Question of the Day: Would You Drive Electric?

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman

My buddy Mayor sent me this paleolithic (in internet terms) clip of Jay Leno hooning it up in a Tesla Roadster. Production model owned by RSA-born Elon Musk of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, in fact. And it looks like a lot of fun (the car). Sure, Leno glad hands the Tesla suit a bit (like when the guy says it "only" takes 3.5 hours to charge), but the car itself looks pretty damn drool-worthy. 100% torque at any time, at any speed– what's not to love? Now, of course I'm skipping over the part about Tesla Roadsters not– you know– actually existing. And if they did, costing $100k. But let's ignore all that. As "car guys" (and gals), should the opportunity arrive for you to drive electric, would you? I'm a fence sitter.

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  • David Dennis David Dennis on May 08, 2008

    B-Rad, I read his stuff a bit more closely and it looks like Elon Musk has simply loaned him P1. I wonder who has P3. I've heard scattered rumors that it's been shipped to a customer, but nothing solid and no information about the customer. I was hoping it was Jason, but apparently not since the car being demonstrated is clearly Elon's. D

  • B-Rad B-Rad on May 09, 2008

    David, Oh, OK. I didn't actually read any of Jason's stuff, just heard him talking about it on TWIT. And he didn't say anything about the Tesla he was driving being a loaner, IIRC. But then, when you're that rich, have a big ego, and you're constantly having people criticize you because you spent $100K on a car that still doesn't exist, would you mention it was just a loaner?

  • David Dennis David Dennis on May 09, 2008

    He did mention in one of the videos that it was, and it definitely looked like Elon's car. So I think we can reasonably conclude that his car has not yet arrived. I don't know why someone would criticize a guy for buying a Tesla. If I were rich, I probably would have bought one myself. Remember, for many of these people $100,000 is equivalent in percentage of income terms to what a good dinner might be to you or I, and if the Tesla fails, it's not like they have no way back home - their Mercedes S-Class or Porsche 911 is still there. D

  • Bill Dale Bill Dale on May 09, 2008

    sean362880: you say electric cars cannot be charged fast enough, and somehow want to use your background in chemistry to give you greater credibility, but Phoenix Motorcars with the Altair NanoSafe battery can be recharged in less than 10 minutes, which is certainly fast enough to have drivers abandoning gas guzzlers en masse. You cannot assume that just because an EV cannot perform as well as a gasoline car in every respect that it cannot compete. There is still much room for improvement in battery technology, and improvements will come: although batteries have been around for well over 100 years, nanotechnology is in its infancy, and has already been responsible for enormous strides not only for batteries but for supercapacitors and other energy storage systems as well. You are doing no one any favors by trying to use your educational background to convince others that EVs will not progress any further than they have so far. Gasoline power is much more of a dead end than batteries ever could be: with millions of Indians, Chinese and others suddenly competing for the same rapidly dwindling oil resources; even if EVs somehow do not satisfy your idea of what a vehicle should be, you have to start looking at alternatives, since gasoline will disappear much faster than OPEC is willing to admit, and unless everyone is ready to start pedaling bicycles, there must be a replacement. The way OPEC is set up is a kind of insane honor system: each country says how much oil they supposedly have in reserve, and how much oil they claim to have determines what percentage of oil they're allowed to sell at any given time. Since there is no system of verification of claims, there is no incentive for member nations to be truthful, and there is plenty of reason to believe that they are all members of an international Liars' Club. Suddenly and soon, we'll start seeing the beginning of the end of cheap, easily accessed oil; what oil will be left will be of lower quality, will be more expensive to get to, and will be in smaller quantities. Even if that were not the case, it's insane to assume that we will not suffer irreparable environmental and health damage with increased use of fossil fuels to power our cars-- we need to develop alternatives and must do it quickly. Gasoline in California is already straddling $4. a gallon... regular is just under that price, premium a few cents over... it continues to increase an average of about a penny per day, and the rest of the nation is just weeks behind price-wise. You cannot be quite so smug about just what is acceptable or not about the performance of EVs: if, tomorrow, you drive down the street and every gas station is selling gasoline at, say, $10 a gallon, or worse, if you start seeing lines of dozens of cars lined up waiting for gasoline, what you will find acceptable will change quickly. ($10 a gallon may sound inconceivable, but I'm sure 2 years ago, $4./gallon seemed inconceivable to you as well.) Even if EVs somehow hit a brick wall today and ceased to improve their performance envelope, they are already quite practical. Take the Phoenix Motorcar, which is made in California. There will only be a few hundred made this year, almost all of which will be sold to utility companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Gas Company, and there will only be about 6,000 or so made in the coming year, but their production will ramp up dramatically, other companies will be building similar vehicles, and they are typical of what we can expect in the near term. The Phoenix only has one moving part-- like a hair dryer, electric drill, table fan or kitchen blender-- they need no transmission (not even a reverse gear), no pistons, valves, cams, fuel pumps, fuel injectors, smog pumps, timing chains, etc... all of those moving parts eat away at the efficiency of the car... from oil field to gasoline delivery truck to tailpipe, there is only perhaps a percent or two of the power delivered to the drive shaft. By comparison, a Phoenix needs no delivery truck for its fuel; its one moving part spins very efficiently on its own center of gravity; it's quiet, needs no oil changes, air filters, tune-ups, smog checks, transmission service, etc... it will run year after year virtually without service; its batteries will last for decades without need for replacement; and its electricity currently only costs about 2 or 3 cents per mile, and is unlikely to ever cost much more than that-- in fact, with the new, high-efficiency, flexible, inexpensive solar panels from Nanosolar that will be installed on 100,000 homes per year or more, people will be able to power their cars virtually for free. For now, EVs need to be recharged every 100 miles or so... but so what? This would not be an issue for 95% of the travelng most people do-- to work, the market, school, and back home where it only takes a couple of seconds to plug in the car, and unplug it again when it's time to leave-- that is certainly far more convenient than spending dozens of hours per year gassing up, getting tune-ups, smog tests, etc. Watch: you'll be seeing charging stations popping up in unusual places, such as Costco, Starbuck's, Target, etc., so that you're multi-tasking effortlessly and very inexpensively. The batteries, motors, controllers and other parts needed to make EVs are far from as cheap as they will become when economies of scale kick in: EVs will probably be significantly cheaper than gasoline cars within just 5 years or so, they will have far better performance, and are likely to increase in range between charges significantly. Do not dismiss EVs flippantly: trust me, there is one in your future much sooner than you realize, and when you do have it, you'll wonder why you didn't get one much sooner. Gotta go now... I'm converting one of my BMWs to an EV... I have to pick up the metal I'll be using to fabricate the mounting brackets for the electric motor, and then will be picking up something called a Hall sensor, which is what you use in lieu of a gas pedal in an electric car... yeah, I'm excited. I should have it running by the end of the month.