Gonna Race Down to Electric Avenue
By Anthony “Mario” Crea
As motorsports enthusiasts and all-around car gurus, it should come as no surprise that we “traditionalists” are vehemently opposed to the advent of autonomous cars, special circumstances notwithstanding. I’m so opposed to the idea that I digressed into a G.O.M. (Grumpy Old Man) and wrote about this very topic last year.
I’d like to openly welcome electric cars into our little niche and present them as viable alternatives to vehicles currently powered by internal combustion engines. Now, before you decide that I must be tarred and feathered like a Loyalist during the American Revolution, let’s examine what makes electric cars more appealing now than they’ve ever been in almost 120 years of existence.
But first, a disclaimer… I still love the internal combustion engine with all their charms and idiosyncrasies. As “traditionalists”, we’ve admired and experienced them in all manner of cylinder counts, displacements, and forms of aspiration our whole lives. Indeed, many of us have had the privilege of driving cars with engines that produced prodigious amounts of power and did so generating sounds so glorious, one openly thanked the prehistoric organisms that became the fuel source of this joy.
Yet, as we hurtle through time, it’s important to remember that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Hence, I believe the electric car will be a boon for the majority of the driving public for a variety of reasons. Conversely, the potential for driving enthusiasts, “traditionalists” such as ourselves, to benefit from the electric vehicle’s inevitable arrival may prove to be an untapped source of vehicular awesomeness in its own right!
For starters, consider the state of battery technology. It’s constantly improving. Heck, its development is more fluid than the air we breathe. Relentless amounts of research has occurred within the walls of large corporations, research labs, universities, and independent firms alike as experts from each sector work feverishly to find the “silver bullet” of metals and chemical compounds that will provide enough energy – for sufficient amounts of time – to all but eliminate range anxiety.
The motors themselves are capable of being immensely powerful and torquey while simultaneously being compact, light, and simple. Because electric motors essentially feature but one moving part, they can rev to stratospheric numbers currently unheard of in internal combustion engines due to limitations in valvetrain durability. Best of all, maximum torque occurs at zero RPM, meaning electric motors are ready the moment you are! The result of this immense flexibility in power delivery has meant many manufacturers have decided power should be transferred to the wheels via single-speed transaxles. Put another way… It’s like driving an RC car with air conditioning and a radio!
While this may not sound engaging to “traditionalists” when compared to driving a vehicle with proper manual transmissions (or even a dual-clutch automated manual), consider the following: F1 engineers have tried for years to reduce the shift times of their transmissions to milliseconds for this very reason… Incredibly rapid shifts = Fewer delays in power delivery = Greater performance = Lower lap times = More wins. = More championships.
See the trend?
Put another way, it’s why the fastest autocross cars (those in A Modified) opt to keep the CVT transmissions that come on the snowmobile engines they often run. Sure, CVT’s are considered tremendously uncool from an enthusiast standpoint, but there’s no denying their ability to get the job done. Additionally, the cars are so fast, the driver wouldn’t have time to get the most out of the vehicle if shifting duties were left to the human!
Still need more convincing? How about this Tesla-powered, Kia Soul EV energized, 427 Cobra?
C’mon! Admit it, you like it!
Now that we’re halfway through 2017, Tesla, Chevrolet, Ford, Mercedes, and Kia are but a few of the manufacturers that have electric cars that can easily approach, or even surpass, 200 miles of range per charge that you and I could buy today. It’s safe to say that other manufacturers have their own electric vehicles in development as a result of this newfound popularity. Having a solid range benchmark has done a great deal towards bolstering the public’s appeal towards the electric vehicle as well. Indeed, 200 miles easily handles most people’s driving habits for a good portion of a standard work week. To help sweeten the deal, more & more businesses are offering charging stations for employees to charge their batteries while toiling away in the office.
Additionally, the cost of charging at home is mere pittance compared to what the price of fuel could become again. I often remind my environmental science students that we’re only one earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, or terrorist attack away from $4/gallon regular gas once again. If recent discoveries in tar sands and other high-risk-extraction areas is making you say, “Tony’s crazy, it’ll never get that high!”, remember this… Oil prices are heavily influenced by speculation and, as a result, fearfulness. As many of us currently drive vehicles that require premium fuel, such catastrophes could mean we’re looking at a $5/gallon reality if the proverbial shit hits the fan.
For comparison, one could fully charge an electric car (at $0.11 kWh) to go another 200 miles for the princely sum of $8.
Granted, this brings to light the primary argument against electric cars and that is much of the electricity generated in larger metropolitan areas is produced from coal or nuclear power plants. Admittedly, well over 50% of the electricity in the NY metro area is sourced from nonrenewable energy resources. Solar panels on one’s home is an option for a greener charging option, but legislation (via lobbying from the utility companies) prevents many homeowners from installing as many photovoltaic panels as they can afford because then each home becomes its own miniature power plant, and that’s not good for business.
Other detractors claim that mining the lithium for the batteries is damaging to the environment. Bad news, everyone… ALL mining is detrimental to the environment! Any form of mining, whether it be for coal, uranium, or lithium adversely impacts the environment just as severely as the other. The practice pollutes the land, water, and air in addition to scarring the Earth in ways that one can’t comprehend unless one sees it in person. In fact, Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to make sure mining companies restored mined lands to natural or economically usable states. Mining is truly a necessary evil, it’s a fact of modern life.
The argument is also made that the manufacture of the electric vehicle’s battery packs is more environmentally damaging than extracting oil from tar sands or the deep-sea floor… Last time I checked, we are smitten with the lithium used in our smartphones. We could go back to payphones if that’ll help.
Frankly, any citizen living in today’s world will need to come to terms with the fact that electric vehicles aren’t made of unicorn dust and rainbows. They’re still the result of heavy industry, and their manufacture occurs in the same way traditional vehicles are assembled: with stampings, presses, and welding. These steps require even more mining (for the iron and/or aluminum ore) coupled with enormous amounts of electricity needed to perform all the steps necessary to build a car from scratch. Let’s not forget the petroleum-derived plastics that constitute a large percentage of modern vehicles as well. Honestly, there’s nothing eco-friendly about the process whatsoever! However, since none of us are willing to live like it’s the year 1017 again, we just need to come to terms with this.
Finally, there is one key advantage that has been overlooked regarding the rise of electric vehicles… Less overall oil consumption means there will be more for “traditionalists” such as ourselves.
So, let Gerty McUninspired drive her Leaf.
For the rest of us I say… Long live the hydrocarbon!