03.10.2011 - by Plug In America
What Is Different This Time?

1902 Studebaker Electric Vehicle

Some people claim that electric vehicles failed about 10 years ago in California, because people don’t really want them.

I would contest that. Electric vehicles were withdrawn and destroyed by their manufacturers as soon as they were legally able to do so, but during the time they were offered, the manufacturers were able to sell or lease every one that they made–this despite very little advertising, and many dealers and automakers trying to talk consumers out of them. And they still had waiting lists. Would they have been able to attract enough consumers to get volumes to where prices were acceptable if they had been trying We do not have enough data to know for sure. But I do not think automakers dropping a product they did not want to sell in the first place can be counted as a “failure”. Especially given how happy the owners of those cars still are!

However, it also can not be counted as a success. So let us say, for the sake of argument, that plug-in vehicles have been a failure in the past. Has anything changed in the last decade that will make things different this time I think quite a few things have, for example:

  1. 9/11 increased US security concerns
  2. the economy fell in the past few years
  3. petroleum prices have gone up in the past few years
  4. there is new unrest in the Middle East, increasing concerns about petroleum prices
  5. there was a big oil spill in the Gulf to remind us of some of the environmental hazards
  6. carbon emissions have become a hot topic
  7. the electric grid is cleaner than it used to be
  8. hybrid electric vehicles have increased acceptance of electricity for motive power
  9. plug-in electric vehicle makers have agreed on a standard charging plug
  10. Tesla showed that an electric vehicle can be as fast and good-looking as you care to make it; turning plug-ins from cars you should drive to cars you want to drive
  11. battery density has increased steadily over the past 10 years; better yet, prices have steadily decreased
  12. Any new (electric vehicles aren’t new, of course just unfamiliar to most current consumers) technology takes off slowly as few want to take a risk at first. The new ubiquity of the internet and social networks helps interested people get connected and find out more information
  13. automakers are now building plug-in vehicles because they see a market, not because they have to

Tesla Roadster

What do you think will plug-in electric vehicles do better this time? More important: what can we do to help them succeed?


16 comments on “What Is Different This Time?”
  1. jstack6 says:

    This time there is not mandate. Nissan and others are doing it becuase the time is right. The batteries are also much better. Lithium is light ,longlasting and amazing.

    Congress has also been gicen the opprtunity to stop the big payoffs to big OIL but has failed to pass this important policy. At least people now are aware of the Billions given to big OIL as they still make Billions in profit. We still import 50% of the OIL we burn each day in 20% or less efficent gas cars.

  2. Chad, a more logical Chad says:

    The first sentence of this article destroys the credibility of the author. Placing the word “failed” in quotes as if the electric car did not fail shows the incredible bias of the author. The electric car was a commercial failure. The statement that the cars were withdrawn and destroyed as soon as possible is ridiculous and is contrary to the complaints that this site makes against the capitalistic nature of the corporations that are “holding back” the advancement of the electric car. If the almighty dollar is king, then car companies would be happy to make and sell a profitable electric car offering.

    You claim that there is not enough data to know whether the vehicles could have been a commercial success. The proof is in the fact that they were no longer offered. In a free market, where the manufacturers are allowed to sell whatever vehicles they choose, the most desirable vehicles will be made and sold. The reason that there was relatively no advertising is that advertising is an expensive investment and that investment would be wasted on a product that so few consumers wanted or could afford. The marketing directors understood that the people who were going to buy these cars, did not need to be persuaded by advertising, they are going to buy them on principle. They also realized that the cars themselves did not have any features that would be marketable to the vast majority of prospective car buyers.

    Electric cars may some day be a viable commercial product, however, even in light of the list of circumstances that you feel are favorable to the electric car’s success, they are still not successful. You also (conveniently) left out that the the current administration is heavily subsidizing the sale of these vehicles. If the political climate changes, and those subsidies are lost, sales will go from poor to non existent. And also realize that even if the political climate does not cause the loss of these subsidies, the economic conditions that we currently face will likely cause, even this administration, to use that money for higher priority issues. I would also argue if this run of electric cars fails, it should be obvious to everyone how far we actually are from the technology that will allow the electric vehicle to be a commercial success. If you factor in all of the circumstances that are favorable to the success of the electric car (subsidies, political climate, etc.) and it still fails, that should be a sobering wake up calls for people like pluginamerica.org.

    One further comment, I cant believe you mentioned Telsa in this context. It is a ridiculously over priced self indulgence for elitist liberal enviros. A base price of $109000.00 for a vehicle that the manufacturer knows is going to be a maintenance nightmare. The warranty is for 3 years or 36000 miles!! For $109000.00, they should at least be able to match GM’s current 10yr/100K miles.

    1. Chad Schwitters says:

      Hi other Chad,

      Thanks for reading the post, and taking time to respond. But I suspect you did not take enough time reading to understand my message. You addressed several issues that I did not raise (some assuming positions I do not hold), and you missed the point of my lead entirely.

      You also made a couple of factual errors and a few unwarranted assumptions. The one that puzzles me the most is your description of the buyers–it paints them as liberal, anti-capitalist environmentalists. A lot of us don’t fit that mold at all. You apparently don’t understand the reasons that people support electric cars.

      Even without incentives, a Nissan Leaf pencils out very similar to common economy cars in terms of TCO. Every major manufacturer is coming out with plug-in cars (why do that if they expect them to be commercial failures?), and Nissan, Chevy and Tesla are selling every car they make–just like they did in the 90’s. If you want to call that a failure…well, that seems odd, but I can live with it. As long as we stop buying and burning foreign oil!

      By the way, are you aware that the government subsidizes EVERY type of transportation fuel? Oil, biodiesel, CNG, ethanol, etc. They even subsidized gas stations in the early days. I agree this speaks volumes about how our government works. But I don’t see how it can be interpreted as any particular problem with electric cars. At least the EV subsidies all have sunset dates (not true for most of the others), and at least the benefits to other Americans are clear. You get exactly the same economic, security, and clean air benefits that a buyer gets.

      It sounds like you really don’t like electric cars. I can see why you wouldn’t buy one, then. But I don’t understand why you’re spending so much time (or even ANY time) arguing that other people won’t buy them…companies are offering them, and the people that want them are buying them. That’s the capitalist way, right?

  3. Berta says:

    Honestly, I never felt the original EVs were unattractive, scary, or too foreign, but I’m glad, for consumers’ sake, that EVs and hybrids look more like the gas guzzlers filling the dealerships. They also seem to have improved the battery technology and price. Of course, current oil-based disasters and environmental concerns are fresh in our minds now, but I’m not sure they will sustain the EV market due to society’s historical amnesia. What will sustain the EV market is the car itself and the many conscious consumers who have/want one.

  4. Qullion says:

    Hi, send me make of electric motor an batteries plus specs of ugly car, that put everyone off, An maybe.Maybe just World get what it Deserves.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The government and the world need to make peace so any and everyone that chooses to drive Electric verses Petroliam goozelers can do so without the worries of it getting taking away for strupid reasons such as oil and gas deferences and such. I say the Electric car is the best over all vehicle for dayly us and some Unschedule trips as long as it gets charged up per day or after every period of use.

  6. Patrick says:

    You forgot the most important reason: Plug In America was formed! Growing, aggregating, and demonstrating demand, educating, rallying…

    I would also add the success of “Who Killed The Electric Car?” to the list. This movie let people outside of the select markets in California know is how great EVs could have been and to become outraged at their lack of availability.

    Re #6, haha, you’re so punny.

    I was expecting to see peak oil on the list. Many people are aware that there is less than a lifetime’s worth of crude in the ground.

    I would include NEDRA with Tesla on #10.

    Hydrogen disillusionment is another reason. You can only string the public on for a few decades before they catch on.

    “Will plug-in electric vehicles do better this time?”
    Yes, our need for mobile devices has driven the demand for better batteries. They are going to continue to get better at a compounding rate. This will allow for cheaper, longer range vehicles.

  7. Anonymous says:

    When will we consider future generations? Our oil addiction has a large cost to pay. Evs can cut that cost and help move us off oil from unstable countries.

  8. LG says:

    Right now I think electric cars are ideal for urban commuting and that’s good since that is usually where you find most of the air pollution – in and around big cities. My real concern is with the current grid structure. Even without many electrics running around we occasionally experience “brownouts” or “rolling blackouts” in extreme weather for example. So, fast-forward 10 years when people get home from work (around 6PM), then turn on their stoves and plug in their cars; Pow, grids going down everywhere! Now you may not get to work tomorrow since your batteries didn’t have the chance to recharge overnight! Hate to be a wet blanket here, but unless we can really beef up our nation’s power grid structure, we’re just dreaming. The only idea I’ve heard of to get around this issue is to standardize the battery packs and “rent” the power you need to use, then swap out the pack when depleted at your local “energy station”. Of course this will be the catch that gets Uncle Sam the lost gas tax revenue to maintain the highway system; a federal “standard battery usage” tax. Today, the power companies aren’t collecting these taxes for the Feds because they don’t have a way to know what you are using the electricity for. Personally, I think a turbine driven hybrid is a good answer because you can burn almost ANY available fuel, convert it to electricity and go!

    1. Chad says:

      Hi LG,

      You are correct that any electric load–including electric vehicles–during peak demand hours can be a strain on the grid. But part of the beauty of electric cars is that 90% of all charging happens at night, when there is an enormous unused “watt bucket” (to borrow a term from James Billmaier’s excellent book, JOLT!) that we can use without a negative impact on the grid. Electric cars have timers on them so you can plug them in when you get home, but they don’t start drawing power until later.

      In fact, charging at night can have a positive affect on the grid. More unit sales without increased capital expenditures means that fixed costs are less per unit of electricity; and more demand at low times makes it easier to integrate cleaner but intermittent sources of power like wind. Power companies I’ve dealt with like HECO, PGE, and PSE are excited to see electric vehicles for these reasons.

      PGE, in fact, recently pointed out that even if plug-ins gain 10% market share in the next few years, and even if they all plug in during peak hours–that would only require a 2% increase in the peak capacity of their grid. They plan on growing more than that for other reasons anyway.

      Your turbine idea is a good one, and useful in some cases–but in many others, running that turbine at a power plant instead of in your car means it can be cleaner and more efficient.

      1. LG says:

        Excellent point Chad, especially if one could augment charging with wind and/or solar power. It doesn’t to have a little “home grown” power in the mix!

  9. David says:

    #1 : 911 just increased the amount of power the gov have on your daily life. Have you heard of patriot act ? 911 was just an excuse to go to Iraq. So forget your #1, you’re far away from giving all info here
    #2 is the result of #1, in other words, taking more control of the mass by putting them in bankruptcy
    #4 is always raising the “national anthem” to me. Or some just plain obvious patriotism, not to say racism. The gov and CIA helped those “countries” you’re are now seeing as enemies, but guns and dollars don’t make any good for friendship.
    #6 funny how here you should have mention CNG… but didn’t. Why CNG isn’t more popular ? Natural resource, available in the US, not polluting as much as petrol… but maybe they want to keep the mass buying high price petrol and raise the guilt of having to kill innocents to feed the masses driving their V8 to the Mc Donald ?

    there’s a lot more to say in your paper Chad…

    1. Chad says:

      Hi David,

      It appears that you have mistaken the point of my post. It was just a list of recent events that may affect acceptance of electric vehicles. It was not intended to be an analysis of political implications of the events or alternative directions.

      1. David Folch says:

        Hi Chad,
        Sorry if I mistaken your point, and to be too much political, but the reality is what we call “profit”.
        As soon as there will be profit to be made out of electric cars, there will be -more- electric cars available. And as for now, if there’s profit to be made out of electric cars it will be profit taken out of the petrol companies (aka government)… same explanation for why we don’t have CNG cars…
        and by the way, general acceptance will come from what Fox and whatever brainwashing TV channel will air… and what they decide to push in the news is what the gov and their “friends” ask them to air… to make profit (or to manipulate the mass… to buy Ford F150 instead of an electric car, for example, but that’s also the advertising fault here).
        sorry… again, I was political…

  10. Sherry B says:

    On #11, did you mean to say that battery prices have been steadily dropping, not increasing? And I would add that gasoline prices are increasing too!

    1. Chad says:

      Uh…I meant that price density had increased? Yeah, not clear; I corrected it. Thanks.

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