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February 18 Weekly Open Thread: More Electric Car Whining

TeslaThe automotive world is slowly accepting electric cars and the like. But there is controversy of late. It seems that a test drive of a Tesla went wrong... that it didn't meet the advertised claims of its parent company.

Or did it fail? There are two sides to this story, and Tesla has a great argument.

Rather than me trying to retell the story, here it is from Wikipedia:

"On 8th February 2013, the New York Times published a review, written by John Broder, about the real possibility of a Tesla Model S making a trip between Washington, D.C. and Boston using Tesla's Supercharger network, which only has two stations in the East Coast. In this review Broder made a variety of negative claims about the limitations of batteries during cold weather, and the separation between Tesla's charging stations, that resulted in finishing the trip with the Model S carried by a flatbed truck to the Milford station in Connecticut.[81]

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk responded in a blog on Tesla's website, publishing logs of the charge levels and driving speed that contradicted Broder's account on several factual details.[82] Musk implied that Broder's behaviour in charging and driving the car forced the car to fail. Broder replied to Musk's criticism in a blog post.[83] In the middle of the controversy, a reporter from CNN recreated Mr. Broder's trip, and he was able to make it with battery capacity still left. However, there were two key differences with CNN's test from the one from the New York Times. The weather was about 10 °F warmer, and the reporter did the trip in one day; the reviewer from the Times split it into two.[84]"

The Related Articles section at the bottom here makes for great reading, by the way. The first article, "A Most Peculiar Test Drive," gives Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk's rebuttal to the story.

The Tesla Model S deserves a post of its own. But basically, it is an all-new car which has received many top awards. It is built in the former New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) plant just outside of San Francisco, and yours truly has received a personal invitation to tour there some day. I can't wait!

Sadly, this isn't the first time Tesla has had a dispute with the media. They sued Top Gear over a similar story, but the BBC's show is known for being scripted, and their "review" was judged as entertainment.

So does this little war of words affect your beliefs in electric cars either positively or negatively (No puns intended there)? Is it just biased journalism? Or does Tesla have a good case for rebuttal? Either way, I don't think this story is over quite yet.

And of course, this is the place to discuss anything else even slightly automotive-related that we might get a charge out of (OK, pun intended there).

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

Image Credit: Our superb Tesla S image is from NationalGeographic.com.

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The idea/concept of electric vehicles has been around for quite a while. I heard a speech a while back about renewable energy, including battery technology, and the speaker stated that until the periodic table was/is rearranged, battery technology won't change much, if at all. The electric car thoughts have been around since the oil embargo of the '70's. At that time, DC said that the situation would be remedied and the end result would be energy independence. We are still waiting.

Twenty years ago I would have simply assumed the NY Times was correct. Now. . . .not so much.

They have internal combustion engines that can run on hydrogen, so there's your answer. Convert every car gas car to run on hydrogen. Electric cars fill me with Ire. It just isn't the answer.

Of course, the takeaway I have from all of this is that I could have driven a Toyota Corolla on the same route about 8 times on a couple of tanks of gas.

That's a bit of sarcastic hyperbole, but not much.

Hydrogen sounds great, but...

There is no infrastructure to supply it, very few cars have been made to run on it, and it takes more enengy to remove hydrogen from other elements than it produces.

Looks like we're stuck with petroleum-powered cars for at least 20 more years... but we could at least drive more fuel-efficient ones.

BTW, I have driven 340 miles in the Tribute without stopping (St. Louis to Nashville), even with the A/C working. Sure, the Low Fuel light was on when I got here, but I made it.

One of the biggest problems pure electric cars have is that they've been over-sold for almost as long as I've been alive. The batteries and the recharge times are getting better, but they're still an order of magnitude less capable than they need to be to be competitive with the liquid-fueled kind.

In the Tesla's case, not only does it under-perform relative to its hype, it's also a $100k road toy for the one-percenters, and despite the blood-curdling MSRP, the only reason the manufacturer can stay in business is by sponging up "green energy" subsidies and tax preferences.

Careful Cookie, Tesla doesn't take well to criticism.

For the record, there are a lot of positives about electric vehicles. Low moving part count, great torque of the line, quiet, but to echo "Cookie the Dog's Owner"'s post, elctric vehicle's potential has been oversold.

Now the downside. There is no cohesive infrastructure to support electric vehicles right now (the same can be said for hydrogen and other alternative vehicles). Face it, we are well entrenched in a petro based infrastructure.

Battery technlogy is the new holy grail for electric car makers. There is/are marketable improvements, but the problem lies in "range anxiety" of many potential buyers. Couple that with a spotty recharge station availability (at least in the Northeast US), and many buyers are geniunely apprehensive. While many people do commute <40 miles daily, the problem lies in (again from experience in the DC area) a < 40mile commute may take well over 2 hours in gridlocked traffic.

I have looked at a neighbor's Nissan leaf and came away from the car impressed in its execution. And for him with a less than 15 mile off hour commute, the Leaf makes great sense. But he will readily admit that traveling for anything other than his work commute requires some forethought and planning. That is the challenge for early adopters and for much of this country trying to slowly intergrate alternative infrastructure to support these vehicles.

The problem with Tesla and even Fisker is the business plan. It is incredible difficult to convince others that early adopters/celebrities to fork over 100K for a new manufacturer with limited cross country support. Nissan and Chevy are worldwide manufactures with large dealer networks and support. (so the vote would go to the Leaf and Volt in my book for that very purpose).

Electric motors are great in cars, so long as they're driving the windows, seats, locking the doors... and cranking the engine. But sending power to the wheels? Nah.

Al, I actually think electric motors are great for sending power to the wheels. The problem (in my opinion) is battery technology. Batteries are heavy, toxic, inefficient, expensive, and suffer in both energy density and time to recharge when compared to gas. Solve the battery problem, and I think electric cars would not only be viable but a lot of fun. Of course, "solving the battery problem" is a bit like finding the holy grail.

I haven't been following this story closely, but I did read Tesla's rebuttal and thought the facts quoted there sounded pretty authoritative.

Here in Oklahoma, we have a ton of vehicles, both personal and fleet, that have been converted to run on natural gas. Yes, I get it...you're still burning something, and the Greens LOATHE that. BUT natural gas is much more plentiful (and especially here in the US, meaning we aren't continuing to fund US-hating, terrorist-supporting regimes), much cheaper, and burns much cleaner than gasoline. There are three natural gas stations along the 15-mile route I take to work every day, and they're selling natural gas at $1.75 a gallon. Since the pollution question is now and always has been a wash with electric cars vs. ICE, i.e., you're burning SOMETHING to move your car, be it at the plant or in your engine...why not consider something better?

@Chris Mallow:

I agree that natural gas is a viable solution. We have plenty of it and engines actually run cleaner on it. The only downside is storage. I used ot work at a company that had a fleet on pickup trucks converted to natual gas. The high pressure tank were located directly behind the cab.

Still, this seems like a no brainer ti me. It takes very little (in comparison) for conversion and is sourced domestically.

If only there was an inexpensive and plentiful energy source that could be stored and rapidly replaced when needed.

Oh wait, there is. Petroleum.

So let's build inferior substitutes such as wind turbines and solar collectors. Oh, and meanwhile let's subsidize rent-seeking corn farmers by turning food into alcohol. Screw those starving third-world kids. They don't vote, anyway.

I think there are some sensibly-sized vehicles on sale now that get decent gas mileage. If we, as consumers, would buy them, we could cut our fuel costs tremendously.

But I don't see anybody slowing down out there. It's still a race from red light to red light. People get interviewed and complain at the pumps when gas prices go up, then get in their cars and speed off as usual.

If one is not going to do anything about the situation, one should not complain.

Guys, is it weird that I feel a bit uncomfortable when talking about electric cars, yet smile when I see electric motorcycle applications, preferably dirt bikes?

@tigerstrypes:

I actually agree. It seems to me to be the perfect application.

Looking a hundred years forwards,

there is not more gas in space, but you can create electricity.

three is not a viable long term future for solid/liquid fuels, so all of this R&D into EV tech will lead us to the opportunity for manned long-term space transport unlike any other fuel options.

Yes, these science projects are new, and they make it seem like that parity is a far away goal, but truthfully, there is great potential and constant breakthroughs in nano and chemical technologies which we will develop on this earth, but which enable a whole new future for mankind.

in the meantime, 15MPG-55mpg vehicles still exist, but it's not the 1800's anymore, and there isn't free or unlimited fuels on this earth we all share, and many of us are using far more energy than we need to perform out basic tasks, because the bottom hasn't fallen out yet. We are over-using and efficiency is inevitable...yet electric propulsion happens to be drastically more efficient (37% vs 90%) as demonstred by the high mpg of cars like prius...

my 2cents

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