It's Time to Face The Facts About Electric Cars: They Have Their Limits

Canadian columnist David Booth remains skeptical about the future of the electric car.

Published: 29-Jan-2010

The problem is that it's a matter of semantics and semantics are never a scintillating method of starting a diatribe. Better to trumpet a headline-generating opener like "all humanity will die by 2050 unless we convert to electric cars last week" than to begin the rebuttal questioning the specific definition of an electric car.

SEE ALSO: It's Time to Face the Facts: The Petroleum-fueled Car Has Its Limits

The problem remains, however, that it is almost impossible to accurately predict how, when or even if the electric automobile will take over from gasoline when not all the players agree what an electric automobile is.

If you're Dr. Klaus Draeger, BMW's board member in charge of research and development, who introduced the Munich-based company's latest electric car, the ActiveE, at the Detroit auto show, an electric car is anything that uses at least some electrons to power its wheels. So, when Draeger estimates that anywhere from 5% to 15% of new car sales will be electric within a decade, he's talking about a range of disparate alternatively fuelled vehicles that includes plug-in hybrids, extended range electric vehicles like the much-anticipated Chevrolet Volt and a pure electric vehicle like BMW's 1-Series-based showcase vehicle. On the other hand, when Carlos Ghosn, Nissan/Renault's chief executive, claims that 10% of the global market will be electric cars by 2010, he means those that are powered purely by batteries and batteries alone (battery-powered electric vehicles, or BEVs).

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The range limitations of most early electric cars will matter less in tightly packed urban areas, where the daily driving distance is likely to be much shorter than in the suburbs or rural areas.

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