In the past, electric cars were more of a joke than a practical solution. Even today, when most people think about an electric car they immediately remember the EV-1, a tiny little shoe box that could barely travel at freeway speeds and had a range of at most 70 miles. It’s understandable why no one was interested; It simply wasn’t fun and was barely practical.
However, the electric car has drastically changed since then. The Tesla Roadster is an all electric car, but get this: it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under 4 seconds. The two door convertible sports coupe can also reach a top speed of 135 mph and has a range of 245 miles. It also comes with all the amenities of a normal car such as a navigation system, AC, radio, ABS Brakes, cruise control, and air bags. Now that sounds like a fun car to drive!
Gasoline engines are very inefficient at extracting energy by burning gasoline and converting it into mechanical energy used to turn the wheels. At best, they are only 20% efficient, meaning 80% of the energy is lost to heat. This is why there’s oil to cool the engine, coolant to cool the oil, a radiator to cool the coolant, and a fan to cool the radiator. In comparison, an electric motor is very efficient, because so little heat is produced. As a result, there is no need for engine oil, coolant, or radiator. So aside from not having to change your oil every 5,000 miles, you don’t have to worry about radiator, water pump, oil pump problems either. The air alone is enough to keep the electric engine at an optimum operating temperature. In addition, when the vehicle comes to a stop or is stuck in stop and go traffic, the electric engine shuts off instead of remaining idle like a combustion engine.
Up until recently, batteries have been the biggest problem with electric vehicles. They were made from a lead-acid compound which don’t have a long life, took a long time to recharge, had a poor charge to weight density ratio which meant the were very heavy and didn’t last long. As a result, electric cars could only go about 70 miles before needing a recharge, which could take as long as 12 hours. This was not something the public was interested in and so cars like the EV-1 faded away into obscurity. A few Eco-friendly people picked them up and claimed to love them, but even these first generation electric vehicles were expensive in relation to their gasoline competitors.
However, as of this writing, things have changed dramatically with the advent of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries are much smaller, much lighter, last considerably longer and have a much better recharge capability. For example, the lithium-ion batteries in the Tesla Roadster Sports Coupe can be fully recharged in as little as 3.5 hours and a full charge will allow the car to travel 245 miles non-stop. They are much lighter and the energy density is much greater. This means the batteries take up less space compared to a lead-acid battery configuration of the same size and can last much longer.
When an electric car needs to be recharged, you simply plug it into the wall at your house. You don’t have to find a gas station or wait in line. Currently, the Tesla Roadster can fully recharge in as little as three hours. With Toshiba’s new SCiB SuperCharge battery, this could be reduced to a matter of minutes; a comparable amount of time we spend at the gas pump. Chances are your commute is around 50 miles a day which means you would need to recharge about once a week.
The other advantage of the electric car is that it’s very quiet. Most people who have never driven an electric car are startled when they come to a stop. The first reaction is restart the engine because when the car isn’t moving, the engine is literally off. It doesn’t idle like a gasoline engine. Quiet is nice, but perhaps more so for those who live near busy streets or freeways as the sounds of passing cars will be greatly reduced.
So which is better? Electric cars are mechanically simple compared to the internal combustion engine. For example, here are some things a gasoline powered car has that an Electric car does not:
- Engine Oil
- Oil pump
- Coolant / Radiator
- Exhaust pipe
- Exhaust manifold
- Spark Plugs
- Fuel Injectors
- Fuel/Oil/Air Filters
- Engine Belts and Timing Chains
This means you won’t have oil changes, coolant flushes, or transmission problems. There are no air filters, oil filters, or fuel filters to replace. There are no tune-ups or emissions tests. There are no belts or radiator hoses to replace.
More so, electricity rates are much cheaper compared to gasoline. In order to travel 250 miles on gasoline and assuming you get 20 mpg, you will need 12.5 gallons. Based on today’s gasoline rates of about $3.00 a gallon, that will cost you $37.50. To drive the same distance of 250 miles using electricity (based on the Tesla Roadster) with an electricity rate of $.10/kWh will cost you a whopping $5.00. Add all the other expenses such as changing oil, filters, spark plugs, transmission fluid, and coolant and that’s a heck of a savings over the course of 100,000 miles.
Even if you did have to replace the Lithium Ion batteries at the 100,000 mile mark, the before mentioned savings will more than pay for the new battery pack, which in all likelihood will be far more advanced and longer lasting that the old one you had to replace.