The Return Of The Electric Car

Editors Note – Please welcome the first of our new writers, James Anderson Merritt.

For most of my life, the electric car was the quaint relic of a bygone age of automotive experimentation and innovation. Electricity was fine for radio-controlled model cars, slot-car racing, or carnival bumper car rides — even golf carts or the moon-buggy that the Apollo astronauts used – but it simply was not practical as the motive source for any serious, roadworthy vehicles here on Earth. The general superiority of the internal combustion engine for personal transportation had been established decades before I was born. By the time I got around to imagining myself behind the wheel of an automobile, the assumption that it would be powered by gasoline, or maybe diesel, was unstated, indeed unconscious. It never even occurred to me to think about alternative possibilities, much less the specific option of driving an EV.
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As the millennium drew near, however, science produced materials that were much lighter and stronger than the steel that had long been used to manufacture cars. As well, scientists developed new batteries, with such names as “NiMH” and “Lithium Ion,” which could hold phenomenal amounts of energy. The sharply rising prices of petroleum fuels during this time motivated some clever engineers and enthusiasts to reconsider the electric car. Their subsequent, impressive efforts to demonstrate the practicality of EVs inspired a great many more of us, including me, to envision ourselves as EV drivers.
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Unless my current car breaks down completely, much sooner than expected, I am determined that it will be my last gasoline-powered vehicle, and that I will replace it with an EV. I have many reasons for this decision, and I must confess that “saving the planet” is actually pretty low on my list. Instead, I am attracted to EVs for reasons of cost and performance. The simple facts are that, properly engineered, electric cars offer better performance than internal combustion engines, while minimizing the cost of operation and maintenance.
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Much has been written about the “neck-snapping” acceleration of the Tesla Roadster and other “sporty” EVs. They can be so impressive because electric motors are both powerful and efficient. An electric motor can convert well over 90% of the energy it consumes into rotational force, while making that full force available at nearly any speed within its operational range. Internal combustion engines, on the other hand, are considered “highly efficient” when they convert only between 30-40% of their fuel energy into motive force. Their greatest fuel efficiency occurs in a narrow operational range, so cars based on internal-combustion engines need transmissions that involve complex arrangements of gears, in order to deliver adequate force to the wheels without wasting even more fuel (or stalling).
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Transmissions, and the many other moving parts of a conventional automobile drive-train, offer numerous opportunities for failure. Electric motors, in contrast, are among the most reliable and long-lived devices that mankind has ever produced. They do not require the extensive, ongoing lubrication that internal combustion engines do. They function well across a wide variety of environmental conditions, and can provide good service even after years of punishment. Typically available electric drive-trains can propel a car for at least three miles, whether in urban stop-and-go traffic or at fast highway speeds, using only one kilowatt-hour of energy, My utility bill shows that last month, I paid just under eighteen cents per kilowatt-hour, so I would need only six cents per mile to fuel the EV of my dreams. Paying around $3.00 per gallon of regular gas for my current vehicle, which reports in-town fuel efficiency of only 15 miles per gallon, I now spend 20 cents on fuel alone, for every mile traveled. I’ll be able to plug my EV in for a cheap recharging, anywhere I could run an electric clothes dryer. I’m looking forward to that convenience, and to those savings.
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These days, I frequently imagine myself going for a drive in “my eVie.” I start by unplugging the car from the power outlet, then sliding behind the wheel and turning the key. Except for the music on the radio, she doesn’t make a sound until I put her into forward gear and press the accelerator pedal. There is just a slight whine as we pull out of the driveway and onto surface streets. The length of the red light down the block used to bother me – I couldn’t help but think of all the fuel that was being burned while I was stuck, idling in traffic. Now, as long as I am in no hurry, I just happily listen to the radio, as there is no “engine idling” to waste energy or emit pollution with my eVie. A few blocks later, I veer onto the freeway onramp and press the accelerator again, just a bit harder than I did earlier, and am instantly pressed back into my seat as the sound of the rushing wind and the whine of the motor grow louder. We’re moving at 65 mph in a handful of seconds, well before reaching the end of the on-ramp’s merge lane. I match speed with traffic and am soon in the fast lane.
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Whenever I accelerate to pass another car, even going uphill, it seems as if my eVie is aggressively pulling the pavement under me. Driving hasn’t felt this good since the 1990s and that old Mustang convertible with its Premium-guzzling V8 engine. But gas was cheaper back then. More vexing was the expense of frequent oil changes and necessary maintenance procedures to keep the pony in top shape. And the smog checks: I almost forgot about them. The last time I took my eVie in for service, six or eight months before, she came out with a clean bill of health: all she needed were two new windshield wiper blades in anticipation of the coming rainy season. As my eVie and I head down the Cabrillo Highway to the beaches of Monterey, I turn off the radio. The soft, high-pitched hum of her motor and the rumbling of the rushing air blend together into all the music I need on this fine, late-summer morning. Where were you all my life, eVie? But life is good, now.

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11 Comments

Elemental P

Welcome James, you probably know this but the acronym for your name is JAM, you should be a musician…

Michael Bayliss

Nice article will look forward to reading more of your stuff dude. I can’t wait to get my EV either.

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