Eliminating Range Anxiety With Today's Technology
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It may surprise many people today to know that many of the earliest cars were electric. They had many advantages that made them popular, including less noise, no dangerous crank-style startup, and of course, less pollution. For small trips, these cars were ideal, since their range was rarely a problem. But with the expansion of American roads in the 1920s, people wanted to travel farther and technology advancements eliminated the need for a manual crank start up. In addition, the Ford Model T arrived as a gasoline-powered car, helping to standardize the industry.
Today, electric cars still have the advantages of less pollution, less noise, and now a lower cost to operate, because of rising gasoline prices. But despite the majority of the country traveling a distance that would fall well within the electric range of a Chevrolet Volt, people still have range anxiety and fear running out of battery by the side of the road.
We need infrastructure!
Today's Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) Model S has a range of 265 miles. The Toyota (NYSE: TM) Corolla, which has sold over 39 million units, has a range of 383 miles. Would people swarm to buy an electric car with a 383-mile range? Probably not. What the Corolla has that electric cars lack is an ease of refueling. In a cross country trip, a Corolla owner can refuel at any of the thousands of gas stations in minutes. Since they are so widespread Corolla owners do not suffer from range anxiety the way electric car owners do.
At this point there is a clear lack of electric car infrastructure across the United States. And even then most of the stations are concentrated in California being of minimal use to non-Californians. Without a reliable number of electric charging stations, people find that driving a long distance in an electric car is difficult. Because of this, they choose not to buy electric cars. And without a large number of electric cars, building a system of electric car charging stations would be unprofitable.
But who will build it?
Start-up automaker Tesla Motors is planning to unveil a supercharging network on Sept. 24, but even it will not mean nationwide coverage. The system can recharge most of the Model S battery in 30 minutes, an amount of time people would likely want to rest after depleting the 265 miles of range on the battery. So if this system went nationwide it could have a huge effect on electric car sales. Range anxiety would be eliminated and the advantages of cheaper ownership, less noise, and less pollution would make electrics superior to gasoline powered cars for many drivers.
Unfortunately, this is not going to happen anytime soon. Tesla is working with limited cash and will restrict their system to the most profitable areas of the country, at least for the time being. An independent company would have no reason to build the infrastructure, since it would not even profit from the electric car sales itself, while losing a huge amount of money in the near term. When a project presents itself that requires a large capital investment but primarily serves to benefit society as a whole, the government is usually who the people look to. But in these times of a divided Congress, public disapproval of the last fiscal stimulus, and a desire to reduce the deficit, a nationwide rollout of electric car chargers is unlikely to be fully government funded.
The technology is available
Based on the range of the Model S, electric cars can now develop ranges that can compete with their gasoline-powered competition. The problem is in refueling, and it may take as long to solve as Tesla took to develop their Model S. Without government help, a nationwide electric car-charging system will need to profitable, not just serve as a societal benefit. To make such an undertaking profitable a far greater number of electric cars will need to be on the roads. This may take a decade or two as Tesla and the major automakers increase production of EVs. But we now know that the technology is available, and therefore, that an EV future is possible. The question is: Will we use our technology?
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