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Interesting story on electric cars

I saw an interesting documentary on Independent Lens earlier this week. It was essentially the story of 3 businessmen and their adventures with electric cars. One was an entrepreneur that puts batteries and electric motors in place of ICEs in existing vehicles. He had a number of travails, but was still at it. After a fire destroyed his plant, he bought a closed factory. After he moved in, he found that between the mold and peeling lead paint, the air was too toxic to work in. He had big losses form that ill advised purchase. The second was Bob Lutz, who told the story of the EV1 and Volt from his perspective. He claimed to love the EV1, but it was a big money loser for GM, and that’s why it was cancelled. He was also skeptical of the Volt’s chances for success. He claimed it was baggage from the EV1 losses that led to his skepticism. The third was Elon Musk. His was the story of getting Tesla to make money. And Musk has been particularly bad at making money with Tesla. Lutz was amazed that Musk thought that he could get into the auto business for the small amount of capital he had invested. A sure failure he said, and he was right. Musk couldn’t make money on the roadster. and had to bring out another product - the S sedan, to start making a profit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any more money to throw at it. His only hope was a $465 million US Government loan. He eventually got it.

So, who’s the smart guy and who’s the dope? They all made some colossal mistakes. I think that they are all pretty bright. They did the best they could and didn’t let failures get in the way of their desire to get it right - eventually. Only Bob Lutz was forced to retire. BTW, he hates retirement.

Did anyone else see this documentary? What do you think?

Didn’t see the documentary but have heard the “stories” many times. I agree that electric cars are not money makers and they will never be for automotive companies. They either must be produced with government support as some long term public program or will be destined to be over priced side lights by major car companies who must invent ways to profit off them.

An option is to take them out of the automaker hands and hope companies like GE, Apple, Panasonic or other small dedicated firms like Teslar support the venture for the public good and sell them as non repairables with minimal maintenance like TVs and stereos.

The EV1 was a worthwhile attempt whose failure in an economic sense is proof positive that the EV works in practice but did not support GMs profit line. With battery limitations are contrived ( Teslar’s problem), routine scheduled maintenance of filling the windshield washer and checking the tires does nothing for jobs and profit.

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I agree that electric cars are not money makers and they will never be for automotive companies.

I don’t believe they are money makers now nor do I expect them to become moneymakers in the near future. Beyond that, I don’t think anyone knows.

Jos. Let me amend that a little. I see EVs as an appliance, not an automobile, in much the same light as a refrigerator whose major component maintenance and repair is negligible or can be farmed out to any electrician. When auto companies start selling appliances as a middle man, manufactured abroad like TVs and stereos, they can make a profit. Toyota has stepped back as a car company and given up it’s all EV drive train development to Teslar, for now; sort of reverse strategy. Car companies today are vested in petroleum products for their profit.

When petroleum fuel sells for $10/gallon, electric cars will sell like hot-cakes…In the meantime, the car makers develop and market small numbers of them to see how consumers react to them and get the technology and batteries sorted out…

These company’s struggles are the neccessary evil of the game.
The ‘‘error’’ part of the trial and error it takes in the long run.
When a company finally gets going in a profitable manner, you can bet they’ll refer back in time to these trail blazers before them.

The technology has been evolving through trial and error.
Now the corperate aspect is going through the same growing pains.

“I see EVs as an appliance, not an automobile…”

A Corolla is an appliance as far as I’m concerned, as are many inexpensive cars. The Tesla Roadster is not an appliance. It is fast, quick, and handles well. No wonder it costs more than $100,000. The entrepreneur that converted existing cars to electric cars converted several bathtub Porsches to electric drive trains. I don’t think he turned them into appliances. They were incredibly slow to begin with. He may have make them faster.

Jt…by definition, an appliance is a “domestic electrical machine”. I see EVs as appliances because of their limited range tying them to a specific job, commuting close to and related to, the home. That’s where it’s main charging station presently resides. This IMO this makes them a domestic electrical machine. A Corolla does not have that kind of limitation and is not electric. It can be a cross country traveler which present EVs are not…hence, EVs are appliances, petro powered cars are not…for now.

As exotic as a Teslar roadster is, it’s still tied to an outlet with presently, little support for anything more then more fun commuting, still close to home…IMO, it’s still an appliance; a domestic electrical machine.

Can you travel cross country or charge them elsewhere ? Sure; but it’s a hardship…like taking your refrigerator to camp or vacuum cleaner around with you…EVs are in every way…appliances, still tied to home .

But, they also have unique advantages as do other appliances…like a twenty year life expectancy for the drive train…the same in many refrigerators. That ain’t good for parts and service, which ain’t good for the auto maker where petro motors and transmissions and drive trains are long term money makers. This means appliance makers are more suited to their (the EV) manufacturing then auto companies. I classify Teslar as an appliance maker as does Toyota which farms out the drive train in the same way they farm out the sound system in their cars to other " appliance makers" like Panasonic and Sony.

Just my twisted point of view…

I disagree. My stove is gas, and it is an appliance. My gas water heater is an appliance, as is my gas clothes dryer. I looked up “appliance” on line:

  1. an instrument, apparatus, or device for a particular purpose or use.

  2. a piece of equipment, usually operated electrically, especially for use in the home or for performance of domestic chores, as a refrigerator, washing machine, toaster, or Toyota Corolla.

Well, OK, I add the Corolla. But it still fits the definition of appliance as a device for chores, like commuting or grocery shopping. And I certainly don’t think of a Cord or Duesenberg as an appliance, and I would not drive them across the country, either.

This is my opinion and I get to pick and choose the definitions that agree with me and I choose number 2…:=) that’s what IMO is all about. And, regardless of you adding the Corolla, you have to admitt it is capable of extremely boring travel well in excess of the average appliance (EV) as it is supported by gas stations.

I still see NOTHING in your argument that disqualifies an EV as an appliance…even with the inclusion of a Corolla or gas water heater or cork screw or what ever…I win.

If you could afford a Cord or Duesenberg, you could afford to drive it cross country…maybe.

Different folks have different needs.

I’ve driven a bunch of electric cars over the years, most recently the Ford Focus Electric. While electric vehicles (EVs) may seem like an oddity now, they’ll soon be commonplace … in some places (ie: California).

The Focus Electric is a perfectly normal car … it just happens to have an electric motor instead of a gasoline-fueled engine. There are tradeoffs, to be sure, but this one isn’t an odd duck.

The cost of batteries and the lack of public recharging infrastructure is the biggest thing holding EVs back. Electric cars have limited range, because the batteries cost so darn much … the Tesla Roadster is based on the Lotus Elise, which is roughly half the price. Tesla stuffs a whopping number of batteries into the Roadster to get those big range numbers.

I have two EVs headed this way for review in the next month or so (the BMW ActiveE and the Mitsubishi MiEV) and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I can charge through house current in my garage, and have a public Level II charger available 15 minutes away … if I go into town for a movie and dinner, it’ll have enough time to soak up enough juice to get me home. I’ll be out shooting at a race track on one of the days … I’ve located a charger that’s nearby (six miles!), but if I can work it out, I should be able to get there and back without too much worry.

It would be tough to make a pure EV work in this household on a weekly basis, because our round-trip drives can typically exceed an 80-100 mile range. They’d be awesome during the work week, however.

A Chevy Volt would fit here just fine, because the 40-mile electric range would cover daily commuting chores. In my full review of the Chevy Volt, I took it on the road to check long distance mileage. It did quite well. For all the noise that the nabobs of negativity make about the Volt, it’s a very cool car.

The landscape is changing fast …

I believe one day will have practical electrics,just a matter of market adjustment and cheapning the product so that it will be trouble prone,to support the service industry-Kevin

It was a special on PBS a couple of weeks ago.

Very interesting article. The guy who moved into the closed factory…the main reason he had to move out was the fact the old factory was used as a ink-cartridge re-manufacturing plant and there was residue of the stuff all over the place. Very very toxic. He had an interesting idea…to put electric motors and batteries into existing ICE cars. Most were higher end vehicles like BMW or a Mustang - GT.

Tesla is actually now profitable. But we’ll see how long it can last. The one part I didn’t like was the fact that many people AFTER they ordered the car…there was a $30k increase in price.

The GM story was good. Many people who had the experimental EV-1 were extremely disappointed when GM took them away. They loved the car. Not too sure if I believe the story that they couldn’t make a profit.

Another part of the story was about Nissan. And Nissan is investing heavily in the future of Electric cars. If it doesn’t work out…Nissan may be out of business in a decade.

All of the guys mentioned in your post are smart guys. Very smart guys. None of them are dopes.

Electric cars are an evolving market. While electric cars actually go back more than a century, these guys now see technology being at a point where they believe a viable, marketable, EV can be made at a profit…although not without initial pains. Recognize too that there are cities in Europe that havd banned (and some are considering banning) gas vehicles within the city. There are also government funded initiatives to develop The market will evolve worldwide, not just in the U.S. These guys want to be positioned in the forefront with the technology when the market blows open…or when the technological breakthrough happens that completes the puzzle.

Just as the electric light was only a beginning and those in at the start became wealthy, these entrepaneurs want to be in at the forefront.

I personally believe EVs are inevitable. And I believe it’ll be a startup like Tesla or Fiskar that succeeds with it. I believe GM is too big, too burearucratic, and too steeped in its own dogma to do something this different successfully. Bob Lutz said that when the “gangster style” Chrysler 300 skyrocketed to success, he brought one into their design team to study. Guys from his corporate offices then applied stickers to the vehicle to identify things that violated GM’s aesthetic design mandates from which they could not deviate, known in the trade as “design cues”. He said there were over 90 post-it notes on the vehicle identifying things that if they emulated them would violate their mandated “design cues”. IMHO GM is way too “risk averse” to successfully lead in a new technology.

The guys you allude to are no dopes. They’re leaders. And leaders take risks.

I agree that EVs can be made at a profit…but it ain’t enough. My rant about EVs being appliances is just that. For auto companies where more then 50 % of the cars they sell continue to be serviced for acknowledged, very high prices, at least 50 % of a dealerships profit ( maybe more) is not made on sales of new cars. Once an electric goes our the door, the most specialized part demanding dealer attention, is now given over to any competent electrician and other systems to any VIP store. Appliances seldom need the service of a car and neither will an EV. Check the service of electric golf carts vs gas…it’s about the battery. Otherwise, you would never see another gas powered golf cart.

The most interesting venture in the EV is NOT the EV1. It is the electric RAV by Toyota built not on a super light aluminum body, but a last minute conversion by Toyota which still functions many years later on the batteries used then. Old technology lead acid batteries and the nichol metal hydride battery were/are more then adaquate to make viable commuter cars with ranges or nearly 100 miles. I invite anyone to do a little research on these cars, then come up with a reason why lithium batteries by Teslar and outrageously expensive Volts with 35 mile ranges are the GM response.

I’n not so eure that’s true, considering the complexity and sophistication of the systems involved.

Re: the batteries, lithium ion arrays seem to have worked beautifully in the Tesla roadster. I think the biggest hurdles, and they apply to alll types of batteries, remain initial cost, recharging time, and lack of infrastructure. Ultimately I think the initial cost can come down dramatically, just as it has with all other technologies, but the recharge time and the infrastrncture development will take some work.

Considering that the Tesla roadster had a range of over 200 miles and was 100% electric, I personally think the 35 mile range on the Volt was a joke. The Volt was really no more energy efficient than the Prius. An organization with the resources of GM being unable to compete with the Prius or create a better EV than the Tesla saddens me.

lithium ion arrays seem to have worked beautifully in the Tesla roadster

Perhaps you’d be interested in a ‘bricked’ Tesla, one where the batteries have been rendered useles through inactivity:

Only $40,000 for a new set!

5 out of 2,200? And preventable to boot? I can live with that.

Sure, I can live with 5 other folks out $40k, no warranty…

These are brand new, very few years on them, what’s going to happen in 5, 10, 15 years?

Just another reason that costs have to come WAY down for EVs to be a good option.

Edit - and that’s a big advantage of a hybrid, the battery charge is carefully maintained by the car, it’s much harder to have this problem because you can’t park it in a almost fully discharged state, like you can an EV.

But the problem is PREVENTABLE! And it’s a 0.2% failure rate on a high tech auto. I’ll bet the Bugatti Veyron has a higher failure rate on its engines.

Seriously, cost DO have to come way down. But I believe they will.