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Don't Believe the Electric Car Hype

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What's the real deal with electric cars?

My Foolish colleague Alex Planes wondered yesterday if it is "too soon to bury the electric car." It almost certainly is -- the technology has shown some promise, and the cars should get better in the next few years.

But the debate around the electric car has heated up a great deal in recent months, thanks to concerns -- real and otherwise -- about the Chevy Volt.

Are electric cars the shining green future of transportation in America? Or an expensive taxpayer-funded boondoggle that nobody wants?

It depends on who you ask. But the truth is, they're probably neither.

Are electric cars the next big thing?
At least in some corners of the world, including the investment community, the hype behind electric cars has been hot and heavy for several years now -- despite the fact that, so far, hardly anyone has figured out how to make a profit on this new category of products.

The Obama Administration clearly heard that hype and bought into it, at least to some extent. The government has made a variety of loans and grants available to automakers and suppliers to help them invest in the technology. It's clear why: If electric cars take off, they'll clean up the environment, reduce America's dependence on imported oil, and -- assuming those loans and grants are put to good use -- put American companies in the forefront of a world-changing technological revolution.

Assuming you buy the idea that government should be "investing" in this way -- and that's a can of worms I'm not going to open here right now -- it seems like a pretty solid investment.

There's just one problem.

They aren't exactly selling like hotcakes
Since its launch in December of 2010 through this past January, Nissan (OTC: NSANY.PK) has sold 10,369 units of its all-electric Leaf in the U.S. The Leaf, a compact that sells for about $28,000 (after a $7500 Federal tax credit) and has a range of around 100 miles on a charge, is the best-selling electric car in the world.

10,000 sold here in a year may sound like a lot, but let me give you a little context: Ford (NYSE: F  ) sells over 10,000 of its big F-series pickup trucks every single week, on average.

Now, that doesn't mean electric cars are doomed. Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA  ) has already signed up close to 10,000 buyers for its upcoming Model S sedan. But that's a niche product, like (so far) the Leaf, albeit one with a BMW price tag. A bit further down the price spectrum, Ford just launched an all-electric version of its acclaimed new Focus compact, which should start appearing at dealers soon -- but I don't think anyone expects it to sell in big numbers.

And of course General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) has its Chevy Volt. But while the Volt features some sophisticated engineering, functionally it's a hybrid -- albeit an advanced one -- not a true electric like the Leaf or the Teslas. And it isn't exactly selling well, in part because at $32,000 (after that aforementioned tax credit), it's an expensive hybrid.

That's a big part of the problem with this whole electric-car thing -- one that government investment, so far, hasn't yet been able to solve.

Range costs money. How much do you want to spend?
The Volt, like other "plug-in" hybrids coming soon from Ford and Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) , is -- functionally speaking -- kind of a cross between a pure electric car and a more familiar hybrid like Toyota's Prius. Charging one of these cars overnight gives you a limited range on all-electric power -- 35 miles for the Volt, according to GM -- after which a gasoline-powered engine (or generator, in the Volt's case) keeps you going.

The short range and the cars' high prices are both results of the limits on battery technology. As anyone who has looked at an order sheet for Tesla's Model S knows, range is expensive, because right now, car-sized lithium-ion battery packs are expensive. Optioning up a Model S from the standard 160-mile range to a battery pack that will give you 300 miles costs a whopping $20,000.

Where the market really headed
Battery prices will almost certainly come down over the next few years -- massive investments in battery technology and battery factories are being made right now, all over the world -- but that's only part of the problem. A lack of recharging infrastructure makes relying on an electric car a daunting proposition, something that's unlikely to change any time soon.

Meanwhile, there are gas stations on every corner -- and better and better hybrids appear at local dealerships every year. Gas may be getting more expensive (though prices have been stable lately), but mass-market auto choices are getting more efficient every year. Ford expects its new Fusion hybrid -- the regular one, not the plug-in "Energi" model -- to get 47 mpg in the city.

That's a bread-and-butter mid-sized Ford that will probably cost you less than the Volt, and will definitely cost you a lot less than a Tesla Model S. Rather than seeing a mass shift to electric cars, Toyota's chief engineer thinks that most of us will be driving hybrids in a decade. I think he's right, and I think investors tempted by the electric-car hype would be smart to consider the possibility that hybrids may be the real future of cars -- at least for the next decade or two.

Instead of electric cars, investors looking to invest in future tech should take a minute to check out a new report from Motley Fool analysts: "Discover the Next Rule-Breaking Multibagger." It has the full scoop on a great company that is already experiencing explosive growth – and is poised for much bigger things in coming years. The report is completely free for Fool readers, but only for a limited time – download your copy now.

Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford Motor. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford Motor, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a plugged-in disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (31) | Recommend This Article (11)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 4:33 PM, DanFrederiksen wrote:

    this article should probably have included that Fisker is now at death's door.

    and while the electric car will rule supreme it is far from guaranteed that early players like Tesla motors will survive. as I've commented before Tesla's life hinges on the unit margin and sustained sales of 10000+ per year. TM has a very poor cost management record from the roadster losing a couple hundred million so TM is very much up in the air. it could be worth nothing at all or billions. the stock market acts as if that's already decided and that's what we call a bubble. will it burst or will we slide into electric victory

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 4:45 PM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    @DanFredericksen: I ran out of room to get into the Fisker situation -- I would have needed to explain the backstory, and that would have eaten up too much space -- but yeah, that's worth some commentary.

    And I've written at length on Tesla's chances elsewhere... my conclusions are similar to yours, though I think "billions" is unlikely, more like "they'll either crash and burn or make a mildly-profitable go of it." But... you know Musk says they'll have 25%+ margins, right? Among actual established automakers, only Ferrari gets anywhere near that neighborhood. I'll believe it when I see it, but it'll be interesting to watch.

    Thanks for reading.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 4:51 PM, voelkels wrote:

    A few problems that I see with an all electric car;

    I live in Louisiana with a sales tax or around 9.5%. That $28,000 Nissan Leaf will cost me in excess of $30,000 for something with a range that will probably not get me to my dentist’s office and back assuming I drive on the interstate at the posted speed limit. DW can’t visit her sister in Florida, the kids & grandkids in Ohio or California, etc., etc. unless we buy a second car that runs on gasoline or diesel.

    Assume a million people in the northeast have electric cars and they all plug them in to recharge on a hot July night. Where will the extra electricity come from? Talk about a brownout . . .

    As for the idea that an all electric car doesn’t produce pollution, the power to recharge it has to come from somewhere. As an engineer I have to ask “Is it more efficient to burn coal or natural gas to boil water to convert to mechanical energy to run a generator to convert to electrical energy, transmit the electrical energy down a transmission line to a charging station to convert to chemical energy in a battery to be stored until it is again converted to electrical energy which is converted to mechanical energy in a motor to move the car or is it more efficient to use the natural gas or refined petroleum liquids in a Diesel or Otto engine to produce mechanical energy to move the car?”

    C.J.V. - waiting for a “flex fuel” vehicle running on CNG and diesel or gasoline to replace my 98 Chevy S-10, me

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 4:53 PM, nutcutter wrote:

    Disclosure, I sell the Nissan LEAF in Los Angeles. I've sold more LEAFs than anyone in the country and can assure you that between BEVs and PHEVs, plug-in technology will definitely take over. We had a great launch year selling close to the 10,000 units we planned on selling, and that's despite the slow down in production caused by the earthquake.

    Something that has slowed demand a bit is the amazing push back from certain segments of the right. The whole Volt fire issue was made up into a big deal when the truth was there was no problem at all. I've documented two customers who pulled back from buying the LEAF because of this lie flamed into existence by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. So, way to go guys, you're helping to keep us 99% dependent on oil for our transportation when any sentient being can see that is a disaster waiting to happen.

    What will you do when Israel attacks Iran and Iran shuts down the Straight of Hormuz? Maybe it'll only be a short closure, but the price of oil will certainly shoot sky high and billions more of our dollars will flow out of our economy. Is this a bet you want to take? Not me.

    But the worst of your misunderstanding of this issue is the complete neglect of oil's external costs in your calculations. All of you predictions of the adoption of plug-in vehicles assumes none of these costs will ever be internalized in the price at the pump. I know that the powerful Koch brothers and their ilk are pouring money into the Super Packs to keep their minions in Congress from ever taxing dirty oil, but at some point, we'll need to get started down that road.

    A recent RAND study ( concluded that we are spending $80 billion every year in military costs protecting our access to the world's oil. This works out to 55 cents/gallon that is not paid by those who buy gas. BTW, this is exclusive of the wars for oil. The Iraq war would not have been fought if they had no oil, so at least some of the more than $1 trillion should be recouped in a gas tax.

    Then, there are the massive health and environmental costs of extracting, transporting, refining, distributing and eventually burning of that oil. None of these cost are paid by anyone except those who get sick and die from the pollution or the loss of clean water, air and land that we all have to deal with.

    Unless and until these external costs are internalized at the pump there will be no level playing field, and our country will continue being reliant on a filthy, expensive energy that we have to pay ever increasing prices for to countries that, in some cases, do not have our best interests in mind.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 5:19 PM, tomw37066 wrote:

    One important factor that no one seems to want to address is the inefficiency of the power grid. Only a fraction of the energy required to generate electric power makes it to the outlet at your home. There is energy lost in the generation of electricity, in the transmission lines, and in each transformer along the way. For example, depending on distance and physical characteristics of the system, it could require 3kW of generated power to supply 1kW of power consumed at your home. The introduction of "rechargeable cars" only means that more oil, natural gas, or coal will be required because of the added demand on the electric grid. If physics allowed for 100% efficient transmission lines and transformers, electric cars would be great. Unfortunately those devices do not currently exist and electric cars can only increase the need for fuel at the power plant, not decrease it. The dramatic increase in use of fossil fuels could only lead to an increase, not a decrease, in hydrocarbon emmissions. While the process of refining gasoline is not without energy loss, it is more efficient than generation, transmission, and distribution of electrical power. Keep in mind too that our auto companies have made great strides in reducing emissions and increasing the efficiency of their gasoline burning engines. Emissions from car engines now are a fraction of what they were in times past. Todays engines are on average much smaller than they were 30-40 years ago, yet provide the same performance and much improved fuel effiency of their larger predecessors.

    The electric car is a novel idea and probably in some situations makes sense. On a large scale; however, would likely only create additional energy dependence, further driving up fuel costs; and while may you pay less at the pump, will drive up your electric bill at home. The bottom line is there is no 100% efficient means of converting one form of energy to another. They all come with a price and the electric car only represents another example of the fact that the laws of physics cannot be ignored.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 5:25 PM, voelkels wrote:

    Axe-u-lee, the electric car is not a novel idea. I remember the Citicar from the 1970s (See; ). That wasn’t ready for prime time either.


  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 5:30 PM, tomw37066 wrote:

    Unfortunately I'm old enough to remember the Citicar... thanks for reminding me.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 5:37 PM, parkaveinvestor wrote:

    I driven the hybrids and I think that its a technology that's destined to die, just a matter of how soon pure electric can put out some hot stuff. These hybrids are a Frankenstein solution, its like when investment advisers tell clients that the annuity investment is a very simple concept and ideal solution. It certainly could be, be never is. The gas/e hybrids are very confusing and disorientating to drive with the engine (gas) starting and stopping all the time. You're driving along and all of sudden your engine shuts off, crazy feeling. Then you're on electric power driving along, and accustomed to its feel, when all of a sudden you hear an engine start up. This is just way to confusing for most people to deal with on top of all the inputs coming out drivers these days. My wife even refused to drive one she was offered as a repair loaner. People can relate to pure electric on a very intuitive level and will respond very strongly to this form when given some good choices. First for high end early adopters and the crowd will follow very quickly thereafter. The lack of infrastructure is just plain nonsense issue. Putting in place charging stations is a lot easier then the massive logistical enterprise of building and supplying gasoline stations. The infrastructure needed will easily grow as fast as the availability of good e's arrive on the scene.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 5:37 PM, capitolvolt wrote:

    OK, we've got a Nissan Leaf person here, so here's a Volt person.

    The misunderstanding around this vehicle (actually, both vehicles is ENORMOUS!

    To begin with, I'd like to point out that the first year the Prius was sold in the USA they sold slightly over 6,000 vehicles. And look what they are doing today! But when the Leaf and Volt "only" sell about 10,000 each, it's the end of the world!

    And no one is saying this is "everyman's" car. Depending on your driving, it can be a waste of time or one of the best investments you ever made. Regarding the Volt, there is a 3-year lease available at just over $340/month. Now assuming you drive 1000 miles per month (actually over the national average), that's about 33 miles per day, which either the Leaf or the Volt can do on electricity only. So now assume your previous car was getting 25 mpg (overall; I'm being generous!); that's 25 gallons of gas, at $3.50/gallon= $87.50. So now the Volt is costing you about $250/month for a VERY well equipped, good handling, quiet vehicle. And you don't have to stop at the gas station every other week. MANY of our owners have over 6,000 miles and have yet to fill the gas tank!

    We do not compare the Volt to the Prius; it's more in the class of Audi and BMW. Sure, it costs more than a Corolla, but so does a BMW. Does that mean no one should buy a BMW? Of course not!

    OK, I feel better now

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 5:47 PM, ranss12 wrote:

    it's a little misleading to say that since Nissan has only sold approx. 10,000 LEAFs, it is not doing well in the marketplace. Do you have any idea how long you need to wait to get one? I ordered one in early January and the wait is between 3 and 4 months. This is a supply problem, not a demand problem. If you had to wait 3 to 4 months to get an Ford F150 pickup truck, F150 sales would seriously slump and I Chevy Silverado sales would go through the roof. Can you think of any other vehicle for which you need to wait this long to own? I'll believe there's a demand problem when I see 120 days supply sitting on dealer lots unsold.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 6:09 PM, okashira wrote:

    In response to tomw37066's thoughts on power generation and transmission.

    I think it's really unfortunate I see this argument all too often. Why do people not actually look at real numbers and instead pull assumptions out of the air? Because people hate change. They are likely biased against the idea of an electric car, even if conciously they aren't

    To respond more directly, electrial transmission efficiency is typically 95%-98%

    Generator efficiency is typically 99-99.5% efficinent.

    And of course the actual conversion of fuel to mechanical energy is laughably better in a power plant then any internal combustion engine in a vehicle.

    This is without even going into any of the emmissions benefits of concentrating energy conversion (fuel burning) into one place. Power plants are simply worlds cleaner then internal combustion engines on a unit energy basis (be it fuel basis or generated basis)

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 7:14 PM, NO2OIL wrote:

    Don't believe the Fool's hype that the Electric Car (EV) is dead... against all common sense, skeptics once used words to describes a new generation of electric vehicles as "never," "won't work" and "can't be done" “not economical”. Time will prove them wrong.

    The average American commuter drives 27 miles per day. Today’s pure EV cars offer a range of 80 to 100 miles between charges and requires 4-10 hours to completely re-charge overnight, and much less time for a quick “top-off’ charge at one of the growing number public charging stations.

    Alternatively, we have legacy fossil-foolish vehicles with 3 times the range of EV’s, but require seeking out a gas station and going through the expense and hassle of refueling, while polluting the air we are all need to breathe. EV’s also offer net energy efficiency unmatched by their gasoline and dirty-diesel powered cousins.

    In the case of the Chevy Volt, it’s a superior driving experience, while featuring the best of worlds, EV performance without range anxiety. After 3 months of Volt ownership our lifetime vehicle mileage has reached 175 MPG, and continuing to rise with the addition of pure electric miles driven. Based on the limited extended gas-battery assisted driving, it is likely we will purchase no more than 15 gallons (2 tanks) of gas annually. This fuel source trade-off has translated into an electricity bill, on average, that has increased only $18 per month.

    It’s an empowering consumer experience to say no to big oil, and to enjoy the 100% on-demand acceleration and quite efficiency of an electric powered vehicle.

    Believe what you will, the EV is here to stay. As the public becomes more familiar with plug-in EV alternatives already on the showroom floor, and more coming down the road, the electrification of the transportation grid that GE, GM, Ford, Fisker, Nissan, and others are promoting will silence critics, skeptics, and speed America’s transition to a clean energy driven economy, no longer dependent on foreign oil, and held hostage by Big Oil.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 8:57 PM, rapnjoe wrote:

    well all I can say is I never even heard of an EV until I read this article in after reading it I wanted an EV , almost bought the Roadster but a little out of my League so I leased an Orphaned Leaf and at first I had huge range anxiety now its a breeze, I commute 25 miles each way and on one day a week go about 70 to 80 sometimes works just fine, when i need a little more range i just learned to stay off the freeways, the Leaf will go 120 miles driven at 35 to 45 miles an hour on the surface streets with an experienced knowledgeable driver that knows how to maximize use of regenerative braking, I have 28 Solar panels on my house capable of producing approximately 10,000 kwh's a year for a clean sustainable energy that works just fine, I did keep my Truck for long range needs and kayaking trips, however i envision the day i will be able to buy a Tesla pick up Truck with 500 mile range and turn in my Leaf and gas Truck and be able to charge it to 80% in 30minutes , remember when the first cell phone came out it cost like $4000 now just about everyone has one, give them a few years to grow.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 9:32 PM, tomw37066 wrote:

    In response to Okashira:

    Speaking of pulling numbers out of thin air; you are one to acuse. The typical generator used in power plants operates in the 50-60% efficiency range and is no where near the 99.5% you have mentioned. Larger transformers used in distribution systems can operate in the 98% range however, the one on the pad or pole outside your home is likely a little less efficient. If electric power only passed through one transformer between the generator and your house this would be no big deal but there will be at least a step-up at the generation site, a step-down at the utilities substation, and another one at your home. There could be other intermediate transformers which introduce additional losses. Transmission lines can reach some good efficiency numbers if your talking about 500 or 765kV transmission lines. The more common 345 kV line operating at 1000 MW will lose around 4% for every 100 miles of line and some transmission lines run several hundred miles. Loss numbers for the local distribution system power lines may be several percent or relatively small depending on the load at a given time and how well the system was designed for the demand.

    Now consider all those efficiences together: generation - 60% (on a good day), 3 transformers - 98% each (on a good day), 100 mile transmission line - 96% (average), and another 98% (typical) for the distribution lines. When you do the math you are down to roughly 53% of the energy you started with available at your house. The numbers could possibly be a little better or much worse. There are several "it depends" in the equation. System designers typically allow for 6-8% losses in the transmission and distribution end as a rule of thumb but the biggest loser here is the generation phase. Burning any fuel to generate steam to drive a turbine and generator set is going to lose energy through each phase of energy conversion. Heat > Mechanical > Electrical energy results in lost energy along the way. I'm not going to say that generator efficiency won't ever improve but today it is definitely not 99%.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2012, at 11:53 PM, bobbie14231 wrote:


    You're logic is so skewed it is laughable. You never mentioned the entire supply chain of how oil gets dug up transported, refined, transported refined etc etc before it even gets to the gas station. Perfect apples to orange comments. Compare them equally.

    In fact it doesn't matter if electricity is less efficient even though it isn't. Ask any expert on it or read.

    Who uses the most electricity? Oil refineries. Even if electricity was theoretically dirty, oil is still more dirty because it consumes so much electricity to refind it for your addictive gas car. LOL!

    What's the efficiency in your gas car? 15%.

    Electric car? 85% and up.

    So pure usage in cars electricity wins.

    Making electricity vs transporting oil - Electricity wins.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 12:34 AM, rapnjoe wrote:

    Anybody who can afford to buy an EV can probably afford to have a Solar system installed on there home and I would guess if there green enough to buy an EV then they would be green enough to go solar, and this whole electric grid efficiency thing would become mute.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 1:18 AM, spectechinvest wrote:

    agreed the American people want OFF of gasoline it's dirty, the ICE engines are irritating to maintain.

    I can't wait for Tesla to come out with it's model X tomorrow:

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 4:14 AM, maxEV wrote:

    I find it so ironic that he sees hybrids as the future of cars for the next 20 years. Hybrids certainly will be part of the future mix of cars, but he sees Electric cars as part of a very small niche market, and I think he is dead wrong. In his reference to EVs, he says “They aren’t exactly selling like hotcakes.” His argument is that Nissan, has only sold 10,369 of their Nissan Leaf electric car in about a year and that’s the number of F-100 trucks that Ford sells in just a week. That’s not much of a dent in the whole automotive landscape. Well, guess what John, your future car, the hybrid, wasn’t exactly selling like hotcakes either when it was first introduced. When Toyota created the Prius, the first mass-produced hybrid in 1997, (per Wikipedia) it sold only 300 cars. It wasn’t until 4 years later, in the year 2000, when Toyota was able to sell almost 20,000 of them. Thus, it took Toyota 5 years to sell 1/2 of what Nissan has sold in just 1 year! Even Tesla Motors has pre-sold almost 10,000 of its Model S EVs before it has even mass produced any; and these buyers have never even driven one! If that’s not a real EV demand, you tell me what is!

    If any of us were to apply John R’s logic in 1997, then the hybrid car is a “niche” concept that will never succeed. Oh, but wait, that’s right, it looks like they are succeeding---ok scratch that. Electric vehicles are selling better than hybrids when they were first introduced! If we extrapolate that even better initial success, it seems to me that EVs will ultimately have even better success than the hybrid. I suppose that if the writer, John R, had written this article just 15 years earlier, perhaps the title of his 1997 article would have been “Don’t Believe the Hybrid Car Hype”.

    Continued at:

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 4:57 AM, portefeuille wrote:

    25%+ margins, right? Among actual established automakers, only Ferrari gets anywhere near that neighborhood.



    August 1, 2011

    Porsche profits surge on Chinese demand


    The carmaker said first-half operating profits jumped from €675m to €1.1bn, while turnover rose by 19 per cent to €5.2bn ($7.3bn). The results imply an operating profit margin of more than 20 per cent – among the best in the industry.



    from here ->

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 5:04 AM, portefeuille wrote:

    There are currently 1800 PAH3:GY shares in my fund with break-even of around 15.38 EUR.

    the fund ->

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 6:47 AM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    @portefeuille: Indeed, and I actually mentioned Porsche in the first draft of this (and have mentioned it before when making that same comparison), but I have reliably heard that Ferrari's are considerably higher. Of course, Ferrari themselves are not exactly forthcoming with info like that, so it's speculative to some extent. (And wow, I didn't know we had a CAPS page for Porsche. Thanks for linking.)

    @maxEV: Just because one technology followed a particular adoption path doesn't mean a second (much more radical and disruptive) technology will follow the same path. Hybrids didn't need a whole new refueling infrastructure and didn't require re-educating consumers accustomed to something very different. That's why they were successful, and that distinction was plainly visible 15 years ago. Big, big difference. But we'll see what happens in a few years when the batteries get cheaper and better.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 7:26 AM, tomw37066 wrote:

    To Bobbie 14231:

    First of all the supply chain factor is the same whether we are talking about charging a car or making gasoline... and you might be alarmed to know but oil is drilled for, not dug as you mentioned. In either case oil or natural gas is brought from the ground, transported, processed, and the product transported again by pipeline, rail or truck. It goes to the gas stations we fill our cars from or the to the power plant that generates our electricity to charge our electric car. It might also alarm you to know that refineries typically use fuel oil, natural gas or a combination to make gasoline and other products. They burn light bulbs like the rest of us but they are not using electricity as a heating source in the refining process. When you make comparison of only the device at the end user it sounds great. 20% vs 85% sounds like a no brainer but when you look at the bigger picture it's not the panacea that it has been painted out to be. I haven't even gotten into emissions, but it is easier to deal with emissions from individual combustion engines than a power plant delivering mega-watts of electric power.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 7:37 AM, mm4AUTigers wrote:

    When are people going to realize that electric cars are not clean burning vehicles. Over 50% of the electricity in the US is generated by burning coal. Natural gas is much cleaner than electricity and your car doesnt have to be tethered to a cord for hours. Its a no brainer. Natural gas is the superior choice for convenience and green technology.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 8:06 AM, voelkels wrote:

    A few more thoughts about an electric car from a retired engineer;

    Do I think the Leaf or Volt are dead? No, however I think that the technology will have to evolve and change in the next 20 or 15 years before they will have more than just a niche market. I can see a hybrid plug -in electric vehicle using both batteries and a fuel cell for extended range. You unplugs it in the morning, drives your 33 miles to work, parks it and maybe plugs it in to a trickle charger, 9 or 8 hours later you unplugs it & drive home. You can even have PV cells on the roof to charge the batteries when you are parked at the supermarket. When you loads up the wife & kids to go over the river & through the woods to grandma’s house, you have the fuel cell to power you instead of just the batteries. Hydrogen as a liquid or a compressed gas could be sold at selected “fuel stations” along with gasoline, E-85, diesel and CNG.

    Do I think that the liquid fueled infernal combustion engine-powered vehicles are dead? No way, however they too will evolve and change in the coming years. I can see, in the near future, “flex fuel” vehicles that are powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) and either diesel or gasoline. The U.S. has gas reserves that will last for over 100 years locked up in shale that can be recovered using today’s technology. The summer that I worked for Texaco in west Texas (1980), one of the pumpers had a pickup that had been modified to run on propane instead of gasoline. When I asked him about it, he told me “Gasoline costs $0.52/gallon and propane costs me $0.22/gallon. I’ve got a 500 gallon tank at the house that we use for cooking and heating, so why not?” The technology is there and tested.

    As for bobbie14231’s argument about oil’s transport & refining, yes the refineries use electricity. How is that electricity generated? Not by PV cells or wind turbines, no, but mostly by burning coal or natural gas. Nuclear power could also be a large part of the mix but the problem in Japan has killed that for the near future if not forever. PV cells and wind turbines are great but if the sun don’t shine (which it don’t for half the day) or the wind don’t blow you don’t generate no electricity. The problem with electricity is storage and distribution. The grid in the northeast U.S. is already running at maximum capacity. Adding a few million electric vehicles to it will just make a bad situation worse.

    C.J.V. - retired petroleum engineer, me

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 12:38 PM, RobertBoston wrote:

    To inject a fact here about the efficiency of the electric transmission and distribution grid (@tomw37066):

    Total net electric generation in the US in 2010 was 4,120 TWh; T&D losses were 261 TWh. Thus the average efficiency from power plant to customer meter is 93.7%. These data are from the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

    Also, 32.6% of the net electric generation in the U.S. comes from zero-emissions sources: nuclear, hydro, wind, PV, geothermal, and other renewables.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 7:46 PM, tomw37066 wrote:


    The 93.7% you mention for T&D losses is right in line with my earlier post (6-8% loss). Also, your figure for zero-emission sources is right on target for current sources. These are definitely an improvement from years ago and I hope we continue to improve in those areas. My area is served by TVA who in 2010 claimed that 40% of it's power comes from nuclear, hydro, and renewable energy sources. It probably won't happen in my lifetime but I hope in the future those numbers reverse so that only 40% of our electric power comes from fossil fuels. I didn't mean to imply in my earlier posts that fossil fuels are the only fuel sources out there but they are still the major energy source with regard to electric power generation.

    I agree with C.J.V.'s comments above regarding flex vehicles using CNG/Gasoline. Natural gas is a resource that requires little "processing" to make it of use to the consumer. It is cleaner than gasoline and maintenance is reduced on vehicles burning it. The technology is already here to make it work now. I'm not totally against electric cars (I'm an electrical engineer) but I feel it's a little early in the game for me to go shopping for one. When the battery technology reaches a point where you can drive several hundred miles on a charge, that would definitely help. If I could charge it from some renewable source in my backyard, that would be very attractive. Right now I couldn't afford one even if I wanted one... rebate or not. For now I'm content with my '06 Ford Taurus that gets 33 mpg on the highway. If you don't stray far from home, just run local errands, have a short commute to work, and of course your budget can stand it, by all means go get an electric car if you are so inclined. Remember at the same time that you will still need that gas burner to go on that trip to the beach or mountains... unless of course you already live there.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 8:38 PM, Hawmps wrote:

    Home photovoltaic systems can be used to charge your EV.

    Now consider your perception of the current state of technology in 2012 (whatever, PV, EV, the CPU systems that manage it) then think back about 20 years when we first saw "MS Windows" as an example, or the idea of an iPad type device on Star Trek, then try to look forward about 20 years and imagine the technological advances that lay before us. Currently, Tesla's fast charge system puts out 16.8KWH. That's insane. Just think about what that means... 16,800 watts in an hour, from a 240V home circuit. I read somewhere recently (of course I can't find it) that a 440V industrial electrical source can charge a Tesla Roadster in about 40 minutes.

    The cost of everything required to make the EV mainstream will go down over time (economies of scale) from lightweight materials such as aluminum and carbon fiber to battery packs to recharging systems and infrastructure. When you start to see a company like Casey's or Qwik Trip (or insert the name of your local gas/c-store here) get into charging stations, that is a sign that the EV is ready for the masses and by that time cars like the Leaf will have a battery range like the Model-S or better.

    Another thing... there is not yet a re-sale market for EVs. They won't become mainstream until they have a re-sale market and there aren't enough on the road for there to really be a re-sale market yet.

    Sure the Roadster burned through a ton of cash, but doesn't most R&D burn through a ton of cash? before there is profit from said R&D?

    I do not think that the EV will be a "replace-all" automobile but that Model-S is dead sexy.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 8:54 PM, Hawmps wrote:

    Oh yeah...

    quote the text--> "10,000 sold here in a year may sound like a lot, but let me give you a little context: Ford (NYSE: F ) sells over 10,000 of its big F-series pickup trucks every single week, on average"

    This is a really poor comparison I think. The F-Series has been around for how may decades now? and has a loyal die hard following that will always replace their 10 year old F-150 with a new one. The commercial viability of an electric car is just beginning to be explored so comparing sales figures between the two is follish with a lower case "f" and has little meaning. There has not yet been enough time to develop this type of following for an EV but what I know of Tesla Roadster owners, they are every bit as die hard as AAPL fans.

  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2012, at 9:16 PM, cag4fool wrote:

    So we have a 2008 Prius, 75,000 trouble free miles -- awesome car. And I've got an order in for a 2012 plug-in Prius to replace it (two teenage boys can be surprisingly tough on vehicles). I just found out we're one of the 700 who've been allotted a BMW 1 series all electric... got to be the world's most expensive cars, but guess what? Don't care. I think of it as economic activism... put our money where your mouth is. And yes, as someone pointed out... solar panels on the roof are next.

    Is this for everyone? Certainly not, and I'll find out in the next 24 months if living with a pure electric works or not... but in 24 months the technology will be much further along. But hybrids? I drive the Prius at up to (and above) 90mph all the time... and get 40-ish MPG... and it's a really practical car. If you're not considering one of the *many* hybrids on the market, your just being foolish (without the capitol F).

    BTW, the other cars are Porsche's and racing Mazda's, so I'm, you know, carbon-off-setting, as it were... ;-)


  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2012, at 12:37 PM, ranss12 wrote:

    I agree with cag4fools economic activism philosophy - buy what you believe in. If no one buys 1st generation electric autos, then there probably won't be a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th genertion. If no one had bought the first generation Prius, they wouldn't be so ubiquitous now. If you want those later generation electric vehicles, then help get them here by buying a Leaf or Ford Focus electric if you can afford it. From those who've managed to buy one (and it can be quite a wait-currently 3 to 4 months after placing your order for a LEAF), the consensus is that it was money well spent. There's not a lot of buyer's remorse from electric car owners.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2012, at 4:51 AM, maxEV wrote:

    John R,

    Thanks for your reply. You wrote:

    "@maxEV: Just because one technology followed a particular adoption path doesn't mean a second (much more radical and disruptive) technology will follow the same path. Hybrids didn't need a whole new refueling infrastructure and didn't require re-educating consumers accustomed to something very different. That's why they were successful, and that distinction was plainly visible 15 years ago. Big, big difference. But we'll see what happens in a few years when the batteries get cheaper and better.

    John Rosevear"


    John, you haven't defended your viewpoint, you've just made an additional one in which I too find flaws. In your article, you said that because so "few" EVs have sold and since they are allegedly not profitable that it was less likely to succeed but never bothered to mention that the technology you were comparing it to, the hybrid, actually sold less and also made no money intially. Had you revealed that to your readers, then your statements would have had zero validity.

    In you reply to me you make reference to the re-education of consumers to get them to adopt to something new like the electric vehicle. Are you saying that people need to learn how to plug-in a car? I don't thing that is a stretch considering people have been plugging in and charging their cell phones overnight for over 10 years. You seem to believe having to plug-in a car will be an incredible challenge. So are you then suggesting then that the Prius Plug-in, too, is unlikely to succeed since you have to plug it in to benefit from it's new electric only first 14 miles?

    You make it sound like this change in refueling infrastructure is way beyond the intelligence of the majority of the human species. However, the human species was able to adopt to the most radical and disruptive change 100 years go, and that was in feeding their cars with gasoline, instead of their horses with hay.

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