By on January 19, 2011

Wheh, that’s a big question… and I was dismayed to see myself giving such a short answer to it in my Newshour appearance. There are a host of reasons for my swift “no” answer to that question… here are a few of them:

1: GM Doesn’t need saving. The Government “saved” GM.

2: The market projections for EVs are all works in progress.

3: GM isn’t actually committed to the electrification of the car. It’s committed to gas engines and transmissions and the idea of “range anxiety”… for its “electric car.”

4: If GM were committed to electrification, and that was a prudent business gamble, it would still be chasing Renault-Nissan just as Honda chased Toyota in the race for hybrid leadership not so many years ago. And like Honda, GM seems less committed (in the literal, mechanical sense) to the electric car than the emerging global leader, Nissan. Yes, the Volt is mechanical marvel, unrivaled in its complexity… but only because it clings to its gas technology. Honda’s hybrid half-step, never introducing an electric drive mode to its “mild” hybrids, seems pragmatic by comparison. Toyota’s sole ownership of the “hybrid halo” is instructive (and worrying for Toyota, considering it’s been taking a GM-esque tack towards EVs lately).

5: Even after GM starts selling tons of electric cars (in a scenario where that is indeed possible), it will be working uphill to re-establish consumer trust (in all its products) that was squandered over decades.

I could go on, but I’d rather hear your answers to the question.

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77 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Will Electric Cars Save GM And Detroit?...”


  • avatar
    view2share

    1) They need a longer extension cord.  My power cord for the leaf-blower is only 50′.  Anyone make a 300 mile cord ;)
    2)  Need more nuclear plants to provide power all the electric wonder-mobiles to come.
    3)  Are current GM products anything like the ’80s and ’90s when they claimed to be almost as good as a Honda or Toyota.  Is almost gonna cut it when the price is more than _____ ???  Ever priced the new cars.  Guess they must discount them $4k – $7K.

    • 0 avatar
      neevers1

      We certainly need to switch to nuclear power, 5 years ago.

    • 0 avatar

      +10 on the extension cord. Pure EVs aren’t going to save anyone from anything for ***at least*** a decade, and possibly much longer.
      But nuclear plants aren’t going to be more than a small piece of the puzzle, if that. They take much too long to get built, and they’re too expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      And before you get into the nuclear powerplant frenzy, you’d better figure out where to put the nuclear waste. Not a trivial task.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Nuke waste? What’s wrong with the current practice of just letting it pile up at the plant?

      It’s not like it would make sense to securely store all the stuff in the middle of the desert, where nobody lives…

    • 0 avatar
      cstoc

      We could reduce the nuclear waste by 90% by reprocessing it into fuel and using it to generate more power.  More energy, and a 90% reduction in waste to dispose of.  We don’t do it in the U.S. due to politics.

  • avatar
    Doc

    I do not believe that the future of cars is electric. That is to say that consumers are not that interested in actually handing over their hard earned money to buy one anytime in the near future.
    The Government may try to force us into them, but I do not believe that they will be successful in this endeavor.
    I think that the best plan is to make the cheapest electric car that you can to satisfy the politicians and move on to making cars that people want. If gas prices go up significantly, that means smaller more fuel efficient ice cars.

  • avatar

    Electric cars are going to be a lot more attractive when we have a major gasoline supply disruption.  Either from war, terrorism, or a natural disaster.
    After Katrina, it was difficult to find gas in Atlanta for a couple of weeks.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      How will electricity be readily available after a Katrina or terror attack significant enough to disrupt gasoline availability?
       
      gasoline after all can be stored in tanks and cans and the energy available from a small can of gas exceeds what a battery can hold.

    • 0 avatar
      dhanson865

      GS650G where where you when gas was $5 a gallon in TN and stations ran out?

      I was here living in it and we had no problems with electricity which was provided by TVA who used Nuclear, Coal, Natural Gas, Hydro, Wind, Solar none of which depend on gasoline to generate electricity. See http://www.tva.gov/ for more information.

      You do realize that the Gas they use to make electricity is the clear odorless stuff that isn’t a liquid not the gasoline you put in a car, Right?

      http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/sep/11/gas-running-low-knoxville/
      http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/sep/12/knoxville-gas-prices-rising-hurricane-threatens-su/
      http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/sep/13/local-gas-prices-soar/
      http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/sep/14/pump-pains-linger-now/
      http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/sep/15/knoxville-posts-highest-gas-prices-southeast/

  • avatar
    mazder3

    6: Only decent bread and butter product will save Detroit and GM.

    • 0 avatar
      view2share

      I am thinking not.  Better to make excellent RWD cars with the fashion / styles of eye candy like the once great big3 had in 1968 and sell the American car again!

    • 0 avatar

      Electric cars should be promoted because they reduce city pollution by having zero tail pipe emissions. Moreover with the rising oil prices we need to rethink our decision to depend only on oil as fuel and it might happen that we become totally devoid of oil in the near future. I have a Pickup Truck which emits toxic gases thereby triggering my smoke allergy when I am on road. I wish we could get some electric trucks in future as well.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      Alicia,
      For you to be able to have 0 emissions from you EV these emissions should happen elsewhere to produce this electricity in the first place. And for those dreaming about “alternative” ways of doing that – well, you always forget about maintenance, which is very resource-consuming, especially with stretched grids for wind & solar sites.

      Running out of oil in any foreseeable future is absurd – if you bother to follow at least the major oil-patch / exploration news. 
       
      As for you getting allergic reaction to your truck exhaust – I’d suggest you trace the exhaust leak first.

    • 0 avatar

      @Alicia
      Modern cars cause very little urban pollution. But half of the electricity in this country comes from coal-fired power plants–something that is going to change only very slowly–and EVs powered by coal-fired electricity cause more greenhouse emissions and more air pollution than gasoline-powered cars. The mining of coal is often extremely environmentally damaging, especially mountaintop removal, where they literally remove the tops of mountains in Appalachia. They deposit the rubble in the valleys, where it pollutes the water the local people drink with lead, selenium, iron, sulfate (which turns into sulfide gas, permeating houses above the ground water, causing depression and memory problems), mercury, and a number of others.

    • 0 avatar
      cstoc

      People like EVs for the city, but city residents are the least likely to have their own parking space with an electrical outlet to charge their car.

    • 0 avatar
      dhanson865

      @David Holzman
      http://www.youtube.com/user/fullychargedshow#p/a/u/0/YfTiRNzbSko watch from 6:01 to 8:23 and you’ll see that electric cars would improve the situation dramatically.

      EV cars powered by coal are cleaner than traditional gas/diesel cars powered by liquid fuels. The numbers he cites are 40g of CO2 per km for the EV powered by coal versus 400+ grams of CO2 per km for the liquid fuel vehicle.

      And that’s before you cut it in half since as you say only a portion of the EV energy will come from coal.

  • avatar
    Neb

    In order for electric cars to be really viable, one of three things would have to happen:
     
    1. Batteries making a quantum leap forward, holding far more charge and recharging much more quickly while at the same time being much less expensive;
     
    2. Materials technology making a quantum leap forward so that cars can be radically lighter yet have the same strength;
     
    or
     
    3. both 1 and 2.
     
    There are many things that could ‘save’ Detroit, but electrics are not one of ’em. (And I guess that means Chrysler, Ford, and GM since the actual city of Detroit seems beyond all help.)

  • avatar
    Steven02

    EVs won’t save any company.  Only good products will, electric or not.
     
    While the Volt does cling to gas technology, it is because battery technology is not ready for main stream vehicles today.  Why doesn’t Toyota have an EV?  Or Honda?  Or Chrysler? Battery technology isn’t ready yet.  The Nissan Leaf can get 100 miles in perfect non existing conditions going 50 mph.  People don’t want to have a car that they can’t treat like todays cars.  If necessity requires EVs in the future, that is the way I see people changing driving habits to conform to todays EVs.  Other than that, only improving technology will help EVs make a difference in the market.

  • avatar
    MattPete

    My money is on hydraulic cars.

  • avatar
    MikePDX

    I agree with Edward on all points. The Volt is a halo car and puts GM technology up with Nissan, Ford and the rest, but it’s hardly the Model T or VW of our time.  GM could deliver Mr. Fusion banana-fueled power plants and it wouldn’t save anything if the cars were as dumb and unreliable as they’ve built them.
     
    Like all high-tech innovations, electric cars like the Tesla, Leaf and Focus Electric, with lithium batteries and electronic drive trains, are at the beginning of an exponential curve. In five years you’ll probably see an EV on the streets now and then. In twenty-five years you’ll probably see a gasoline car on the streets now and then. That’s the way it worked with telephones, color TVs, VCRs, personal computers, cell phones, etc. If I’d told you in 1985 that in 25 years everywhere you looked you’d see kids zoned into pocket computers (i.e. smartphones), you’d have thought I was nuts. Time will tell.
     
    (On the other hand, if Caltech’s new thermochemical solar panel turns out to be practical, all bets are off. http://news.slashdot.org/story/11/01/19/1721231/New-Sunlight-Reactor-Produces-Fuel)
     
    I do disagree that the Volt is “unrivaled in its complexity”. Consider a drivetrain with turbo and/or supercharging, 4-valve VVT, cylinders off and on, and ZF’s new 8-speed automatic.

    PS: Where’s Paul? I miss his Classics and Histories.
     

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      While the engine and transmission you describe can be complicated, is it in use anywhere?  Also, is it really more complicated than the engine, generator, battery, transmission, and electric motors?

  • avatar
    Corky Boyd

    We still haven’t seen all of the shortfalls of electric cars.

    One is the lousy performance of Li-Ions in cold weather.  In addition cold weather puts a serious additional draw to heat the interior of the car, reducing range and or not providing comfort in subfreezing weather.  I don’t think it is an accident Nissan is delaying sales of the Leaf until warmer weather arrives.  Sales anyway were pretty much restricted to warm weather states. The worst marketing disaster of all would be if hundreds of complaints got into newspapers and local TV news about winter heating and range problems.

    The other is the dificulty of charging away form home (at least until service stations get with the program).  Best to carry a 150 foot extension cord and a wad of $10 bills to bribe some homeowner to let you plug in when the battery gets into the red zone.

    It’s one thing to be the first on the block with a $120,000 Tesla, it has curb and babe appeal.  Not so with the minimalist offering from Nissan.  It has a bit of “gee-whiz” but the novelty factor will wear off in no time.

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      This is what I’m curious about. It’s supposed to hit -7F here tonight. How would an EV perform tomorrow morning? OTOH, gas engines don’t do that well in extreme cold either. I get zero heat and like 15mpg for the first 15 minutes. If my destination is only 10 minutes away, an EV might actually be better. I’d love to hear some real world results of EVs in cold weather.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      One of the reasons that the celebrated (and mourned) GM EV-1 was not pursued was that it used lead-acid batteries and they have very poor performance for an electric car.  The car would work in mild/warm climates but were not a working proposition in cold climates.  (Lead-acid batteries were state-of-the-art at the EV-1 timeframe).  The Hollywood and ecology intelligentsia seem to overlook problems like this.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    Electric cars are the future, but it won’t save GM.  If GM had decided to carve out a niche years ago, maybe, but now EVERY manufacturer will have electric models in the next decade. If every manufacturer is doing something, you can count on GM doing the same thing, only much worse.
     
    The price of oil is going to continue to go up, that is what will put people in EVs, not hysterical global warming fears.  I personally feel natural gas would be an excellent stopgap until the EV technology matures, (to the point where a family could own an electric SUV) but I think instead there’s going to be a decade of angry motorists paying $5-$6 a gallon for gasoline until EVs are ready for the masses and make up a large percentage of new car sales.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Unless and until someone comes up with an electric car with a 200 mile or greater range they will remain a niche market vehicle.
     

  • avatar
    skor

    An electric car with  the same size, performance and RANGE of your current dino-juice ride AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN.   It’s not a conspiracy.  It’s not lack of R&D for new batteries.  It’s not because Red State Tea-Tards think electricity is communistic or the work of the devil.  IT’S BECAUSE IT VIOLATES THE LAWS OF PHYSICS. My brother-in-law is a chemical engineer, and he explained it to me.  It boils down to the simple fact that a chemical battery will never have an energy density equal to an equivalent weight of gasoline or diesel.  There’s a lot more energy potential in a pound of gasoline than there is in a pound of battery and batteries will never catch up because it violates the laws of physics.

    • 0 avatar
      MikePDX

      True, no battery will ever come close to the energy per pound of gasoline. But no gasoline engine will ever be as light as an electric motor with similar performance. The Tesla Roadster’s 288 HP, 295 lb-ft motor weighs just 115 pounds.

      What matters is total power train weight. (Batteries + motor + controller) vs. (Engine + transmission + cooling system + exhaust system + gas tank).
       
      Actually all that really matters is performance, cost and enough range. Today’s EVs cost more, have similar performance and have enough range for a daily commuter car. Batteries are getting better and cheaper all the time. In five years, ten years, EVs will be much closer.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      Aren’t gasoline engines only 30% efficient or so?  If electric motors are 90% efficient, then a chemical battery doesn’t need to store energy as efficiently as gasoline.

    • 0 avatar
      spinjack

      While it is true batteries are not likely to ever see the energy density of gas or oil, there is a “good enough” point at which time the disparity is irrelevant. When an electric vehicle has overall range of a gasoline vehicle, the relative energy densities become academic. At that point, it is merely an infrastructure problem.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    Not any more. The Democrats got their glass waxed last November, the Dems have a whole bunch of senators up for reelection in 2012, while on the other side of the aisle the RINOs are going to get strong primary challenges from real conservatives.

    That not only shoves electric cars to the back burner, it also kiboshes any attempt to hand the UAW a bunch of fat contracts for electric trains, solar panels, windmills, and related accessories.

    Further, our economic growth is a mirage, just like our unemployment stats. 2011-2012 is when the SHTF for state and municipal budgets. There won’t be much public appetitie for trendy autotoys bought on the public dime.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    Infrastructure, and I don’t just mean replacing gas stations with charging stations.  Tens of KWH per car every day times nearly a billion cars – we are talking a terawatt.  It would take thousands of power plants to make this power.  The electric grid would need to be upgraded to allow this power to be delivered.  Charger-meters everywhere, a billion of them costing a thousand dollars apiece, not just four free spots at the airport parking garage.
     
    Such revolutions happen but they don’t happen unless the benefits are immediate and enormous – like for instance cars replacing horses.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m going to assume you’re talking about the US and not the world. The US population is 310 million including children under driving age.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Assuming that most cars move to incorporate plug-in hybrid technology of some sort over the next 5 years, we might see an exponential progression like this:
      2010 <1k EVs
      2011 ~20k EVs (0.2% of sales)
      2012 100k EVs (1% of sales)
      2013 1M EVs (10% of sales)
      2014 5M EVs (50% of sales)
      Total = 6M EVs in the US.

      There are 230M total cars in the US, so those 6M EVs would represent about 3% of the total US fleet.

      Assuming they have 5 kWh capacity (most should be small, like the plug-in Prius), and charge 80% nightly, that's a total of about 4 kWh capacity to charge up each night.

      The US generates 14,000+ kWh annually per capita, or about 40 kWh per person each day.

      For someone who owns an EV, they're increasing their personal off-peak load by 10%.

      Spread across the population at large, and we're probably looking at well under 1% net increase in off-peak loads.

      Based on the numbers I'm not too worried about EVs creating some kind of electrical armageddon.

    • 0 avatar
      Darth Lefty

      David, I’m talking about the world.

      Pearlie, I’m talking about every car, not a few twee penalty boxes.  It’s not armageddon, it’s just really expensive.  I do enjoy your 500-1000% a year growth rate though.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      @DL: I’m talking about reality in the foreseeable future – you’re talking about a theoretical future at least 20 years from now (10+M EV cars displacing current ICE cars per year will take 20 years to replace the current 230M ICE cars in the US). In all likelihood, your timeline is probably more than 25 years from now.

      Pretending that your scenario is real and imminent, then we’re looking at perhaps +10% electric consumption, off-peak. It’s still not a major concern, precisely because these things charge off-peak and can be smart-metered / smart-charged / smart-gridded to manage electric loads.

      And that assumes that the US doesn’t get electric efficient by turning down thermostats, turning off unused lights, adopting CFLs, etc. If that happens, net annual power requirements would be basically zero change.

  • avatar
    Craig

    All one needs to know about electric cars is that petrol or diesel has more than fifty times the energy density per kilogram of the best batteries yet devised, even after more than 200 years of development. 

    This advantage is insuperable, partly because of the intrinsic problems of electrochemistry, but mainly because most of the “fuel” used by an ICE is appropriated, without charge, from the atmospheric commons.

    A car is really a device for converting chemical energy into mechanical energy via the re-arrangement of the electrons in one compound (the fuel) into (mainly) two others – water and carbon dioxide, as follows:

    CxHy + (x + y/4)O2 > x(CO2) + (y/2)H2O.

    Using n-octane as an “ideal” petrol formula, then:

    2C8H18 + 25O2 > 16CO2 + 18H2O. 

    Look at all the oxygen used! Although electric motors are more efficient than ICEs, this advantage can never be enough to offset the problem of having to carry all of the fuel on board the vehicle rather than a fraction of it. More than that, the packaging (battery) is always going to be much heavier than the vessel required to hold a conformable liquid.

    Even if the environmental argument is considered – that the appropriation of oxygen without payment is an unpriced externality – which is the thinking behind placing taxes on carbon dioxide emissions, the same problem applies to electric vehicles as to ICE cars, unless the electricity to charge the vehicle batteries was being generated by non-chemical means.

    If coal is the fuel source for electricity production, and it usually is, electric cars will have an even larger “carbon footprint” than ICE cars because burning coal (mostly carbon) produces much more carbon dioxide than burning liquid fuels or gases (much less carbon and a lot of hydrogen). This is enough to overcome any efficiency advantages of large plant at power stations and electric traction motors in cars.

    Maybe with nuclear electricity and used for short-range urban vehicles, but apart from that electric cars are a bad idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Sorry Craig. Logic, sense, and thermodynamic reality have no place in discussions of Electric cars. Somehow there’s got to be a way to engineer the laws of physics to make it workable. If enough development dollars are thrown at it, it -has- to be possible. Who killed the electric car?!

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      All very true. Hydrogen powered cars have a little more of a chance since they likewise get the oxygen portion of their fuel from the atmospheric commons (great phrase!).
      The problems of how to separate hydrogen, store it, transport it, etc. all remain very real, but it does have more appeal from a chemical engineering point of view than does any battery technology.
      The electric car as it is envisioned today does still look like, at best, a niche technology.
      Hybrids, on the other hand, will be around for a long time in various forms. The use of a battery pack and electric motor-generators to recapture energy otherwise lost in braking yields substantial improvements in stop and go driving situations; and a whole lot of the way most vehicles are used involves lots of stopping and going.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      So…  Set up a giant cryo-separation facility near a coal plant and pipe its flue gas into it (along with atmospheric air), chill it down and separate out the water ice and dry ice, then feed the CO2 and water into the solar reactor to generate precursors to usable hydrocarbons, then pipe the synthetic gasoline into the existing pipeline infrastructure..
       
      Heck, build the cryo towers in a super-humid locale, and provide a concentrated air-conditioned zone ;)
       
      Actually, if you setup the cryo towers to be large enough to produce a good stream of atmospheric CO2 (say a few hundred units maybe 50m tall or taller in a CO2 ‘farm’) and drive the coolers with a molten-salt thorium reactor with reprocessing, I wonder if you’d generate “carbon credit” indulgences as well?

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Why is Nissan/Renault considered the “leader” in EVs? Just because they have been pre-selling the Leaf for a year but can’t make good on the promised delivery dates doesn’t make them a leader. At this point they are just another wannabe. When the actually deliver them in any volume and they have been on the road a while so their real world performance and reliability is known then they may be considered the leader.

    • 0 avatar

      Why is Nissan/Renault considered the “leader” in EVs?
      Three factories around the world ready to crank out 200k Leafs within two years, with capacity for that much in the Smyrna, TN plant alone… and that’s just Nissan. By 2013, Renault could easily be adding another 150k units. The Renault Fluence launches in Israel this year, and Renault’s partnership there (and elsewhere) with Project Better Place has the potential of blowing up the car industry as we know it (although, granted there are a number of ifs there).
      The point is that EVs are a gamble… and Nissan is ahead of GM in tooling up for possible conditions that could make EVs more popular (read: gas price spike). If those conditions don’t come for another 4+ years, Nissan’s advantage may mean nothing. If they come in 0-3 years, Nissan will become to EVs what Toyota is to Hybrids.
      But remember, hybrids still haven’t replaced pure gas engines yet either… Renault-Nissan’s making a huge gamble on the EV, but it can’t rely on battery cars to “save” it. Its business will run largely on gas-powered cars for years. The same goes for GM.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Just because they have factories that could possibly produce them does not make them a leader by any means. Ford has many factories that could be ready to produce many more than 200K per year within 2 years since they took the route of making a power train system that can be plugged into an existing platform, granted with the help of a partner/supplier. But Nissan isn’t meeting their promised delivery dates so the potential capacity is just that potential, it doesn’t mean they are the leader by any means.

    • 0 avatar

      As a “customer” rather than a real developer of EV technology, Ford has one of the weakest cases for EV “leadership.”
      “We are designing the whole battery power system for the [Ford Focus EV], which will include the design and integration of the battery pack,” says Ted Robertson, Magna’s Chief Technical Officer. Magna will provide the vehicle’s electric traction motor, transmission, motor controller, energy storage system, and battery, while also taking the lead on integrating the battery pack into the vehicle platform itself.

      Production capacity isn’t everything… but in Nissan-Renault’s case, it reflects the importance of their $4b gamble on EVs. And again, I’m not even arguing that the gamble will necessarily pay off. I’m simply saying that if the conditions change to make EVs a major part of the business in the short-to-middle term, GM (and nearly everyone else) will be playing catchup to Nissan-Renault.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      The Renault Fluence launches in Israel this year, and Renault’s partnership there (and elsewhere) with Project Better Place has the potential of blowing up the car industry as we know it (although, granted there are a number of ifs there).

      That’s another question, has anyone looked into the possible toxic effects of EVs if used as car bombs?  Do they present any additional risks to bystanders?  I’d figure lead-acid for worse than LiIon or LiPo, but I have no idea..

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      I think you are wrong about this EN.  To me, this doesn’t make Nissan the leader, just a gambler.  Your own comments about EVs in the future suggest this will be less than 10% of the market for a long time down the road.  I agree with you. I think this just makes Nissan a gambler that this will happen much sooner.
       
      I also don’t think production capacity makes you the leader.  If that were the case, I guess that would make the GM the leader of automobiles.  I know many people who would disagree with that assessment, and rightfully so.  Toyota didn’t become the hybrid leader because of production capacity, they became the hybrid leader because they had the best hybrid product by far.  Nissan doesn’t have that right now with EVs, at least not a clear lead.  Neither the current Volt or Leaf are really viable long term cars.  It is anyones game.

  • avatar
    DearS

    Hybrids are the way 2 go imo. A balance between gas prices and electric prices and mpg/charge can perhaps matter. My car gets 20mpg. I pay $3/Gallon, at 40mpgs I can afford $6 per gallon, $9 bucks at 60mpgs etc etc. Just like physics, economics cannot be changed. More electricity demand means higher prices, just like gas. A hybrid may just balance things out in my theory.  Things can stay as they if cars get better mpgs even as gas prices go up, Hence a plug in hybrid, oh and gasoline will never run out as long as we can grow it. Wind energy and such is more expensive also, we may need hybrid appliances soon. GM needs a plug in Prius fighter, not a Lexus Hybrid priced EV. How big is the $35K market?

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    With 30+ MPG cars available at half the price, the electric car does not make economic sense.  Neither does a hybrid.   I have yet to read about the average cost of charging a electric car and how it compares to gasoline.  I know oil heat is cheaper than electric heat.  Does the same analogy apply to EV’s?  Deregulation of electricity in Pennsylvania has resulted in a 30% increase in electric rates.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      There is a huge difference in the efficiency of an oil furnace/boiler (around 70%) and a gasoline engine (30% best case and much less in typical mixed driving).  That is why oil is usually  more economical for heating but less economical for transportation.

      Charging a Volt from 20% to 80% of its 16kW-hr capacity requires about a dollar’s worth of electricity (at typical rates).  This is good for 40 miles so the per mile cost is about 2.5 cents.  With gasoline at $3 per gallon you would need to get 120mpg to be this cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Well here you go – a RAv4-EV (according to Wikipedia) ought to cost about 25% of what it costs to drive the gasoline version based on energy costs.

      If you can manage to get 150K miles out of the NiMH battery – and some have – then the car would be cheap to drive.

      Add a little solar to your rooftop and it ought to be about energy cost free.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    Congrats on the national coverage, Ed. You deserved the face time. I didn’t see it yet, but I will.  I hope you put across a bit more positive demeanor in real time than you sometimes come across in your writings.

    Electric cars are the future becuase there is no future for petroleum. It’s just the way of things. Someone said electric cars would be a niche market w/o a range of 200 miles. I’m sure someone said something similar about cordless drills and run times/power 20 years ago, and look where we are now.  At the end of the day, this is ultimately a moot discussion.

    As far as the resurgence of GM, I’m going to take the position that it’s too soon to say if GM can be saved. Our federal governemnt and GM took some big gambles and it will take time to see if it will pay off. Every car maker out there gambles with the family jewels when planning future product if no other reason than the instability in fuel prices. Americans tend to go with the wind, so low fuel prices push SUV sales and high fuel prices push compact car sales. A car maker has to make a gamble on where the fuel market will be and what products to develop. The US car market isn’t like Europe where fuel prices are reliably high and will be for the forseeable future. It’s easier to plan product development over there.  I’m really dissapointed that a crew this bright hasn’t keyed in on this issue more often. I can see how it can get lost amidst the public drama of taxpayer bail-outs and shiny electric vehicles, but we gotta be smarter about the root cause of how things work and not focus on the distraction of the moment. That’s how GM ate it the first time.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      Bringing up cordless drills as an analog to the electrification of cars is interesting.
       
      Today, cordless drills that perform similarly to a corded drill generally cost nearly twice as much.  If you’re lucky and/or savvy, this cordless drill comes with not one, but *two* easily-swappable batteries.  The drill manufacturer has engineered-in the product acceptance by sacrificing the batteries’ charge cycle life by boosting the charge/discharge rate to provide both adequate tool power and a recharge time that is equal to the time required to discharge the battery in commercial use.
       
      We already see that the cost imbalance exists in automobiles, albeit not as extreme as in drills.  When you’re talking about an item that is generally the second largest item that people buy even a small percentage price spread is hard to swallow.  Automakers also forego battery swappability, preventing the item from having any utility while being recharged but this does reduce the cost spread by minimizing quantity of expensive major components.  Since batteries aren’t easily swappable and they are expensive, a sacrificed charge cycle life is unacceptable.  This limits the charge and discharge rates of the battery and forces it to be larger to prevent operating in the extremes of state-of-charge that kill its cycle life.
       
      From a user-acceptance standpoint, automakers would do themselves a solid to look into more closely paralleling the cordless tool model.  They’ll just have to work on that battery replacement cost problem.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      But an electric drill is mostly bought for utility. All cars above $15k are bought for status. A $40k car is still a $40k car as long as the rest of the world knows what you paid for it so the price spread is in fact not large between electric and ICE cars.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Agreed.  No.

  • avatar
    TR4

    @ Mike PDX : But no gasoline engine will ever be as light as an electric motor with similar performance. The Tesla Roadster’s 288 HP, 295 lb-ft motor weighs just 115 pounds.

    That’s a “measly” 2.5 hp per pound.  The BMW P84/5 F1 engine was 4.9 hp per pound!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Stop posting this stuff so late at night, or so early in the morning! I gotta sleep! Everything I can think of has already been said. Good morning, anyway!

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    Save Detroit?? Chrysler is not even in with electrics …. the hydraulic system can be fueled by Gasoline, Natural gas and even perennial TTAC flogging fuel champion Alcohol.

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/chryslers-publicly-funded-hydraulic-hybrid/

    … which makes Marchionni look more and more like a genius.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Electric cars are a niche vehicle at best. They are a part of a portfolio of consumer vehicles necessary to keep a car company in business.

    But you don’t have to make electric cars in order to be a profitable car company anymore than it was necessary to make Wankel engines, or Diesel engines to demonstrate profitability forty years ago when these engines were considered the Next Big Thing.

    The fact that politics is intruding into how consumers buy their cars, shouldn’t intrude into a profitable mix of vehicles for GM. Politics isn’t static. What the Market does not support, cannot be propped up by politics or governments long enough to change what the Market does not support. Governments change in scope and size. As soon as it runs out of money and credit, the sooner the Market prevails over government designs.

    GM depended upon politics to exist today, so they are tethered to the whims of politics in the near future. That is a bigger problem than creating a viable electric car for GM’s portfolio of consumer vehicles.

    Once upon a time, a president signed a proclaimation that required the entire US to switch to the Metric System. The politicians at that time had libraries full of facts why it should be so. What they forgot to consider however was REALITY. It was simply unrealistic to believe that every facet of life could be converted without creating horrible consequences worse than the consequences of not converting. Facts and politics are useless when facing reality. Facts and politics are useless when facing the real world of the Market, because eventually, politicians run out of our money.

    The Obama administration cannot continue to create a fake nirvana for electric vehicles. They either fall or rise on their own. Those who wish to purchase an electric vehicle can do so, but until profitability is reached, it is onerous for the Administration to put demands upon GM to pursue unprofitable markets.

    Electric cars won’t save GM. A simple, well made Chevrolet Nova priced under $15,000 could.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      VanillaDude: “Electric cars won’t save GM. A simple, well made Chevrolet Nova priced under $15,000 could.”

      Now THAT’S something I CAN comment on: YES!!!

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      “Once upon a time, a president signed a proclaimation that required the entire US to switch to the Metric System. The politicians at that time had libraries full of facts why it should be so. What they forgot to consider however was REALITY. It was simply unrealistic to believe that every facet of life could be converted without creating horrible consequences worse than the consequences of not converting. Facts and politics are useless when facing reality. Facts and politics are useless when facing the real world of the Market, because eventually, politicians run out of our money.”
      You picked a bad example. The US’ failure to convert to the same system of measurement now used everywhere else in the world has put US based industries at a significant competitive disadvantage.
      Many other countries successfully switched from legacy measurement systems to the metric system. The US sticks out as the one great failure in that regard, and not switching has been a detriment.
       

  • avatar
    star_gazer

    +1  Chicago had just raised taxes 66% to cover expenses. Additionally, local politicians want to  increase Illinois debt to bridge a $15 billion deficient.  

    http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/01/12/illinois-lawmakers-approve-66-tax-hike/

    Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana stated that living next to Illinois is like “living next to the Simpsons”.  

       Compounding the problem is the international scene.  Europe will have to face Greece, Spain and Ireland woes near term.  Perhaps 2012? 

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Why do we keep equating GM with Detroit, or more specifically the domestic manufacturers when it comes to posts like these? Why is there no mention of Ford’s efforts, or the admittedly smaller efforts from Chrysler? I realize that with the Volt, GM is front and center of perceived efforts to electrify automobiles from a domestic standpoint. None of these things happen in a vacuum, and they affect each other. I don’t think that one aspect of propulsion will “save” any company; but it will be a part of the portfolio in a given region.
     
    For those that argue that the government is attempting to create an environment for the rapid adoption of electric cars, we only need to look back a few years to California and the Prius. The Prius (technically all hybrids) were given special rights on the roads, they could use the HOV lanes, part of the cost of the purchase wasn’t taxed, or taxes were refunded and something else I’m not recalling right now. All of this is laughable to me, as these cars were most efficient in heavy traffic, but were legislated away from it, the folks driving around in 15 year old cars with no recent tuneups were still stinkin’ up the neighborhood. Law of unintended consequences?
     
    The Prius and other hybrids got a lot of positive notoriety, especially for how small of a slice of the motoring population it was at the time. And then, the perks were picked up by other states and cities, and the perception of the Prius we have today was shaped by many of the perks that were bestowed upon the hybrid drivers by the states. In some regards, a government assisted PR coup. What other manufacturer wouldn’t want that?
     
    Some one else posted that the best thing would be a modern equivalent to the Chevy Nova of yore, and in a rational world, that’s what the car companies would be delivering. But the same old marketing battles still exist, and GM (at least with the Volt) has to show it’s engineering hair-shirt to reinforce the idea that they haven’t fallen into the well at the edge of the property. The upshot is, no, electrification will not “save” GM (or the others). But consistently good product over time will.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Of course not.  Having just seen a TV ad by the “clean coal” association(boy, that’s an oxymoron if there ever was one!)  claiming that 50% of the power in the US is supplied by burning coal, what that means for those who have the imagination to visualize is that their cute little “non-polluting” electric car is powered by the dirtiest, nastiest fuel source imaginable: coal.  What this means is that, if the goal is to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, electric cars are not the answer, leaving aside all of the issues about the pitiful energy density of storage batteries, range limitations, etc.  Southern California gets a huge amount of its electricity from the “four corners” power plant, owned by — wait for it — Southern California Edison.  The plant, on Navajo reservation land in New Mexico, burns coal.  Not only is coal a nasty fuel when it burns, because of its carbon and sulfur content; but mining coal creates significant and lasting environmental damage and, occasionally, it kills the people who do it . . . either quickly in a collapse or explosion in a tunnel, or slowly, through the accumulation of coal dust in miners’ lungs.
    If the US power grid moves away from coal as an energy source, then electric cars might make sense from an environmental standpoint.  However, apart from nuclear, which has its own — unsolved — waste problems, the only other significant fuel is natural gas, the extraction of which does far less damage to the environment and its workers and the combustion of which produces less carbon and much fewer other pollutants.
    But, if you’re going to run cars indirectly on natural gas, why not do it directly?  The technology already exists for NGV-powered vehicles; it’s cheap, it’s simple and it’s proven.  Here in The Capital of the Free World, city buses run on natural gas.  Sure, natural gas cars have range issues, but no worse than electric cars.  And, unlike electric cars, they can be refueled rapidly without compromising their storage capacity.  (As others have pointed out, fast-charging a battery compromises its long-term life.)
    As for “hybrids” they are just a kludge, whether of the “Volt” type or the “Prius” type and their long-term durability is unproven.  Can you imagine a roadable 20 or 30 year old hybrid?
    I would answer the question that what will “save GM” and the rest of the so-called domestic automakers, is being free of government mandates to build this or that kind of vehicle, and left to build a vehicle that responds to marketplace demands.  The Detroit 3 are not rich enough to be able to afford expensive R&D detours into regulatorily-mandated dead-ends like EVs and hybrids.  That may be fine for Toyota, but its not fine for GM.  Detroit needs to be free to spend its money to develop ways of building better cars that the public wants, at a lower price.
    If the government, aided by all of the economists who predicted the 2008 recession, believes that “externalities” of oxygen use, or pollution emissions need to be eliminated, then let them charge for those things through taxation.  Then the automakers and the public will figure out the optimum way (from the standpoint of utility) to deal with it.  That may turn out to be more thermally efficient ICEs; it may turn out to be smaller cars; it may turn out to be lighter cars that are equally strong through the use of exotic materials; it may turn out to be dual-fuel vehicles that run on natural gas and liquid fuel — permitting the use of gas for short-range use and liquid fuel for long-range use.
    But the idea that any group of experts, no matter how talented, can sort this out and arrive at an optimum solution . . . and that that solution will then be implemented politically is ludicrous.  Can anyone say “ethanol”?

    • 0 avatar

      A couple of quibbles.
      1. on the peripheral issue of alternative sources of electricity to coal, wind is the fastest growing source of electricity in the US. It’s much quicker and easier than n plants. It’s quite compatible with EVs–if they ever become important–as its variable nature doesn’t matter when it comes to charging batteries.
      2. Regarding removing mandates and freeing GM to respond to market forces, GM hasn’t done very well with that. Of course, the one policy measure that would really help, a carbon or petroleum tax, ain’t happening.
      Just trying to muddy the waters here!!!

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Add to that solar which can make a difference. Not going to replace any other source of power but it will likely help power producers throttle back a little. I have spoken to a few people who make enough solar power with their own roofs to drive their RAV4-EVs for free. I have also looked at an installed system that offsets the entire power bill of a suburban family – normal habits, normal house, normal creature comforts like a/c and laundry. In fact he got ~$40 back the year before I looked at it.
      All we’ve got to do is quite debating the obvious and get to work. Had our gov’t spent the billions of dollars on green tech like subsidizing solar roof tops at homes instead of friggin’ invading two different countries – we’d be much better off right now.
      Nope, needed to buy bullets, tanks, guns, etc. That promises a happy future for America. And the bad guys are still out there somewhere. We should have fortified our borders, stayed alert and blown those guys away when they crawled out from under their rock at some future date.

  • avatar
    GarbageMotorsCo.

    Sure they can.

    If the rest of the competition in the world sits on their hands for the next decade and does nothing to compete.

    Which I’m betting won’t be the case.

  • avatar
    carguy

    EVs will play some part in the GM revival but only a small one in the short term. What is making GM competitive is their lineup of conventional products has significantly improved.

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    Well, crap. I guess GM shoulda learned their lesson with the EV1 and shouldn’t have even bothered with the Volt…

  • avatar
    George B

    I don’t see how GM or any other car company can achieve both the unit profit and unit volume the need to survive selling electric cars. Expensive niche product that’s not cost competitive with gasoline powered internal combustion engine cars.

    The biggest hurdle for electric cars is battery cost and limited charge/discharge cycles.  Right now buying an electric car is like buying an economy car at near luxury car prices with a high probability that battery performance will be degraded well before an economy car would be worn out.  It takes government incentives to soften the blow of the initial price, but that subsidy does nothing to deal with reduced range as batteries wear out.  The consumer either has to replace the battery pack at a cost of thousands of dollars or live with more frequent recharging.
     
    For contrast, if I buy a natural gas powered Honda Civic GX plus a home refueling station, I get a car that costs less than electric cars, uses cheap domestic fuel, could be refueled in minutes at public refueling stations, and has about the same range and performance after a decade that it had when it was new.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      What the automakers need to do is take one of their compact cars and redesign it just a little to incorporate the battery and electric drive. From my stand point all it takes is a series of brackets to mount the electric drive to an existing Versa ICE and tranny compartment, and a different floor stamping to make roof for the batteries. Just teach the robots to weld a different set of points when the EV is getting built. Put the same interior into these cars. I suppose details like the carpet would be different. Porsche builds all their 911s on the same line simultaneously. Don’t see any reason to build a unique vehicle to make it electric. Build the Yaris-ICE and the Yaris-EV, build the Versa_ICE and the Versa-EV, Aveo versions, Insight versions, etc.
      That way the car company doesn’t have to design a unique vehicle and then suffer when it only sells 20,000 a year.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Short term no, long term possibly. Any good manufacturing company should be looking to the future to determine changes in the market. A CEO’s main focus should be strategic planning, both short & long term.

    I’ve seen nothing from GM that suggests they ever thought for one minute that the Volt would be their saving grace short term. Just the opposite. It’s the media with their usual sensationalism that’s playing that song. Do people really think that GM was stupid enough to think a 41K electric car w/40 mile range which they are making no moneyt on, was going to put the company back in the black in and by itself. I think they are banking that investing in new technology like they have with the Volt will have a payoff 5-10 years down the road. Perfect! Just what I want to see from a company I own. 

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      GM simultaneously green-washing and trying to leap-frog the competition?

      I’m thinking of the SSR halo-type vehicles.

      I don’t think it will sell at that price to the average working stiff unless gas gets real expensive and stays that way.

      On the flips side three are folks who spend like that on a SUV they can’t afford. You know, $35K on the SUV and another $15K in gasoline on a modest paycheck.

  • avatar
    zeus01

    All cars above $15k are bought for status. A $40k car is still a $40k car as long as the rest of the world knows what you paid for it so the price spread is in fact not large between electric and ICE cars.

    Agreed. In Canada that 15K can be adjusted to 20K since we pay a premium for our vehicles that is completely out of proportion to the Canada/US dollar values. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the modern symptoms of someone with “status”, ie: you know “you have it if you buy things you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like.”
     
    This is not to say you shouldn’t buy nice expensive cars, but unless you’re genuinely well-off financially it’s probably not wise to make payments on a car that costs upwards of 50% of your annual income. I know some folks who are now paying a 50,000 mortgage (Yes, I’m actually calling it that!) over six years on an SUV they bought new two years ago—and their combined income before taxes is less than $80,000(!) What’s worse, their pride and joy is now worth about 60% of what it was when it went out the showroom door.
     
    Hell, I could justify plunking down 200K for an exotic sports car— if my annual net income was 7 figures. As it stands, I paid cash for an entry-level econo/go-kart/utility car with bullet-proof reliability and better resale value than any in its class. But alas, the Honda Fit Sport doesn’t have much in the way of “status.” But that’s alright, I don’t mind. It suits my needs, and I never cared much for status anyway. And by the numbers of similar cars on the road I’m not alone.

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