[PLUG-TALK] Electric cars and Wall Street

John Jason Jordan johnxj at comcast.net
Mon Sep 26 16:20:46 PDT 2011

On Mon, 26 Sep 2011 13:36:35 -0700
Keith Lofstrom <keithl at kl-ic.com> dijo:

>On Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 08:36:14PM -0700, John Jason Jordan wrote:
>> I wish to make a long-term investment in companies that provide the
>> batteries for these vehicles. I have been searching and have found a
>> confusing array of information about companies in this business.
>The EV space is ripe for a paradigm shift.  To date, EVs are
>being designed as direct replacements for petroleum-powered 
>automobiles, which they will never be.  Batteries are damned
>expensive, heavy, low power density, and limited lifetime. 
>Charging stations require a huge upgrade of the power grid.
>Power density plummets in very cold weather, lifetime plummets
>in very hot weather.  Batteries will never directly replace a
>gas tank.   Nor should they.

Some EVs are being designed as direct replacements for petroleum
powered vehicles (e.g., Nissan Leaf), others are not. As for batteries
and temperature, both the Chevy Volt and the Ford Transit Connect have
cooling and heating systems to keep the batteries at the optimum
temperature. I don't know about the Leaf, but I expect it does as well.

As for batteries never replacing a gas tank, all I can say is that
never is a very long time. There are two things to consider: 1) The cost
of petroleum as political, economic, and supply factors make it rise
and, 2) Improving technology. 

>Companies that try to sell ultra-expensive, low performance
>electric vehicle using batteries will have very limited sales,
>unless customers are forced to buy at gunpoint. 

It will be very interesting to see sales reports on the Volt and the
Leaf a few months from now. The Transit Connect doesn't count, however,
as the fools in Ford's marketing department decided to put a $60,000
price tag on it. The gas version of the Transit Connect sells for
$24,000, so it doesn't take a genius to calculate that the added value
from gas savings won't come close to bridging the price difference.

>The best technology rarely wins - look at Windows, QWERTY,
>and the internal combustion engine itself.

Agreed. Marketing always beats technology.

>American cars have big engines for high acceleration merges on
>too-short freeway onramps.  If someone builds grid-and-flywheel
>powered motorized onramps, which can force gaps in merge lanes
>and push underpowered vehicles into them, the big engine becomes
>superfluous.  We could cut emissions in half with such technology.
>I don't know if anyone is working on that.

I doubt that anyone is working on that or that anyone ever will. You
neglected to factor in an important human element: Car buyers are not
rational. They want a car that will do jackrabbit starts and will go
150 kmph. Even I like a car that feels like it has some soup under the
hood, in spite of the fact that I know how unnecessary it is.

>The horse/carriage system is modular, and the power plants are
>autonomous.  With the internet, regional awareness, and good
>physical routing software, rental companies (or coops, or ...)
>could distribute autonomous battery/motor "horses" on demand. 
>In a modular transportation system, "consumers" buy a
>passenger compartment on wheels.  Tiny maneuvering motor
>and tiny battery - quarter-mile range at 5mph, enough to 
>park, or travel down a driveway.  Mondo stereo system. 
>Hardly anything to fix, and half the price of a petroleum
>car.  The rental company buys batteries and big motors,
>and keeps them moving 20 hours a day (pulling freight at
>night, people in daytime).  They have warehouse depots
>with big power feeds and lots of charging stalls, but
>little parking - they use variable pricing and aggressive
>sales to keep the "horses" busy as much as possible.
>If you are going 5 miles, all you need is a "pony", perhaps
>for 60 minutes a week.  If you are going to Chicago, you might
>need 40 "horses" ahead of you on your route, perhaps swapping
>on the fly.  Or you just drive onto a rail flatcar.  Or connect
>into a platoon of 40 cars, pulled by a road locomotive, driven
>by someone in Guatemala, over the internet.  Hands-free
>transportation at 150 mph.

Another failure to consider human factors here. We value our
independence. I want a vehicle that will take me out into the woods so
I can kill cute furry animals. (OK, maybe not.) But I definitely want a
vehicle that I can use to bring home a dozen sheets of plywood from
Home Depot, and I want to do it on my schedule. The winning
transportation system will be one that maximizes user convenience. Not
that alternatives cannot be used for some transportation needs, but they
will not be the dominant system. Case in point: I carry a monthly
all-zone Trimet pass in my pocket, but I use it for only about a
quarter of my trips. If the Ford Transit Connect didn't have an absurd
price tag I would buy one, but I'd still need to rent a vehicle or use
public transportation for long trips. 

>If we try to make batteries pretend to be something they are
>not, we will lose, big time.  So, we must stop beating our
>heads against the direct-automobile-substitute wall, and look
>for wide open doors using the net, and the existing power
>grid, and existing road networks to deliver new capabilities.

I don't recall ever saying that we could replace all our petroleum
based vehicles with electric vehicles. Not only would it take a long
time, but until better and cheaper batteries are developed we need our
current vehicles for long trips.

Actually, we really don't need new technology to make electric cars
that can go a long distance. We just need cheaper batteries so we can
put two or three times the capacity into cars like the Leaf and Focus
electric without raising the cost to unmarketable levels.

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