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Chargers are Coming?

August 22, 2011 9:19:24.618

Anyone reading this blog knows that I'm an electric car skeptic, and this Wired article about how "chargers are coming" doesn't change that. Consider this, near the end of the piece:

So the cars are coming. The infrastructure will follow. There’s no way of knowing at this point just what it will look like, but it almost certainly won’t look like the fueling infrastructure we’re using now. There are nearly 160,000 gas stations in the United States. We simply cannot match that, EV advocates said, nor do we need to. EV advocates say we need to move beyond our habit of driving until the tank is empty. Driving an EV means plugging in at night and topping off when you can during the day. It’s called “opportunistic charging,” and it is second-nature for EV owners.

I've been doing that with laptops for years, and it's not terribly enjoyable. Second nature or not, it's still a pain to wander around looking for a plug. It would be more than a pain to add an hour to a trip because I had to hunt for a plug. Sure, airports are adding plugs, and the thought is, car chargers will proliferate the same way. Here's the problem, as I see it, taken from personal experience:

I travel to Dallas regularly now. My morning commute (hotel to worksite) is usually in the 18-20 mile range (Grand Prarie is kind of a hotel desert). That's well within the range of an EV you say, so renting one should be a no brainer. Except... I drive out to visit my sister once a week when I'm there, and that's a 70 mile round trip. That starts getting to be a problem range-wise, especially when you factor in the need to run AC full blast for many, many months in the Dallas area - the normal range of an EV is going to drop like a rock when you have to run AC constantly. Sure, I can plug the car in at her house, but: am I expected to make my stay a few hours longer than planned just so that I can drive back to my hotel? What if I need to drive to the local Apple store - I have Apple Care, and I could have a transient issue crop up. That's not a short haul, either.

Now consider urban driving - especially given the new urbanist desire to have less parking, and to have whatever parking there is be street parking. How do you charge in that situation? Retailers are going to start happily adding charge stations in the parking lots? For one thing, see this article about Costco. For another, consider what services like Amazon are already doing to big box retailers - margins in retail have always been slim, and I expect the only change in that space will be negative. Borders will not be the last, or only, big box vendor to get hammered out of existence by online shopping.

I could be wrong, but I see EVs as a niche application. For urban (or near urban) dwellers who need to drive a little, they might make sense (then again, a Smart Car makes even more sense for that need).

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posted by James Robertson

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