RogerBW's Blog

Why no electric car? 03 April 2018

In principle I'd really like to have an electric car. I think burning fossil fuels is criminally irresponsible, but public transport isn't up to the sort of travel I want to do. So why don't I get one?

Range is one big problem. It's been improving, and the longest-range Tesla Model S can now make about 330 miles - manufacturer's figure, for a new car. If true, that's enough that my most common trip (80-odd miles to a friend's place, then the same back again a few hours later) could now be achieved without begging for a charge at his place while I was there, but it's not really enough, because:

Recharge time is still horribly long. If I drive my fossil-fuelled car a few hundred miles, I can get it ready to do the same thing again in a few minutes. So I can use nearly the full range, park at a hotel for a weekend, and buy fuel on my way home. I don't need to find a charging station near the hotel and spend time shuttling the car back and forth to it.

When I drive to Germany in a day, it's about 400 road miles, and I make 5-10 minute stops for biological needs; the best Tesla can offer is a "supercharge" station for a small additional range boost in 15-30 minutes of charging. Fast charge is not possible with current electric cars, and nobody's anywhere close to bringing modular batteries or continuous-flow electrolytes into production (things which would allow a refuelling model more similar to the current one).

Cost of ownership is a concern too: the battery loses range over the car's life, and once it's worn out the car has little second-hand value. One has to throw it away and get a new one. I'm trying to have less of an environmental impact. (Tesla tried out a battery-swap system, but claims customers in the USA don't want it, and isn't currently putting any effort into it. It's intrinsic to that model that there's a battery which is "yours", that you have to come back and collect.)

So why not a hybrid? Weight: a hybrid vehicle carries two separate power supplies and therefore has all the disadvantages of both. (Not to mention last time I checked nobody made a diesel-electric hybrid, which would be rather more efficient and less polluting than petrol.)

Basically, because I can get around my local area by bicycle or public transport, I don't need a short-range vehicle, which is where most of the electric-car effort seems to have gone so far.

See also:
A utopian vision for electric cars


  1. Posted by Chris Bell at 11:53am on 03 April 2018

    For me it's the re-charging.

    Here, I have a garage available (if we clear it enough for a car to fit into it) and a drive on which I can park within reasonable reach of the house.

    Most of my friends have neither (and if they do, they are likely to have their own car parked there), and there is no guarantee I would be able to park outside their houses; so how do I drive the 180 miles for a visit and then charge up the car for use while I am there and for the return journey? For example there isn't a recharging station in their small town closer than the garage on the bypass, and they live on the High Street with no parking closer than a hundred yards away on the level or a quarter of a mile away at the bottom of the town and I can't walk that far up the hill even if I could find an extension cable that long. So I sit in the rechargery or whatever you like to call it, and bang, there's a hefty chunk of my two-day visit gone at a stroke.

    Electric cars are not for flat-dwellers nor for the even-slightly-disabled, as yet. Even if it were possible to take the battery indoors to charge (and hope my friends didn't mind their electricity bill being raised somewhat) I wouldn't be able to lift the thing to put it back into the car: I can't reliably lift an ordinary car battery. So I am naffed.

  2. Posted by John Dallman at 01:21pm on 03 April 2018

    With a new technology, the first people to try to sell it to are those who can live with its limitations. Currently Tesla seems to be selling to people who can handle the short range limitation. Many of those people may not actually need a car, but have one because it is necessary for status purposes.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 01:51pm on 03 April 2018

    They've been working hard on the range limitation (when I first looked into this a few years ago, 200 miles was the optimistic top end), but I see very little progress on the recharging. Tesla have pretty much abandoned battery swapping and nobody else is looking at it at all.

    It may be fine for shopping trips and car commuting…

  4. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:07pm on 03 April 2018

    It's strange to talk of Tesla and complain about range, they have the longest range of all current electric cars. I do about 4000 miles per year, so emissions are a minor item in my polluting of the planet. The impact of replacing my car would be much greater, so I continue to drive a 16 year old car that is in good condition. Ironically half my miles are done driving 140 miles each way to my parents, so I too have problems with electric range.

    A different option is BMW i3 with range extender, a 2 cyclinder petrol engine that runs to provide electricity when the battery gets low. It makes more sense than most hybrids as the only weight is the petrol, engine and generator, there is no mechanical drive train. Also the engine can be optimised for the one speed it runs at.

  5. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:11pm on 03 April 2018

    I see you are sticking with your view that diesel is less polluting than petrol, despite the swing in government and public opinion. Personally I have always hated diesels, which may have something to do with cycling behind them.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 02:26pm on 03 April 2018

    Well, yes, I don't believe that benzene magically becomes harmless just because it's not lead.

  7. Posted by Dave at 03:24pm on 03 April 2018

    The idea of a range-extender trailer never seems to have caught on... rather than having your generator permanently in the car, have it in a trailer you could (hire and) hook up for the occassional long journey. (Not sure if it would be feasible to integrate it to the car body somehow, so it didn't affect handling so much.)

  8. Posted by Owen Smith at 05:32pm on 03 April 2018

    I just had a quick trawl round electric cars again given this topic. Apart from Tesla most of them are firmly targeting the commuter car market, where a 120 mile range will get you to work and back at speeds of no more than 50 miles an hour. Electric range plummets at speeds over 50 mph, most manufacturers do not quote range at motorway speeds.

    Also many of these electric commuter cars are clearly designed for a multiple car household where long trips or ones with lots of luggage can be done in a normal car. I live on my own and can't afford (nor do I want) two cars, and my daily commute is currently measured in how quickly I wear out a pair of shoes since I walk to work most days.

    A few years ago I set aside money to put towards an electric car. There is no sign of any manufacturer producing something soon that will persuade me to part with that money.

  9. Posted by Chris Bell at 11:51am on 04 April 2018

    Since the present car reliably returns well over 500 miles to the tankful at motorway speeds, the problem about getting home when we do a 200 mile trip doesn't arise. Last weekend we filled up at the local Morrisons (cheapest fuel at the moment) drove 233 miles, stayed for the weekend with a side-trip out with friends of a bit over fifteen miles, drove home, and filled up again at the local pump. There was no electric charging point in the hotel carpark as far as I know, so that would have been an added complication.

    When there is an electric car in which that trip would be possible, or even take five hours instead of the at-least-eight it would involve each way at the moment, I will be more interested in having one.

  10. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:18pm on 04 April 2018

    Someone at work drove to Cornwall in a Nissan Leaf last summer. They planned the route with military precision, driving at 50mph max, planning lunch, dinner and toilet stops all at places with charging points. And an overnight stop somewhere they could get a full charge. This plan fell over at only the second stop due to a broken charger and the other one being in use. Frantic re-planning ensued for the entire of the rest of the trip.

  11. Posted by John Dallman at 07:30pm on 09 April 2018

    A cab I rode in today was a diesel-electric hybrid. It was a Mercedes E-class, so presumably expensive.

  12. Posted by RogerBW at 08:26pm on 09 April 2018

    Thanks! That's the first one I've come across. (Diesel cars are basically unknown in the USA, which doesn't help prod car-makers into producing them.)

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