive waste of vital resources.
Everyone in the oil industry, the automotive industry and all the academics connected or studying these industries agrees that we passed ‘peak oil’ somewhere around 2006-06. This was when we extracted the maximum amount of fossil fuel from the earth that we could. The price went as low as it will ever go. Since then, without drama, the price has slowly but surely increased. It will continue to do so. The general consensus seems to be that know how much oil is left, we’ve used roughly half of it. The half that’s left is very much harder to extract than the half we’ve used. We need this oil, it’s vital to the world economy. It is used in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, plastics and a myriad of other products. We are wasting it by burning it inefficiently in cars and trucks.
9 They cause endless political instability
Our demand and reliance on oil is a very destabilizing influence on global politics and economy . It compromises governments, makes us support corrupt and destabilizing regimes and creates massive, in built corruption in all government sectors in all countries. It has given unimaginable wealth to some of the most brutal, homophobic, sexist, medieval regimes on the planet, and with unimaginable wealth comes uncontrollable power. We have without doubt, funded terrorism, indirectly I grant you, by buying so much oil for so much money.
8 They use steam age technology
The early internal combustion engine used a lot of technology that was perfected in the steam age. Pistons in cylinders, crankshafts, con rods, valves, flywheels, clutches, gearboxes. In the average 4 cylinder petrol or diesel engine there are over 400 moving parts. These crude and very outdated mechanical systems create heat through friction and waste 75% of the energy we put into them. That figure is very widely accepted, an internal combustion engine is at best 25% efficient, which means 75 pence of every pound you put in your petrol tank is wasted, it does not move the car along.
Just to put that in some kind of perspective an electric motor is at worse 80% efficient. I am grateful to tsport 100 on YoouTube for the following information.
“The battery pack in a Nissan leaf holds the equivalent of just 0.65 US Gallon worth of energy. It will travel 100 miles on the energy equal of just over half a gallon worth_ of energy. There isn't a car in the world that has a fuel tank that small.”
7 They are expensive to run, but subsidized so we don’t notice
The true cost of you driving 100 kilometers in a petrol car is very well hidden. Not through covert secretive cabals of evil world dominators played in some James Bond movie by Simon Cowell, (although that’s quite a good idea) but by the structures of government incentives, subsidies and tax breaks that oil corporations have managed to negotiate over the last 80-100 years. We don’t think about them, we don’t know about them but slowly the figures are leaking out. We still do pay for it of course, we all do even if we don’t drive. The subsidies and tax breaks mean that we, the general public, carry the cost through various forms of tax.
6 They emit far more than we are told.
This one is a doozy. It’s boring but the well to wheel argument has to be aired. Coughs and gets comfy. Right. If you drive an eco diesel 100 kilometers and the lovely advert tells you the car only emits 90 grams of C02 per kilometer, that’s absolutely true. If you measure what comes out of the tail pipe, that’s how much carbon is released. Millions of pounds and years of careful research and re-engineering have made this possible. Only little problem is this utterly ignores the process that goes on before that fuel gets inside the cars tank. I won’t do the boring list again, but I’ll just point out that there is probably no oil well and refinery next to your local BP station (other producers are available) so all the transport costs (crude oil is very bulky heavy stuff) and the refining, where 7.5 kilowatt hours of electricity are used to refine one US gallon. 7.5 kilowatt hours of dirty electricity which is used as an endless drum beat by the pro oil lobby to criticize electric cars, 7.5 kilowatts is enough to drive a Nissan Leaf 30 miles. That is 7.5 kilowatt hours on top of all the other carbon emitting processes caused by transport, refining etc. The true carbon output of an average 4 cylinder car is between 400 and 500 grams of C02 per kilometer. Manufacturers are not going to put that on the adverts are they.
5 They are holding back progress.
The internal combustion engine has held dominance for just over 100 years. We’ve not only got used to them, the industry ahs got used to making them. The investment in plant, machinery and knowhow is immense. It’s going to take years to wean us all off pour reliance on them. The powers that be in the motor industry and the oil lobby are powerful, very well connected and determined not to see this money and effort go to waste. They will fight long, and hard and dirty to maintain their dominant position, doing anything they can to hold up progress.
4 They wear out and need constant maintenance
With between 400 and 1,000 moving parts, depending on number of cylinders and gears, internal combustion engines are always in need of maintenance. This is built into the price of the car, we get them cheap because the manufacturers know they are going to make a lot more money when we try to keep them going. We all know we pay a great deal to have our cars ‘serviced.’ Due to the old fashioned technology used we need to change the lubricants, and to make the engines as efficient and reliable as they are now, the surrounding technology is heavy and very complicated.
An electric vehicle needs near zero engine maintenance. I drove a 10 year old Toyota RAV E4 in California that had done 100,000 miles and in that time had been fitted with one new shock absorber. No new brake pads, no oil change, no spark plus, oil filters, gaskets nothing.
3 They will be obsolete sooner than we think
I don’t know how many internal combustion cars there are driving around the world now. It has to be hundreds of millions. They are all soon to be obsolete. That is a bit of a problem for all of us.
2 They have appalling resale value
The old adage, as soon as you drive a new car off the forecourt you loose 4 grand is no cheap joke. How the pro oil lobby managed to spin a story about the re-sale value of second hand electric cars is a stroke of genius backed up by serious funding. No one knows how much an electric car might be worth in 5 or 10 years time. We do know that fossil cars drop alarmingly in value from their original purchase price. I feel I can confidently predict that due to the huge numbers of cars and the steadily increasing cost of fossil fuel, their re-sale prices are going to fall through the floor. With the obvious massive demand for electric vehicles and the very obvious shortage of the, I predict re-sale values will be off the scale.
1 They are noisy, smelly and dirty no matter what we do to improve them
This is really the longest running and most obvious reason we should all start to shun this technology. An internal combustion engine operates by exploding a small spray of refined oil in a confined space which causes a downward motion of a piston, which drives a crankshaft, which converts that up/down motion into a rotary motion. Steam age technology as I said before. A hugely inefficient system, but worse than that, not quite all the fuel is burnt in this operation, meaning that the hot gasses and residue fuel has to be exhausted out of the engine, through a long pipe and out of the back of the car. It creates a great deal of noise which we find unacceptable, so technologies have been developed to try and contain this noise, and in so doing making the engine even less efficient. If we really want to increase the efficiency of fossil burning engines we should do away with silencers and catalytic converters and put up with the noise. We could probably get 100 mpg out of a little diesel car, you’d certainly hear it coming, it would sound like a 1930’s motorbike, it would be pumping out clouds of noxious gasses.
Obviously this is not going to happen. Everything that can be done to ameliorate the negative aspects of internal combustion has been done, they are now many times more efficient than the early versions dating from 10 years ago. We have pushed the technology as far as we can, we have spent millions developing lean burn and clean burn engines. I thoroughly support these efforts but at the end of the day, a steam engine is a steam engine. They are wonderful, fascinating and deserve to be preserved and loved in special museums.