This Is Why Electric Cars Aren’t Ready For Prime Time

Hawkins 1st rule of technology: For new technology to be worthwhile, it should be able to handle all the important features of the technology it’s replacing and then some.

If you want to know why electric cars aren’t catching on in America, just take a look at this article from the Wall Street Journal. It’s about a $122,000 electric sports car. Since this is obviously a very high-end car, you’ve got to figure it has the best electric batteries you’re going to find powering it. Yet and still, the performance, in many ways is less impressive than that of a $2,500 gas powered clunker,

I’m cutting through the dark on a skinny two-lane side road north of Pescadero, Calif., roof stowed, arms jerking wildly around a tiny, non-assisted steering wheel as turn after blind turn fades into vision. It’s so quiet, I can hear the tall grass nipping at the carbon fiber fenders as the little two-seater claws out of the curve and dives into the next. I should be in auto nirvana — the road’s empty, there’s no posted speed limit. But I’ve got other thoughts, like how badly I want a Baja-style headlight bar bolted atop this $122,000 Tesla Roadster.

Owners of Porsche, Ferrari and other six-figure sports cars are used to having such sublime handling, grip and raw power at their disposal. To have it without noise, gasoline or emissions is an entirely new concept to the performance crowd. About 500 of the electric cars have been delivered since production began last year; 800 buyers are on the nearly six month-long waiting list. Chances are, if they push this car like I am, they’ll want brighter headlights, too.

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I’m on a three-day, 460-mile mission to challenge the Tesla hype and decide if living on 375 volts is actually enjoyable in the gas age. First order of business: I never got close to Tesla’s claimed 244-mile range in which the car can drive without a recharge. Had I driven like a maniacal hypermiler and avoided highways, which drain the battery much faster than back roads, I might have hit 200 miles. Regardless, this car has helped foster the EV renaissance, and shown that speed and “green” can coexist in a vehicle.

…Tesla claims the car can be recharged in 3.5 hours using a 240-volt, 70-amp line, but that requires serious rewiring for the average mansion. My co-driver friend, Nick, took us to his home a few miles away in Half Moon Bay, and we proceed to swap the 15-amp, 240-volt breaker in his garage for a 30-amp. Tesla includes a standard 120-volt, 15-amp plug, but that would be like filling a 55-gallon drum one drop at a time. A full charge would take a day and a half.

…The next day we prepare to push the Tesla as hard and as far as possible. But every trip in an electric car requires a careful plan — often times there’s no second chance at recharging if you’re reading the map upside-down. It’s somewhat reassuring that California has more than 400 electric charging stations, the most in the country, but they’re many times at obscure locations, like in Costcos and parking garages.

…After roughly 100 miles, there’s still plenty of charge left. My friend takes the helm on the drive back from Santa Cruz, and after executing the perfect apex, the Roadster rewards us by abruptly slowing for the next 10 miles. We’ve almost drained the battery, and are now forced to deal with 50% less power — and the thrust of an average family sedan — no matter how far the accelerator is pressed. To save its overeager customers from stranding themselves, Tesla doesn’t disclose the last 10% of battery life while in performance mode. We’ve driven 125 miles in four hours, with 19 miles of battery life remaining on the computer (and roughly 14 more hidden miles).

A subsequent 130-mile round-trip to Berkeley — mostly on interstates, with range mode selected — left us with 38 miles remaining.

Now, the shortage of electric charging stations? That’s extremely inconvenient right now, but admittedly, if enough electric cars were sold, they’d pop up in sufficient numbers to handle the demand. So, in all fairness, that’s a reason to be a late adopter and let other people run out of juice because there’s not a convenient charger within fifty miles.

However, setting that aside, we’re talking about a car that can’t even go 175 miles without a recharge — and that’s a big deal when it takes somewhere between 3.5 hours to a day and a half to recharge the car. Moreover, what if, like many Americans, you don’t have a garage? Are you going to drive your car to an electric filling station and wait around for a few hours? Are you going to leave the charger out all night where someone could steal it?

Maybe some environmentalists relish the idea of driving being turned into a major ordeal that requires hours of wait time and extensive planning to make sure that you don’t get stranded in the middle-of-nowhere, but why would the rest of us want to go backwards? New technology is supposed to be better than the technology it’s replacing and when even a $122,000 roadster is considerably more aggravating than the cheapest reliable gas powered car, electric cars are failing that test.

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