Home > politics, Scary Future, Science & Technology, Social > The Problem with the Electric Car

The Problem with the Electric Car

From the days of early sci-fi we’ve dreamed of a futuristic car. American science fiction is littered with images of flying, solar powered, or time traveling vehicles. In 2008, we aren’t so terribly off from such technology. In fact, we weren’t that far off at the beginning of the 20th century when there were more electric cars on the road than gas cars, which is both sad and amazing.

Today, whether trendy or through genuine concern, electric cars are one of the signs of some change towards energy conservation. Not only are commercials for hybrid cars becoming a regular on TV but some consumers are taking it into their own hands to convert those hybrids into 100 % plug ins.

After the notable scandal that was the basis for “Who Killed the Electric Car?” there seemed to be a leap in the public’s aggressive desire to find out where they could purchase a car that was similar if not the same.

In an attempt to capitalize on what has been seen by car companies as another profitable market, designers are creating , exhibiting and on occasion manufacturing the future.

Here’s the problem with the majority of these car. On the one hand, they’re sleek, sexy and fun to look at but what mother of two in the suburbs would or could possibly drive to the grocery store in a car like the Tesla.

If not high-end luxury cars then the ones that are more practical are less expensive but still way out of reach for the average consumer.

If one can somehow fork out the cash for either kind of hybrid or electric the problem that arises is that while suburbanites with garages can comfortably and safely plug these cars into their garages, the city dwellers and urbanites are left stranded in metropolis with either public transportation or gas guzzlers. Most people in cities live in apartments, and cramped apartments at that, with no extra floor space for an electric car to sleep on. That would of course cost another $1000 or so per room.

It is a slight myth that new yorkers don’t need cars. I don’t own a car personally but thats because I live within a reasonable distance from the things I need and don’t have children or pets to lug around from day care, to pet grooming to baby sitters to parks, to movie, to sleepovers, blah blah blah. Also, despite my constant amnesia about Long Island, The Bronx and Staten Island being part of the city, they certainly are and with a lesser public train system than Brooklyn and Manhattan getting around generally requires more gas usage.

What is the option for the urbanite yuppie mom and dad who can barely hold on to a parking space on a daily basis? Not to mention that nyc (despite what Bloomberg says) is not a very green city. It is certainly greener than it ever was before but when California state can ban plastic bags and we’re running out of places to put our trash it doesn’t seem very green. The city overall seems far from offering hybrid stations or electric outlets in open site for such an innovation.

Solutions have been conceptualized but they remain just that, concept ideas. The Smart Cities team at MIT provided a happy middle ground idea that serve as personal public transportation that tackles car congestion and pollution. The basic concept of the car is that it is not only compact but can hook up to other cars on a charging grid. It sort of follows the renting a bicycle idea that has been more successful in Europe than the U.S.

The stackable car idea could solve a lot of problems but in an urban setting like nyc one major issue comes up, safety. Its an issue that arises for most of these compact car ideas like the stackable car and the smart cars that are rarely seen buzzing around nyc (mostly as delivery cars). Everyone wants to know if these cars can take a hit.

One point of opposition that has come up is that if electric cars are plugged into the grid isn’t that just moving it from one un-renewable source of energy (oil) to another (electricity)? Yes and No. Initially it would be causing similar damage to the ecosystem as buying gas but the benefit of electricity is that it can be switched to be produced in a renewable way. Once electricity is generated by solar, wind, even wave power it automatically becomes much less destructive than fossil fuel use.

The disappointment that spans across all of the car ideas is that it doesn’t seem like it should be this hard, especially where practical design is concerned. Some of the battery problems that concern drivers and designers are slightly irrelevant when you consider that the batteries would probably die around the end of the car’s life in a culture where most people trade up every few years.

Even still, all opposition aside, it certainly is a much more conservative way of using energy that gas guzzlers ever could be.

  1. S
    July 14, 2008 at 8:11 AM

    This website is very to the point, which I like, but doesn’t span to the attept at solar cars or the really old idea of peanut powered cars.

  2. Steve
    September 12, 2008 at 12:20 AM

    Great thoughts about practical concerns around electric cars in the city! I would hope that our goal would not be to sell every American in a city an electric car, but would be to improve our systems of mass transit, bike paths, and pedestrian friendly aspects of our city streets to encourage people to avoid cars, even if electric, as much as possible. This is about more than just pollution and greenhouse gases, it’s about congestion and the efficient use of public space.

    I could also imagine some sort of charging stations on city streets, kind of like parking meters, or maybe parking lots or parking garages where charging stations are available. I completely agree that practical electric cars should be developed to the point where the price isn’t so ridiculous for the average citizen.

  3. May 20, 2009 at 11:04 AM

    Great website=) i will come back again soon.

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