Defending the Plug-in Car; Anti-EV Rhetoric Attains High Crescendo

· · 7 years ago

As a recent anti-electric car opinion piece on the Detroit News begins, "It's nearly time to put up or shut up." After reading the piece through several times I now agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly, but in the complete opposite of the way the author, Neil Winton, meant it to be interpreted: He really should think about doing the latter a bit more often himself.

I've taken some of the overarching points of his article and dissected them for your reading pleasure.

"The first evidence of battery-power reality will be an enormous increase in call outs for road side assistance as electric motors expire miles from home."

Essentially what Winton is saying here is that you, the electric car purchaser, are too stupid to even be able to communicate in grunts and gestures. He's also showing an intriguing lack of understanding of how plug-ins work; I think he meant "as the batteries expire miles from home."

Unless the driver of a plug-in car is completely unaware of the limitations of his or her vehicle and doesn't ever look at the dashboard, this just won't happen. It's like saying that you'd willingly take your 300 mile range combustion-engined SUV on a 400 mile trip into the tundras of Siberia knowing that you would have no access to fuel. Who would do that? Nobody. It'd be stupid. Luckily most people in Europe and the U.S. drive less than 40 miles a day, so the EV can handle 90% of your daily needs, and when it doesn't you use your second car.

"The second will be a scary rise in accidents, as frustrated truckers overtake electric cars crawling home on highways, like the tired old milk floats of yesteryear."

I don't even understand this one. These are highway capable EVs we're talking about, meaning they can travel at highway speeds—they also have all the accouterments that any other modern day vehicle comes with. Why would there be anymore "crawling home" than you see with combustion cars? The segment of society that crawls along at speeds much slower than the posted speed limit will drive slowly regardless of what vehicle they have.

All I can think is that the image Mr. Winton has of an EV is based on the strange depths of his own mind that has conjured up a used Yugo with 10 inch wheels that has a lead acid battery strapped to the hood and a jacuzzi motor bolted to the transmission.

"The silence of battery cars will lead to more pedestrian deaths and squashed pets."

Apparently, all you people who think EVs are great are simply homicidal lunatics who detest baby seals. I'm starting to think the group of EV advocates who hate this argument because it fuels the fire of those who are trying to find every reason to say EVs are bad is completely correct.

We've dealt with this topic in the past, so suffice it to say that firstly there are no good studies that link quiet cars with an increase in pedestrian (or pet) deaths. Secondly, all cars these days are extremely quiet, so if this is an issue with silence being deadly, it's an issue with all new cars across the board. Thirdly, every first generation EV that is coming to market in the next two years is equipped with some kind of pedestrian warning system—for better or worse—and the current trend in global politics is to make this required at some point in the near future.

"Recently, Britain's state-controlled BBC, quoting electric car maker Mitsubishi, said the cost of ownership of battery cars is actually more than regular cars when you figure in depreciation, so the argument about running costs is lost."

We dealt with this issue in another post. In that post it was discovered that the BBC's claims were based on having no knowledge of what the depreciation rate of these cars would be. Having no real experience with EVs on the mass marketplace, it is just as likely that they will increase in value as they will decrease.

When you look at it that way, the BBC could have easily written a piece that praised EVs as having a cost of ownership twice as low. In fact, much of the discussion in our previous post took into consideration that EVs will have very little service requirements and will have added value in other ways. And imagine when fuel prices start to rise again, as they inevitably will (nobody is denying that). All those intangibles make predicting their depreciation in 5 or 10 years almost impossible and, therefore, completely debunk anything the BBC (and Mitsubishi) had to say on this topic.

"The transmission of electric power from generation to use is enormously inefficient, with some experts saying only just over 30 percent of the original power is actually available for use, the rest draining away during transportation; so much for increased efficiency."

I'd like to see his references on this one. In 2007 in the U.S. the average transmission and distribution loss through power lines was about 6.5% and getting better. Compare this to the the loss of roughly 65% of the energy in gas when combusted in an internal combustion engine—and that doesn't account for the losses that occur prior to combustion.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, would, in their right mind, claim that mining fossil fuels out of the ground, transporting them to a processing plant, processing them in the processing plant, shipping/piping them to a fuel station, storing them at the fuel station, pumping them into a car and then burning them in the engine is even slightly more efficient than electrical power generation and transmission.

"The power generated mainly comes from coal fired power stations so the zero emissions claim goes out the window, although in France, where upwards of 80 percent of electricity is generated by nuclear power, this claim does resonate."

There are plenty of studies that show, even when fueled by coal-fired power plants, electric cars are cleaner than your average gas car. But in the U.S. coal makes up about 50% of our electricity so you'll never have a completely coal-fired power grid and as your grid gets cleaner, so does your electric car. With a plug-in car, you never have to get an upgraded car to get continually improving emissions. It's another added benefit of plug-in cars. There are also lots of other reasons to like a centralized energy distribution network like the electricity grid.

"The price of battery cars puts them out of the reach of all but a few rich, early adopters. Visitors to showrooms will find themselves asked to buy a car with a sticker price more than twice what you would expect to pay for a small family car, but which also has limited and unpredictable range."

Any new technology will initially be more expensive. When the PC first came out it was derided as being a toy for the rich as well, and many people thought it would never catch on. But that's the beauty of the market; if there's enough demand, prices will come down quickly. The concept Winton is espousing as a negative is actually part and parcel of how capitalism has worked, well, since forever.

"So why are some manufacturers betting the ranch on a product that will look incompetent compared with green competitors like hybrids? They are being pushed down this route by governments armed with massive subsidies, and which maybe haven't looked much past the hype."

On the contrary, Mr. Winton, the reason plug-in cars have obtained such a huge amount of political support from across the spectrum is that the hype is actually correct. They address environmental, economic, regulatory and energy security issues in one fell swoop. And, before you start complaining about massive government subsidies, that gas car you're driving would never have been possible had the governments of the world not dumped untold billions of tax payer dollars into the development of a gas powered infrastructure.

The rest of Winton's critique relies on 'expert' testimony, but really, after sifting through this first part, who wants to read the rest of the drivel? Yet, I did, and I can tell you that what he ends up highlighting in his post essentially leads to the conclusion that there will be 2.5 million EVs on the roads by 2015, after 2020 EVs will really take off, and the future is electric, but it's just going to take a while to get there. Well, duh. His clear and absolute hatred of plug-in vehicles is not congruous with his article's final message.

Mr. Winton, what is it about EVs that really gets your goat when you can't even find 'experts' to truly support your viewpoints? All you've ended up telling us is, essentially, that we're all stupid for even liking the idea of EVs.

So there you go EV owners, present, past and future, you're stupid, your car is a withering piece of junk built out of mud and rat droppings, you have a pathological hatred of puppies, and you don't care about money!

Altogether now: "Thanks Mr. Winton!"


· · 7 years ago

Makes complete sense when I hear how well Mr. Winton presented his case. I'll be turning in the MINI-E tomorrow for a shiny new Suburban LT. I'll miss you guys

· · 7 years ago

See ya Tom! I agree, wouldn't want to be caught dead in my EV now. I'm just gonna go find me a late model Suburban... brb

· J-M (not verified) · 7 years ago

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
--Mahatma Gandhi

I think we've reached the fighting stage. We'll laugh back at them later. Here's a great, sensible youtube clip from the UK show that's doing some mighty fine "putting up" much like yourself:!

Keep up the great posts!


· · 7 years ago

From Detroit you say... Is he pushing the Volt as the real solution?

· Ernie (not verified) · 7 years ago

Great! Now, remove the quotes, clean up the article so that it's more coherent without them, shorten it a bit to get to the point quicker, and then send it off to the Detroit News as a letter to the editor.

That kind of criticism is much more effective, public, and likely to be read by the author and his editor.

· Alex Campbell (not verified) · 7 years ago

Nice critique... I saw this article this morning and shot off an email to Winton asking him if he has ever owned an electric car. He actually wrote me back and said he's driven the imiev, mini-e, smart electric and one or 2 others, but that he indeed never owned an electric car. This is a big problem with the media tootling around in an electric car and then driving back home in their Beemer or Porsche to write their article. You are right about rhetoric, especially from auto writers driving around in free press pool cars. They lose touch with reality. The anti-EV rhetoric is starting to sound hollow. - Alex Campbell. ZAP

· AntiTimerBelt (not verified) · 7 years ago

Due to lack of mass ownership over a long period of time we do not (yet) know whether plugins will be cheaper to own and run than ICVs. Some important unknowns are:
- The period of time before plugins conquer a substantial part of the market and hence
- How fast manufactoring costs will come substantially down
- Future prices of gas versus electricity
- How often in miles/yrs you will have to buy a new battery set and the cost of it
- Depreciation which might be either very low or very high:

EITHER demand greater than supply ensuring high second hand prices.
OR technical development very fast like mobile phones, laptops and TV-sets: Out-of-date the moment you buy a new one and hence close to impossible to sell used.

It all adds up to a bigger bingo factor buying a new plugin than a new ICV as far as economy is concerned. Ecology is of course another matter. But how great percentage of car buyers do really care about the environment? And even care about economy? To me it looks like a majority of auto buyers choose the biggest and highest priced car they can afford (or even in some cases they cannot afford).

Even if you main care is about the environment , downsizing to a subcompact ICV is a lot less eco-damaging than buying a plugin SUV or a Tesla-type EV!!!

· · 7 years ago

It looks like you've given some good thought to this issue please let me try to address some of the concerns you've raised.
You're right about the cost of ownership proof on a large scale. Our favorite auto industry made sure that this question remained open as well as they could by destroying the nearly 5000 production plug-ins that they made in the late 1990's. I do suspect that the answer to this issue was a major driving factor in this destruction, however. The cost of ownership did appear to be extremely low. They weren't enjoying being on the receiving end of those lower costs so they wiped out the breed. Toyota did permit a few hundred RAV4EVs to escape the crusher and the cost of ownership for those few owners has been nearly nil, up until around 100,000 miles/10 years when the battery packs are starting to need reconditioning and replacement of a few modules.
Regarding the price of gasoline. Since it is a non-renewable, finite resource being drained at a tremendous pace, you can be sure the price will increase. The only question is how fast. Will it hit us in our retirement, our kids, or our grand kids? I, personally am not so selfish to really care. Its going to go up so why not solve the problem now, while we're all living in the richest country, during the richest period in the history of mankind.
Second hand prices for consumer electronics is low, partly because of obsolescence as you point out but also because of cheap quality and, even more, extremely cheap prices new. It's wonderful what slave labor can produce cheaply :-(
I must, however, take issue with your statement that:
"downsizing to a subcompact ICV is a lot less eco-damaging than buying a plugin SUV or a Tesla-type EV!!!"
A plugin small SUV such as the RAV4EV (I can't really speak toward some hypothetical large plug-in SUV) or a Tesla definitely are less eco-damaging than any ICV, even if the power comes from a dirty coal plant. There are numerous studies to support this. Likewise, if powered from cleaner sources such as solar, wind, hydro or even the average US power mix, they are MUCH LESS eco-damaging than any ICV or IC hybrid.

· JJ (not verified) · 7 years ago

This is old school caveman mentality !
Hopefully the Nissan leaf will appeal to College and uni crowd who
need a car to go to school, shopping, and have fun.
Once the younger crowd is driving around, the middle aged
will follow to try to look cool.
Forget trying to sell electric cars to old school cave people - just let them die off.

· Russell Albin (not verified) · 7 years ago

Great article. I am glad I am not the only one who is getting tired of the media downplaying and out right lying about electric cars.

· John V (not verified) · 7 years ago

Your well-written rebuttal to Mr. Winton's diatribe beat me to it. He covers the same ground every few months, stubbornly refusing to read the literature, understand the data, or consider countervailing facts.

But then, it may be foolish to expect any more from the one Briton who's apparently a Rush Limbaugh disciple, at least from some of the items on his personal website,

· JJ (not verified) · 7 years ago

This afternoon I saw a TV ad for Nissan.

I don't think they outwardly said that they have an electric car
but they were seeding the idea about it's car seats made with
recycled pop bottles and that you won't need to fill up with gas ever again.
It's like they're gently and enthusiastically seeding the idea for future marketing.

So their marketing will be better than GM was for the EV1.

Nice ad - I hope to see it again soon.

· JJ (not verified) · 7 years ago

I agree the electric car is a BAD idea... for oil companies, car parts industry, the war industry. LOL

Imagine all the money we will save not having to fight wars for oil.
No oil spills polluting the oceans.
No more noise pollution.
Cleaner air (if the power stations are clean)
Less metal parts going into the landfill (oil filters, cars parts)

How lazy can you be not wanting to plug in your car.
Isn't it easier than filling up at the gas station?

· Luke (not verified) · 7 years ago

"why not solve the problem now, while we're all living in the richest country, during the richest period in the history of mankind."

Uhhhh.... Sorry to burst your bubble but your country is $11 trillion in debt and has the highest trade deficit in the world.

· Samie (not verified) · 7 years ago

The only question should be......Can the battery be advanced in a way that reduces size, increases mileage capacity, and reduces cost that is adoptable to most U.S. consumers in a 10 to 20 year span?

The PC example is great, we can think of many other things like smartphones in the early 2000's as outcasts, which lacked key processing/memory abilities and 3G/4g networks that we see today. The key is innovation speaking of the product itself and the infrastructure that the consumer uses it on or in. The actual technology needs to move from a niche/limited market to perform on a price level and technological function that can attract a mass market in the future. All other questions I think are psychological and comes from our inability to forecast future advancements/usability from unknown market-ready technological achievements.

· · 7 years ago

Luke, while what you say is true, I think that, when you look at is in an abstract, big picture sort of way, the general idea of what ex-EV1 says is absolutely true. Regardless of any current recession or political necessities right now, the world, as a whole, and the United States, are living through what will go down in the history books as one of the most peaceful and luxurious eras humans ever live through.

That is all bound to change when either climate change or oil scarcity becomes a reality—unless we've figured out how to deal with one of them by then... actually, make that BEFORE then.

· Samie (not verified) · 7 years ago

Nick I agree.

Petroleum is key to our world economy. Examples include: production of plastics, transportation/freight, housing materials, and manufacturing of goods. For better or worse our way of life and the cheap goods we consume or obtain depends on petroleum. Bigger picture, no one country can or will control most of the natural resources in the future, scary in terms of humanitarian problems, unpredictable standards of living with energy costs, or possible outbreaks of war over natural resources. Scarcity of oil could be catastrophic unless we start diversifying our energy needs so we can sustain/manage oil uses and diversify inputs/outputs from energy cycles that involves more renewable energies.

· JJ (not verified) · 7 years ago

I don't know if I'm on the right page for my comment:

Some were talking on these boards about the difficulty of changing
the battery pack and the labor cost.

Well for one, it will only be done every ten years (guessing).

2. You won't want the battery pack to be easy to remove if it's worth say $ 5000 or more.
Otherwise it will be like the catalytic converter and air bag thefts.

Imagine if the battery pack is so easy to replace = easy to steal.
You come back to your EV car and it won't start: where's the battery pack ? !!!

Just looking at the bright side of making it difficult to replace the battery pack.

· · 7 years ago

You're reading my mind. Maybe for Luke's view of the world I should have said something to the affect of:
"why not solve the problem now, before our debt comes due"
Actually, Luke, while our government is $ trillions in debt, the country, as a whole actually is very rich. Baby boomers while loosing a lot of their savings actually are sitting on a whole lot of money. Remember that the problem with our poor today is not that they are starving but that they are obese. The world has never been so rich as to see this obesity problem with the poor before. Usually, they are starving.

· Øyvind (not verified) · 7 years ago

I totaly agree with you Nick. After ten years and more than 1/4 million kilometers in a EV (TH!NK) i should know what i am talking about ;-) Most of those who has strong meanings i the medie or other places against EVs dos not have clue. Some says that EV usere i genaral are smarter then those who dont so that could be the reasen why so many "Gasheads" dont have a clue ;-) (Statistics indicates that EV owners are more educaded, at least i Norway)
Keep on the god work Nick. I am doing my best with media in Norway where some jornalists dos not seems to be much smarter than this one ;-) But its a long prosess

· · 7 years ago

In a last-ditch effort to maintain the petrol status quo, Winton has attempted to gather together all the naysayer arguments against EVs from every corner of the highway. I am surprised that he didn't also include that EVs will prove lethal to emergency personnel if involved in an accident. Thanks, Nick, for --once again-- responding to these broken record attacks.

The one claim that really sticks in my craw is the "coal-fired electric plant" argument, also known as the "long tailpipe" accusation. How do these naysayers think that gasoline is made? Hamsters running in cages? Those same coal-fired electric plants are providing the electricity that runs the oil refineries. Obviously, it makes more sense and would be more energy efficient to put that electricity directly into an EV's battery, rather than wasting it to produce a fuel that adds even more pollution to the atmosphere. Let's put it this way: would you prefer an EVs long tailpipe, or an ICE's two tailpipes: a short one on the vehicle and the very same long one to make its fuel? No brainer, Mr. Winton.

· Jim Reed (not verified) · 7 years ago

Unfortunately, one of the key factors in the success of the upcoming mass produced BEV and PEV is going to be timing. If we are still in a major economic slump and gas prices are low, either deliberatley to kill BEVs and PEVs or because the demand is truly down, the sales are going to be depressed. The naysayers will have a heyday trumpeting their "no market for EV's" mantra when in fact it will be externals that will be suppressing the demand. I am very encouraged about the reports of high pre-release deposits for the Leaf. I hope that all, including GM, succeed with their push toward PEV and BEV inspite of substantial special interests that need to protect their status quo.

My Prius has 195k miles. When it is time for a new battery, I hope circumstances will have improved enough to buy a plug in kit at a minimum or the next generation plug in. Unfortunately, my driving needs will push me to one PEV but I hope that some day my Insight replacement will be a BEV.

· Chris J (not verified) · 7 years ago

ex-EV1 driver,
It is funny that you brought up the fact that poor people are fat in this country. In my opinion it is not because the country is so rich that all people are well fed. It is more true that cheap unhealthy food is the only thing available to them. One phrase that comes to mind is "Let them eat cake".
The strange thing is the bread famine in the late 1700's which led to war has some of the same elements as we due today. The French relied on bread as their main food source they refused to choose alternative forms of growing wheat or just making different food. After all why would a farmer grow apples when wheat would bring in more money? Well climate issues and population growth reduced production and caused a rise in demand which caused the price of bread to rise too high for most people to afford it. Sound familiar?
Anyway, I'm disappointed that this article is coming from Detroit, cause lack innovation, or should I say "motivation" from the local industry has been a disservice to the city and the region.

· Renewable Ray (not verified) · 7 years ago

For our own good, let's slam Washington every chance we get over lack of leadership in updating our national grid. tarp for banks? B.S. Let's expand roads and the grid, that's what we would have done in the early 1900's and it is what made this country great. The green revolution needs to be the new industrial revolution, no apologies needed!

· Bernie van Niekerk (not verified) · 7 years ago

The issue here is that if ev marketshare grows too fast it will have an enormous
Impact on tradional industries.. As it stands ev volumes will at least replace the growth that many auto suppliers are forecasting. No growth will have huge implications for the makers of exhausts , engines, and the other major car components that will become redundant once EVs take off.

So it's not surprising that there are vocal parties out there trying to slow things down so that they can exit their existing investments.

· Luke (not verified) · 7 years ago

I agree Ray.
Stop wasting-giving money to banks, wars, space, oil companies.
Create jobs in the USA with electric cars and power grids and power solar plants.

· Luke (not verified) · 7 years ago

I wonder if the price of copper is going to go up...???
Uhmmm.... $$$$ .... Kachiiiing $$$$$

· Chris J (not verified) · 7 years ago

It is interesting that folks are bringing up the fact that EV's will depreciate faster then ICE cars. History shows than as the price of gas goes up gas guzzler cars become less valuable. Ask anyone who owned a Hummer or any SUV in 2007. At the same time fuel efficient cars become more popular under the same conditions. It would only make sense that when the next spike in oil price happens, EV's will have a higher resale value over their ICE equivalents.

· Ernie (not verified) · 7 years ago

@Jim Reed:

It's worth noting that companies producing electric cars *in the next couple of years* probably won't slam the door shut on production after one bad year of sales. For all we know, the price of gas will skyrocket in 3 years, and demand for EVs will explode.

But you certainly can't take advantage of a market when you aren't producing a product. And it takes years to get a car to market, so you're better off by starting work now instead of waiting for the market to come to you. Especially when the writing on the wall says that gas won't always be cheap.

· JJ (not verified) · 7 years ago

About depreciation:

the only thing that I can see wearing out on an EV car is the tires, brakes, wheel bearings, brushes, and the body rusting up North.
(They should make them out of plastic like the Saturn - opps oil in the body)

But an ice car has so many hundred of parts that can wear out on an old car: spark plugs, exhaust system, belt, cooling pump, etc etc etc.

I think Electric cars are way better. Hopefully the batteries will get cheaper over time and the range will get better (like cellphones).

The US is getting a lot of it's oil from Alberta Canada.
I heard on the radio, that there is still 100 years worth of oil in Alberta.

All I care about electric cars is:

1 - I won't have to keep getting my ice car fixed all the time and all the maintenance.
2 - Less air pollution
3 - Less money wasted on oil wars.
4 - Not a slave of the gas pumps yo yo prices but now it's the same with the electric companies.

My friend has an electric furnace. It's very expensive to run, but it's less dirty than oil - gas and his last furnace lasted 20 years maintenance free.

· kevin (not verified) · 7 years ago

Internal combustion engine still being in used in 2050? Perhaps, but why even make a prediction about technology 40 years in the future. That's like predicting in 1970 the ways in which we use the internet today.

Any prediction today ignores future patents, catastrophes, costs, etc. Exponential growth will probably happen for plug-in purchases once these cars are on the road and consumer tested, which will make silly fears finally go away.

It's nice to see an occasional Prius on the road, but it'll be even better to start seeing Volts and Leafs on the road next year too.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.