Monday, September 15, 2014

Editorial: Why gas? The Question Should be "Why Electric?"

Image courtesy of Extreme Tech
If anyone has watched TV, YouTube, or Hulu lately, you may have seen a new Nissan Leaf commercial. In this commercial, a man from Nissan's marketing and sales division extols the virtues of the Nissan Leaf and electric cars. The commercial ends with the marketing and sales goon asking, "why gas?" I really did not think anything of this commercial until something interesting happened on my way to work one morning.

As I drove towards the 405 freeway, as I do every morning, I noticed the on ramp that I usually take was unusually crowded. When I had finally made it on to the freeway, traffic was still flowing at a crawl. I thought to myself, "traffic is usually slow, but not this slow!" Inching further along, I finally saw what has holding up traffic. A man with a blue Nissan Leaf was attempting to limp his car on to the shoulder from the carpool lane. Clearly, this fellow did not charge his car and let it run out of power, causing a huge traffic jam.

Image courtesy of Cars.com
"Why gas?" I thought as I amusingly watched this fellow slowly try to get his car over to the right shoulder. "Because stupid shit like this doesn't happen with a gasoline car!" That is not to say that a driver in a gas powered car would not run into a similar situation. If you run out of gas, you would probably have to limp your car off the freeway as well. However, the difference is the gasoline car can be back on the road far quicker than an electric car. If you have AAA or any other roadside assistance service, a tow truck will bring you enough gasoline to get to the nearest gas station. Even if you do not have AAA, all it takes is a gas can and a trip to the nearest gas station to get your car moving. With an electric car, you cannot just slap in some new batteries and call it a day. The best a tow truck driver could do is tow your vehicle to the nearest charging station. Once at the charging station though, it takes a few hours just to get enough energy into the car to get it moving a reasonable distance. Even then, the nagging beast known as "range anxiety" is constantly gnawing at the back of your mind, causing anxiety and high blood pressure.

Image courtesy of Cars.com
I am not saying that I do not like all electric cars. The Tesla Model S is a fantastic example of a well built electric car that is not only quick, but also handles very well. Even with its performance advantages though, the Model S still suffers from range anxiety, just like any other electric vehicle. The two biggest problems with electric vehicles are the long charging times, and the lack of a proper charging station infrastructure. Sure, there are plenty of stores and hotels that offer free electric charging, and Tesla is attempting to expand its Supercharging stations. When you buy an electric car, you can also purchase from the manufacturer a small charging station to install in your home. However, none of this changes the fact that charging takes hours, and if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere, you probably will not be able to charge your vehicle for hundreds of miles.

Until the vehicle the charging infrastructure can match the current gasoline infrastructure, and charging can be done in a quick and reasonable amount of time, electric cars will continue to be limited to large urban markets. With that in mind, I have to ask, environmental issues aside, why electric?