The Thousand Dollar Challenge

Discussion in 'Articles' started by brick, Feb 27, 2009.

  1. brick

    brick Answers to "that guy."

    [Opinion]The Thousand Dollar Challenge

    This is about taking a step back from what we think we know to find real answers.
    Tesla Roadster - Current king of the EVs
    [xfloat=right][/xfloat]Tim Smith - - February 27th, 2009

    I know things are tough here in the US. It started with a cascading cycle of foreclosures and property values declining, first ruining the homeowners and then the banks. Ruined banks quit lending, which ruined even more banks, which also quit lending and dragged other businesses into the fiasco as well. People who had been doing just fine up to that point started losing their jobs, making them unable to perform the essential task of buying things and paying their mortgages. And now it's a full-blown disaster.

    The Detroit automakers were already in trouble before any of this happened. I remember preparing to graduate with my engineering degree in 2004 after having dedicated my studies to such technologies as advanced internal combustion engines and the application thereof. It seemed like a great career path when I started it circa 2000, but I later realized that there were no jobs to be had in the US auto industry because consumers had already cooled to the idea of buying American in the face of competitive and reliable Japanese alternatives. That was more than four years before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the point at which we could no longer shrug and say "it's not that bad."

    GM EV1 - Beloved to its drivers
    [xfloat=left][/xfloat]The combination blow of an ailing industry plus the economic climate makes it very tough to justify investing in the kind of fuel-saving technology that the likes of your average CleanMPG member want to see. Even if Detroit weren't staring down the barrel of bankruptcy, the price of oil is so low that your average consumer (of the handful still consuming) doesn't want to spend an extra $2k on a hybrid drive or a diesel engine. The cry "hybrid premium!" and run straight for the V6 upgrades. (Remember when "premium" just meant "really good"?)

    But that just won't do. We know that the markets will start turning again somewhere in the world. doesn't matter who...will get that tingly feeling of upward mobility. With that will come a new wave of consumption. They will buy new cars, they will drive them new places, and one way or another oil will get very expensive again. And we just can't afford to explain away our lack of preparedness by acting surprised...again.

    I think the real surprise is the answer to our problem. Something we have rejected...sometimes despised...for decades. Something usually described as "impractical" or "just not ready". Something that requires us to eschew our tradition of big noises to achieve big speeds. And something that, from where I am sitting, could be so much better in just about every way.

    Think City EV - 126 mile range on its home turf
    [xfloat=right][/xfloat]In many ways, electricity is the ideal transportation "fuel" to solve our problems. Its value lies in the reason I put the word in quotes: it isn't a fuel at all, so much as a universal energy carrier. Literally any energy source can be converted to electricity and moved around at will: coal, gas, oil, nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, well-fed hamsters...anything. It makes our energy system infinitely flexible. What's more, it is so simple to use on the other end. An electric motor has one rotating assembly and some control circuitry. That's it.

    Naturally, there's the problem of what goes in the middle. There aren't many extension cords that will make it all the way from your home to your job, so that's out. Slot cars are great but that would make road-building awfully expensive. (Although it would solve the problem of people changing lanes without signaling.) Clearly, there has got to be a way to carry the energy around with you just like we can with a gas tank. It has to be robust, cost effective, and safe.

    And that's the challenge. Batteries are getting better every day, ultracapacitors are technically possible, and there are other options on the table as well. But cost is a big problem. I imagine that this energy storage medium...whatever it turns out to be...has got to cost under $1000 for every 100 miles it can take your average family sedan. And you ought to be able to get at least three modules of that size into a mid-size car. (The math gurus have figured out that this is a 300 mile range, which is more than enough for commuting and ought to take care of most weekend driving comfortably.) Ideally that price should come down by about half to gain mass acceptance.

    Chrysler EV Minivan Concept - EVs could work for a family, too
    [xfloat=left][/xfloat]But imagine the consequences if we can pull it off. Consumers get vehicles with bullet-proof reliability owing to the simplicity of electric drive relative to a gas engine and a transmission. They also get easy maintenance (no oil changes!) and the neck-snapping performance associated with a motor that builds all its torque from a dead stop. No more trips to the filling station, either, aside from possibility of quick-charge stations down the road.

    What does society get? How about energy independence without the need to completely re-think our infrastructure? Can you imagine how complicated and expensive it would be to replace our cars entirely with public transportation? And can you imagine how much people will complain even if it works perfectly? This country is huge and sprawling, and we like the freedom to roam about on our own schedule. If you think that can be overcome, first try collecting all the hats from Texas, the lattes from Seattle, and and then ask the NFL, NBA, and both baseball leages to shut down voluntarily "to give people more time for other things". Let me know how it goes.

    More importantly, we get our pride back. I'm sick and tired of watching Detroit die. I'm tired of the fact that the Japanese are so far ahead (I'm sorry but they are) when it comes to energy-efficient cars that you can actually buy. And it's high time we come up with something we can export that doesn't go **BLAM** when it gets to the end-user.

    It makes sense. Now let's quit whining that it's too hard and start innovating.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2009
  2. SlowHands

    SlowHands Hypermiling Ironman

    Well said.
  3. kingcommute

    kingcommute Hypermiling Apprentice

    I think that on some of your points you have hit the nail right on the head. This is obviously the direction we should be heading. However it is going to be a long time before we see most of our vehicles being electric. I say this not because the technology is too expensive - it is now, but as you say the cost is coming down. I say it because as things stand car manufacturers have a vested interest in vehicles staying Internal Combustion Engine based. Car manufacturers need us to use oil and gas as much as the oil and gas companies need us to use cars that burn oil and gas. If suddenly everyone wanted electric vehicles, and switched from their gas or diesel powered ones to electric - the dealerships would lose all their revenue from their service side. Lost revenue equals less vehicles purchased for lots which comes back and bites the manufacturers in the butts. EVs would be more reliable as you say - again reduced ownership costs - good for the consumer, bad for the dealerships/manufactures. This country is supporting a societal addiction to fossil fuels and the car manufacturers and oil companies are the pushers. Why would they voluntarily want to reduce the lion's share of their profit? They wouldn't. That is the only reason it is taking so long for hybrids to catch on......the companies control the supplies (keep them low) and make them more expensive to keep mass adoption of the technology -because once most people experience the savings on gas that come with adoption of hybrid technology they will be less likely to go back to gas powered cars. The auto manufacturers at best are trying to slide into this gracefully - keeping one foot in gas and one foot in hybrid/alternative technologies.

    This issue is not about cost - this issue is about keeping the status quo, because that is what is the most powerful and profitable. Until the status quo slowly, painstakingly changes and people speak with their wallets en masse - truly electric vehicles - as much sense as they make will continue to be small volume side projects - enough to keep a manufacturer's image afloat, but nothing serious enough to cause a paradigm shift.

    Think about hydrogen powered automobiles.......huge infrastructure problem - there just aren't many refueling places. and why would there be? No oil company is going to invest heavily in killing their golden goose. And the oil companies are hand in hand with the auto manufacturers. I would even venture a theory that the collaboration between the two would shock most people. They need each other and they need us to need them. It is co-dependency at its ugliest because it makes up a large part of the very fabric of our economic system.
  4. PaleMelanesian

    PaleMelanesian Beat the System Staff Member

    My enthusiasm for electric vehicles has taken a big hit recently. I still consider it the way of the future, provided the power source is a clean one.

    I just found out that our local power plant, Martin Lake, is one of the dirtiest in the country. In 2005, it was number ONE for mercury emissions. It's in the lists for top producers of most other pollutants, notably sulfur. It's located 15 miles south of me, and our usual wind blows from the south.

    This multi-county area in east Texas is right at air quality non-attainment levels. It's better than Dallas and Houston, but only marginally. We don't even have auto emissions testing, because that's not where our pollution comes from. It's all from industrial sources.

    I support the future of electric vehicles, if the electricity supplier is clean.
  5. kingcommute

    kingcommute Hypermiling Apprentice

    +1 on PaleMelanesian's comment. That reminds me of the all the fury over ethanol this past summer - it was going to be the wave of the future, blah, blah, blah, until someone figured out that it is actually worse for the planet than fossil fuels so long as it continues to be make from corn. We need to know where our energy is coming from and how clean it is.
  6. JusBringIt

    JusBringIt Be Inspired

    The technology to do all this is here, but it has been jigsawed into a puzzle, we flail to put the pieces together. Every man for himself in the united states :rolleyes:
  7. Right Lane Cruiser

    Right Lane Cruiser Penguin of Notagascar

    There is indeed momentum in the current fueling solution that will be difficult to overcome -- many like to say that they thrive on change but really, humans are creatures of habit. Eventually however, the coming threat will be undeniable and the merits (and necessity) of electricity driven travel painfully obvious.

    As for dirty power generation yes, that is definitely an issue. However... as Tim so adroitly highlighted for us electricity is a universal energy medium. Buy your car once and select your charging source (if you can). If you can't, the growing and enduring focus on "global climate change" (they didn't change the term on me again, did they?) ensures ever cleaner generation as time goes on.

    I'd also like to point out that it does allow us to push back toward individual independence. If you can afford a house with some land, solar cells, etc... :)
  8. Kurz

    Kurz Well-Known Member

  9. xcel

    xcel PZEV, there's nothing like it :) Staff Member

    Hi Kurz:

    ___Some here have been watching EESTOR since early 07 and we are still waiting for the magic to occur. When I read that Zenn through a few million into the start up to lock up a possible multi-trillion $ technological advance, I thought this thing is going downhill fast. It was indeed a sad day and I have little hope for EESTOR’s game changing breakthroughs in the short term :ccry:

    ___Tim, can you add some pics and turn this into an article? It certainly deserves to be recognized for what it is. A great write-up with plenty of hope vs. the current mire we are currently saddled with.

    ___Good Luck

  10. brick

    brick Answers to "that guy."

    Sure, I'll see what I can do with it tonight. It really is just an opinion piece but we can article-ize it if you think it's worth it.
  11. lightfoot

    lightfoot Reformed speeder

    Does your electrical power deliverer offer you alternatives re where the power comes from? Ours here does, and has a clean/sustainable energy option which I chose. I calculated it costs me about $10/month more. Not sure it is a perfect solution but it may be better than the other alternatives?

    And yes I too would like to see this thread article-ized because it states so clearly the parameters of the present (almost said "current") situation.
  12. Shiba3420

    Shiba3420 Well-Known Member

    I think part of the issues is that individual companies do individual things, and they don't want to cross over.

    Head back into the wayback machines & look at "Beef Industry". The man (not the stockholders) who owns the company realizes that there is alot of perfect cattle land out west, but while he could raise beef there for cheap, he couldn't get it to his customers. So he gives up...No! Wait, unlike todays companies, he doesn't. He damn near goes broke, building a new railroad. In building it, he bought his own steel mill, lumber companies, built several small towns, employeed an army of people. And created a a passenger rail service too. In the end, he not only ends up with a very profitable beef business, but all these other businesses too. We don't have people like that any more. Even those who could afford such a mass undertaking, don't. Kind of a sad day isn't it?

    I'll admit, that more of these people went broke trying to build their dream than succeeded, but even those that failed were usually bought out by others who finished it and turned it into something. But without big risk, there is no big name.

    I have the feeling that people like Bill Gates will be forgotten within a generation of their death. True, he created an empire and I'm sure there will be some documenteries somewhere, but where is our modern Rockefeller, Carnegie, or Vanderbilt?
  13. PaleMelanesian

    PaleMelanesian Beat the System Staff Member

    Yes, we do have options for renewable / clean power. Unfortunately, in my case, it's more like $150 / month more. I'm ramping up my efforts to cut my usage instead.
  14. bomber991

    bomber991 Well-Known Member

    Besides the battery problem with electric cars, you still have the problems of doing stuff like air conditioning.

    So $1,000 for 100 miles of range with the batterys? That's $10 for 1 mile range.

    Hmm, with Lead acid batteries, I'm not totally sure on the average pricing, but I'm looking at one site that has a 12 volt 40 Ah battery, I guess that would give you 480 Watt-hours, and I think cars use around 250Wh/mile. So that's like 1.92 miles from a $92 battery, nearly $48 per mile :(. Besides that cost, you can't fit enough to get 300 miles out of a car either, even with 10 of these filling up the trunk you're only looking at 19 miles range.

    I wonder how much worse the cost is for NiMH and Lion batteries.
  15. Right Lane Cruiser

    Right Lane Cruiser Penguin of Notagascar

    Justin, the figure is $1000 per KWH... not per 100mi. The Ford BEV is spec'd out at 23KWH for 100mi of range (with a built in safety buffer around the depth of discharge to avoid damage to the chemistry).
  16. brick

    brick Answers to "that guy."

    No, Justin is right. The $1000 for a 100mi range is what I figure as the right price point to be entirely competitive with current gas and diesel vehicles. Part of that is is just fuel storage, part of that is stuff like he points out: you have to figure out heat, A/C, etc. that will cost a bit to develop and implement.

    I guess the fact that this doesn't work now is exactly my point. If we figure it out, we have really done something.
  17. Right Lane Cruiser

    Right Lane Cruiser Penguin of Notagascar

    Oops! I mixed this up with that article earlier today that GM was complaining about. :eek:
  18. ILAveo

    ILAveo Well-Known Member

    Actually the history differs from your description. The history may be instructive in other ways though. The railroads reached west due to a federal land grant program (like a subsidy except the railroads got land to develop and sell if they put the RR through) that was sponsored as part of a national infrastructure project to link the nation. Cattle production in Texas rose when the railroad terminus got near enough for cattle drives. Railroad construction was critical in creating the US iron and steel industry. The federal seed "money" for the railroad construction helped create the businesses that led the Carnegies and Vanderbilts (and presumably some cattle barons) to their fortunes.

    Today, people compare construction of the internet backbone to the creation of the rail network. Google and Intel would be the post modern analogs to Carnegie's and Vanderbilt's companies. The Google founders' involvement with electric cars is well known and it is worth noting that Intel is a leader in Smart Grid technology. I'm not pessimistic about finding solutions to problems--though Google and Intel may not be the ones who find them!
  19. Kurz

    Kurz Well-Known Member

  20. Shiba3420

    Shiba3420 Well-Known Member

    That wasn't intended to be a description of a "real" specfic event, however history is filled with such people, I'm not sure our current time is.

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