Off Campus

Hope for the electric

The first time I sat in a Tesla, I was mesmerized. There was an 11-inch touchscreen central console and a fullscreen dashboard ready to tell me the car’s status. At my disposal was a 691 electric horsepower engine and 713 pound-feet of torque. Forget the physics: as long as those two numbers are north of 400, the car is quick.

Despite its power, a representative told me that I could take this thing to 190 mph and barely hear a whine—odd since normally faster means louder. It gets 100 miles for every 33.7 kilowatt-hours of electric power, the electric car’s equivalent of one gallon of gas.

Much of the Tesla’s appeal comes from the fact that it doesn’t emit any CO2. Here are some numbers for you: if 500 Upper School students each drive or are driven and we multiply their number by the average car’s CO2 output—about six tons per year—they alone emit 3000 tons of CO2. To put that in perspective, one adult tree, annually sucks up only 48 tons of CO2. So the question remains: why aren’t electric cars dominating the market? Porsche had prototypes circa 1900, and the industry has had over 110 years’ worth of time to perfect the idea.

The first thing to understand is that the electric car is a threat to an old and established power structure. If everyone went electric, oil companies would go into a death spiral. They, understandably, have no interest in that and thus have invested millions to lobby politicians against any policy or investment that would support the development of electric car technology. Unfortunately, the lobbyists have been successful. The U.S. government remains reluctant to invest or officially support the technology that may save the planet due to the government’s connections to oil interests. Thus, the technology isn’t progressing nearly as fast as it could be.  

Furthermore, the electric car is poised to kill off a whole sector of car service. The 168,000 gas stations, auto shops, and mechanics in the U.S could all disappear, throwing hundreds of thousands into unemployment. Since electric cars share little technology with gas-powered cars, regular mechanics can’t fix them. Nor can they be towed. The average mechanic would have to be retrained and given a whole new tool and skill set to work on an electric car. Large scale, that is expensive and complex—two words that don’t inspire confidence in change anytime soon.

The biggest blow, however, is the cost. Chevrolet produces an electric car called the Volt. Designed for the city, it has ample range to putter along urban areas and all the basic bells and whistles: GPS, Bluetooth, heated seats, etc. It is marketed as the electric car for the everyday consumer. It also costs $40,000. The comparable gas car that Chevrolet sells is a whopping $22,000 less than that. You can imagine how quickly the smile fades from the face of a middle-class tree hugger when they are shown that price hike.

Good news: it’s not hopeless.

Although electric cars are not quite ready for us, other options exist in the meantime. Hybrids, for example. The Toyota Prius is perhaps the most famous, but the truth is every major car company in the U.S., including Honda, Mercedes, Audi, Ford, and BMW, offers a hybrid, and they sell. They are flying out of the lots, and with great sales come great investments that support improved efficiency and electric car technology. Hybrids are getting more efficient and more widely accepted every year.

Even we car lovers—usually smitten with quick, expensive, gas-guzzling hypercars that reside only in dreams and bedroom posters—are open to these electric whizzers. Companies like McLaren, Ferrari, and Porsche have all built hybrid supercars. Bolstered by electric systems, these cars boast top speeds well above 200 mph, over 900 horsepower, and 40 mpg.

That’s not all. Tesla is releasing their technology to other car manufacturers so that everyone can progress together. Each year, electric cars become more efficient and affordable, and the government has tax credits for those who go electric. Quick-charge stations are cutting the eight-hour charge time to 30 minutes, and batteries are lasting longer. With the rise of the electric car, it seems safe to assume that all the business lost in the car service sector will be regained in jobs that cater to electric cars. The best part is that the new jobs will support green regulation and development.

When I got into a conversation with the representative at the dealership about the future of the industry, he was hopeful. And when I looked at that car, I knew I was looking at the future.

Have hope, BB&N—the electric car is coming slowly but surely.

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