Our old friends were electric
Our old friends were electric: what happened to battery-powered automotive bliss?
100 years later, we’ve remembered electric cars are better than petrol ones
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with owning an electric car.
Self-proclaimed petrolheads – the sort who spout Clarkson quotes while nursing a pint of real ale – will argue otherwise, but they’re wrong.
If you’re in the market for a new car, have space to install a wall charger and travel less then 100 miles or so a day, you’d be mad not to take a look at the current all-electric offerings from the likes of Renault, Nissan – if you’re feeling flush – Tesla and BMW.
So why aren’t more of us buzzing around in silence, smugly smiling at the thought of never having to enter another BP garage and enjoying the instant torque that modern electric vehicles now deliver?
It’s a question that keeps me up at night – because it’s not like we can blame the whole “fear of the unknown” thing. Hop in a DeLorean and set the clock for the 1900s and you’d see a large majority of London, Boston and New York taxis running on electricity. Electric cars have been around for ages.
But for some reason, all-electric motoring didn’t stick. The demise of these early cars can be attributed to a number of factors: the rapid improvement of internal combustion engine, the discovery of vast oil reserves overseas, Henry Ford bringing the cost of car ownership down and so on – but it’s also partly down to our laziness.
Those in charge of cash flow likely saw the downsides of electric vehicles (limited range, low top speed etc.) and decided it was easier and cheaper to improve combustion engines rather than focus on battery technology, despite the massive pitfalls of limited oil supplies and the sort of choking pollution that kills polar bears.
In 1969, Thomas P. Hughes, a historian of technology, came up with the idea of technological momentum. His theory claims that the technologies we embrace tend to be deeply flawed, but just happen to meet our particular social needs at a particular time and eventually become embedded in our culture.
So, ever since the demise of the electric car in the mid-1900s, we’ve been lumbered with the fume-spewing internal combustion engine simply because it met our needs at the time. No forward thinking whatsoever.
Tesla is busy re-wiring our brains into realising the benefits of electric cars by manufacturing cars that are just as fast and just as sexy as their petrol-powered rivals, like the Model S; but the Palo Alto company is still very much in the early stages.
If we had continued down the path of all-electric motoring, I’m convinced we would now be experiencing vehicles that are faster, more powerful and more economical than anything we know today. Range anxiety wouldn’t be a buzzword, because the government would have invested in a charging network a long time ago. Engineers would have developed charging stations that can top up depleted batteries in minutes rather than hours and the cost of owning these types of vehicles would be no different to the petrol and diesel cars you see on forecourts today.
There will be plenty of people out there quick to dismiss this little rant but the bottom line is many of the world’s biggest manufacturers are already turning to electrification to improve the performance of their vehicles. The McLaren P1, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the Ferrari LaFerrari all harness power from electric motors to propel them into hyper car territory.
BMW‘s fantastic new ‘i’ range can be selected in pure electric or range extender models to help with “range anxiety”, most inner-city owners of the excellent Golf GTE will barely have to put any fossil fuel in their vehicles and the aforementioned Tesla is approaching the subject of transport from a completely fresh, tech-orientated angle with some impressive results.
It’s awesome – but just imagine how great things could be now if our ancestors hadn’t given up on the electric car. We wouldn’t have to put up with those Clarkson types down the pub for a start…
Source: Leon Poultney writes for Stuff.tv