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

· · 9 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!"

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