For any revolution to succeed, it has to challenge: the status quo; public stereotypes; fierce rearguard attacks from entrenched players; and entrenched attitudes and beliefs, before it has any chance of changing the way things are done.
I train people in the use of digital cameras – understanding menus and features; how to edit the photos produced by them; how to use these edited photos in books, screen displays, wall posters etc. I started the school 15 years ago – just at the time that the digital photography revolution was beginning to emerge in the consciousness of the general public.
Now, in the beginning, there were mostly naysayers. Digital will never be as good as film. Real photographers will never use anything other than film. Photographers who want quality will always stay with film. Digital cameras will always be just playthings. Digital cameras will cheapen photography and will therefore be shunned by real professionals.
Fast forward to today. We read the statements above with mild amusement at how people could so badly have underestimated the impending revolution. Giants like Kodak simply went under through an inability to appreciate the revolution and to adapt to it. Others like Nikon and Canon saw the writing on the wall, reacted in time, and surfed the wave to their position of dominance in the digital camera market today. Almost NO ONE anticipated the SPEED with which the digital camera revolution would eliminate old-school film cameras and all of the paraphernalia that accompanied film.
I saw the change beginning to happen 15 years ago. I started my Digital Photography school that same year, and have been well positioned to stay on top of the developments that accompanied the revolution.
I see another wave. Another revolution. And I’m stating with absolute certainty: the combustion engine car is on the way out. I am not going to predict how many years it will take before NO ONE thinks of buying one, and the AUTOMATIC choice is just a choice BETWEEN differing electric cars, but here’s what I can tell you: it WILL be sooner than we all think; sooner than all of the so-called knowledgeable experts are predicting. Given good information, people are smart; they make decisions based on self-interest; they actually want to make the best choices, and when those choices are made clear, they react quickly.
Consider how few years it took to move from clamshell flip-phones to the Apple-inspired world of overwhelmingly dominant smart phones. Now it seems we all use them, and we find it hard to even remember the clunky, slow, limited cell phones we all had not more than 7 years ago. Of course, typically, we keep our vehicles for many more years than we keep our cell phones. Therefore, the changeover is not going to happen as quickly as we experienced with the cell phone revolution.
So here’s what I want to do in this post: I want to explain just what it is you need to know to ensure that you begin to appreciate the revolution in car ownership and travel that lies ahead; I want to debunk the scare stories and the many ridiculous myths that are put out as fact; and I want to open your eyes to just what it is that will make this revolution – like all the others we have experienced – absolutely inevitable in the next few years. So, enjoy the read, and feel free to contact me with your responses. Thanks to Murray and Keith – two great friends – for galvanizing me to share the benefit of my 4 years of driving a pure EV, and the knowledge and personal experience I have picked up along the way.
1. CONSIDER THE SOURCE
When you next come across an article that appears to denigrate the concept of electric cars, and seems to indicate that the industry is on shaky ground, and that failure is just around the corner, consider the source. Remember that there is an entire industry founded on the use of oil; the manufacture of combustion engined vehicles; the maintenance and repair of ICE vehicles (Internal Combusion Engines); and an entire industry of motor vehicle magazines and online publications that depends on the advertising revenues of the ICE car industry; car dealer networks; and vehicle manufacturers, for their very existence.
Consider, too, that truly innovative EV companies such as Tesla have, up to this point, eschewed advertising – using exclusively word-of-mouth or the 24-hr news media reporting on their products in order to ‘get the word out’. So, they are not going to be (at least in the foreseeable future) a source of advertising revenue for online and physical publications who have hitherto received large advertising dollars from the conventional motor industry.
So, my first question when I read articles that denigrate EVs and EV-related developments, is to look at who publishes them; what advertising revenues that publication earns its living from; what personal axe-to-grind the writer / contributor may have shown in his / her past journalistic pieces, and in many or most cases, the bias becomes very apparent.
2. The “EVs ARE NOT REALLY SO GREEN” ARGUMENT
This is probably the most common and easily debunkable argument out there. You see, it used to be that the argument was about performance of EVs; limited range of EVs; and the high price of EVs, but as each of those arguments became less relevant over time, a new target had to be found. Nowadays, most people are more or less aware of the powerful performance of almost any modern EV; less are aware of how greatly the range of newly announced EVs has increased, and most people have a sense that the price of EVs is dropping to around $35,000 USD before government or federal EV incentives, because such a big thing was made in media reporting of the new entry price for the upcoming Tesla Model 3
So, the focus of attack has now swung firmly towards an attempt to discredit the environmental credentials of EVs as a whole. The argument goes something like this: While EVs may not have tailpipe emissions, they still have to be charged using electricity, and the creation of that electricity often involves the burning of coal or oil. So, how can an EV be called “green” when it requires that fossil fuels be burned in order to generate its electricity?
Wired Magazine reporting from the now debunked research from the Devonshire Research Group tried to emphasize this aspect. But in the middle of its own arguments, it had to admit this:
“When you add all those extra expenditures up, “an electric car like the Model S has almost four times lower CO2 per mile than an equivalent gas-powered car,” says a Tesla spokesperson. So while the emissions argument is tantalizing for gas guzzlers, the average numbers still come out in favor of electric vehicles.”
Now, if you don’t look too closely, this argument (that EVs use dirty electricity and therefore can’t be considered green) seems to have merit. But that’s only the case if you don’t inspect the argument more closely, and once you DO, you realize what a laughable and totally erroneous premise it is based on.
Let’s look a little more closely at that underlying premise.
First, the assumption is made that whether you burn oil/fuel in a traditional ICE car; or you burn oil/fuel in the production of electricity to charge your EV, you are pretty much using the same amount of energy in either case. That is a completely erroneous conclusion. You see, when it comes to ENERGY EFFICIENCY (the efficiency with which any fuel source is turned into actual work done), electric cars are VERY MUCH more efficient at converting a given amount of energy into driveable range (miles covered). This efficiency is often called TANK TO WHEEL efficiency. There’s a great article I link to below, but let me just give you the summary and you can read the detailed explanation if you have the time.
Tesla (and other manufacturers as well) have demonstrated about a 75% efficiency from tank to wheel. By that is meant, that from 100% of electrical power coming into the system to charge the battery, and including the process of storing that power in the EV battery, converting it from AC to DC to AC before powering the engine / electrical motor, 25% of the power is lost to these processes but 75% makes it way to directly transport you from point A to point B. Not a bad ratio. Let’s look at the same equivalency on combustion engine cars.
Wait for it! The energy efficiency of gasoline from it’s journey in your gas (petrol) tank to the tires on the road is… 16% on average, with the rest lost to devices like transmission activities (gear changes); incomplete burn in combustion cycle (the explosions that drive your pistons), and the generation of enormous amounts of completely wasteful heat. That’s over FOUR TIMES less efficient than the use and conversion of electrical power in an EV.
If that comes as a shock to you, that’s good. Because it’s ignorance of facts like that that allow people to be taken in by the so-called “EVs are not green at all” arguments.
The chart above illustrates that even hydrogen powered vehicles are very much less efficient in the energy conversion process than are pure EVs. Here’s that link I promised you which sets all of this out in greater detail:
Secondly, unlike a gasoline-powered car, EVs are constantly getting cleaner. I don’t mean newer EVs. I mean the SAME EV that you own! Each day, month, or year, it is having LESS impact on the environment through carbon emissions. How on earth can that be? We call this part of the equation “WELL TO WHEEL” (this involves the various sources through which we OBTAIN the fuel – or electricity – to run our vehicles
Here’s something simple but very consequential. For EVERY month that passes, the energy grid is becoming greener, more sustainable, and more renewable. I’ve posted a whole collection of links below this section, to show you how dramatically the Western world is moving towards having ever greater percentages of their national grids supplied by green, renewable energy sources (such as solar, wind, water, geothermal etc). And these changes ARE dramatic. Here’s a recent headline from Portugal
These improvements in the ratio of renewable energy to traditional fossil fuels are very seldom noticed because they don’t make for sexy headlines, and most normal people don’t care about issues like that, but consider this: here in BC, Canada, (on the west coast at least), our electricity comes almost exclusively from hydro power. That means, whenever I charge my Nissan LEAF EV (which I have now owned for 4 years next month), I am adding zero carbons to the atmosphere, and the running of my vehicle is truly a carbon-free, fossil-fuel-free activity.
Germany, Portugal, Norway, Sweden – even vast areas of the United States and Canada – are experiencing massive increases in renewable sources for their national electricity grids, and showing dramatic declines in the use of coal and oil to generate electricity. Even natural gas is MUCH cleaner than coal, and a large part of the US network now depends on natural gas as a major source to power the national grid
In other words, with each month that passes, the electricity required to charge EVs comes from cleaner and cleaner sources – making everyone’s EVs cleaner (literally) by the day. That simply can NOT be said for combusion engine vehicles, which will continue to burn the SAME amount of fuel and release the SAME amount of carbons – or MORE as wear and tear in the engine causes less efficient use of gasoline throughout the life of the vehicle.
In summary, the WHEEL TO TANK efficiency for Electrically powered vehicles is 30-35% and if that doesn’t sound great, wait for the efficiency percentage of gasoline powered cars. It’s around 14% Shocked? Well, that’s because no one talks about the FINER details of how efficient each of the competing technologies actually is.
And remember, the degree of EFFICIENCY is directly correlated to the degree of carbon waste each system generates. So, to conclude, it is a complete falsehood to even TRY to equate the environmental impact of gasoline powered cars to the environmental impact of pure battery-electric (BEV) cars.
Here are some links to open your eyes to the MASSIVE growth in renewable power sources that is occurring on a world-wide basis:
3. WHAT ABOUT HYDROGEN AS AN ALTERNATIVE OPTION?
A number of major car companies have been experimenting with Hydrogen as an alternative fuel source, and what is interesting is the way that all three of the major players involved in this development are slowly crossing over to the creation of pure electric (or electric-hybrid) vehicles. Why? For a long time there was a lot of buzz about the huge possibilities of hydrogen which can be derived from plain, old-fashioned H2O. And then… The buzz quietened down for a number of reasons.
(Here’s a schematic to demonstrate the way in which hydrogen has to be STORED in the vehicle, then fed to the FUEL cell, and then the FUEL CELL turns the energy into ELECTRICITY, which feeds it to the ELECTRIC MOTOR to power the car. In a pure Battery EV, the power is already RESIDENT in the battery, and just gets converted to AC and fed to the motor directly.)
One of these was the proven fact that hydrogen was not even CLOSE to electric in terms of energy efficiency (remember, we discussed that a little while back and I posted that chart that demonstrated just how much less efficient hydrogen as a fuel source was). So, it takes more electricity to CREATE the equivalent amount of energy required for a given distance to be travelled.
Secondly, the compressed hydrogen in the storage tanks poses a much higher risk in a vehicle. What if the compressed cylinder were to be punctured, or if it burst on impact? The increased risk factors make manufacturers pretty nervous over potential safety issues if things go wrong. Three manufacturers who started out down the hydrogen route have switched to EVs.
Thirdly, while every electric vehicle can simply be plugged in at home to a simple electrical outlet, a hydrogen-powered car needs to go to a hydrogen-dispensing station to fill up – not very different from the current gasoline filling stations we use to fill our gas cars. Of course, if you don’t have a significant network of Hydrogen filling stations, you won’t sell hydrogen cars.
Fourthly, the cost of creating the free hydrogen for use in hydrogen powered cars, is significantly higher than that of the creation of electricity. That is bad news for a technology that hopes to compete with the much less expensive EV technology – which already has the broadest network of charging stations (every single home that has electricity is a charging station, and MOST EV owners charge at home overnight).
For a convincing argument against Hydrogen read this:
Not convinced? Visit the links below that make the case for Electrical vehicles over Hydrogen powered vehicles:
4. WHAT ABOUT A HYBRID? (GAS AND ELECTRIC TO INCREASE RANGE)
This is possible the worst option of all. Not objectively of course, but conceptually! Let me put it simply: if 100% of the world purchased plugin hybrid cars, we would still be JUST AS ENSLAVED by gasoline as we are today. Because each plugin hybrid carries around an electric motor (drivetrain) AND a gasoline engine with all that entails. Can you understand how this type of car embodies the WORST of each format.
Most (all) hybrids have a pretty LOW range when driven in EV-only mode. So, the VOLT has about the highest electric-range with something like 70 miles on battery before the vehicle switches to the gasoline engine for you to continue driving.
Now, think of it this way. You have a car that has a low RANGE capability while on electric. Then, as you travel further, it switches to gasoline and begins polluting the environment and costing you money in the form of gasoline purchases AND you have a second drive-train system that will need to be serviced, maintained, and repaired in time.
In other words, they’ve got you! (And by them, I mean the manufacturer).
Why do you think it is a FACT that motor dealerships (my experience is with NISSAN so I’ll limit my comments to that) actively DISCOURAGE new buyers from buying the LEAF here in Canada? I sent TWO friends to the dealership where I bought my Nissan LEAF. BOTH of them came back disgusted saying that the salesman had tried to switch them onto gasoline powered vehicles – which were apparently a “Great Deal” according to the car salesman. They firmly told the two would-be EV buyers that the technology still needed ‘maturing’ and that the cars were ‘too expensive’ so they should rather think of a regular car for now and save their money. The final insult: THERE WERE ZERO LEAFs ON THE SHOWROOM FLOOR. Over a TWO MONTH period!
And THAT’s from the Nissan Dealer!! You see, the fact is that the dealer gets a MUCH lower markup when selling an EV at this point in history, and also gets VERY much less money on future service and maintenance contracts. So, for the dealer, his heart is simply not in it and in a way, who can blame the car salesman who after all, is really only concerned about the commission he/she takes home at the end of the month. Selling a HYBRID vehicle, however, is a whole different proposition for the dealer. Better markup, and better prospects for ongoing service / maintenance contracts that provide a higher rate of return.
In the US, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have such immense power that in many states they have been able to SHUT DOWN Tesla’s ability to directly market their cars to end consumers. Like Apple does; like IKEA does; like MANY businesses do.
Here is a map showing where Tesla CAN or CANNOT do business:
Yes, you heard right. They use their power and influence to ‘encourage’ state legislatures to pass legislation that forbids the direct sale of cars to the public UNLESS they go through existing dealership channels. And all that in the name of ‘customer protection’!! Find that incredible? Jump to a few of these links and see for yourself:
Oddly enough, it is the Republican Party in Texas that is trying to overturn this ridiculous position: http://electrek.co/2016/05/23/tesla-texas-gop-direct-sales/
However, the THREE main reasons for the apparent slowness of the revolution centre on:
A. Performance issues
B. Range issues
C. Pricing issues
And here’s where it gets really interesting. Thanks to very widely publicized accounts of the way the Tesla Model S has literally smashed the competition (combustion engine vehicles, of course) when it comes to speed, accellaration, and general performance, that the perception of poor performance is rapidly disappearing and most people have heard of the enormous performance advantage of high quality EVs.
Concerning the “Range Anxiety” issues, this has been a real barrier to adoption, and rightly so. Despite the fact that most people don’t travel more than somewhere around 30 miles (48 km) per day, there is still a mental fear of the battery dying on them in the middle of a trip. My LEAF, for example, gives me about 130 real-world kilometers per charge. For me that is perfectly adequate and I charge at home every few days. No problem, UNLESS I am intending to make a long distance trip.
However, with the upcoming launch of the Tesla Model 3, and the Chev Bolt, the new range standard for newly announced EVs is around the 345km mark. This marks a huge upgrade in the range capability, which for most people is more than sufficient, and will go a long way towards allaying the “range anxiety” people talk about so often. Adding to that, Tesla has adopted the approach of creating a very impressive charging network (Supercharger network) to enable easy long distance travel across countries all over the world. Tesla Supercharger stations normally have from 6-8 charging bays – all capable of delivering very high charge rates in the shortest time. Here are some links that illustrate the rapid growth of the charging infrastructure- in particular, the Tesla network:
Concerning the third barrier to adoption – pricing issues – the good news is that pricing is moving towards affordable levels (The Tesla Model 3 anticipated price for the base model is $35,000 USD. Naturally some might say that is still expensive – and it is – but when balanced against the savings in gas and maintenance costs of a regular vehicle over a standard 4 year lease period, it comes out pretty much even.
So, here’s my prediction: given that the three main concerns have been / are being addressed, we are about to witness a revolution such as has never been seen before. Already, sales of EVs have exploded in many areas of the world. People are buying based on word of mouth, their own personal enquiry, a feeling of wanting to do something positive for the environment, as well as government encouragement (via rebates, the dramatic proliferation of charging stations, and perks such as HOV Lane usage and free electricity after midnight for EV owners).
I have a collection of very interesting links which I am posting below that illustrate the surge of interest and increased purchase activity for EVs generally and Tesla in particular.
5. WHY IS TESLA GETTING THE LIONS SHARE OF ATTENTION
Of course, it’s true that Elon Musk has become something of a rock star. With the death of Steve Jobs, there was a vacuum in the field of tech superheroes and Elon Musk (said to be the inspiration for Iron Man movies) was just the man to fill it. The force behind Tesla, behind Spacex, and behind Solar City, Elon’s rise has been meteoric, and the official biography ELON MUSK by Ashlee Vance makes for fascinating reading. Especially the many parallels between him and Steve Jobs.
However the rise of Tesla is not a consequence of his “Rock Star” status, but rather the consequence of his amazing work ethic; his refusal to say die; his unerring ability to snatch victory from the jaws of financial defeat (witness the now famous “death watch” conducted by the LA Times at various times from 2008 through to 2012), but most of all, his ability to create cars that are DESIRABLE, (in his words SEXY). In fact, his model numbers play on the word SEXY – The Model S, the Model X, the upcoming Model 3 (which was to have been called the Model E until Ford threatened a lawsuit) and an upcoming Model Y (details not yet announced). Witness this cover of MotorTrends magazine this week:
More than that, he has shown an unerringly accurate propensity for equipping his vehicles with features that, just a few years ago, would have been considered impossible. Among these are:
- the very popular semi-autonomous driving mode which allows the car to stay within its lane; successfully change lanes when requested; maintain safe following distances, allows for ‘summons’ mode, self parking mode, and avoid accidents from the side, front or back. Plus, every Tesla that USES this functionality is constantly feeding information back to Tesla to improve functionality and accuracy for ALL Tesla’s in what is called ‘HIVE LEARNING’.
- the massive Touch screens in the S, X (and now the 3) on which virtually everything about the car can be controlled with the tap of a finger.
- the incredible network of Superchargers that guarantee Tesla owners FREE passage across countries and continents – a network which is increasing at an amazing rate.
- The most amazing of all (and something not provided by any of the other manufacturers), is the ability for the car’s firmware / software to be updated remotely and wirelessly overnight, while the owner sleeps, providing the owner with a better car than the one he experienced the day before.
Here are some links that detail the features that are exciting and inspiring Tesla owners plus links to surveys showing the almost unbelievably high levels of owner satisfaction.
That is why hundreds of thousands of people who have put down their $1000 on the newly announced Model 3 are prepared to wait. They know there will be slippage and delays, but they know absolutely beyond any doubt that Elon is doing the best he can, and that he BELIEVES in the revolution. He has made money in many other ways (PayPal is an example) but he truly wants to replace EVERY ICE car with an ELECTRIC car – if it’s the last thing he does. Millions of us are hoping it is NOT the last thing that he does 🙂
In response to a few of your response posts, I am going to update this blog tomorrow to deal with the subject of the disposal / recycling of used car batteries – a topic that is not normally discussed or addressed. Thanks to all of you for responding and providing your feeback.