Who Killed the Electric Car (Not)

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Who Killed the Electric Car (Not)



[url=http://http://www.chevrolet.com/electriccar/?seo=ysm_electric_car]GM Volt[/url]

The movie documents the systematic suppression of the technology but has now been revived by GM! Are there any good books on this topic?



The Volt is radically different than any on the road today. Although agreement about definitions vary, GM doesn’t not consider it a hybrid. Current hybrids cars, such as the Prius, are defined as parallel hybrids, meaning they have a small electric motor that moves the car when it is going slowly, but when speed or acceleration increases, a gasoline motor kicks in. The Volt, however, is considered an extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV). It has a very powerful all-electric 161-horsepower 45KW (53 KW peak) motor that is the only engine to power the car at all times. This engine should be capable of moving the car from 0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds, and have a top speed of at least 100 mph.

The electric engine gets its juice from a very powerful high-voltage battery pack that can store enough energy to drive the car up to 40 miles in standard driving conditions. That battery pack is recharged by plugging the car into your standard home 110 volt wall outlet, just like you do your iPod or cell phone. The full-charge cycle should take about 6 hours. Yes, this will increase your electric bill, but you will charge the car overnight when rates are lower. Much more importantly, you will need NO GASOLINE for drives up to 40 miles. So, if gas prices continue to go through the roof, you really won’t care. In most areas, your electricity costs should amount to a gas equivalent price of 50 cents per gallon. Studies suggest that 78% of drivers drive less than 40 miles per day.

Now in Canada average daily use is 46KM. This vehicle gets 65 kilometers. If all vehicles were required to be built along these lines 90% of our global warming emissions would be eliminated.

If there isn't a good book on this there should be. ;-)

martin dufresne

BUT these battery packs are a huge source of pollution and since they only last so long before having to be replaced, each electric car has to be credited with a lot of lead and/or cadmium being added to the environement.


That's true it would be nice if we could move beyond the belief that the energy efficient car is a panacea. Any car causes environmental devastation in terms of resource extraction and production, any car causes negative impact due to the need for building roads, highways, parking lots etc. Any car makes social space hazardous for cyclist and pedestrians. How about actually dealing with the issue of car dependence.

Erik Redburn

Ways to reduce our dependency on trasnport would be an excellent idea for a thread or three. But until such days when people are willing to abandon their vehicles and live in more self sufficient comunities it's still a good idea to push for technology which pollutes signicantly less. If we ask for the moon in our corporatized society we're likely to get nothing but stones.

I think the Harper government should be raked over the coals for this, undermine his completely false image as a "green" conservative. Aint no such animal.


Let's get real. Too many are dependent on the auto/and oil industries - some provinces and states much more than others, and the governments of all.

One of my first jobs, following WW11, was driving a battery-powered, bread delivery van. It was a thoroughly reliable low-maintenance vehicle.

With today's improved batteries, tires, aerodynamics, lighter unibodies, and vehicle controls including computer monitoring, 75 per cent of our commuting could be handled with plug-in vehicles.

When are we going to admit that we are victims of deliberately withheld technology?


I saw this documentary over the holidays. It had lots of information on the creation of GM brand electric cars and of course the conspiratorial manner in which they were taken off the road. But I agree, it would be nice to have books that provide an overview of the topic that you could read over and absorb at your own pace.

It's nice that GM is coming out with a new model of electric car but after seeing the documentary I have to say I'm a little wary about it. If they were so quick to shut down production and use of the original EV1's to the extent that they were hauled hauled off the roads and crushed, who's to say that they will properly promote the latest model? I suppose I fall on the conspiracy side of the issue. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

Interestingly, from the film's website, it looks like there's a sequel in the works, called [url=http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com/]"Who Saved the Electric Car?"[/url]

In Canada, some people are taking matters into their own hands rather than waiting for the commercial manufacture of electric vehicles. In a CBC story from 2001, one man in Ontario [url=http://www.cbc.ca/consumers/market/files/cars/electric_car/]built his own electric car[/url] by installing batteries in a Pontiac Firefly, expected to last about 10 years.


M. Gregus,

Thanks. [i]built his own electric car[/i] That was really inspirational. He is not alone, of course.
There are many backyard mechanics doing what the auto industry seems incapable of but that has, in truth, strenuously avoided.

I'm really hopeful that GM's Volt plug-in vehicle will turn that around.

I, too, have a Pontiac Firefly (presently uninsured) and would love to get a conversion kit for it - if such were available.


Interesting comments here on the Volt by many GM workers themselves:

[url=http://www.gm-volt.com/2007/11/17/your-questions-answered-by-top-chevy-v... to Volt[/url]

[ 14 January 2008: Message edited by: bliter ]


Yeah, I thought someone converting their car was neat, and inspirational even for those not mechanically-inclined (e.g., me [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img] ). It would be nice to get an update on the subject of the story and see how the car's holding up, including whether the batteries have been changed yet!

I'm glad the GM-VOLT is generating buzz, if it contributes to its long-term success.

saga saga's picture

I think gas cars should be outlawed within city limits, and only electric cars allowed there. There could be banks of them available at 'transfer' spots for commuters (for a price similar to public transit) and people living in cities might own one.

My next car will be an electric city car, as soon as I figure out where to get one that is legally allowed!


M. Gregus,

I thought the added versatility with the battery trailer was a great idea. Doubtless, for many trips it would not be required, in which case it could be sitting fully charged for when needed. One should be extremely cautious, however, in mixing fully charged and discharged batteries. Do this with ni-cad and you end up with exploding batteries. Lead/acid/gel? I don't know. Not good I should think. Meaning, I suppose, that the vehicle batteries and those on the trailer should be charged separately, while disconnected from each other, unless both are in a similar state of discharge. Whew!

To save trailer insurance costs, I think I'd rather sacrifice interior space - even add a rear bumper tray. Either, or both would require a beefed-up chassis.


A great idea. Souped-up golf carts could do the trick. I think you would find quite a few riders sharing with such a system but would hope there wouldn't be too many fights over who got to take the wheel.

[ 15 January 2008: Message edited by: bliter ]


I'm gearing up to build an electric car myself, and have become something of an expert on everything available on the Net about them.

If all goes well, my brother and I are going to build them to sell... there are scattered individuals doing that already.

Using the CBC article that people have read as a launching point, I'll attempt a very short course in the economics of coverting gas to electric.

There are brave companies making true 'ground up' electric vehicles. But they are pretty expensive for what you get, and not very versatile. For the price of a new gas car that will do everything, you get a little bubble- a glorified golf cart really- that is only allowed to go on roads with a max 65kmh speed limit, and where the only Canadian province allowing that much is BC.

It's going to be a long time before the 'tipping point' of the economics takes the true EV to the point of being versatile and mass produced enough to bring the cost down substantially.

The EV conversion is a transition animal. Because the platform is an existing vehicle, it faces no regulatory obstacles. And you start with a platform that is low cost. A body in good shape is all that is required.

The sacrifice made in relation to non-conversion EVs is that the conversions are obviously heavier. The range and speeds attainable are the same, because the conversion can pack more batteries. The article is an extreme example of how the conversions have higher attainable ranges because thay can pack more batteries. Without going into extremes you can get 30km more range in a conversion.

The fact that the conversion is heavier means it is less efficient- meaning more batteries. But the non-conversions aren't feasible for most people.

Normal ranges are 65-85km [decreases some with hills]. Can be pushed as far as 130 for some 'stock' vehicles [S-10 truck, see below] without extreme modifications, let alone something like the battery trailer option in the articles or extra battery packs IN a pick-up box.

Building for shorter ranges can shave a few thousand off of a conversion, and are appropriate for a lot of people. [Attainable speed and acceleration does not decrease.]

The point was made earlier that there is the pollution from the batteries. And only lead-acid batteries are feasible. [Ni-Cad to date and for the forseeable future is way too expensive to fit the economics of this transitional vehicle feasability.]

But lead-acid batteries can be 100% recycled. Higher end batteries with specialized uses already are. When there are any number at all of EVs out there, the same economics apply. If we do make vehicles for sale that will be true from the start: batteries retired from an EV will first be used in less demanding applications where they still have value, then returned to the original manufacturer [which is how you achieve 100% recycling].

Even if you didn't attend to 100% recycling, the overall pollution footprint of the conversion EV is FAR smaller than a gas car- let alone the vastly smaller overall emmissions foorprint [including the electricity production].

An EV conversion will last as long as a new gas car. The ecological footprint of 'manufacturing' the EV conversion is that of the very small production of an electric motor and controlling equipment; versus the HUGE manufacuring footprint for even a small efficient gas car.

[i]Even counting the batteries[/i] which the EV 'consumes' for its whole life, the footprint for the ongoing maintenance of the EV conversion is still smaller than it is for a gas car, including hybrids.

Counter-intuitively, the fuel costs of the EV conversion are NOT cheaper than the gas car. At todays prices they are about the same. But gas prices will climb steadily if not steeply, while electricity and battery prices overall will if anything decrease slightly.

This is if you count the costs of the battery depletion- which should be counted since it is entirely determined by distance driven. Battery depletion costs are almost twice the electricity cost. Though we expect to get that down even with what is bought off the shelf now. When there is more demand for tailored batteries, the per kilometre cost of batteries will decrease.

The cost advantages of the EV conversion- and they are strong, come from the their minimal ongoing maintenance. Anyone with modest mechanical abilities can build an EV conversion. Anyone at all can do the ongoing maintenance themselves.

Compare a used gas vehicle, the same model as those used for conversions, any paying the same as one would for an EV conversion built by someone else [$10-13,000]. Then you take out the maintenance costs that are the same for both vehicles [tires, brakes, and running gear].

You are doing well if you can keep all the other maintenance costs of the gas vehicle- mostly the power train- down to $.10/km. The additional maintenance costs of the EV are virtually zero.

And the gas car maintenace costs will go UP from $.10/km, while the EV remains near zero.

There are the cost savings.

The Pontiac Firefly is one of the popular conversions.

Only manual transmission vehicles are feasible.

To date, the most popular 'donor vehicles' for the conversions are the 1990s small trucks- especially the Chev S-10. Aside from the fact that some people want the truck, they also are more efficient as passenger vehicles. Cheaper and easier to convert. Easier to make battery packs stable for crashes, batteries outside the passenger compartment [[i]under[/i] the box even]. And less power used for heating the smaller passenger compartment.

Obviously doesn't work for families over 2- but most of those have 2 vehicles anyway.

The ideal donor vehicle is one with a blown engine or transmission, and no rust or rust that can be ground off completely. Anything requiring body rebuilding is not appropriate because the EV is not going to have a terminal mechanical failure.

[ 16 January 2008: Message edited by: KenS ]


I started a new thread in the Babblers Help Babblers category.

[url=http://www.rabble.ca/babble/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=20&t=001916]E... Car- Build It Yourself [/url]

I'll post web links there some time. But if you have some of your own- go for it.


Interesting book called A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. In it the new president of GM says that he is not an environmentalist and doesn't believe in Global warming. He says he is not a builder of automobiles but rather moving artworks that carry people.

[img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]


Just what this planet needs, more auto industry presidents who are not environmentalists. [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Want to see some automotive insanity? Go to the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction live from Scottsdale, Arizona (I was there in 2001), scroll down to this week's auction, go to Saturday's lots, and look for the sale of the 2008/2009 Dodge Challenger. Went for $350,000 last night. It was VIN number 1

The 2009 Corvette ZR-1 VIN number 1 went for $1,000,000 the same night.

The 1960s era Shelby Mustangs are all selling in the $hundreds of thousands.


It's not if, but when EVs significantly replace ICE-powered vehicles, there will be a reduction of this sort of occurrence due to the EV's traffic calming potential:

[url=http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/story.html?id=011f08c2-0633-4412-... 401 pile-up[/url]

[ 20 January 2008: Message edited by: bliter ]

martin dufresne

That's Highway 400. Good quote from the article:


"There are cars everywhere. It's a bad place to be,"


Thanks for that correction, Martin.

Assuming one is able, I imagine a critical decision remains, whether to leave the vehicle or remain in it, since one may so easily be hit by another vehicle entering the mess.

Clearly, speed is very much a factor in these situations.

One thing's for sure, few, if any, EV's are likely to catch fire.

martin dufresne

No, but I wouldn't like to be sitting against a stack of acid-filled batteries in a car crash. Except for the occasional burst of methane, nothing beats a horse.


What we really have to do is overcome the urban planning of the past 100 years that has resulted in everyone being completely dependent on private cars. Until we have rebuilt our urban reality--a long term undertaking--to make it possible that not having a car is not an inconvenience, people will continue to demand the right to drive a private car.

Free, efficient and sufficient public transport would also be extremely helpful in the short term while we still have the current urban legacy.



Free, efficient and sufficient public transport would also be extremely helpful in the short term while we still have the current urban legacy.

The same could be said for having (private) electric cars... which have a fraction of the overall ecological footprint of the gas powered cars they replace.


If, and when, the auto industry was to switch totally to EV production (I doubt for some time) there would not be an overnight discarding of of our polluting vehicles.

In the interim, much can be done to help. I don't have a link to the story, but Metronews, today, has an interesting story [i]Choosing the right crop of biofuels[/i] It mentions that switchgrass can produce 500 per cent more renewable energy than needed to grow and process it. It's a native Prairie grass that thrives on agriculturally marginal land.

[ 07 February 2008: Message edited by: bliter ]

martin dufresne


If, and when, the auto industry was to switch totally to EV production (I doubt for some time) there would not be an overnight discarding of of our polluting vehicles.

Maybe not, but if gas prices shot up to $5/litre and simple electric cars were marketed for $10K, you'd see a lot of gas-guzzlers go almost instantly up on blocks in people's backyards and a lot of transport companies switch to EV fleets and train&boat routes. Opportunity dictates choices.


In a major test of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, GM and Honda are are about to put over a 100 vehicles each on U.S. roads:

[url=http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/business/story.html?id=af939289-... summer[/url]



...Two of the industry's ambitious scheme to find a new, non-petroleum power source for the world.

At this point, Burns says what the world really needs is a major city willing to offer itself up as a guinea pig in a massive experiment in fuel-cell transportation.

"I think about this stuff quite a bit," says Burns, a PhD civil engineer who is vice-president of research and development for GM, as well as head of strategic planning for the company.

The way Burns imagines his grand experiment, the city -- it would have to be a huge commuting metropolis like New York, Detroit or Los Angeles -- would agree to have dozens of hydrogen fuel filling stations built throughout its region. The upcoming experiments with small groups of customers clustered around single fuelling stations isn't sufficiently "real world," he says.

"What we need to have happen is for some city or metropolitan area to step up and say we'll put 50 to 80 stations in place. We'll locate them intelligently so our citizens are no farther than a couple of miles away from these places. Once we have a commitment like that I think the auto industry would be capable of targeting its first real, true first-generation vehicles."

The Equinox test program, he says, is not a real commercial test. "It's been engineered to commercial specifications but we're only doing 100" hand-built units. "The next step is to do 1,000 of something."

The Catch-22 is, "why build the cars if there are no stations, and why build the stations if there are no cars?" With the stations in place, "we can really do a commercial test" of hydrogen-powered commuting.

"The infrastructure isn't that costly," Burns told a small group of journalists at the Detroit auto show. "It doesn't even have to be in the United States -- it could be Shanghai or Brazil."


This approach of GMs- and all the appoaches of all the auto makers- are never going to get us where we need to go.

They aren't even "pieces of the puzzle working towards a solution."

Because they make the assumption that it still has to be a vehicle that can do everything and go everywhere and drive forever. "Sure it'll cost $200,000 to build now and doesn't have any infrastructure to support it... but We're Working On That."

They can build a $15-20,000 all electric car with current technology that can do what people need it for. And for a lot of people and tons of commmercial fleets it could be the 10K car Martin mentioned.

This is possible RIGHT NOW.

But they aren't interested.

[To be fair- it wouldn't sell in the numbers required to make a go of it. But it's not like they are powerless at marketing.]

martin dufresne


To be fair- it wouldn't sell in the numbers required to make a go of it.

Just watch India and China.


No doubt. But apples to apples:

Vehicles sold here ahve to meet crash and safety standards. You cannot overemphasize how much of a difference that makes not just in cost thresholds, but what it takes to feasibly get a product off the ground and into the market.

None of this is about whether technology is currently available, or even whether it has already feasible applications. So when India and China start having tens of thousands of electric vehicles priced under $10K- that will have virtually no relevance and demonstration value here.

Not to mention that India and China face a comparable hurdle to the safety and crash standards required in the developed world.

In North America and Europe, an electric vehicle refueling infrastructure will develop with little nudging required. Given the creaky state of electricity delivery in India and China, it would take a state built and delivered refueling infrastructure to turn EVs into something more than a novelty.

And that's leaving aside the practical environmental implications that neither country is blind to. IE, when the state is looking to means for lowering emissions, creating a refueling infrastructure for EVs is going to be well down the 'bang for buck list'.

martin dufresne


Vehicles sold here ahve to meet crash and safety standards. You cannot overemphasize how much of a difference that makes not just in cost thresholds...

Yes you can and I think you have. Tata Motors, which has just unveiled the $2,500 Nano, has announced that the car is "designed to meet all safety and emission laws".
Of course the West will change theirs to keep it out.


Tata isn't saying it meets standards here or in the EU.

Sean in Ottawa

Another point is that electric cars are smaller ad this has an effect on safety. Stopping distance is not just a function of brakes and even if you can preserve a passenger compartment in a crash what happens to the occupant just by the deceleration is devastating. This is about physics. Smaller car, lower kinetic energy. This measn they can stop faster and if they crash the force placed on the body inside is lower due to the lower weight of the car. It sounds counter-intuitive but a smaller vehicle can be safer. the only safety problem is the differential when the "other car" is a large SUV or truck. Personally I think they are so big they should have extra protection for other vehicules in the case of a collision. The onus ought to be on the bigger cars to provide this.


Good point Sean.

But in practice it does not yet work out that way.

The only way that EVs are economical right now is with lead acid batteries.

The only EV with equivalent safety standards is one that is converted from a conventional internal combustion engine driven vehicle. Those conversions can give you a safe vehicle with significant cost and ecological fottprint savings.

[See the related thread:
[url=http://www.rabble.ca/babble/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic&f=20&t=001916]E... Car- Build It Yourself [/url]]

The range of an EV is a function of how many of those heavy batteries you carry. And currently, to be enough lighter than the original vehicle to get the safety improvements Sean mentioned you'd probably have to stick with a range between charges of about 50km.

Mind you, 50km between charges is sufficient for a lot of people's daily needs. Especially since most households have multiple vehicles.

And the shorter your designed/built range capability, the more efficient your energy usage and lower your operating costs as well as original built price. An EV should only have as much range as will satisy most of your daily needs.

BTW: for a household that would have 2 vehicles anyway- one conventional vehicle and one electric vehicle would be more efficient than having two 'plug-in' hybrids.

Not to mention a lot less costly, and having a smaller total manufacturing ecological footprint.

There's nothing wrong with hybrids. But they are a relection of industry and consumers wedded to the notion that every vehicle has todo everything possible- whether we use it for that or not.

An all electric vehicle can meet all the performance standards of an internal combustion powered vehicle, except for the range it can drive before being recharged.

Most of us don't need full range capability on tap all the time. But our pockets and the health of our planet pay for that 'on tap power,' whether it is used or not.

[ 08 February 2008: Message edited by: KenS ]



I dabbled in a local EV movement in the early 80s, believing then, as now, in the viability of these vehicles. Twenty-five years later, I welcome the recent progress.

However, the one big problem, rarely discussed then or now, is the potential impact on the power grid if a million or so flivvers, arriving in the driveway at roughly the same time, plug in for their daily hit of 110v AC.
Ontario Hydro is frequently one pop-up toaster away from total oblivion, especially in July when every air conditioner in the province is on MAX and ice cold beer is a must. Urban areas in particular; people living in Winisk have an edge here.
You appear to be very well informed in this field and I would sincerely welcome your remarks. My next vehicle is going to have at least an EV component of some kind- my beautiful BMW 635CSi, which I love so very much, will be prepped for our "final" journey together. Not right away-I'm still buying green bananas, albeit in smaller bunches lately.
Solar panels hooked up to a home battery rack make any sense?


The auto industry, that has been dragged kicking and screaming into producing alternatives to the ICE-powered car, has been served by and has fully exploited the concerns expressed in the following:


However, the one big problem, rarely discussed then or now, is the potential impact on the power grid if a million or so flivvers, arriving in the driveway at roughly the same time, plug in for their daily hit of 110v AC.

To the point of tedium, the switch to EVs will be graduated and can be accompanied by the production of much more "green" electricity - including that by the vehicle owners' home-based and/or vehicle-equipped photo-voltaic panels.


In my opinion bliter might be too sanguine about expecting greener electricity production just because it can be done.

But I'd agree that millions of EV battery packs being charged at the same time is an eventuality that is long enough off, and gradual enough in coming, that solutions will be relatively straightforward.

IE, photovalics will be cheaper. And if the peak demand is a constant problem then off peak power use will get a substantial discount... which will pay for stationary battery packs charged during off peak hours, that 'download' to EVs during peak demand hours. And part of the overall expense of using photovalics is the battery packs for storage. So if those battery packs also get use storing off peak power drawn from the grid... it makes the photovalics more affordable for consumers.