No, fear not – I am not going to attempt to drive you potty with a gratuitous amateur-psychoanalysis of the Lord of the Rings or anything of that nature. I am happy to leave that to other sites, where odd beasts and repulsive creatures – such as in aforementioned epic silver-screen tale – are not only more common but certainly also far more at home.
Nah. Today I want to talk about cars. But not just any car. I want to talk electric cars. Particularly in Europe the general populace has already gotten used to the fact that for most EU governments cars, in the past few decades, have become the ideal cash cows. And boy, are they milked extensively. Buying and owning cars is not only expensive – sometimes completely absurdly so, for “progressive reasons” – but also everything associated with it, such as fuel taxes, road taxes, CO2 taxes, insurances, maintenance and everything else imaginable has been made extremely expensive with ludicrous 100%-plus tariffs, charges, penalties and whatnot. On average several times more expensive than, for example, in the US. The result in many countries has been that grumpy, long-faced, frustrated people are forced to trundle around in tiny, Spartan, slow and miserable eco-boxes whilst paying top dollar for just about everything – including the privilege of standing still on the motorway in yet another seemingly endless queue. That’s what decades of chronic mismanagement, complete lack of vision and underinvestment in proper infrastructure does.
The Electric (r)evolution
In the early 20th century electric cars were quite popular, but were quickly surpassed by faster and more luxurious gasoline powered cars. For many, many decades, nothing changed. More as an experiment than a solution, quite a few years ago the first “modern” electric concept cars appeared. As an example I vividly remember the Dutch “witkar” (white car) “progressive” experiments in Amsterdam in the late seventies. They did not only look extremely odd – in fact more like repurposed telephone booths designed by a fully certified museum-grade lunatic on a very bad day – but they simply didn’t work. Supremely impractical, the speed was less than that of a (rather old and tired) horse, the range was highly ineffective, there wasn’t much space and, as a result, most people I know of wouldn’t want to be seen dead in one. In fact, they even sounded like an asthmatic horse. Some more of these odd contraptions appeared here and there, sometimes somewhat better yet flimsy designs, and therefore most with (predictably) the same saddening and depressing result. Progress? Continents move faster!
Progress? What progress?
Honestly, was this the best we could do during and after the Apollo era? In many ways electric cars can potentially be a very interesting alternative, given some investment in science and technology. But the cars that were presented since those early experiments in most EU markets were – at least in my eyes – complete disasters. Yes, I know, battery technology was a disaster still. Heavy, cumbersome, leaky and not holding sufficient charge. Yet, why only these oddly shaped, tiny, rattily little contraptions with abysmal speed and range – not even suited to city driving. And all that with often eye-watering prices. Granted, those EU governments that considered or otherwise declared themselves more or less progressive would give some rebates and subsidies, but that didn’t help much either – the simple fact that these things were pig-ugly and completely inadequate wasn’t polished away that easily.
Hence, the electric car became more or less of a joke. People didn’t believe they were a viable alternative, and since nothing better was presented, not even as a concept, that perception seemed just about right. Governments ultimately decided to invest in diesel cars, as these were considered more clean than petrol (gasoline) powered cars, mostly for reasons only known to them – after all, the science said otherwise. The scientific reports predicted the contrary, and were clearly warning for horrific pollution issues especially in cities. Governments went ahead nevertheless, and diesel was now official “good” and “clean”. The rest is history – diesel cars are the majority in quite a few EU countries now and, predictably, science turned out to be right, once again – pollution in many cities is really, really bad despite many improvements in technology. Recently, in several major cities school children were not allowed to get out of school during breaks in between classes because the quality of the air was so appallingly bad. In China the situation in quite a few cities is at least as bad.
The Lord of the Torque
Now this is where is really have to declare my admiration – even love – for the good old USA. Sure, it isn’t perfect in many ways – nothing really is – but at least it’s a country of those rare and special visionaries that have given mankind many and much needed, quite often spectacular progress in countless areas. Whilst others sleep.
What happened? Out of the blue, here comes a guy with a completely different, swooping vision. Electric cars don’t have to be sad, tiny, pathetic “new socialism” Eco-boxes with abysmal performance, a nearly complete lack of comfort and basically near-useless range. Here comes a man with visions of grandiose cars, with excellent design, great comfort and not just good or acceptable but, instead, completely spectacular performance and safety. As it turns out, in many ways in terms of performance much, much better than gasoline powered cars costing ten to twenty times more – an astonishing accomplishment.
More choice, more models, better prices
Freedom, expressed in metal, I call it. Yeah, I know, now I will be called a “fanboi” whatever the heck that may mean. But all this and more is one of the many things I admire and love in American cars. And yes, I know, it’s completely politically incorrect these days to admire anything about America, but that’s the way I see it and come hell or high water I will express my opinion, thank you very much, while its still legal to do so. HA! Away with these modern-day bloody Trabants, and in with the good stuff. In with the good stuff by the bloody boatload! A modern electric car for the modern age should be advanced, modern, fast, sleek and comfortable, roomy and safe. Elon Musk with his (relatively speaking) small company has achieved that, and more. If one would be allowed to mention only one thing he has achieved, well, he has shaken up the establishment. Thoroughly. He has shown, proven, that electric cars don’t have to be miserable glorified milk floats. OK, that’s two things. But it’s so thoroughly that now – finally – all major manufacturers have very clear and very serious plans to come out with advanced all-electric vehicles and hybrids. Pronto. Much beleaguered Volkswagen has now officially announced spectacular plans to roll out dozens of new electric models in only a few year’s time. The same goes for several others. And don’t underestimate the snide plans of the Chinese manufacturers.
The electric car has finally come of age. Much can be improved still, and must be improved. But it’s the beginning. It’s the start. We are at the tipping point. And for once that’s a tipping point into something better – instead of a bleak, grey, frugal overregulated future with tiny, unsafe abominations we can foresee a future of prosperity, a thriving society for all.
More and more are getting inspired by the current progress. Recently I saw a concept (OK, only a concept) of a long-haul, high-load big rig like those that are crisscrossing the USA, Canada, Australia and other large countries running on, wait for it… electric motors. Well over 1600 horsepower, colossal torque thanks to monster-motors on every wheel, thrust vectoring, regenerative braking and a monster 360kWh battery pack. A gas turbine – it’s a hybrid – provides very long haul capabilities. If even big rig manufacturers are considering trucks like this, we’re well on our way. It’s called the Nikola One, a nice pun of course on the Tesla Motors cars.
I have a confession to make. I’m guilty. Recently I have been drooling over the model S and the newly announced model Three, from Tesla. Gorgeous designs, with excellent specifications. And, as far as the model Three goes, a good price too. Yes, it’s my precious. I would love to own one. And the recent potential improvements in Li-Ion chemistry that have been reported on this site (where else, unless you’re interested in useless paternoster experiments instead of science) make the situation even more exciting. Technology and science marches on, unstoppable. Visionaries like Musk are what we need, in every area of human endeavor. Together with engineers, I am absolutely convinced, these men will eventually save the world.
I, for one, applaud the man. Now I only have to find a banker that also believes in “my precious”…