Driving the future

I already see that in the very near future we will drive to work in super powerful cars but not burn a single drop of gas, we will accelerate quickly from traffic lights with only a quiet Jetsons-style sound, our cross-country road-trips will average 80 to 90 miles per gallon, nobody will have to plug in their car to a gas pump nor to a charger except in very rare instances because wireless charging will keep them full while we’re sleeping in our beds or working in our offices… and the air that our children breath will be cleaner. I’m talking about batteries in our cars.

Many people first discovered batteries in cars when test-driving (and later deciding against) a hybrid. The underwhelming feeling of flooring a gas pedal in a Toyota Prius made most people think that there was a false dichotomy: either it burns gas or it is for pansies. Soon these people will test drive a Tesla Model S, or a Porsche Panamera electric, or even a BMW i3. Then they will quickly realize that burning gas sucks compared to the power that an electric motor can give you. Already racetracks (especially drag-racing courses) are being invaded by blazing fast cars powered by batteries. In the quest for more powerful cars, the battery has already kicked butt against the internal combustion engine. Now electric cars are claiming a rapidly growing chunk of the consumer market too. Would you believe that today the top selling luxury car is an electric car.

Electric Vehicle sales may pale in comparison to truck sales today, but remember that ice-boxes used to outsell refrigerators for decades. When the tipping point hits for EV’s they will invisibly become the only car that you can find in a dealership. After the EV tipping point who will want the inconvenience of going to the gas station more than once every 9 months, when they would much rather have their car recharge wirelessly without their having to even think about it let alone do anything more than park it. After the EV tipping point who will want to buy a car that doesn’t have the powerful acceleration of an EV (except maybe old people)? After the EV tipping point, who would want to spend over $0.10 per mile driving gas if they can drive for under $0.02 per mile driving on battery? And that is just using technology that is already on the market today!

Driving past the chasm

If rapid acceleration, smooth handling, extremely cheap mileage, with environmental friendly credentials, and effortless wireless charging are already on the market then why isn’t this future better distributed yet? Why haven’t EV’s crossed the chasm?

The short answer is that bringing the future to fruition is a lot of work. Considering that the future is already here but not distributed evenly that means that the future of cars is clustered around the San Francisco Bay Area, and to a lesser extent Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. These are the areas that have worked hardest to bring about a good infrastructure for electric vehicle charging. We have over 5,000 EV chargers in California, more than the rest of the United States combined. There are models of electric cars that are sold exclusively in California. Nowhere else in the world is as ready for the electric car as we are ready here in silicon valley, and yet we are not ready.

In the bay area we sell EV’s like hotcakes compared to the rest of the country and yet we’re still a low single-digit percent of all cars on the roads. In California alone electric cars have offset greenhouse gas emissions enough to add up to several days of there being zero cars on the road in the whole state, and yet our air pollution keeps going up. We have electric car charging stations clustered more densely than anywhere else in the country, and yet we still have trouble finding available chargers and we experience “nerd rage” when people confront each other over the scarce resource of a power plug for their car. We have more free chargers made available by city council’s, by county offices, and even by charitable individuals and yet the net demand for chargers outweighs supply _so_much_ that there are charging stations which rip you off for $0.50/kwh (e.g. the equivalent of $8/gallon gas). I should repeat that: We have lots of chargers, many of them free, yet we’re so under-supplied with charging stations that those which blatantly rip you off will still find ready customers all the time. I’m sorry, but this is not yet the future that people will buy.

I’ve been driving a Chevy Volt for the better part of a year. I love it. I recommend buying a Volt to all of my friends. My apartment has a free charger, that means I have been driving for free for months. I haven’t spent a dime on either gas nor electricity to drive around in my car. But here’s the kicker: I have to share one charger with the 5 other EV’s in the apartment which means that I rarely get to plug in when I want and when I do plug in I have to go downstairs 4 hours later to unplug it for the next guy/gal to plug in their car. This situation is crap, and for sure this is not a future that people will buy.

My office has 30 or more electric car chargers. They are premium parking spots, and the rate is $0.10/kwh (e.g. driving 40 miles for one dollar). Great except that they are all full by 7:30 AM. The few times I have plugged in at the office I felt an obligation to my fellow drivers to leave the office at lunch and re-park my car. That’s a horrible feeling to have, and again that’s not a future that people will buy.

How do we get people to buy this future? I strongly believe that this is a future that we should work towards. We should sell this vision of the future to our friends, and to our coworkers, and to our families, and to anybody who will listen. Also the following things will help:

  • Apartments need to provide EV charging in parking spots in a way that won’t require tenants to re-park their cars.
  • EV’s need to get more miles so that we don’t have to charge every day.
  • We need to start rolling out wireless charging. Now you can retrofit your car with wireless charging but soon it should be standard.
  • The short-lived trend of electric chargers costing more than gas will go away when the free market kicks butt. Hasten the change by boycotting and letter writing.
  • More employers should offer free or low-cost charging to their employees as another form of compensation just like a 401K. Office complexes can make a good business in doing this.
  • We collectively need to stop nerding out and hating on range extenders in EV’s. I get it, they’re pure just like Lisp, Linux, Veganism and whatever. Mass markets don’t care.
  • Used electric cars can’t have half the battery life (looking at you Nissan Leaf). They should keep 95%+ of battery capacity after 3 years like the Volt.
  • Fast-charging is a low priority. Besides it kills battery life. REx is a better solution.
  • Roll out the infrastructure in the rest of the country, and start selling all EV models in all states.

As you can see these are not easy things to overcome. But we will solve them and arrive at the future of driving at surprising speeds. Before you know it, these issues will be history and the future will have disseminated to the rest of the world. Wirelessly charged EV’s with powerful acceleration, quiet driving, cleaner air, and less expensive mileage are already here and are within sight of the finish line for mass adoption. I’ll see you there soon.

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