Brave New Electric World: 2015

May 1, 2015
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Having heard so much good about gasoline cars, we decided to test drive one. They are said to combine cheap price with long range and fast re-fill time. A winning formula on paper – but how are they in real life? Lets take a look….

We sat down in the loaner car at the car salesman’s office. Automakers do not sell the cars themselves, only through independent car repair shops as middlemen. It may sound like a bad omen to buy the car from a car repair shop that you want to visit as seldom as possible. But you apparently can’t buy the car directly from the manufacturer but must go through such intermediaries. The seller was very ”pushy” and tried to convince us to buy the car very forcibly, but the experience is perhaps better elsewhere.

So we sat in the car and turned a key (what happened to the start button) . The car’s gasoline engine coughed to life and started to operate. One could hear the engine’s sound and the car’s whole body vibrated as if something was broken, but the seller assured us that everything was ok. The car actually has an electric motor and a small, archaic lead acid battery, but they are only used to start the gasoline engine – the electric motor does not drive the wheels. The gasoline  engine then uses a tank full of gasoline, a fossil liquid, to propel the car by exploding small drops of it. It is apparently the small explosions that you hear and feel when the engine is running.

The gasoline  engine consists of  hundreds of moving parts that must have tolerance of hundredths of a millimeter to function. We begun to understand why it is car repair shops that sell the cars – these trinket contraptions  are repair time bombs….waiting for moving parts to fail and be serviced.

We put the contraption in gear and drove away with a jerk. The jerk didn’t come from  extreme acceleration, but gasoline engines cannot be driven as smoothly as electric motors. The acceleration did not occur at all, because we could not get the car to go faster than 30mph! By then the gasoline engine literally howled and the whole car shook violently. Convinced that something must have broken we stopped the car. The seller then explained that with gasoline engines you need to ”change gears” on a regular basis.

Between the engine and the wheels are not a fixed ratio gear, but a variable one. The gasoline  engine can produce power only in a limited speed range, and must therefore be geared with different ratios in order to continue to accelerate. There are 5 different gears we can select with increasing speed as result. It is -as we learned quickly- very important that each time select a suitable gear otherwise the engine will either stop or get seriously damaged! You need a lot of training to learn to select the right gear at the right time – though there are also models with automatic transmissions that can do this themselves (with double the moving parts and a loss of eficiency) . In the manual transmission car, we needed to constantly guard the engine from damaging it. Very stressful.

We asked if the constant sound of the engine -that disturbed us from being able to listen to the radio- could be turned off. But it couldn’t. Very distracting.

After getting the car up to speed through intricate changing of gears we approached a traffic light. Releasing the accelerator pedal resulted in no significant braking, we had to use the brake pedal  to slow down the car. We were surprised to hear the brakes are completely mechanical! The only thing they generate is heat – braking gives no regeneration of gasoline back into the tank! Sounds like a huge waste, but it would soon get even worse.

When we came to a stop the engine continued to run and the car vibrate – even though the car was standing still! The engine continued to burn gasoline without moving the car forward. Can it really be true? Yes, the seller explained, it is true with gasoline cars: the engine is always running and burning gasoline – even when the car is stationary.

Soon we  came to a gas station where we could recharge the car. The car claimed that it still had half a tank left, but we were anxious  to try the famous super-fast charging of gasoline cars!

So we drove up to the fuel pump and opened the fuel cap. The filling nozzle is very similar to a charging connector, but it is not electrons that come out of it but gasoline. Gasoline is a highly carcinogenic, smelly and flammable liquid derived from plants and animals extinct since millions of years ago. The gasoline is pumped to a tank in the car, which then drives around with about 30 gallons of this hazardous liquid in it. Smelling 5 minutes worth of gasoline is the equivalent of smoking a pack a day of cigarettes for one year…. but there is price one must pay for quick and easy transportation.

We put the nozzle to the car, but nothing happened. The seller then explained that we must pay to fuel! Much like those extremely expensive fast chargers some electric utility companies have set up. After we put the credit card in the reader we could start fueling. It was extremely fast! In just two minutes we filled the gas tank to the max! But there were two counters on the pump: one that showed the number of gallons  we have fueled and one that showed how much it would cost us. And that counter was spinning so fast that we could hardly keep up with its pace! Sure we filled the tank full in two minutes, but it did cost us an unbelievable $50! We cursed our luck that we apparently have chosen one of the most expensive gas stations, and began to ask the seller what other alternatives are there? How much does it cost to fill up at home, and how many free stations are there?

The seller looked very puzzled at us and explained that it is not possible to refuel gasoline cars at home, and there are no free gas stations. We tried to explain our questions, in case he had misunderstood, but he insisted that you can not. Apparently you have to several times a month drive to the gas station to recharge your gasoline  car at extortionate prices – there are no alternatives! We thought it was very strange that no gasoline car manufacturers have launched their own free gas stations?

There are no gas stations where you can fill up more slowly at a cheaper price. We started calculating price versus consumption and came to the shocking conclusion that a gasoline car costs unimaginable $13.50 per 60 miles!  While electric cars are comfortably charged at home every night for $1.75 per 60 miles gas cars must make detours several times a month to fill up at these extortionate rates – without exception! Monthly cost for a gasoline  car can -just for the gasoline alone- easily exceed $100! We began to understand why they are so cheap to purchase – operating them is extremely expensive  for gasoline and for repairs.

We also began to understand why there has to be so many gasoline stations everywhere. To get power you have to go to them…

With this in mind we ended up in a traffic jam and was horrified that the gasoline engine continued to burn these expensive gasoline drops even when the car was standing still or moving very little. With gasoline vehicles it is easy to run into cost anxiety – the feeling that the car literally burns up your money! No cheap home charging and no regeneration of gasoline back to the fuel tank when braking sounds like economic madness – especially given that all gasoline must be imported from abroad.

We returned the car to the dealer’s premises, pulled the handbrake and stepped  out of the car. The gasoline engine continued to run! Apparently one must manually switch off the combustion of the precious liquid. But we wanted to see the gasoline  engine, so the seller opened the bonnet. The entire front portion of the car was completely cluttered with hoses, fittings, fluid reservoirs, and amid all a huge shaking cast iron block which apparently constituted the motor’s frame. There was no space for luggage in the front of the car! Despite its enormous size, high noise and vibration, the engine barely delivered one hundred horsepower. The engine was also extremely hot, we burned ourselves when we touched it. Even though this was on a warm summer day so the engine did not need to generate heat to the passenger compartment.

We became also worried about what would happen if we crashed with a gasoline  car? The cast iron block that occupied most of the engine compartment was sitting in the middle of the collision zone! Where would it go if we collided – would we get it in our lap? The salesman assured us that the motor in such case somehow gets folded down under the car but we could not escape the impression that the engine block was very much in the way at the front – the safety beams were built around it, which surely impairs their functionality. Avoiding that a 300 pound  lump in the front of the car makes it so much easier to build safe cars. In addition, we have seen on the Internet hundreds of pictures and videos of burning gasoline cars. The gasoline tank apparently often leaks after an accident so the flammable liquid pours out and becomes ignited!

From the engine, under the car runs an exhaust system – a kind of chimney for engine exhausts. When you burn the carcinogenic gasoline a lots of noxious gases are produced. The car cleans away the most dangerous gases, but what remains is released into the open air behind the car. It is still unhealthy to breathe in – and smells very bad! And gasoline  cars are allowed to emit these harmful gases in the middle of our cities? Do not confuse gasoline  cars’ exhaust pipes with fuel cell cars’ – while hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles emit only water vapor gasoline cars spew out noxious gasses, and even fossil carbon dioxide that contribute to Earth’s future-catastrophic warming!

We thanked the seller for the display, shook our heads and gave back the ignition key (yes, it’s called that) to him. He realized that there would be no business for him so except for one lame attempt he did not try to sell us the car any more.

On the way home in our electric car we looked with completely different eyes at our poor fellow commuters, who still had to put up with their gasoline cars. But soon it will be their turn to trade up, too!

 

tesla

Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.

2 Comments

  1. The undercover Electric Bike.With the wheel cover on you just would not know. its Electric.

    • Good article. Thought provoking .
      I do love my MR2 spyder , but if someone would trade for the Tesla roadster , I would have three electric vehicles.

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