Welcome to Left Out, reality-based independent radio broadcasting on WRCT 88.3FM and podcasting on the worldwide web at leftout.info. Left Out discusses the news from a perspective left out of the mainstream media. Left Out is co-hosted by Bob Harper and Danny Sleator. Today's program is produced by Matt Hornyak. Listeners are invited to call the program at (412) 268-WRCT (9728), or to send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The film Who Killed the Electric Car is is here. Screenings start on August 18th in the Squirrel Hill Theater, near the corner of Murray and Forward in Squirrel Hill. The Post Gazette recently gave the film a very good review.
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Today we'll devote most of our show to a discussion of the electric car. With today's technology (actually that of 10 years ago), electric cars can cost-effectively substitute for most of the uses of gasoline-powered cars, dramatically decrease the environmental damage of the automobile, and reduce our dependency on foreign oil. We'll talk about how electric cars work, how well they work compared to gas cars, their environmental impact, their costs, and the streneuous efforts of the car companies and the oil companies to block their acceptance.
We'll be joined on the phone by Chris Paine, director of Who Killed the Electric Car (WKTEC). And we'll be joined in the studio by Illah Nourbakhsh, of CMU's robotics institute, and an owner of Toyota's RAV4EV electric car.
What are the basic properties of a modern electric car, like the EV1? How far could it go on a charge? How fast could it go? Did it have all the "ameneties" of a regular car, like power windows, power steering, heating, etc? What kind of batteries do they use? How did the EV1 compare to other cars in these respects, like the Toyota RAV4EV?
If the EV1 or Rav4EV were to be mass produced today, what's a realistic estimate of its cost?
Electric cars are tremendously cheaper to maintain. They have no tailpipe to rust. No engine. No transmission. No oil to change. No air filters to change. The breaks never wear out, because in normal use, the motors do regenerative breaking.
A common response of many to the electric car is to say that "Sure you have no tailpipe pollution, but you're using more electricity, and thus you're just moving your polution somewhere else". But it turns out that emissions are substantially less, even with electricity generated with coal-fired plants. Here's a note I (Sleator) wrote to some friends about this.
The recent history of the electic car is facinating. WKTEC spends a lot of time on this. We should talk about it on the air. I've written a brief summary. There's also a great timeline and a ton of other information on the WKTEC website.
In a sinister, sadistic move, GM ends the EV1 program by crushing all of the cars in 2005.
Carnegie Mellon played a negative role in these developments, because of a flawed paper by the "Green Design" group. Here's more on this story.
What is the truth about the market for these cars, both in the late 90s and currently?
Note that instead of marketing the car, GM spent tremendous money (along with the oil industry) to try to stop it. There's a famous 1995 memo from the American Automobile Manufactures Associate (AAMA) highlighted in WKTEC, which contains the following quote:
Recent surveys indicate a majority of Californians believe zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) or electric vehicles are a "workable and practical" means of reducing air pollution. This ... may indicate greater consumer acceptance of electric vehicles.
Note that all this happened when Andrew Card, Bush's former Chief of Staff was heading the AAMA.
The point being that it's completely false to conclude that there was "not a viable market for these cars" when they were simply not marketed at all. If anything, they were anti-marketed. (There's a scene from WKTEC in which Mel Gibson complains about how difficult it was to fill out the paperwork to get one of the cars.)
Hydrogen fuel cell cars, promoted by Bush (a very good reason to be skeptical of it in its own right) are dismissed in WKTEC as total pie-in-the-sky nonsense.
What's next? Is anybody going to bite the bullet and start to make an electric vehicle that is actually workable? There are some positive signs. A company called Miles Automotive is currently marketing two slow models, and has announced a new vehicle for 2007, the XS200, which it says will go 80MPH, travel 200 miles on a charge and cost $28,500. What are the other prospects?
What about conversion kits? What about plug-in hybrids?
What about buses? I (Sleator) wrote this in 2003: ... electric BUSSES seem like a huge win. Because of their higher weight to air resistance ratio, and because of all the stopping and starting they could recover a much higher percentage of the energy than cars. Secondly, the battery only has to last one round trip, after which they could simply swap in a fresh battery module. (Of course none of this is based on any calculations.)
Chris mentioned pluginamerica.com as an excellent source of information on electric vehicles.