September 25, 2014

Electric Cars are Coming

Filed under: Articles + Blogs — smeyer @ 4:48 am

chevy volt

There were 96,000 electric cars sold in the United States in 2013.  So says Green Car Reports, and you can read some of the details at the following link;

http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1089443_plug-in-electric-car-sales-for-2013-almost-double-last-years

Electric car sales in the US are up approximately 50%.  Some forecasters are expecting similar growth in 2014. This should be great news to everyone who makes electric cars and anyone interested in purchasing an electric car.  That news should be tempered with the fact that change in the automotive industry comes slowly.  Electric cars are coming, for sure, but it’s going to take quite a long time before we see the much vaunted 1,000,000 electric cars on the road.

The reasons for this are not obvious, and somewhat complex.

The electric vehicle market is still very confusing.  The product choices are very complex, a function of the technology.  There are dual drivetrain hybrids in which both a gasoline engine and an electric motor can turn the rear wheels.   The most notable, the Toyota Prius, was one of the early vehicles for sale in what was a completely unexpected development.  The dual drive train hybrid is the most complicated vehicle because a computer must manage both drive trains and optimized for efficiency based on driving conditions and the driver’s demands.  In the original SAE vehicle specification, 4 Power PC processors were required to accomplish this engineering marvel.

A ‘Plug In’ electric, or ‘pure’ electric vehicle is one that operates from a battery.  It’s just a giant radio control car, without the radio control.  The ultimate in simplicity, there is only one moving part, the motor turns the wheels through a single speed gear reducer.  There is practically nothing to maintain but the battery.  This makes the battery technology crucial.  Drive range, life expectancy, vehicle weight and cost are all significantly impacted by the battery.  Until the advent of lithium battery technology, a serious pure EV was not worth talking about since the dismal performance of the General Motors EV-1 almost 20 years ago.  Tesla is the most recognized pure EV on the market.

The middle ground is the true hybrid.  In a true hybrid, only the electric motor can turn the rear wheels.  When the batteries start to get low, an on board engine-generator kicks in to charge the batteries and run the vehicle.  The efficiency of ‘drive by wire’, turning the wheels with electric motors, is so much more efficient than doing it from a combustion engine, that the generator can be 50 horsepower, run at constant speed for ultra-low emissions, and carry only a few gallons of gas.  The Chevy Volt is the leading example in this category.

Electric cars are coming, just slower than expected.

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