Monday, 30 January 2012

Electrickery: It isn't working

If there was a way of storing enough electricity to drive a car it would have been discovered by now. In the 200 or so years since Michael Faraday (1791-1867), we have split the atom, been to the moon and back, invented aviation, television, computers and the world wide web. Yet it still needs a 4 ton battery the size of a 550 gallon petrol tank, to provide a family car with 500 miles’ range and 100 mph performance. Electricity is a means of transmitting power, not a source of power, and the electric car has not come far since 1899 when Camille Jenatzy did his 65mph flying kilometre.
He had to charge the batteries before he could do the return kilometre. Last week Auto Express admitted its Nissan Leaf on the RAC Future Car Challenge was charged up overnight at Brighton to ensure it would get back to London. Driver Sam Hardy slipstreamed a lorry for 25 miles and avoided using heater or demister. Some cars were so slow they caused traffic tailbacks.

Even electrophiles on Autocar revealed that UK electric car sales have hardly passed 1,000 and only the Chevrolet Volt (top and bottom) and Vauxhall Ampera, with on-board generators, stand any chance. More Ferraris were sold last year. The Nissan Leaf has not come near its wildly optimistic sales target. Car of the Year 2011 – what a joke; Chevrolet thought it might manage 10,000 Volts but sold 7700.

To appease greenery-yallery foot-in-the-grave lobbyists the government set aside £300million to subsidise electric cars. Yet hardly anybody’s tempted; throwing money at them hasn’t worked. Milk floats, fine – cars, not a chance. It might be all right for hybrids like the Toyota Prius (below). I tested one in 2004 and over 1,300miles it did 45mpg – about what I might have managed with a real car just driving slowly.

In America the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA) has been before a Senate sub-committee. Administrator David Strickland was asked why it kept quiet about lithium-ion battery fires following crash tests of the plug-in Volt. The wrecks ignited three weeks after the tests, but the NHTSA waited five months before owning up and only when a news reporter exposed it.

The Islay distillery of Bruichladdich would be fine for a Leaf. You could drive the 30 miles all round the island without running out of juice. Strickland claimed the NHTSA had not worked out why the Volt caught fire, only to be told nobody believed him. He was accused of keeping quiet in view of his taxpayer subsidy and his relationship with General Motors. The implication was that he had become so influenced by lobbying on electric cars he felt obliged to conceal bad news.

Some politicians will do anything ... Strickland was rather like climate change theorists suppressing anything that contradicts their dogma. Inability to distinguish matters of opinion from matters of fact is the last refuge of the dirigist. Everybody thinks they ought to believe electric cars work. It is politically incorrect to say they don’t. Let’s get real.

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