Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Folly of Electric Vehicles

I came across this on the Freakonomics blog. The gist of the article is that even though we've been trying to produce electric vehicles that meet consumers needs for over a century, we're finally on the verge of making it this time.

There are still two main issues that will prevent EV's from becoming mainstream:

1) Charging time - if I run out of gas, it takes me 5 minutes to fill up (expect in NJ, where for no apparent reason, I'm not as qualified to pump my own gas as the part time high school junior, so I have to wait for him to attend to all the other customers before he gets to me). If my battery runs dead, it takes several hours to charge up again.

2) The biggest problem is cost - Anyone who has purchased replacement batteries for their power tools can attest that the batteries cost almost as much as buying a brand new tool. According to the chart referenced in the article, only one of the upcoming plugin vehicles costs under $40,000 - and that vehicle will likely include a battery lease so who knows what the actual cost of Nissan's Leaf will be.

If economy (in terms of how much it costs to transport me around) were my primary concern, I'd purchase a small 4 cylinder gas vehicle for at least $25,000 less (the savings would be even greater if I'm financing the vehicle, since I'd be paying less interest since I'd be borrowing less).

Suppose I only get 20 MPG in said 4 cylinder vehicle (most economy cars will get at least 25, but lets be conservative here). Even if gas went up to $5.00/gallon, if I drove 10,000 miles per year, the $25,000 I saved (not counting the interest saved) would get me 10 years worth of gas. This is even under the assumption that the electricity used to charge the vehicle were free (which it most certainly will not be).

Many will point out that government incentives and rebates will reduce the cost, as if government rebates make something economically viable. The bottom line is, government money still comes out of our pockets. The bottom line is that electric vehicles will drain our nations economic resources far more than gasoline vehicles - regardless of who pays the bill.

NOTE: This is not to say there will NEVER be an electric vehicle, but $40,000 vehicles are not the way to go. Battery prices are not going to come down as the technology has gone pretty much as far as it goes under the known laws of physics. Until someone comes up with a cheap way to store electrical energy, that can quickly be replenished AND is portable, it's not going to happen.


  1. Hogwash!! I just got a pack of batteries for $5.99

  2. How many miles will you get from your 12 pack of AA's?

    Deep cycle rechargeable batteries are quite a bit more.

    Replacement batteries for my cordless drill are $40 a pop. The original drill was ~$100 & included 2 batteries.

    A replacement drive battery for the Prius runs $2500 - and that only provides supplemental power.

    Relying on batteries as the sole source of power is going to be cost prohibitive for most people - and makes no economic sense.

  3. The first computer system my family had in the early 80s cost thousands (I remember it being $5,000) -- it had 256K of memory,2 floppy drives, a 16-color monitor, and a dot matrix printer - TOP OF THE LINE ALL THE WAY!!

  4. Uh, a computer with 256K memory in the 80's with 2 floppy drives and the monitor and printer you described would not have cost $5000.

    $2500, maybe, but not $5000.


  5. The point isn't about quibbling over exact numbers, but to say that the initial cost of technology is typically expensive and doesn't make much economic sense for most people.

    If I won $90,000 (after taxes), I would get a Tesla in a heartbeat. I don't care if it's range is only 200 miles. I don't care if it takes over night to charge. I don't care that it's just a two-seater.

    All I know is that it's WAY COOLER than your car ;)

  6. Your reasoning is effective here only if you ignore the hidden environmental costs. While the level of environmental impact gasoline-powered vehicles have is up for dispute (indeed, production of electric vehicles has environmental impact as well), there is certainly a good deal of continual environmental impact attributable to you operating a gasoline powered vehicle.

    Thus, to perform a valid cost-benefit analysis you should consider adding a carbon emissions term to your formulation before you sum dollars. If the prospects for environmental impact are as serious as my colleagues in the environmental sciences claim, then it would be substantially irresponsible to ignore those costs, if we wish to retain the title of good stewards of this planet. Moreover, I don't think we can appeal to the sophomoric argument that "China and India are doing it, so we can too!" - we should be leading by example, not engaging in a childish game of pointing fingers.