By on May 9, 2011

Of all the barriers standing in the way of commercial success for electric cars, the “image issue” is perhaps one of the least understood. Most EV firms have embraced the distinctively Western “green consumption” trend, in which a kind of environmental asceticism drives consumer values of downsizing and ultimately self-denial. But making a conscious choice to not use gasoline and accepting whatever the market happens to offer is not a phenomenon that automakers can expect to sustain itself. If they ever want to achieve mass acceptance, EVs need an image context that goes beyond graywater recycling, “freeganism” and other highly conscious but ultimately self-denying lifestyle choices.

Racing is one obvious way to broaden EV appeal, as it highlights the positive performance aspects of EV drivetrains, but sadly no major OEM will commit to an EV racing series. Besides, racing hardly builds on the existing (if limited) green appeal of EVs. Enter the EV as disaster response vehicle. The NYT has a fantastic story about the use of EVs in rescue efforts after the Japanese quake/tsunami, when gas was largely unavailable. The story proves that EVs, far from being mere lifestyle accessories, can be hugely useful in the right circumstances. And because so many green lifestyle choices stem from a perspective of apocalyptic expectation, this story both broadens and builds on the EV’s existing appeal. Most importantly of all, pictures like the one above will do more to banish the limp-wristed, “anti-luxury” image that curses EVs than just about anything else. Just as SUV buyers would swell with pride seeing an ad image of their Explorer in off-road conditions they would never visit themselves, the image of EVs running first-responder missions in a quake-torn Japan could be of lasting significance.

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21 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Rugged EV Lifestyle Edition...”


  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Yeah gas may have been largely unavailable but wasn’t much of that due to a lack of power to run the pumps.

    I don’t see any advantage in that situation and in fact assuming the EV had a full charge and the ICE powered unit had a full tank the ICE powered vehicle would likely be useful longer, unless it had a really small fuel tank.

  • avatar

    Racing? You mean like The TWO hours at Le Mans Endurance Series??

    • 0 avatar

      He means like the 35 minutes at Le Mans Endurance Series. I don’t know where you get two hours, Chuck. I mean, we’re talking racing, not trying to drive through the Holland Tunnel during rush hour, a task at which EV efficiency would no doubt shine.

      Ed, forgive my cynicism on this issue, but it’s hard to paper over range and charging time with image.

      And, by the way, I do see the boat on top of the building, and all the wreckage, but what’s that egg-shaped billboard in the foreground?

  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    Isn’t there as much shortages of electricity like gas?
    Aren’t there blackouts in Japan due to earthquake, tsunami, and closing of nuclear plant?

  • avatar
    Hank

    Since the story I read immediately before this post was about the lasting high tide flooding conditions post quake (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110509/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_changing_terrain), I’m curious–how well do such EVs handle 24-36″ inches of water? It’s one thing to clean a golf cart smooth path and take a photo, another to actually be able to get around in such conditions.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Depends if the electrics are waterproof. This being first generation it probably is over-engineered so i would expect that it is so you could probably drive it through 10 feet of water as long as the radio stays dry

      • 0 avatar
        fincar1

        One thing I’ve noticed abaout most post-tsunami pics is that the people in the affected areas wasted no time in clearing passable roadways.

  • avatar
    Angainor

    Soooooo, where are they going to plug that bad boy up for a recharge?

  • avatar
    92golf

    Never mind that.

    How many EVs will it take to get the boat off the building?

  • avatar
    SP

    Just one, because if the boat was an EV, it would fly home and fix itself.

  • avatar
    1000songs

    Anyone else find it amusing that the electricity to charge that EV was likely supplied by nuclear power?

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    “First responder”? Judging by the looks of that road, there’s been a bunch of diesel power earth movers there before that i-Miev. It doesn’t look like it has the clearance to have been leading the charge in there.

  • avatar
    bodegabob

    I think the idea of a sort of holy privation as a motivating factor for EV ownership rings false. The people buying EV’s and Hybrids generally intend to maintain their lifestyles based on personal mobility, and in the case of the Prius–conspicuous consumption.

    Even now the best way to sell an electric is to focus on the negatives of the ICE and get to the emotional angle of just not wanting to be one of THOSE people in an gas-guzzler.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Maybe you guys need to take a moment to read the article before commenting. Obviously, the i-MiEV’s weren’t busting through the wreckage to pull bodies out of collapsed buildings. On the other hand, they were performing a necessary service – within their technological limitations. And, seemingly, they were doing a right good job of it.

    Damn, maybe these things are useful after all. Of course, getting some hard core detractors to admit to that . . . . . . . .

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Read the article? People who have already made up their minds don’t need to read articles. Reading presumes there might actually be something new to learn, and learning’s only for weak-minded wimps who haven’t already made up their minds. Real men make a decision and stick to it, tenaciously, dogmatically, religiously. Don’t ask them how they know, hey just know. Nuff said.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        This just in … the New York Times ran a “fantastic story” about how awesome margarine is, because Judy Walker ran out of butter and was still able to make a pie!

        My point is that certain communities HAPPENED to have electricity but not gas. I am sure that at other points in those weeks, communities HAPPENED to have gas but not electricity.

        The NYT article (and this one, to some extent) seem to imply that there is some deep, existential conclusion about EVs to be drawn from this phenomenon.

        I think the NYT article is really just a fluff piece about a curious set of events. So I enjoyed lampooning it. I think that others here felt the same way.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, I’m all for people who can really use these things buying them. But my sense is that the percentage of the car owning population that can use them without taking a big hit in quality of life will remain small until the range and charging times are at least roughly equivalent to the range and fillerup times for ICE and hybrid. And all the cachet in the world isn’t going to change that.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    Never mind that.

    The dude will have to wait 6 hours for the batteries to charge. Leave the boat on top of the building and turn the building into a casino strip club. Call it “Das Boat Casino and Strip Club”

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