Posts tagged “electric cars”
Concerns Prompted by Tesla Fires
Several vehicle fires involving Tesla’s new high-end Model S sedan have attracted a great deal of media scrutiny. Two of the three reported incidents are now under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Yet while the company’s founder, Elon Musk, is certainly correct in indicating that gasoline vehicles are involved in the overwhelming majority of vehicle fires, including most of those resulting in fatalities, the statistical comparison he has provided in interviews got me curious enough to track down the data for myself.
How Often Do Gasoline-Powered Cars Catch Fire?
The statistic that caught my attention was that Tesla suffers an average of one fire per 6,333 cars, versus a rate of one fire per 1,350 gasoline-powered cars. I’ve been driving for four decades and have probably observed several million cars on the road in that time, yet I’ve only seen a handful that were burned-out following accidents to the extent of the recent Tesla fires. I sensed something wrong, or at least counter-intuitive about the figures cited by Tesla.
Like the Hummer once was, the Tesla is a status symbol (but for a different crowd). Considering its outrageous price tag, one would be hard-pressed to argue that it is a practical car for the masses. But that’s OK with me, because the Tesla is an ambassador for all electric cars through a process called “status by association” (which is what name dropping is all about). We are social primates… like it or not, status seeking is built into our genes.
On the flip side, it could harm the image of electric cars if this latest trend of catching on fire continues, or accelerates. I’ve looked into the statistics and have concluded that, to date, a significantly smaller percentage of Tesla’s catch on fire than conventional cars. Although, that could change with time. Two spectacular fires in almost as many weeks is not a good thing. A lithium fire with exploding batteries is something to behold and makes good copy. It’s also dangerous if the driver should be incapacitated. To date, no Nissan Leaf has caught fire. 35,000 Leafs have been sold in the U.S. compared to 15,000 Tesla Model S sedans. But that might change as well.
All conventional cars have the potential to catch on fire. A few years ago I ran over some bricks in the road that did $2,300 worth of damage to my car’s undercarriage and spilled gasoline all over the road. This Tesla caught fire a few weeks ago a few miles from my office. Just thought I’d share some differing perspectives I found on the subject:
“… a Model S collided with a large metallic object in the middle of the road, causing significant damage to the vehicle. The car’s alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did.”
From the Kent Regional Fire Authority crash report:
”Driver stated that he hit an object in the HOV lanes of SB 167. The car started to run poorly and he pulled off the freeway.”
Before the Chevy Volt (a plug-in hybrid) went on sale, Volt Chief Engineer Andrew Farah openly acknowledged that the extreme temperatures found in the Southwest have the potential to permanently reduce the battery pack’s capacity to store energy:
“The Volt may not be right for everyone. If you live in the Southwest, depending on how you use your car, the Volt might not be right for you.”
So what is a manufacturer to do if a given customer’s driving habits consistently exposes his or her battery pack to excessively high temperatures in a place like Tucson, or charges it five times a day, or maybe applies a blowtorch to it? As it turns out, the answer depends on what the warranty says, not so much on what the owner’s manual warns you not to do.
Bosch has just entered the EV charging market with its simple 240 volt Power Max charging station for $499.00. Considering that dishwashers, clothes dryers, and hot water heaters can cost less than that, you can bet that the price for this small, relatively simple device will eventually be a lot lower. The Ecotality Blink charging station in my garage cost about $1,200. Neither is actually a charger. They are devices that interface with the charger carried inside the car. How fast you can charge with 240 volts is ultimately limited by the charger that came with the car. The difference is that the Blink station interfaces with the internet, allowing the DOE to study my charging habits, which is fine by me because they paid for it.
The Ecotality Business Model
Ecotality is also installing Level 2 (240 volt) charging stations in business parking lots. For now, charging is free but eventually you will be charged for your, ah, charge. I don’t see this business model having a long-term future. An analogy might be a company that designed a hitching post tailored for Henry Ford’s first car design (that looked a lot like a buggy) which might have seemed like a great idea by car and saloon owners until they realized you don’t need a hitching post for a car.
Can Oil Supplies Grow Fast Enough to Keep Prices in Check?
I, along with my editor Sam Avro, recently conducted a broad-ranging interview with John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil and currently the head of Citizens for Affordable Energy, a non-profit group whose aim is to promote sound U.S. energy security solutions for the nation. In the first part of this interview Mr. Hofmeister spoke of A Difficult Decade Ahead For Oil Prices and Supplies. In this installment, he sets forth his vision of a sound energy policy for America.
The Hofmeister Energy Plan
Mr. Hofmeister’s plan consists of the following elements:
- Set a national objective in the United States to get back to the production level of the 1970s and 80s of 10 million barrels a day;
- Reduce our imports by 5 million barrels a day by using natural gas as an alternative to the internal combustion engine oil products:
- Use compressed natural gas for trucking to displace 2 million barrels a day of imported oil, and,
- Convert natural gas to methanol for flex fuel engines to reduce imports by another 3 million barrels a day;
- Continue the journey toward more higher efficiency automobiles and continue the journey to more electrified vehicles as well, both batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
We see this week news that Tesla is having trouble meeting it’s loan repayment schedule, and faces a need to raise more money on the markets. Combined with this week’s pronouncement from the chief of Toyota against electric cars and lackluster sales of GM’s Volt that have forced the company to reduce production, it seems there are more troubles ahead for electric-driven cars.
I believe this shows that pure electric cars are not yet ready for the consumer market. They are both too expensive, and they don’t meet the needs of consumers for range and performance.
Tesla and Fisker, in particular face consumer challenges that the traditional car makers do not face. As a start-up, they have to convince customers that they can both make a reliable car, and their small dealer network will be able to maintain the cars when they need servicing and repair. (See more: CBO: Electric Cars Will Flop, Despite $7.5 Billion in Subsidies)
The US government provides a tax credit of up to $7500 for purchasers of electric or plug-in hybrid cars. But, for cars that range in price from about $35,000 for the Leaf, to $45,000 for the Volt, to $57,000 for the baseline Tesla Model S, that does not drive the price down to a place where it would be competitive with high efficiency traditional gasoline-driven cars, or even hybrids, which are probably the source of the most competition.
The problem, in short, is that the battery-only cars (Leaf, Tesla, Fisker) are inferior cars at a higher price point.
In an effort to spur on sales of its Volt, General Motors (GM) is now offering a full 25 percent discount on every one of the electric cars that sells in the United States.
Priced at $39,995, the Volt has seen sales pick up as of late, with a monthly record achieved by GM in August. With the thinking that Americans are willing to make their entrance into the electric vehicle market when prices allow for it, the company is banking on this latest discount to increase both the sales and popularity of their flagship electric vehicle. (See also: Will Range Anxiety Impact Electric Car Sales?)
In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I answer the following questions:
- What are the chances that electric vehicles will be more than a boutique item, and will make up a noticeable portion of cars on the road by 2020?
- Do you agree with the recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that building the Keystone Pipeline will raise gasoline prices?