EVs: Not Just Bad Idea, They Are 'Extraordinarily' Bad Idea

By Bill Moore

Posted: 20 Sep 2011

While I was winging my way to California for the Toyota Prius PHV media preview, Forbes Magazine was publishing Louis Woodhill's Electric Cars Are An Extraordinarily Bad Idea. He makes the case that we should be focusing our efforts on compressed natural gas vehicles, which isn't an entirely bad idea, but it's still a fossil fuel, and if you believe the National Center for Atmospheric Research, switching over to it could, in fact, exacerbate atmospheric warming, not decrease it. Concludes Joe Romm in his blog on NCAR's bombshell study, "If you want to have a serious chance at averting catastrophic global warming, then we need to start phasing out all fossil fuels as soon as possible. Natural gas isn’t a bridge fuel from a climate perspective. Carbon-free power is the bridge fuel until we can figure out how to go carbon negative on a large scale in the second half of the century."

Presumably, Mr. Woodhill was not aware of the study when he penned his polemic.

While reading Woodhill's article, I also noticed there were a lot of people, Nissan LEAF owners in particular, who took strong exception to his observations, one of the most pointed being from my friend Paul Scott, who appears in Chris Paine's "Who Killed the Electric Car?" and sells Nissan LEAFs in Santa Monica. He seems to do a pretty fair job dissecting Woodhill's assertions about EVs, so much so that I took the liberty -- I trust you don't mind, Paul -- of reprinting here just in case you haven't seen Mr. Woodhill's piece or Paul's rebuttal. Additionally, I actually got to not only drive the LEAF for the second time while in San Francisco, courtesy of John Addison, but John also shared his impressions of the LEAF after his first four months of ownership. I recorded his observations on video and will share those with EV World readers in the next few days. As for Louis Woodhill, I have to wonder if he's even seen a LEAF, let alone driven one. Maybe, Louis, you should consider applying some common sense along with your trademarked "unconventional logic to economic issues," and actually get behind the wheel of an EV before pontificating about the economic illogic of electric cars.,

Here's Paul Scott's response to Woodhill.

The Facts About Nissan's LEAF

Mr. Woodhill’s article is chock full of inaccuracies and exaggerations. Let’s take them in order.

“It costs more than twice as much ($35,430 vs. $17,250) as a comparable Nissan Versa, but it is much less capable. The Leaf accelerates more slowly than a Versa and has only about 25% of the range.”

The LEAF accelerates 0-60 in 9.3 seconds and the Versa 9.5. Further, the Versa is just not comparable to the LEAF. (Full disclosure, I sell the LEAF for a Santa Monica Nissan dealer.) I just went for a drive in a Versa for the first time after reading this quote to see for myself. The two cars are quite different in comfort, styling, safety and many other ways that I’ll get into later. You might as well compare a BMW 5 series to a Volkswagen bug. They aren’t in the same league.

“At $0.11/KWH for electricity and $4.00/gallon for gasoline, you would have to drive the Leaf 164,000 miles to recover its additional purchase cost.”

Again, the two cars aren’t close to being the same, but worse, Woodhill neglects to point out that the LEAF qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit and many states have additional rebates and tax credits. The effective cost of my LEAF was about $25K.

“Because it is almost impossible to drive a Leaf more than 60 miles a day, the payback with interest would take more than nine years.”

I can easily get 100-120 miles range on my LEAF. I have the capability to charge while at work, as many people will have once the infrastructure is installed. One could easily drive 100 miles to work, charge full by 3:00 and then drive 100 miles back home. Using the DC fast chargers, you could easily drive from LA to San Francisco in 9-10 hours.

“On Wednesday, Jan. 26 a major snowstorm hit Washington D.C. Ten-mile homeward commutes took four hours. If there had been a million electric cars on American roads at the time, every single one of them in the DC area would have ended up stranded on the side of the road, dead. And, before they ran out of power, their drivers would have been forced to turn off the heat and the headlights in a desperate effort to eek out a few more miles of range.”

Not even close to true! When an EV is driven slowly, it gets maximum efficiency. The exact opposite of internal combustion cars that get minimum efficiency in slow, stop and go traffic. The heater does take energy, but not nearly enough to run out of juice in a ten mile, four hour commute.

“This illustrates the biggest drawback of BEVs, which is not range, but refueling time. A few minutes spent at a gas station will give a conventional car 300 to 400 miles of range. In contrast, it takes 20 hours to completely recharge a Nissan Leaf from 110V house current. An extra-cost 240V charger shortens this time to 8 hours. There are expensive 480V chargers that can cut this time to 4 hours, but Nissan cautions that using them very often will shorten the life of the car’s batteries.”

The EV is meant to be a commuter car for around town. Over 90% of Americans drive less than 100 miles in a day. Charging is mostly done at night while people sleep and during off-peak times when utilities charge minimum rates for energy. You don’t need to wait till the car is empty to charge it, so those maximum charging times are rarely needed. Further, the 480V chargers will take the LEAF from empty to 80% in about 25 minutes, not 4 hours. And while heavy use of the fast charger will decrease battery life slightly, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will need to use it every day, or even every month. Most will never need it at all, but having that capability will allow you to drive regionally without trouble.

“However, a two-gallon can of gasoline can get a stalled conventional car moving again in a few minutes. In contrast, every dead BEV would have had to be loaded on flatbed tow truck and taken somewhere for many hours of recharging before it could be driven again.”

AAA is fitting their trucks with generators so that they can service a stranded EV with a 5 minute charge, enough to get them to the nearest charger.

“Nissan claims that the range of a Leaf is about 100 miles. However, in their three-month extended road test, Car and Driver magazine obtained an average range from a full charge of 58 miles. Cold weather and fast driving can shorten this to as little as 30 miles.”

I would challenge anyone to take a fully charged LEAF and get only 30 miles range. As I said earlier, I regularly get 100-120 miles range in my LEAF by driving efficiently. I don’t delay those around me either, I just drive rationally and safely. It’s really quite easy. I observe other’s driving styles and can understand why they would get only 58 miles, but that because they drive like idiots with no regard for efficiency.

“The short and highly variable range of a BEV, coupled with its very long recharging time, creates the phenomenon of “range anxiety”. The car takes over your life. You are forced to plan every trip carefully, and to forgo impromptu errands in order to conserve precious electrons. And, when you are driving your BEV, you are constantly studying the readouts worrying about whether you are going to make it through the day.”

Not even close. I’ve been driving an EV since 2002 for over 96,000 miles, and while I do think about where I need to go, it’s never been a big deal. The lack of charging infrastructure has been the biggest problem, but that’s changing quickly now.

“Reviews of the Leaf are filled with accounts of drivers turning off the A/C in the summer and the heat in the winter. Some drivers even decided that they couldn’t risk charging their cell phones, using the radio, or turning on the windshield wipers.”

This is a huge exaggeration. Very few have had to adjust climate control, and no one has had to turn off the radio, lights or windshield wipers.

“Between subsidies and fuel economy mandates, the federal government may be able to force auto companies to manufacture 1,000,000 electric cars by 2015. However, it won’t be able to force people to buy them. As the economics and operating characteristics of BEVs become more widely understood, interest in BEVs will wane.”

On the contrary, the problem isn’t forcing the carmakers to build the cars, they are doing that as fast as they can. The problem is getting enough cars to meet demand. We’re sold out 4-5 months in advance, and as people take their LEAFs and Volts home, their neighbors, friends and family are getting test drives and they, too, come to the dealers wanting to drive on renewable electricity.

“What is truly tragic about all of this is that there is an alternative for powering cars that makes far more sense than electricity. It is compressed natural gas (CNG).”

You conveniently neglected to mention the problem fracking causes to groundwater, not to mention the CO2 that’s released. A full 30% of LEAF drivers power their cars with solar energy. Many others have signed up for their utility’s renewable energy programs so they can run their houses and cars on wind or geothermal energy.

“Does this mean that government should be promoting and subsidizing CNG cars? No. America’s energy and automotive futures should be left to the free market. When and if mass production and mass marketing of CNG cars makes economic sense, companies will build them and Americans will buy them. Except for funding basic research, government involvement in industry can only lead to corruption and waste.”

Here is where you make the biggest mistake. You completely left out the external costs of oil in your equation. I’m a big supporter of letting the market determine the technology, but for over a century, oil has been given a massive subsidy. The list is long, but the highlights are as follows.

We’ve spent north of $1.5 trillion on the latest wars for oil. Thousands of dead soldiers, tens of thousands of wounded soldiers and over a hundred thousand dead civilians.

When you buy gas, you pay nothing for this.

Many studies have found that tens of thousands of your fellow citizens die prematurely from the effects of pollution from internal combustion and refineries.

When you buy gas, you pay nothing for this.

The Gulf oil spill caused billions in damage to the economy of the region, not to mention killing several oil workers and millions of fish and fowl.

When you buy gas, you pay nothing for this.

Our economy is being ruined by the need to buy foreign oil. It’s costing us over $400 billion each year, a full 45% of our trade deficit. Worse, when you buy gas, over 90% of your money leaves your community. EV drivers keep 100% of their money local. On average, 20% of their money goes to buy kWh from their local utility, the rest stays in their pockets to be spent on local goods and services, generating jobs for their friends and family.

You seem to harbor ill feeling for a technology you haven’t tested, and one you clearly haven’t researched. It’s important for our country to reduce our dependence on oil, and EVs are the best way to do that sooner than later. I suggest you either get on board, or get out of the way, but whatever you do, don’t write another piece of trash like this one.


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