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A Look at Electric Cars


THUNDER BAY, ON  ---   May 10, 2010 --- New gadgets are coming to North Chev  RevoltAmerican roads in the next couple of years. The first generation of electric vehicles will be unleashed on the public. These cars will not be hybrid or partially powered by electricity but completely powered by on board high energy density batteries.

Manufacturers see a huge potential for electric cars, but for them to truly succeed we as drivers will need to change our ways, and like Shakespeare says “There’s the rub”.  It is likely that a base electric car minus the battery is cheaper to manufacture than our petroleum cars. No timing belts, exhaust, gas tanks. Electric drive systems produce good power and torque through a wider range of rpm than gasoline engines so they only need two speeds, forwards and backwards. Designing an electric car must be a joy for engineers. They no longer have to design explosion proof fuel tanks, and have to deal with the heavy weight of an engine at one end of a car. With electric cars the heavy stuff can be spread out and kept low where the weight is best managed. 

Electric cars offer no oil changes, and maintenance would be a lot less than a fuel driven car. They offer dramatic acceleration and quiet operation.  It is true that the cost of electricity to charge the batteries is cheap, but Mr. Shakespeare’s rub starts to itch when it comes to the batteries. The best batteries are expensive, nearly equal to the value of the rest of the car. Paying for these batteries should be visualized as paying about $10 plus the 90 cents or so to charge them every day.  The best Lithium Ion batteries have a limited number of charge cycles before the battery reaches 75% percent of its capacity when new. Manufactures won’t say it but it would be time to put that battery on your solar system and get a new one for your car.

 For the right person who does a lot of urban driving and is home at night to charge their car this could be a solution, but you would need to drive more than 30,000 K each year before a car like Nissan’s Leaf could approach the economy of a Honda Civic or similar car. The fully electric Leaf would have a range of about 100 miles before if will need electrons. There are three types of charges the car can accept 120 volt household current will charge the car from dead in 14 hours, If you switch to the 220 volt dryer circuit your can do a full charge in about eight hours. If you could drive to Bowater and plug into a 550 volt welding outlet, then you could quit work and go home after a half hour. It will be a long time before people  have industrial power outlets at home, but in a few years they might pop up at shopping centres in parking lots designated strictly for electric cars. Users would pay for their charge by credit card.

nissan leaf.When I used to drive to work most of the employees showed up in a large pickup truck. We like our behemoths, and there are actual times when having a large truck comes in useful, so we justify owning and driving a truck with one occupant in it for 11 months so we can go on vacation with the trailer for a month. These people will never drive electric.

City planners like the idea of electric cars. They are small, manoeuvrable, quiet and they don’t pollute. A person could make a short commute to a parking lot where they can charge their car which they get on a GO train and head for Toronto. These cars used in conjunction with public transportation can yield some interesting concepts.

Who might buy such a car? For a start families with many cars in the driveway might find that a city only car makes all kinds of sense. They can save their truck for the weekend trip to the camp. Just the same these electric cars will be too expensive for the average driver, who might decide to drive 12,000K a year instead to 20,000k and continue to curse the gods at the gas pump. Beginning the summer Nissan will begin taking deposits on the new Versa sized Nissan Leaf. There will not be many sold but I am told the local dealership will likely be allotted a few cars. The next few years will be a period of adjustment and evaluation for these new cars. 

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