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Efficiency Advantage of Electric Cars

I appreciate your advocacy for electric vehicles, but in today’s (1/31/2021) newspaper column, I think you missed one big advantage. A power plant producing electricity is about 50% efficient. A gasoline engine producing power is about 20% efficient. So there is a 2.5x advantage before you start. Then, add in improved economy on hills, and the fact that about half the electric power is renewable here in California, and the advantages are obvious.

Your reply to a newspaper column really won’t mean much to many people . Not many papers carry the column and not all carry the same one. The number of people who read the column your answering might be pretty low.

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Thanks. What do you recommend? A direct email to cartalk?

Of course one might add when you have power. Not a 7 day 24 hour thing in that part of the world.

This power plant vs combustion engine argument doesn’t mean much to me. Both processes are very complex, and need to be compared end-to-end for all the pro’s and con’s.
Let’s add bicycling into the process comparison.

Naw, let’s not. For some reason last night I was remembering motoring to school on my bike, rain or shine. I used to dread waking up to a storm and having to get to school. Unlike others that had a ride to school in the rain, I had to try and get there with no top on my bike. I experimented with that old question of if you get wetter riding slower or faster. I discovered it was the same either way.


I wasn’t thinking of that detailed of an analysis. The EPA rates my 2020 Kona EV at 120 MPGe. It rates the non-ev version at 30 MPG. So when all effects are taken into account, the EPA sees a 4x improvement.
When I look at it, it seems every step has advantages for electric. Using a wire vs. driving a tanker to a local gas station. Recharging while braking, etc.
What kind of analysis did you have in mind?

Just consider that last I checked you folks in Cali are about 40% of the electric market, so the world outside of California is quite different. If I’m going to see the grandkids, its 800 miles and a 13 hour drive with 10 minute fuel stops. How’s that 200 mile range working out for me? And lets not forget the environmental costs of mining the precious metals for batteries, etc. It’s not all about mpg.


I would think discussing it here definitely has value.

Ray Magliozzi’s column is published via “King Features Syndicate” which is a Hearst Communications company that publishes in nearly 5,000 newspapers worldwide. So it’s not a “one-off” Calif column.

Do note that Ray doesn’t contribute here. It’s not clear how to provide feedback to him directly.

If the electric energy is generated with coal, there is no carbon advantage to owning an electric car.

A wealthy but misguided doctor on our street proudly parks his $100,000 Tesla in the driveway to show the world he cares!!!
Our electricity her is nearly 100% generated form dirty coal, so the car saves no greenhouse gasses. All it does is reduce downtown traffic noise and moves the pollution out to the countryside.

As far as fuel usage, yes. But there is so much more to consider when choosing a car, isn’t there? It has to suit your needs, be comfortable, and be efficient as a whole, not just figuring MPG. For city commuters and local daily driving an electric car may be just the thing. But for general use, most people just can’t rely on an electric car.

Last fall one of our regular customers rolled in with his Lexus, the Check Engine light came on and he was leaving on a vacation road trip the next day. The Lexus couldn’t be repaired in time so he had to drive his Tesla instead. The 500 mile trip from here to Walnut Creek should have been an easy 8 hour drive in good weather. Instead it took him close to 16 because of the charging stops. That is simply not acceptable to just about anyone.

It’s not possible in this location to drive without a working heater/defroster for several months a year. There’s no doubt a Nissan Leaf is a decent electric car, but we recently had one that needed the PTC heater replaced so the driver could see out the windshield. $2600 repair. How do you figure that into the pros and cons of electric cars?

Everything has ups and downs, using less or no gasoline has costs and benefits as well.

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When I first said end-to-end analysis, I was referring to an analysis of all the technical issues, for the supply of coal vs ethanol, for example.What type of pollutants come from each? How do each contribute to global warming? Are we talking nuclear or coal? That is, a beginning to end analysis well beyond the question of efficiency is what deserves a societal approach.
Beyond the technical, we are also noting that others here are talking about social costs and psychological costs. Depletion of natural resources, and the rate of that depletion is another social/technical issue, for both EV vs gas engine.

So, comparing elec required to move vs gas? Elec is produced from coal, water, nuke, solar, wind.
Avg is 4 cents per mile. 25 miles is 1 dollars. Cheaper then gas.
My car is 25 mpg.

The question was only about efficiency. Currently, it makes no economic sense. Only if you’re crazy about the climate change calamity taking place, and have a few extra bucks, does it make sense. YRMV.

As was part of my response. A Tesla taking 16 hours to make a trip that a conventional car can do in 8 is certainly not efficient.


We’re not going to start this again are we? People have been warning of this calamity for 100 years or more. And if you think “science” will settle it, there is no such thing as settled science on this topic, just those paid or benefitting one way or another. As Bobby Kennedy Jr. said recently, “politicians lie. They all lie”.

He should know, one of the great sources of lies that are killing people.

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A friend who has a Niro EV looks at it as selling less of his solar power back to the utility, getting 275mi on a charge with ease.

I liv in an area where a nearby town spent tons of money to install solar streetlights. They had to be ripped out less than a year later because they all went dark when we went 21 days without seeing the sun. Not a lot of support for solar here.

You mentioned 50% efficiency at the generating plant. What about transmission losses and the efficiency losses of putting the electricity through a charger and into a battery, and then taking it out to run an electric motor that also has efficiency losses. Also batteries get less efficient as they age. And heat for your car? Electric resistant heat is ridiculously power thirsty. Guess how many homes we have around here with electric heat?

Care to get caught in a blizzard in an electric car> Not me.

Beyond not wanting to get caught in a blizzard in any car, regardless of powerplant, I don’t understand your question. What is it that you think makes electric cars particularly dangerous in a snow storm?