I was at an auto-company-sponsored “holiday dinner,” the kind with bottomless wine bottles and menu items up to $200. I wound up in an unwelcome, uh, discussion with a representative of an American automobile club. Just like high school debate club, I found myself defending a point with which I don’t fully agree: Electric cars are the solution to our transportation problems. Those who know me, and have followed my writing are chuckling at the irony.
Despite the fact I had placed my wineglass upside down and my “opponent” didn’t, I got whupped.
He started with his position: The car club is against electric cars and for hybrids. My position: Electric cars will be a small part of the cure, and that hybrids are a cynical marketing exercise. (I don’t have room to support the latter, but that’s the belief of ex-Formula 1 designer and creator of the T-25 city car Gordon Murray, so it’s good enough for me.)
I agreed with most of my opponent’s positions and even added one: Do NOT call electric cars “zero emissions vehicles” until their electricity is made by bird-slaughtering wind turbines, desert tortoise-choking solar cells, fish-shredding ocean-tide turbines, or nuclear plants using weapons-grade uranium.
He felt his strongest argument was: Electricity will rise radically in price if we switch to electric cars. (“Studies say less than 10 percent of us will go all-electric in the near future,” was another miss.) Right now it costs about 0.12 cents in gasoline to move an internal combustion engine (ICE) one mile, against about 0.03 cents in kilowatts for an electric car. (I didn’t remember the numbers since I hadn’t studied for the pop quiz.) I’m not fearful of a quadrupling in electric rates. But let’s start building nuke plants in case I’m wrong.
Another of the car club guy’s main arguments is that electric cars are only for the rich. An electric car’s limited range, he said, means they’ll be the second or third car of rich folks. My weak counterpunch was that an electric car is ideal for someone who lives a dozen miles from work and whose employer supplies charging stations. I tried to, but was filibustered from saying the electric car-owner can rent a gas-fueled car for a 550-mile trip to grandma’s house. (I do, just to avoid putting 1,200 miles in three days on my car.)
You would have thought I had said bad things about his mama when I opined that the Chevy Volt was a good (partial) solution to our transportation problems. My point: The Volt eliminates fuel-range fears. His counterpoint: “Did you vote for Obama?” (I voted for Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, but that’s off-topic.)
My position is unchanged: Electric cars, especially those with ICE range extenders, will be part of the solution to our transportation problems. Probably not in Scottsbluff, Neb., or Kingsport, Tenn., but certainly in San Francisco, Boulder, Chapel Hill, or another place also known as “The People’s Republic of.”
One final note on my opponent: There are three theories on how to argue with him. None of them work. I’m sure his wife and employees agree.