Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Electric dreams

I do like Boris Johnson believe it or not - but he does talk the most absurd crap at times. Perhaps one of the most annoying things about him is that he has a regular spot in The Telegraph which he could use to put across proper conservative ideas, but instead chooses to talk the most inane drivel. Today's is about his appearance on Top Gear - with a plug for electric cars thrown in.

As they have discovered on Top Gear, electric cars are not just glorified milkfloats these days. There is already something out there called the Tesla, which can apparently do 125mph and go for 250 miles without needing to have its batteries recharged.

Yeah? Then what? Let's say you're on a trip from London to Aviemore to enjoy a little Scottish skiing - which is about to undergo a renaissance with the coming cold spell of the next few years. It's roughly 600 miles or so, give or take. That means it's going to take you three days to reach your destination - sure, it only costs you a tenner in fuel costs, but the £150 in hotel bills plus food more than compensates for that.

The internal combustion engine is not king because it is the only choice. It is king because, right now, it is the only sensible choice. Until there is an electric car which can travel 250 miles (at least) and recharge in 10 minutes then no one is going to switch to them. That technology - even if it becomes available - is still a long way off.

Add on the fact that the batteries themselves (the lithium-ion ones) currently cost around £4000 and only last for around five years and that kind of puts a damper on the whole thing. Imagine the depreciation on a £20,000 electric car? Who is going to buy a three year old electric car knowing they'll have to shell out another £4000 inside two years? And that's assuming average motoring! Do a lot of mileage and your electric dream machine will be so much scrap in two years!

Electric cars haven't caught on because they are completely impractical outside of the city - and as most cities have pretty decent public transport systems (or should have, Boris!) they haven't really caught on in cities either.

You buy your electric buggy, Boris - I'll stick to my internal combustion engine and I'll meet you in Aviemore for some skiing. I'll give you a days start and will still be on the slopes long before you!


JuliaM said...

It never ceases to amaze me how green idiots (and the people who want to placate green idiots) point to the electric car as a gaia-saving invention.

And the electricity used to recharge said electric car? Not produced in a CO2-spewing powerplant, by any chance? Or a gently-glowing nuclear plant?

No, must be poohed by unicorns....

Anonymous said...

And don't forget that the Tesla actually costs $100,000... you could buy a 1980s/1990s Ferrari and run it for years for less money; and on past experience the Ferrari would at least retain its value over those years whereas the Tesla will lose most of its.

But don't worry: if they get their $400,000,000 bailout from Obama they're going to invest it in making $60,000 saloon cars. I'm sure they'll have queues around the block eager to buy those.

Back in reality land, the only really promising 'electric' car design I've seen is the Volt, but even that is overpriced at $40,000. Until someone can build the electric equivalent of a Civic for $20,000 it's a non-starter for all but rich Greenies; and Tesla seem to be discovering that rich and Greeny aren't two words that go together well.

Stan said...

The Chevy Volt is a hybrid. The most successful hybrid - The Prius - is only affordable to the general public because Toyota takes a massive loss on each one it sells and they can only afford to do that because they sell lots and lots of huge Landcruiser SUV's!

Your point about where the electricity comes from is very pertinent, JuliaM. I often think the same about electric trains. People seem to think these get their electricity from "magic", but I'm afraid that it still comes from the usual suspects - coal, oil and gas - and it still has to be supplied to the train somehow. This brings further probelms too - either the live "third" rail or overhead cables which are prone to damage from falling branches/weather. That, in turn, requires huge maintenance which is why they just about get away with them in city/urban zones, but know damn well that a national network of electric trains is impractical.

I'm an old fogey anyway. I'd much rather see beautiful, elegant steam engines thundering through our countryside pulling those lovely old coaches with side corridors, deeply upholstered seats and small compartments that gave you a certain amount of privacy.

You know, it's an area we ignore today - aesthetics. Steam engines seemed to fit in with the countryside - sight and sound - to be part of it rather than alien to it. A bit like the way brick built road or rail bridges seem to blend into the landscape while ugly concrete prefab ones appear so incongruous.

They call it progress, but shouldn't progress actually result in some improvement? Our trains are no faster, less comfortable, uglier, smellier, no more reliable and considerably less civilised than they were in the age of steam. If that's progress you can keep it!

Anonymous said...

"The Chevy Volt is a hybrid."

It's an electric car with a generator for the times when you have to make long journeys. For most people commuting less than thirty miles a day they can run it on plug-in power as much as they want to.

Which is precisely why it's a much better idea than hybrids that burn petrol but use the batteries for a boost; you get the best of both worlds since you can choose which power source to use, at least for short journeys, and you don't have to worry about where you're going to recharge on long journeys.