A recent story in Reuters posited electric cars are headed toward another dead end. The outcome was illustrated at the Pennsylvania Auto Show last month in Harrisburg, where there was plenty of emphasis on gasoline and precious little on electric though hybrids were well represented.
But while Reuters was pronouncing Last Rites for all-electric automobiles, others were painting a slightly rosier picture. I submit the demise of the electric car is greatly exaggerated in a storyline carefully engineered by the oil industry.
The problem with EVs for personal ownership in rural settings is their range. The Nissan Leaf, for instance, boasts less than 100 miles on a charge. In a practical sense, the car will carry four workers from anywhere in the county in which I live, 35-or-so miles one-way to their job in the state capital, and return home. Its economical, and environmentally much cleaner than sitting in traffic burning gas, making smog.
Unfortunately, the $30,000 cost of such a vehicle is a little difficult to swallow for most buyers. At last years Pennsylvania Auto Show, a Leaf was listed for about $35,000. This year, Nissan has trimmed more than $6,000 to create what some of our grandparents would have called a stripped down model although there remains in the lineup a higher-priced model with an optional, energy-efficient Bose audio system.
Even with a Nissan-supported $199-a-month lease, after five years the buyer still owes more than half the original list price of the car. Leasing is a good deal for a business, but for a private owner, not so much. Add the cost of a home-based charging station one can be bought from Amazon for about $1,000, not including installation and the investment is not small.
In the early part of the last century, when electricity was replacing kerosene and natural gas for lighting sidewalks and homes, a fellow named Rockefeller discovered, quite by accident, that a petroleum byproduct he had been disposing in local streams and rivers could be sold to power horseless carriages. Thus began the rule of gasoline, with oil companies opening their own service stations across the nation. Mileage wasnt great in cars of the day, but gasoline was cheap and plentiful, announced along the highways by iconized winged horses and dinosaurs.
Now, although the number of gasoline producers has been cut to a small handful, the product remains plentifully available at grocery and convenience stores, with competing retailers often stacked four or five to an intersection.
What are needed are more miles to the charge, and more chargers to the mile. Unfortunately, at least so far, neither car companies nor entrepreneurs have been eager to fill the fueling void. Car companies want someone else to build the charging networks, and entrepreneurs who might fill the void would like to see some cars sold before they invest in the necessary infrastructure.
But sales already are improving, with some auto reports noting up to three times more EV sales in 2012 than in the previous year. Eventually, the price of electric cars will become affordable, and more attractive as petroleum sellers continue to pump up the price ofthe gasoline with which we inject our current vehicles to get them through another day of urban commuting.
Also, EVs are a near perfect fit for car rental companies, especially in the Zip Car business model, by which someone who needs a car walks to the curb, swipes a credit card and driver license through the reader, and drives off in a new electric car. Need fulfilled, the renter leaves the car at another charging station and walks away, while the vehicle is charged for the next customer.
Many naysayers point out the electric vehicles are not zero polluters; electricity must be generated, and the generating plants create their own greenhouse gases, often equal to the blanket produced by rush-hour-bound gasoline burners.
But coal, the main producer of electricity plant greenhouse gases, is being replaced by cheaper, cleaner natural gas. with the potential to move what air pollution they produce out of urban areas now subjected to cars that sit in traffic blowing asthma attacks out their tailpipes.
As more relatives of Superstorm Sandy and the western fire storms proliferate, and rising global temperatures continue to garble weather patterns, electric cars will become increasingly attractive.
We could accelerate the process if, instead of pouring billions of dollars in subsidies into already exceedingly profitable oil companies, we put that tax money into cleaning up the air in and around our homes. Why not offer incentives to companies that would install charging stations in office parking areas and turnpike rest areas to encourage the new technology.
A car that only runs 75 miles on a battery charge would look very enticing, fully charged and ready to go quietly home except for the sound of an energy-efficient Bose sound system at the end of a work day.
Photo by motorblog
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