By on June 18, 2013

Picture courtesy Army Times

Behold! The American military electric vehicle! Also known as the Columbia ParCar, it’s part of a broad-based Department of Defense program to purchase off-the-shelf NEVs and electric cars for non-tactical use. Seems like a very reasonable idea; in case of war, gasoline might be required for other things like fighter jets and napalm.

After reading some details of Zero Motorcycles’ 2013 range of two-wheeled electric vehicles, however, I’m wondering if there isn’t more that infamous military-industrial complex could be doing to make the next generation of Nissan-Leaf-a-likes more useful.

Zero Motorcyles’ latest press release regarding the Zero MMX mil-spec two-wheeler notes that

“It was a very rewarding experience for the Zero team to go through such an exacting development process. The military needed a very specific set of core features on the MMX, and we were incredibly thankful to work side-by-side with them to deliver such a unique product,” said Abe Askenazi, Chief Technology Officer for Zero Motorcycles. “The great news for our civilian customers is that we made the decision to incorporate into our 2013 MX, FX and XU retail motorcycles virtually all of the powertrain enhancements associated with satisfying this project’s stringent military requirements. Our 2013 product is truly ‘military grade’!”

No doubt this press release is no more connected to actual reality than, say, any given sack of alphabetic vomit from Bentley that talks about the Mulsanne’s “upscale appeal” but fails to mention that it looks like the kind of fish you’d find five miles beneath the surface of the ocean, but it leads to what might sound like an odd or awkward question to be asking in 2013: Why isn’t the military taking an active role in the development of advanced electric cars? After all, NASA might have brought us everything from TANG to the transistor radio with a helping of Omega Speedmaster on the side, but the agency’s fallen on hard times due to the average American’s inability to get too excited about space flight while working two McJobs during the day and performing amateur oral surgery on the neighbors in the evenings.

The US military, on the other hand, seemingly never runs out of places to invade and/or advise. Couldn’t some of that be done with electric vehicles? In the relatively short space of four years in WWII, the parties involved went from the Brewster Buffalo to the Messerschmitt 262. Once the war was over, all anybody could manage was a Messerschmitt KR200. Obviously, war is an excellent stimulus to R&D.

One of the qualities that worries potential purchasers of the Zero Motorcycles more than almost any other — the bike’s eerie silence — is actually an advantage in a military context. By the same token, perhaps the painfully inoffensive shape of modern hybrids could be used to lull our enemies into complacency. Think of it. One minute the so-called “insurgents” are laughing at a Prius with a “Coexist” sticker making its way up a mountain pass, the next minute they’re meeting the deities of their choice courtesy of a fifty-caliber round to the dome. Or we could use specially-prepared Tesla roadsters that are designed to catch fire in a riff on the old “Divine Wind” program.

The possibilities are endless… but if involvement with the military made the 2013 crop of Zero Motorcycles better, why hasn’t GM asked soldiers to drive the Volt? Oh, that’s right…

…the Geneva Convention.

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19 Comments on “Could The American Military Fund An Advance In Electric Cars? Should They?...”

  • avatar

    Actually, this makes good sense on an airbase or a rear area HQ. A fleet of little trucks like the ones pictured would be great for making parts runs, use as vehicles for contractors, security, mess hall, PX, etc.

    Not every job in the military requires an M1A1 or an uparmored Humvee and since we aren’t talking about people driving them on long arduous commutes these might work well.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      Strongly agreed. The cost of a gallon of gas on a base in Afghanistan could often approach $400. Yet the cost of a 4 kW solar system is not magnified by nearly the same extent. So “hippy-dippy-tree-hugging” plug-in trucklets for on-base mobility can save a fortune.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Agreed. Here in NYC the Parks dept has been using a vehicle similar to these from Smith electric. Far more efficient than some parks workers tooling around in a not so fuel efficient F-350 to do the same job.

  • avatar

    God, I want that little truckie!

  • avatar

    With Jack’s articles reaching a snark density of something by Pepe Escobar, it’s becoming equally difficult to follow the thread.

    Is he saying that if EVs had serious practical potential and weren’t just charlatan nirvana, the military would be hugely into them? And they’re not?

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      JB’s snark can be epic, like his recent analogy of the outgoing Camry as looking like “those bugs that fell off the Cloverfield monster” but on this topic he could be more succinct. There was a time when we tasked our military industrial complex with winning world wars and defending against nuclear annihilation. Revolutionary technology was born in that era that benefited everyone: computing, metallurgy, safety, methodology and etc. Then wholesale rot set in; no-bid contracts, cronyism, outsourcing, pork barrel fraud and worse. Today’s defense contractors exist largely for self enrichment, for their shareholders, for their coddled CEO’s. Their lobbyists go to Washington with bags of tax-payer money to bribe our Congress-critters into doling out still more tax payer money in a vicious circle of graft.

      Eisenhower, a decorated former general and outgoing president warned America but we’re too transfixed by the NBA Finals / DWTS / kitten videos / other pointless bullshit to give a damn.

      This, I surmise, is Jack’s point: our defense contractors have the talent and piles of cash to develop solutions to problems that would also benefit civilian life, but typically don’t.

      Or not. I’m not entirely sure.

      • 0 avatar

        After several re-reads I’ve concluded he’s dissing both the MI complex and EVs in general. With JB it’s safest to click the ‘select all’ box.

  • avatar

    It’s been well demonstrated that electric vehicles have very keen tactical advantages as seen on Weeds..

  • avatar

    Sounds like a job for the USAF to solve.

  • avatar

    Sounds like a job for the USAF.

  • avatar

    The USAF is still busy with the tanker replacement program.

  • avatar

    DARPA has done some things to aid society as a whole, but they’re few and far between. Besides corporate security, why shouldn’t we have a downstream benefit of the $2 billion daily we spend?

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, it’s not like DARPA/ARPA had anything to do with anything so important to society as the Internet or anything.

    • 0 avatar

      One of the big honchos at my work used to do lots of topsec stuff, and he says the downflow of “ideas” from DARPA down to the “Captains of Industry” are pretty darn frequent. From how he explained it, the people who run DARPA were basically told to engage in economic warfare against countries where R&D is officially subsidized by the state (which is every country on Earth), because private industry would never be able to catch up otherwise.

      • 0 avatar

        Sounds right to me as my entire adult life has witnessed a non-stop cavalcade of Japanese and then Korean loss-leaders infiltrating and then expropriating one market after another.

        MITI, its descendants and Asan clones are pretty much unstoppable otherwise for countries without tariffs.

  • avatar

    Worldwide smartphone market: ~$200M. Best guess at the price of the battery: $10. If Congress can’t suck down more than a few billion in boondoggle e-car pork it won’t even be noticed by battery makers.

    Somebody wants attention and pork. Find something that needs doing before coming back.

  • avatar

    Money isn’t spent by the military for general science R&D – only for projects that contribute to a military mission. If there are civilian applications down the road that’s a fringe benefit.
    Behind the lines they’re already using electric utility vehicles for tasks around the base, not much to R&D there, but there is serious work being done developing hybrid drives for Humvees and larger tactical vehicles.
    The military is virtually gasoline-free, everything now runs on either diesel or jet fuel, often interchangeably.

  • avatar

    Quantum CERV. It exists, and is documented on YouTube. I don’t recall if it or another similar one was utilizing four wheel motors.

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