Long live horsepower: Can electricity really ever compete?
The good, the bad, and the ugly of electric vehicles
The ugly truth about plug-in and fuel cell vehicles is that they cost too much. That’s bad because it means gas-guzzlers are going to be around a long time, and it will take a decade or two to replace them even when a real cost-effective solution emerges. You simply can’t replace a billion vehicles overnight, over the year, or even over the decade — at least not using today’s automotive business model.
However, the good thing is, when electrically-powered vehicles overtake fossil-fueled ones, we’ll enjoy our cars and personal transportation far more. OK. Hardcore car guys and gals will take longer to convince, but they’re a small minority, so why care?
Boy, I sure remember the first time I drove an electric-powered car. It was a fuel cell powered Chevy Equinox. And, it was awesome, even though it was based on old fuel cell technology compared to today’s capabilities. Nevertheless, even then it was instantly obvious that electrification IS the future of automotive transportation. That was a great experience with which GM hooked me up (BTW – I’m ready for the latest fuel cell drive, GM).
Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether it’s hydrogen converted into electricity via a fuel cell or grid electricity pumped into a battery powered electric car, electrification is the future of the automobile. We all know it.
But what does the ‘future’ really mean?
The key questions regarding electrification are the path, and the amount of time it’s going to take to mainstream. Unfortunately, because of the ugly electric truth — that costs and supplies just don’t add up — the road to electrification will be long and winding.
In, CAFE and the EPA: Fuel economy for advertising deception, not the real world I point out that America can’t even speak honestly about CAFE and real world automotive fuel economy. Instead, fantasy rules the day.
Mainstream electrification anytime soon is equally as mythical. Can’t we just be honest about that?
For instance, combined GM and Nissan are selling about 2,000 plug-ins per month, with the help of a $7500 tax credit plus other incentives. But in a country where more than a million vehicles are sold every month, 2,000 plug-in vehicle sales per month is absolutely meaningless. At this time, it’s all about marketing, spin, and testing the waters.
More important, countless technological breakthroughs are going to occur between now and electrification domination — when there are more plug-ins in the fleet than petroleum powered ones — countless. Pretending we have the solutions for tomorrow based on today’s knowledge is both assumptuous and even worse, ignorant.
We probably have the direction, the trend, in view. But that’s it. It would be like a company betting its entire future on the Commodore 64 right after its debut. That would have been stupid even though it was obvious that computers were the future.
It wasn’t just computers that mattered, but also the business models built around, and upon, computers that most mattered.
Similarly, companies like Facebook, for example, have added little technological innovation compared to the their market capitalization. It’s Facebook’s business model that broke new ground, not its technology.
Along those lines, as we head into the future, it’s quite possible that the world will become less dependent upon cars, at least personal ownership of such vehicles. In fact, Americans might be even more dependent upon cars and other forms of personal mobility. We’ll just own them less and less. Instead, we’ll share them. Often, we might not even drive them.
At least that’s one potential game-changing business model already bigger than today’s plug-in market.
The fact is, there is no doubt that electrification is the future of personal transportation, but it might not be electrification that is critical to a revolutionary new personal transportation market. Instead, it might just be an out-of-the-box business model that might turn the oil-based economy upside down.
Still, lectric cars will dominate one day, some day.