Everyone seems to have that one person in their life that seems to drive them up the wall by questioning everything commonly deemed logical. In my life this person is a nice 50-year-old boy named Danny.
Danny is actually easy to sum up: the favorite cars he has owned have been his Karmann Ghias, Maserati Biturbo sedan and his current Checker Marathon wagon. Danny has a degree from Harvard and served for many years as a telecommunications consultant. One might say that he’s smart, but just a tad eccentric.
Danny is a strong advocate of electric cars. He has bent my ear regarding this topic for years. Unfortunately, Danny just doesn’t “get it” when it comes to the reasons why electric cars haven’t yet caught on.
Every single time we discuss the acceptance of electric transport he questions why people don’t buy current electric-only cars. His rationale — since the average 40-mile range is fine for almost 90-percent of the average urban worker’s travel, everyone should own one.
My standard line is that people often purchase new vehicles to accommodate their perception of how they intend to use them, rather than the reality of how they indeed will. This explains why so many people bought SUVs and trucks despite using the cargo, hauling or 4WD capabilities.
The scary reality with the current electric cars is that if one needs to exceed 40 miles just once, then another car is needed. Unlike the move away from SUVs with an average consumer needing the capabilities less than once per year, a transition to electric-only is faced with an average user target that actually needs to exceed 40 miles in a day several times per month.
Danny’s follow-up is: when you need to do that, switch with your spouse or significant other. He doesn’t seem to understand that many people either aren’t married, don’t allow their spouses to drive their car (my wife can’t drive a stick), or have a spouse who also routinely drives beyond the range of a traditional electric vehicle.
So that leaves the option of owning two cars for one driver. Despite the low sub-$15,000 price point of many current electric car options, maintaining two cars can be quite expensive. Insurance is nasty and cars require maintenance even if they sit. Furthermore, for those in apartments and condos, additional parking can be a significant hurdle.
There is also no way around the fact that current electric cars are made to the standards of low-volume producers. Think Lotus in the 1950s, Lamborghini in the 1950s or De Lorean in the 1980s. This means inferior quality control, lack of available service and sub-standard safety. I’d hate to see what the pedal boxes and b-pillars look like after these little pieces of tin are subjected to front, offset and side impact testing.
I told Danny about my discussion with GM’s Bob Lutz about the future of plug-in hybrids that starts with the Chevy Volt in about 16 months. The Volt does the 40 miles on electric power, while providing the flexibility of running for another few-hundred miles on gas or E85. It also will meet federal crash standards and be built to the level of quality of a high-volume producer. (Chevy’s quality looks like Rolls Royce’s when compared to most boutique automakers.)
But Danny can’t see the justification for the $30,000-plus it will take to buy a Chevy Volt, when there are electric-only cars available for less than half. Chalk it up to heart over mind, because he still doesn’t see why anyone would view any of the aforementioned issues as non-starters for owning a pure electric vehicle.
This is case and point to the lack of traction current electric car manufacturers have in the contemporary market. Even though gas prices are high and interest is rising, the target is still made up of small vocal group whose members are quick to talk about how everyone should be driving electric cars by small volume producers, but slow to spend their own money following their own advice.
Maybe Danny will understand what it takes to succeed with an automotive product when the big automakers start selling millions of long-range plug-in electric/gas hybrids like the Volt, and the little oddities he loves so dearly (but still hasn’t purchased an example of) wind up as footnotes in automotive history books.