20 July 2023

A slightly personalized ramble on the EV phenomenon

We've owned an all electric car for a over three years now, and although it's largely anecdotal, here's my take. (We also own a plug in hybrid). 

The pure battery electric car has one major drawback, which is gradually getting better and will disappear entirely fairly soon, probably within the decade. And that is the inadequacy of the charging network/charging technology. Newer battery technology is or promises to very soon be faster, better, made from non-rare materials, and cheaper. The buildout of the "NAS" (Tesla) charging standard, and conversion to it, at least here in No. America, over the next decade will render "range anxiety" and difficulty of charging EVs on road trips pretty much ancient history. In the near future nearly all EVs will charge up to drive two or three hundred miles at a fast charger in less than 20 minutes. Not quite there yet, but getting there. And just as gas stations started appearing everywhere in the late teens of the 20th century so that by 1925 you could get gas almost anywhere, the same is happening with chargers. Look around the built environment. Tesla superchargers, or other chargers, are appearing in parking lots, shopping malls, etc. The most logical next phase of buildouts will be restaurants, fast food places, existing gas stations, commercial parking lots, and even on street parking. Why not? Electric power is available almost anywhere and the cost of mass production and installation of self-contained charging units is coming down almost exponentially. Soon they will be everywhere, and queues to charge your car will be a thing of the past. 

Apart from that one drawback, EVs are superior in every way. People often don't think of not only how expensive gas is, but what a waste of time. Except on roadtrips, which, after all, is only a relatively minor part of most peoples' driving, EVs charge while you're doing something else. Usually at home or work, or while parking someplace. Admittedly, this is more of a problem for renters who can't install chargers in a garage, but this, too, is undergoing a transformation and in the not too distant future small modular charging units will be built into virtually all residential and commercial parking facilities. The logic is inescapable. But having to put gas in a car is a hassle and a waste of time. Not to mention the well recognized health issues associated with gasoline vapor and the pollution from internal combustion. 

Then there's the cost. Electric power transfer to mobility in an EV is much more efficient, despite the losses from batteries, than burning gasoline. This wasn't always true, but it is now. And the cost is about 1/5 the cost of using gasoline. 

Then there's maintenance. Modern cars don't need as much maintenance, but think about it (assuming you're a driver). You know that "30,000 mile service" that costs hundreds? Ever had to change a timing chain, or a clutch, or get transmission service? Although dealers try to get you into their service bays so they can change your cabin air filter, EVs are far simpler and more reliable than ICE cars. The motors are good for about a million miles. The brakes last longer because much of the braking is regenerative, using the electrical system of the car. There is no transmission, no clutch, no engine oil to change, no fan belts, complicated fuel injection systems... on and on. Electric cars are no longer all that much heavier than other cars, so the tires last about the same length of time. Batteries now last years, and are resistant to significant degradation, as well as being modular and replaceable. The replacement of batteries is about on a par with major engine work always necessary in an ICE car eventually, and are actually cheaper, as they are being designed to be modular and upgradeable as technology improves. As many commercial vehicle users have now realized, electric vehicles are only slightly if at all more expensive to buy initially, and are invariably cheaper to maintain and operate than ICE vehicles. The overall cost per mile in 100,000 miles, which is only a fraction of the life of an EV generally, will be substantially lower, on average, with the added benefit of course of zero emissions. Coupled with the changeover society wide to renewable electricity generation and upgraded electric infrastructure, the benefits to the environment are all positive and represent a huge cost saving, long term. 

An early complaint was ineffective air conditioning and heating, but the introduction of heat pump technology as essentially removed that concern completely.   

OK, car buffs. Like to shift gears and vroom around? Well, get over it. Drive an EV. The instant torque, fantastic acceleration, terrific road hugging capacity, and overall driving experience are all vastly superior. You not only get used to how quiet it is, you come to relish that and miss it when you have to drive some old fireburner. Just try it, I virtually guarantee you'll be convinced. Dirty little secret: the performance divisions of major legacy car makers (like Dodge, in particular), have realized that they simply cannot compete with electric cars. Most electric cars are purely utilitarian, but even they have great performance and pickup. The dedicated performance car EVs are absolute ICE killers. In the 1950s a "muscle car" with a huge guzzling V8 might get zero to sixty in ten or eleven seconds... maybe... under ideal circumstances. In the 60s and later, better engine design and engine management technology (complex, expensive and unreliable) gave better performance. But they just can't compete with zero to sixty in three seconds, which is fairly easily achievable in a purpose built EV. Even the consumer products generally have excellent performance by any standard. 

EV sales worldwide are just beginning the upward trajectory of exponential growth. Automakers who are not already producing viable EV products will be challenged to their foundations, and some, even some pretty big companies with big market shares (already peaked and going down), will likely not survive. The Japanese especially seem to have missed this paradigm shift, almost across the board, and the possibility of economic collapse in Japan, where the auto industry is hugely dominant in the economy, is a real threat. The reverberations of a general collapse of the Japanese economy could be pretty devastating, and the time to think about mitigating that is now. EVs are a huge leap forward, but like many major technology shifts, it has the potential to be hugely disruptive. Governments, especially Japan's, had better sit up and take notice, and start taking actions to assure that something resembling an orderly transition takes place. 

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