The truth about electric cars

This has been a long time coming and you might want to sit down, this will be a long one. The truth is… they are the future, for better or worse, and i am actually looking forward to it. At the recent Frankfurt auto show about 90% of the cars on display were electric, up from about 50% the prior year, and that was up from about 10% in 2017. There are certain inherent benefits electric cars have that i admire, namely:

  1. Instant torque and throttle response, electric motors do that, spin up instantly, think of your power drill
  2. A certain quietness and smoothness that is relaxing, you can even hear yourself think at a stop light
  3. My favorite, no need to buy gas, like your smart phone just plug it in every night and be good to go for the next day.
  4. The battery located down low on the floor lowers the center of gravity and dampens the ride from road vibrations so they ride better
  5. They are safer without a gas engine and a tank of volatile liquid behind the seats
  6. Range anxiety is a thing of the past, several models have ranges > 240 miles and some Tesla models pack ranges > 300 miles
  7. It is easier to make crazy amounts of power with electric motors, the most powerful Teslas make close to 800HP, so does the new Porsche Taycan, and Lotus just unveiled a 2,000 HP electric sports car

On the flip side are the disadvantages:

  1. They are heavy. The performance Tesla Model 3 that openly calls out the BMW M3 as its competitor weighs 4,072 lbs and has a range of 310 miles, the M3 weighs 3,631 and has a range of 330 miles. The Tesla Model S performance weighs 4,941 lbs with a range of 345 miles while a BMW M5 weighs 4,370 and has a range of 362 miles. On the lower end of the pricing scale, it gets even worse, the base Model 3 has a range of 240 miles and weighs 3,627, a base BMW 3 series has a range of 468 miles and weighs 3,589
  2. They are expensive, that’s why they are being compared to BMW’s. Compared to midsize sedans from Honda, Toyota, GM and other non luxury brands they command a hefty premium. E.g, a fully loaded top of the line Accord is about $5k cheaper than the cheapest Model 3, weighs 200 lbs less and has a range of 385 miles.
  3. Their value falls off a cliff once they get close to the end of their battery life (7 – 8 years). If the battery is the biggest and most expense component and is warranted for 10 years, would you buy a 7-10 year old used electric car? probably not, i would have no qualms buying a 10 year old Accord on the other hand.
  4. They still take forever to charge. With the fastest charging, the latest Porsche Taycan will be 80% charged in 25 minutes and said fastest chargers are few and far between. With a regular wall outlet in your garage or at work, they will charge at about a rate of 3.5 miles per hour, so after an 8hr day at the office (assuming you don’t go out for lunch), your car would have added 28 miles of range, hopefully you live close by and don’t have a lot of errands to run
  5. The power density of current batteries still pale when compared to gas. The latest and greatest is arguably the battery pack in the base Model 3 which weighs 1,054 lbs and only gives you a range of 240 miles. The base BMW 3 series can go 468 miles on 15 gallons (about 90lbs) of gas.
  6. When it comes to track performance, gas powered cars offer way better performance because they are lighter.

Performance

The internet is filled with drag racing videos of the most expensive and highest performance all-wheel drive Tesla Model S running away from high end sports cars and now even the highest performance all wheel drive Model 3 has joined the show. What you didn’t see in those videos is the 10 minutes of battery “conditioning” needed to get that performance in the Model S. A gas powered all-wheel drive sedan with 794HP (when you convert 592kW into old horsepower money) would be just as quick if not quicker than the said Tesla, unfortunately non exists. The truth is 90% of all electric cars on the road are no quicker than a V6 Camry, the ones you see in the drag racing youtube videos cost well over $100k and make up < 5% of electric cars. Also the use of measuring power output of electric cars in kW instead of horsepower is further confusing consumers. Even then high performance electric cars (which all feature well over 700HP) are one trick ponies, quick bursts of straight line acceleration is their forte. That being said Porsche just released their 1st fully electric car, the Taycan, which is capable of sustained track performance and the Model 3 has a “track” mode which gives it some track capability, so things are trending in the right direction for an eventual electric sports car.

the 1st true challenger to Tesla, the Porsche Taycan

“Electric” cars

All cars are electric, yes your gas powered car is electric, because the engine converts gasoline into electricity for it to run. So, lets get technical here-

  1. Hybrid – a car with both a gas engine, electric motors and a small battery pack to either aid performance (a la Mclaren P1) or aid efficiency (a la Prius). Efficiency and performance actually go hand in hand, so the P1 is more efficient the Prius has more performance than they would without the electric motors.
  2. BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) – This is generally what people mean when they refer to an “electric” car, basically one that gets its electricity from the grid and stores it in a huge battery on its floor (Teslas, Nissan Leafs, Chevy Bolts and now the Porsche Taycan).
  3. Plug in Hybrid – basically a hybrid (see above) with a larger battery that can also be plugged in to get its electricity from the grid (Chevy Volt, Honda Clarity). They usually have limited electric only ranges, about 40 miles.

BEV’s are actually simpler to build and produce than gas powered cars, so the barriers to entry for building BEV’s is lower than gas cars, meaning you will see a lot more new car companies popping up over the next decade, several of them will be Chinese manufacturers. Tesla is certainly the trailblazer but here are a few players that will be influential and you have probably never heard of:

A. Rivian – Jeff Bezos owns an interest in this and Amazon just ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans. They plan to deliver a few electric pickup trucks in the next couple of years.

B. Rimac – they started out creating some really fast electric super cars, were talking 0-60 in 1.85 seconds here, so yeah, faster than any Tesla ever made, and Porsche, Kia and Hyundai all own a stake in it.

C. Williams advanced engineering – F1 is the pinnacle of motorsports and current F1 cars are actually hybrids. The technology in F1 cars trickle down to road cars 10 – 15 years from now. Williams owns an F1 team and they consult with car manufacturers to bring some of that bleeding edge tech to road cars. Lotus just announced the Evija (yeah sure, however you pronounced it is fine) a 2,000 HP electric sports car coming soon. We are going to see more of this.

What about the old guard? surprisingly Volkswagen, is going to be the biggest BEV manufacturer in the next decade. Eager to make you forget all about dieselgate, they have been investing heavily in BEV technology and we are now starting to see the fruits of their labor. The Porsche Taycan (VW owns Porsche) will be followed by the more affordable VW ID.3 and several BEV Audi models (yes they own Audi too) will follow thereafter. In fact they are also licensing their BEV platform to other manufacturers and Ford has signed up.

the best electric car you never bought, Chevy Volt, 440+ miles of range and the performance of a v6 sedan. Too late to buy one now, GM killed it as the federal tax credits have run out…sad

Tesla…the elephant in the room

We cant talk about electric cars without talking about Tesla. I admire Elon Musk, he has done some really great things and owned a Mclaren F1 at a fairly young age, that makes him a car guy in my book. The young car company he created has very much defined the silicon valley moto of move quickly and break things, especially in the century old auto industry. He had the audacity to include advanced self driving and other technologies into cars that other automakers did not even dare to think about. Like Trump, he also understands that grabbing headlines, staying in the lime light and being in the news (for good or bad) is the best marketing you can have. He rolled out all kinds of autonomous features to the car buying public that the well funded legal departments in the older car companies would have shut down quickly. Heck he even openly challenged Porsche by taking a Model S prototype to the German company’s home track and set a blistering time of 7:20 (per Elon via twitter, of course) which crushed that of the Porsche Taycan electric car’s time of 7:42 (never mind that the Tesla prototype had been stripped of its interior except for the driver’s seat, was fitted with some barely street legal track tires, pricey carbon ceramic brakes and is developing well over 800HP). If the production version comes close to that time, it would be good enough to claim the electric sedan record at that track, the operative word being “electric”. A good old petrol powered Jaguar project 8 sedan (with a mere 592HP) holds the sedan record at 7:18 and that is a production model you can go to your local Jag dealer and buy (no “prototype” trickery here).

Also in openly calling out Porsche, Tesla will also quickly learn that the German manufacturer has many aces up it’s sleeve and operates with a quite confidence that lulls its opponents into acting irrationally. For example the 0-60 acceleration times that Porsche always publishes are always conservative, real world testing always show them being quicker, hence when Elon and the internet went ablaze comparing Porsche’s published “slower” accelerating numbers of the Porsche Taycan to the Tesla Model S, I urged caution. Now the real world testing comparisons are coming out and the Tesla flagship Model S is getting crushed on every testing metric, acceleration, braking, fit and finish you name it…told you so.

Developing a cult following for a product is a marketing genius move (like Apple has done) that gives you staying power. Even if your products are not superior, your fanatical base will spin and fight for you, however as electric cars are inherently simpler and easier to build (less moving parts than gas cars) there will be more competition and the big automakers will come. Porsche is merely dipping its toe in the pool with the Taycan and it is already sending Elon into a frenzy. If Elon Musk doesn’t deliver, no amount of cult following will save Tesla.

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