When EVs finally make sense

Electric Car Market Penetration Is On Track

Despite the doom and gloom of recent news headline, sales of electric cars, EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids, PHEV are on track given the maturity of the this fairly new technology.
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These last two weeks have been harsh on the developing EV market. Pike Research turned two interesting studies, one pointing to the obvious, see my article Electric Car Naysayers... Another shed more light as to the overall picture. If consumers are still too skittish to buy EVs, fleet aren’t and hybrid medium to heavy duty truck sales is poised for growth at a compounded annual rate of 63%, with sales approaching 300,000 vehicles between 2010 to 2015.

The gist is this is a fairly new technology pushed onto the hands of the public to adapt to an electric infrastructure not originally designed for fast charging. 110V household socket limits much. A step back into history shows the gas car didn't happen overnight and it would be not only foolish to imagine EVs will do.

First, There Were Horses. The horse carriage lovers screamed bloody murder when the dreaded steam machine came about. The rest is history. Steam machine lovers screamed abomination when the electric motor arrived. The rest is history. Now somewhere along the line, against all odds and logic, the internal combustion engine using petroleum arrived. It was no prizewinner in its infancy. A 12 liter engine would push as much as 24 hp over a century ago, today it pushes well north of 1000 hp. Had the petroleum companies not begged Ford and other early carmakers to abandon electric cars and place gas stations conveniently every so many miles, the electric car would have happily developed, as its gas counterpart did.

The point here is that gas cars, weren’t born gas sipping turbo direct and multi-air injection with electric and hydraulic valves and automatic timing adjustments, sophisticated gear box machines. These tweaks took decades to happen. On the flip side, EVs have done relatively well in a few years, considering the little investment carmakers made in the past century, compared to gas cars.

Back To Our Research. Doesn’t it make more sense to let utilities and fleet owners first buy into EVs, as many carmakers have found? This way, the automobile industry can continue to tweak the electric drive according to the data gathered.

The real problem is not in the numbers, it is with the lack of common sense when it comes to expectations. Most “experts” still function under last decade’s exuberant growth numbers and projection curbs, all relative to a pre-recession economy built on an unsustainable basis. Is the fact that GM sold less Volt than it did a failure, when those same numbers would be great for any limited run car? We need to readjust our way of looking at sales projections and keep in mind that EV batteries haven’t had the resources petroleum and hydrogen has had over the decades, and despite that, still perform quite well, hinting at an even better tomorrow.


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Comments

Nicholas, I know you would love to have a better solution for portable energy than gasoline, but that just doesn't make it so. It's unfortunate for a number of reasons, I know, but nonetheless true: oil is the most portable fuel source. Today's electric cars wouldn't exist without massive government subsidy, and we can't sustain it. There will be a niche market for these vehicles, but that is it. These cars use just as much energy as a comparable gasoline car anyway, except for those low speed only, urban niche markets for which they are suited. I've learned a lot about energy in my life, I've been in propulsion and power generation for over 25 years. Additionally, I've been a back yard transportation experimenter since I was 12, with hobbies including from model railroading, bicycling, model aviation, light aircraft, sailing, windsurfing, hang gliding, ultralights, boating, and skiing (both snow and water.) I look forward to improvements in efficiency, and electric vehicles as much as anybody. I see a lot of money being thrown down the drain for today's electric cars though. Worthwhile innovations are on the way.
Anonymous -- You are correct about gasoline being much more highly portable than electricity. It currently limits the number of applications that pure EV's are well suited for. As of today, people could only replace probably no more than approx 10-20% of the vehicles currently on the road with today's EV's. Today's PHEV's are also only suitable to replace around another approx 10-20%. So due to today's limitations of energy portability, the best today's EV's and PHEV's can do is replace somewhere around 20-40% of US cars. People will bicker about exactly what those percents are, but that is completely irrelevant. Because there is absolutely no way that car manufacturers will be able to ramp up to build enough BEV's and PHEV's to replace just 10% of current cars before the 2nd and 3rd generation of even better BEV's and PHEV's with longer ranges start being released a few years from now. Tomorrow's next generation EV's and PHEV's will be suitable to replace even more gas vehicles where the limits of energy portability are an issue. Meanwhile, improvements in charging and charging infrastructure will reduce how much the issue of energy portability limits EV and PHEV ownership. Energy portability certainly is a real problem for some uses. But that simply doesn't matter at this point in development, because there are more than enough uses where energy portability just isn't a big enough barrier to stop families from replacing one or more of their current gas cars with EV's and PHEV's. Even with a worst-case scenario where decades from now for some reason EV and PHEV ownership maxes out at as low as 50% of the total market directly due to the limitations of energy portability, EV's and PHEV's will still be a massive success, doing more for US Energy Independence than any other single technology. The good thing is that EV's and PHEV's never have to replace 100% of all vehicles, even if the technology advances to the point where energy portability isn't half as much an issue as it is today. Highly transportable fuels like cellulosic ethanol, algae biodiesel, natural gas, etc can still be used for applications where energy portability is a hard requirement. No single answer will ever be the only solution. In fact, biofuels and the electrification of cars work together very well. You are correct that EV subsidies are not sustainable. This is why the $7,500 dollar tax credit was never designed to be sustainable, and will sunset after just 200K units for each manufacturer. These subsidies are only to speed up getting past the early adopter phase that all new technologies have had to work past since the beginning of the industrial age. The money isn't just going to "today's electric cars", it is paving the way towards launching tomorrow's unsubsidized electric cars too. One day when you buy yourself an unsubsidized EV for the same amount (or less) than a comparable gas car, it will be because of subsidies happening now. Unfortunately, just like all new major technologies, the market has to work past the more expensive early stages in order to ever make it to mainstream levels where prices can come down. Some will say I'm overly optimistic, while I say that you are overly pessimistic. I humbly suggest you are making a major mistake if you are betting against America's ability to innovate, discover, invent, and revolutionize any industry --- especially the automotive industry. I'll be happy to stand on my bet behind American success.
Hi Nixon, your optimism is what fuels advancement in whatever fields we decide to pursue. You also make a good point, the real problems with EV are in states like Montana where distance between cities is greater than say Los Angeles, Atlanta, etc. The Mid-West faces some serious infrastructure development. I couldn't agree more with your last statement. America has innovated in the past, it is now slowly realizing it still can. As I turn my attention to small businesses and research groups, I find innovation is well alive. After that, they get gobbled up by big corporations :) Thanks for the comment, Nicolas
Me pessimistc? I think that I am realistic, and optimistic... just not for the wrong technology. I've developed a worthy technology by myself over the last 21 months or so, and I completed a proof-of-concept prototype of it last month. I'm getting a patent lawyer on it now, and looking forward to commercializing it ASAP. You're betting on me! And your going to like it when you see it. It won't make our current transportation completely obselete, but in it's niche it will dominate, and it's niche is going to make about 5% of our current driving completely unnecessary. Reducing nationwide driving by even 1% would have many benefits. It will only work if it proves economical though, as I am confident it will. Further down the road, this new technology will begin to displace other vehicular traffic. I have a roadmap for how to do that, and I am working on implementing this first phase now. So far I have no outside support, and have operated on an average burn rate of about $150 per month. Of course the legal fees are about to arrive, and I'll be "scaling" up the prototype into a demonstration grade production. My webpage is still a little vague about what I'm up to, but does provide a hint of it at ppackrabbit dot net. I'm working hard on nights and weekends to make American success a winning bet.
Hi Anonymous, you make some good points but I would also argue there are more electric cabling and socket than gas stations anywhere. Electricity is even more portable than liquids and much is being done in this field. The real hidden EV race is the infrastructure, as you point out. We are currently using 110V for homes, which is another bottle neck. The grid needs to beef up and be able to handle two-way communications and smart charging, commonly called Smart Grid (also touted as a national security feature). The good news here is that utilities, such as Southern California Edison, Duke, PG&E, amongst many are feverishly working to make it happen. In an interview I did a few years back with Ed Kjaer, a veteran here at SCE, I learned the utility was not opening new power station but working on saving electricity, through better lines and distribution. That alone gave 14,000 extra homes electricity in their region with more power. As far as subsidies, we have always subsidized petroleum and gasoline, until now ethanol, so switching over to battery technology is no different for me. Railroad you mention is one of the most efficient way of moving cargo. Once the locomotive has pulled the dead inertia, it is highly efficient and relies on electric motors to move this. Electric trains, I know a few things about this, I'm European are even more efficient. In the end, 60 % of that gasoline in our tanks is wasted energy. 3 to 10% of electricity is wasted in a battery vehicle. Add a few more years of development, look for my upcoming IBM article and you will see we have been working on different battery chemistry that boost 3 to 15 times more the energy density. I fear on the flipside, gas engines won't have a lot of room for improvement and we will quickly come to a dead end, unless we start burning hydrogen in them. p.s., despite my hydrogen pokes, I'm a firm believer in burning hydrogen. Thanks for your comment, Nicolas, no H, thanks :)
Nicolas, Sorry about spelling your name wrong. My youngest is named Nicholas, (and I need to get bifocals for reading.) Be careful when you tally up your numbers. Keep in mind that the electricity supplied by the grid is artificial, and had to be produced. Even if there are some ways to directly harvest environmental energy that don't involve fossil fuel, they too have their drawbacks and expenses. In fact, without subsidy, I think you'll find that only hydropower beats coal and natural gas for total price. Anyway, I have to point out the drawbacks of electric cars because I am working on something that addresses these deficiencies, and it can be a bit frustrating to work hard without any support while I pay my taxes which in part are given to support today's electric cars, including their flaws.
No problem about my name Anonymous, I don't take things personally. Yes, you are right about most of electricity is produced by coal, CNG and petroleum. This goes back to the argument of is it better to have a few energy power stations putting out gas or billions or tail pipe emissions. Yes, alternative energy sources have drawbacks. Obviously, we, humans are a big drawback on our planet, even by the simple fact we breath out pollutants. The point is to find the least harmful energy source until we are in the Star Trek age and can power a country on a thimble of dark energy or anti-matter. So far, you are right that only hydro energy beats the heavily subsidized petroleum/coal/CNG total price. We are talking about a technology that hasn't had as much research, development and "subsidies as the petroleum industry. I understand your point and agree there are drawback at this stage but there are a lot of people who are working hard on it, you, apparently included. There are only solutions out there. Thanks, Nicolas
Unfortunately, there are many things than solutions out there. Our history is cluttered with a never ending river of unfeasible fiascos right alongside of that ongoing, albeit sometimes intermittent, stream of successful innovation, and everything in between.
"These cars use just as much energy as a comparable gasoline car anyway," ??? Incorrect. One gallon of gasoline is the equivalent to 115,000 BTU's of energy that can produce 24 Kilowatt hours of energy which so happens to be what a Nissan Leaf holds fully charged and can travel 70 to 130 miles depending on speed driven. A conventional gasoline car will only go 15 to 30 miles per gallon on average. Energy to produce one gallon of gasoline at a refinery requires 7 Kilowatt hours of energy per gallon which has to be transported in Trucks to gas station using more energy then using even more energy to pump it into gas tanks at the pumps so it can run at 20% efficiency with 80% of the heat energy going out the tail pipe.
You are clueless.
If portable fuel is our transportation goal why not also pursue technology to sythesize alternative clean fuel? High temperature reactors (such as liquid fluoride thorium reactor) offer a great heat and electricity source to synthesize potential fuels such as ammonia and methanol economically and cleanly, extracting nitrogen from air or carbon dioxide from power plants. Both of these substances can be used in internal combustion engines and fuel cells. The bottom line is that there are a multitude of alternatives to our fossil fuel dependant transportation system.
Portable fuel isn't our transportation goal in of itself. It is a restriction. Portability is just another technological hurdle that EV's will need to tackle over time. There are clear paths forward that are currently being advanced and are entirely solvable. I respect all the power sources you mentioned. They can be pursued each on their own merits. If they work in the long-term, that's cool. But meanwhile there is already an alternative that is available to buy today. Buying a car isn't like getting married. You can get an EV today, and sell it and buy a thorium car or a nitrogen car or whatever if they find their way to market some day.
Electric Hydraulic Hybrid design is the future of EV's. While all of you are right, your also all wrong. The EV market penetration problems are many, but here is the biggest one. The drive train and its associated components are about 35% of the total COST to build a car. The drivetrain is also the largest MARGIN part of the vehicle (biggest profit). If you were them, you would not want to replace that big ass profit either. As a public company (with your 401K money), they cannot intentionally make less money. You would be pissed if they did that and screwed YOUR retirement. With current technology, EV powertrain COSTS are upwards of 70% and they LOSE money on the drivetrain. And, if you can rely on imperical scientific data about the portability of energy, gas is less portable and consumes the largest amount of energy to transport, period. An electric hydraulic hybrid is the way to go. Dual renergerative braking captures and stores hydraulic power for launch and electrical regen stores energy for driving. Hydraulic energy capture takes the high power of regen that you would normally try to shove (all of it?) into the batteries (and subsequently ruin them), and puts it into a dumb, tireless hydraulic accumulaotr. The leftover energy that couldn't fit in the accumulator...goes in the batteries, alot easier (save the batteries and friction brakes last 5 years!). Hydraulic regen and launch means you don't need electrical launch power....fewer batteries (bye bye cost!). Less aggressive electrical regen means the batteries last longer, and decrease overal life cycle costs (another win). Reduced electrical demand means batteries of lower cost chemistries can now be used, further reducing the vehicles up front costs and life cycle costs (chemistry rocks). Hydraulic lregen and aunch is out their now, today, for gas/diesel applications. Eaton, Parker and Bosch Rexroth all have videos on YouTube, as does the EPA. Look for yourself. Oh, and while you are watching, imagine an electrical prime mover instead of an engine. Engines don't have regen...LMAO! I own the patent for this technolgy (with early priority date and it has already survived a challenge from an OEM), and I am trying to raise money for the prototype. Look at the crowdsource fundraising site fundageek, and look for the ERS Drive. There is some written documentation you can read also. Crappy video I know (first one I ever tried to make), but hey, I am a big block, 4 speed, gas loving gearhead, not a video geek. I am also an inventor...the granted patent speaks for itself. Thanks for the time and space. Comments are welcome.
Hi ERS Drive, I would welcome more news on a Hydraulic Hybrid drivetrain. While the idea sounds good, I;m wondering if it is similar to that 50s concept of using a gigantic flywheel to keep momentum going and helping buses start again with minimum engine input? Of course, using hydraulics is a different beast. Give me some links if you can, if not you have my email. To reiterate the point of the article, we have a finite time period to act. We need to choose one solution and communally work on it. If all manufacturers chose to work on one specific lithium, or other chemistry, prices would drop, standards would be accepted, and over all EV prices would drop. The deal here is to look at all alternative transportation options and choose the most promising within the shortest time-frame that has the least amount of development time, resource and energy. When I take these factors into consideration, it points towards battery propulsion. Thanks for your comments, Nicolas
Nicolas, Thanks for the reply. I agree with you concerning the singular direction approach to reduce costs. My problem with all battery electrics is the power density required forces the system to use expensive chemistires, which are not at our ready disposal (trading oil dependency for lithium). Ultracaps are still pricing their widespread adoption out of the reach of most vehicle producers. And let's not forget the fact chemistries have "thermal events". We are simply asking batteries to do to much...at least at the price point needed to make the economically viable. The logical solution is to find a power dense energy source that is abundantly available...and while chemistries can't do that affordably, hydraulics can. Capturing decel energy with hydraulic components is CHEAP, easy, and a well understood technology. The supply chain for hydraulic components is mature, without raw material constraints that hinder scale production and they have an entire industries in place supporting their manufacture and service. Having said that, the electric hydraulic drive actually supports your argument about picking a technology which can be implimented quickly. You said "...choose the most promising within the shortest time-frame that has the least amount of development time, resource and energy". I agree. The ERS Drive uses existing components, none of which have supply issues or technological hurdles to clear before they can be produced in scale volumes, unlike power AND energy dense batteries. . wait a tic, hydraulics are already produced in huge volume, and the best performers have already optimized their efficiencies and reduced their costs through lean manufacturing. There ya go! Then you said "When I take these factors into consideration, it points towards battery propulsion". With all due respect, that is incorrect. It's OK if you don't know about hydraulic launch technology, most people don't. I have been told by those in the know at the EPA and other places that I was way ahead of the curve on the technology, and when I patented the ERS Drive, there was, at most, a couple of hundred people (at Eaton mostly) thinking about it, but they were looking at gas/diesel hydraulic hybridization, not electric vehicles with hydraulic augmentation. Substituting inexpensive, power dense hydraulics that are fully capable of regenerative energy caputure, storage and use for very expensive battery chemistries that require a host of expensive supporting devices is obvious from a financial and physics point of view. Besides, Eatons HLA system is going for 40 grand when they have under 5 in it (there's that pesky margin again). Hydraulic regen captures about 70% of the energy when braking from low speeds (typically around 30mph is the testing standard), and the rest goes to the friction brakes. With dual regen, the energy above and beyond the 70% is sent to the batteries. This is advantageous for several reasons. Regular EV's regen aggresively, trying to shove a gallon of electricity into a pint (metaphor), but ERS elec regen is less aggressive, inputing around 20 to 30% of the available braking energy. This charge rate is much better on the batteries, as high charge/discharge rates ruin batteries. Also, with hydraulic regen and launch, fewer batteries are required. That makes them cheaper to produce and more affordable for buyers. Just go to YouTube and search Hydraulic Hybrid, and there are dozens of videos on the subject showing commercialized product available today. My video and paperwork is at the fundageek crowdsouce site. Putting hydraulics on an EV is probably the absolute best use of an existing technology to solve the problems associated with EV's. That's why I like physics...it either works or it doesn't. Our initial mathematical modeling shows a 300% increase in efficiency and a 400% increase in range. Using the New York City Taxi drive profile (NYC10), we get 50 mpgge (with fewer batteries) in a 5100lb US Postal Service delivery vehicle (the S-10 based LLV). Even if we are off by 50%, that is still really good! Thanks again for the time.
Hi ERS Drive, you got my curiosity picked. I just found an article on FundAGeek that talks about you. Please send me information and we can do a story. I wantr to reiterate my point, which only consists of this human being's POV, that we are going toward an electric drive platform, until we can use anti-matter or dark energy :) In the meantime, hybrids are a first step, followed by PHEV and finally EVs. Then again, it's only my POV. The more the merrier. Thank you, Nicolas