Electric Cars Could Work…

The tragedy is, electric cars could probably work. If the government would get the hell out of the way.

The feds postulate requirements — basically, design parameters — that are at odds, that conflict — and make an economically sane electric car absolutely out of the question.

The government insists, for example, that every electric car be as “safe” as every non-electric car. This being defined as complying with every last federal standard — not necessarily meaning that the car in question simply refrain from being a death trap.

Most people outside the car business do not grok the distinction. They presume that every new car is “safe” since it meets federal crashworthiness standards (and other standards that have zip to do with that; bear with, I’ll explain) and every car that doesn’t, isn’t.

Nope. All it means is that every new car has met the currently applicable federal standards and made it through whatever crash tests apply today. It does not mean — out in the real world of two objects trying to occupy the same space, simultaneously — that a 2016 Chevy Aveo is a “safer” car to be in than a 1996 Caprice (“Shamu the whale” model).

Especially if the Caprice pile-drives into the Aveo.

What has this to do with electric cars?

It has to do with weight — which is a function, to a very great extent, of the need to comply with the reams of federal ukase having to do with “safety.” This includes the latest pedestrian safety mandates… which have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with how “safe” the car is for the people within. Also requirements that challenge (oops, demand) the car companies build cars able to support their own weight upside down. Most cars do not end up this way, but the mandate assumes they will and so requires lots of heavy steel to buttress the roof, so that it can support the car’s weight if it flips over.

Which adds weight.

Which is very, very problematic for the functional (and so economic) viability of an electric car. The heavier it is, the more work its electric motor/battery pack must perform to get it moving. And the more work these must do, the faster the battery loses its charge And because batteries, by their nature, take a awhile to recharge, you end up with a car that has an intolerable flaw.

Well, two of them.

The first flaw is the abbreviated range of travel. While it’s true that most people — or at least, many people — may not need to be able to drive continuously more than 100 miles at a stretch every single day, the fact remains that knowing you could is critical to the psychological acceptance by the general public of the electric car.

Take that away and you have a car that most people do not want.

And most electric cars can’t go even 100 miles before they need to be recharged — which manifests the second (and arguably, more serious) problem: Recharge times.

They are impossibly long.

We live in a fast-food/right now culture. It is risible to believe that people — most people — will ever voluntarily part with their money for a car that requires them to sit and wait for it to be drivable every single time they drive it.

Would you buy a car that required you to stop for a minimum of 30-45 minutes every 70-100 miles (or less) for a recharging session?

Probably not.

These issues — a palsied range of action and Soviet bread queue-like recharge times — are what’s killing the electric car.

Not GM.

And both these problems could be greatly lessened by making a really light electric car. But the government makes this effectively (economically) impossible. For both electric and conventional cars.

Because both have to comply with all the “safety” ukase that the Feds spew, endlessly.

Thus, the 2017 Chevy Bolt electric car I recently savaged (here) weighs a scale-crushing 3,580 pounds notwithstanding that it is a subcompact car… in terms of its dimensions.

Now, it’s true that 960 pounds of the Bolt’s bulk is the battery pack. But what about the rest of it?

A great deal of it is steel — steel needed to make the car able to support itself when upside down and to pass all the current crash tests as well as the new pedestrian impact standards.

It would still lose — badly — if a ’96 Caprice piled into it. Even though the ’96 is not “safe” — as defined by being able to meet every current federal “safety” requirement.

Point being, a car is not necessarily a good place to be in just because the government says it is. And — conversely — cars that would not be considered “safe” by current government say-so aren’t necessarily. It depends on the car. And on what you hit with it.

Or, what hits it.

By definition, every car we (those of us who were alive back then) drove in the ’80s — even the ’90s — is “unsafe” according to current rigamarole. Yet most of us survived.

I drove a ’74 Beetle (very used) when I was in college in the mid-late ’80s. It would be considered a death trap by modern standards — and there’s no denying that if it had been struck pile-drive-style by a car like the ’96 Caprice, it might very well have resulted in my death.

But the Beetle was a flyweight — about 1,700 pounds. About half the weight of the Bolt. As a result, it got very good gas mileage.

A lightweight electric car could get very good range. Or at least, could go a lot farther on a charge.

Take a 1,700 pound like my old Beetle. Pull the internal combustion engine (and lose about 300 pounds). Now you have a 1,400 or so pound chassis, ready to go. Add the batteries and electric motor — both of which would be smaller and lighter now because there’d be less deadweight to move.

The resultant car would weigh under 3,000 pounds and probably closer to 2,500 pounds.

How much farther could it travel? How less frequently would your travel be interrupted for foot-tapping recharges?

We’ll never know, until Uncle gets out of the car business.



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