Electric vehicles, not for Honda
The prestigious automotive trade magazine ward’s Auto Word has an article titled: Honda Confident EVs Not Ready for Prime Time. Now when I say that batteries and electric motors have a way to go before they can compete with internal combustion engines in family sedan passenger cars, maybe you can scoff. But when Honda says it you should pay attention. This isn’t the Yugo factory, it is the most technologically advanced auto company in the world, and they don’t think EVs will work for the American drive cycle. Now please, don’t think Honda or myself are talking about other applications for electric vehicles. Electric scooters work great. So do electric golf carts. I think electric dirt bikes are a great application because, like electric model planes, they solve a noise problem. But as the Ward’s article quotes “Even with state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, EVs cannot deliver the driving range most Americans demand, John Mendel, executive vice president-American Honda Motor Co. Inc., tells Ward’s.”
Over at Machine Design, they have an article of hub motors for electric cars. A hub motor is when you squeeze two or four electric motors in the wheels of a car. I am not a big fan for multiple reasons. First off, I still remember that Tesla engineer telling me “We should have water-cooled the motor, like GM did with the EV-1″. Water-cooling would be impossible in most hub motors, since they are built like model airplane electric motors, with the rotating magnets on the outside and the windings in the center (where it is even harder to get the heat out). They work on model planes since they are used at constant speed and have a huge draft of cooling air being forced through them. Also, hub motors tend to be heavier since they have this inside-out construction. Next, hub motors drastically hurt the NVH (noise vibration and handling) of a car since they add so much unsprung weight to the wheels. That Machine Design article lists advantages, but most of them are transitory or non-existent. It is great that the hub motor leaves more space in the engine compartment, but it also takes away space from the brakes and suspension, so it is really a wash. And using 2 or 4 motors instead of one has to have a weight penalty for a given power. One of the “benefits” of hub motors listed is really a detriment-that there is no transmission. An electric motor needs a transmission. Not for reverse, I will give you that, but they have a sweet spot where they run with the best efficiency and you need at least a gear change to keep the motor there. Remember, an engine or motor in an car runs over a decade of RPM, 500 to 5000 RPM, and probably 10,000 RPM these days. The Tesla was supposed to have a two-speed manual transmission but the first one kept breaking (all that maximum torque at stall thing) and the second vendor flaked out. Teslas were delivered with no transmission but a promise to replace the single speed with a two-speed. If you use a hub motor you will give up a lot of efficiency.
And in the volley of straw man arguments, ad-hominum character assassinations and other rhetoric that people will bring up countering my questioning electric cars, will certainly be the fact that many companies are working on electric cars and battery systems. How could such and unpromising technology have so much R&D being spent if it is a bad idea? Well, the government. Just like solar power in Germany is becoming popular because the German government pays exorbitant rates for it, electric cars in the US have been propped up by your tax dollars. Now, I really don’t mind that they are using my tax dollars, after all, I am a technical type and I like technical types of people doing technical types of things. Spending the citizens money on this is better than giving it to corn-growing mega-national corporations or Coca-Cola or all the other corporate welfare. But if I were a struggling lower-middle-class American, perhaps a recent immigrant, I would be pretty pissed off about paying taxes so a bunch of rich smug yuppies can afford to buy and electric car. They whole payola dynamic in electric vehicles was explained by Ron Bailey in this recent article in Reason Magazine. Ron points out how hundreds of millions of dollars are being given to battery manufactures and Tesla and any other silver-tongued grant sucker that has connections with the politicians. I guess an argument can be made for industrial policy. After all, nobody can argue that the railroads and interstate highway systems were a good thing for America. But the Interstate helped everyone, including the citizens. It did not pick winners. Governments, especially the US government are notoriously bad at picking winners. So by the time they pump in all this cash to favored cronies in various companies, we techno types will realize we would be better off if the government had just mandated propane fueling stations at every gas station or fuel cells will come along or something that we don’t expect will negate all this love for electric cars. I suspect that the new Tesla sedan will get built as a prototype, and even if they get enough government cash to build one or two, they will only sell a couple as collector items. Remember the DeLorean and the Bricklin? OK, how about the Tucker? All examples of fast-talkers with a good game doing an unintentional con on the public.
I think one problem is that people don’t realize that in high-volumes, cars are worth their material prices. So a big heavy electric motor/controller full of copper that is rocketing in price as China and India and Brazil buy it all up, well it is not that much cheaper than an internal combustion engine made from steel and aluminum. Then the only difference is the fuel tank. An internal combustion car has a 15 dollar blow-molded polyethylene tank full of 50 dollars worth of gasoline. An electric vehicle has $10,000 of batteries and worst of all, they weigh 800 pounds and you have to haul that around as part of your payload. That is 5 people you could be carrying instead of a bunch of metal that China will start to horde any day now.
If you had been an automotive engineer like I have been, if you have hung around the dyno cells and taken apart that Honda Dream engine when you were 14 years old, then you would realize what I do: The internal combustion engine is the high-technology marvel invented in 1900, and the electric motor and battery is the old clunky technology that was invented in 1830 and summarily replaced by the ICE.
Now, when will family sedan EV’s become practical? Easy, when gasoline prices hit 10 bucks a gallon. I had bookmarked and older Wards article about American adoption of EVs and it is plain what the government is worried about is China and India sucking up all the oil. But I contend that even then, natural gas, which everybody admits we have a 100 year supply right here the USA, is a far better alternative than coal, which is mostly what electric vehicles will be burning, albeit indirectly. If the government kills off coal plants the way they say, they we will have natural gas power in the US,. Don’t even think that wind and solar and nuclear and hydro can make more that 35%, not in our lifetime, and not as long as we have so much cheap natural gas. So why make electricity with natural gas to charge up your car so you can drive around, when it will be at least twice as efficient to just put the natural gas in your car directly? When I go back and visit my relative in Croatia, two of them have little switches on their Audi 5000s. One way the car burns gasoline, the other it burns propane. Propane is cheaper but harder to find, so this way they can switch over if they can’t find propane handy. Maybe it is time for the Untied States to catch up to Croatia.
Here are some other EV posts I have done, along with the obsolete link addresses that haven’t been aliased yet (gotta feed the Google monster ya know.
|Electricity cost vs gasoline and the 135 mpg myth
|More on the 135-mpg fantasy
|Another electric car huckster bites the dust
|Another electric car company, another refutation
|Electric cars and solar power kills babies
|Israel goes electric, geothermal power, and biofuels starving children
|ACIM, PMAC, PMDC motor efficiency and electric cars
|Li-ion batteries in hybrid vehicles
|Electric vehicles still a long way off, other than scooters and motorcycles
|EV range is dependent on speed, load, hills and air conditioning
|We’ve got electric cars but no infrastructure to charge them