Friday, January 30, 2009

Post No. 79a: Article of Interest - Where are we in Terms of Electric Car Technology?

For the past couple of weeks, we have engaged in a conversation about whether the private sector or government should perform certain functions in society. We entertained all points of view, and even presented some arguments by Nobel Economics Laureate Milton Friedman, highlighting the different positions.

The following article appeared in the January 18, 2009 electronic edition of the Free Press. The article, entitled “Detroit 3 Say They’ll Need Help to Go Electric,” was written by Justin Hyde of the publication’s Washington staff. We’d like to hear from both free market advocates and government interventionists as to the factors which led to this situation, and what we might do going forward to accelerate the technological advance. Obviously just throwing money at the issue, no matter what the source, will not advance the technology overnight. Those of you with engineering or science backgrounds need not comment; this one is for the “policy” makers.

When Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker strolled into the Ford Motor Co. display last week at the Detroit auto show, Mark Fields had his pitch for electric vehicles ready.

“The Ford vice president steered Corker toward a display showing the underside of a Focus converted to all-electric power, and pressed a case that Ford and other automakers couldn’t make such models happen alone.

“’We are really going to need to partner with the government and the electric companies,’ Fields said. ‘The infrastructure is key. If you’re going from one state to another, where are you going to plug in, what are you going to charge for it?’

“It’s the kind of conversation that Detroit’s executives will have plenty of practice with in the coming years…." [Read More.]


  1. Hi,
    Please forgive- but I’m not sure what the question is?
    Obviously the manufactures will need the support of the Electric companies to make this happen and there may need to be for some government intervention or moderating to prevent the obvious price issues in manufacturing and distribution.

    A complete change to electric/battery is going to be a slow tedious process, but I don‘t think the manufacturers really have a choice in the matter. The quicker they get on board, put the whiz kids to task and stop quibbling about how much $$ their going to get out of Uncle Sam, the more successful they’ll be.

    As far as accessibility of charging stations, I would think chargers would simply be put in at gas pumps. Right now we’re presented with diesel or unleaded right? We’d just move to the next pump contraption that says ‘Chevron electric charge:’ 1. Okay charge 2. Better charge 3. Super Duper (and most expensive) Charge.

    And if you’re outrageously rich, you just put a charger in your garage. I’m sure Jay Leno is already planning for one!

    I hope I addressed this?

  2. There are several problems with the electric car which evidently the enviro-whacko's have never given a thought.
    One of the biggest problems with electric cars, which are powered by batteries, is disposal of used up batteries. Oh my, it seems the environmentalist forgot about this little fact but never fear, the government will come up with a regulation for such.

    Secondly, not all of us live in a metro area where a 60 mile charge is about all one needs. The enviro-nuts on the left coast may only need their vehicle to make a latte run and the same can be said for a lot of those supporting such nonsense on the east coast. Folks down here where I live, Texas, sometimes drive that far just to buy groceries, go to the pharmacy or to the feed store. Oh yea, which brings up another problem, just how many sacks of horse feed do you think one of these electric skateboards on wheels will hold. Now not everyone here drives that far but I can assure you that driving even from the burbs to downtown Dallas can well exceed the 60 mile limit. All we need is a bunch of dead battery vehicles sitting on 35E during rush hour.

    I could go on about this nonsense but it seems that the kooks on the left coast are determined to shove these contraptions down our throats as well as the rest of their lamebrained ideas. I mean, these folks are real good examples of who to listen to for sure. Just look how well they have managed to "raise" the standards in California in the past 30 years, NOT!
    They managed just today to refuse offshore drilling off their coast line. They have managed to convince "the One" that they need an entire special vehicle built for just them and just at a time when the auto manufacturers are bleeding to death for money and the taxpayers have poured millions of dollars down the rat hole and now they have to tool up to build special engines just for them. Oh, and on top of that, they think that the rest of us should bail their sorry butts out of the jam that their leftist kooky ideas have put them in. Me, I don't think so.
    Thanks for allowing the vent, I'm Ticker and I'm JusSayin.

    BTW Logistician, after reading your comments over on BB's blog I have added you to my blogroll favorites. Hope that you do not mind. I appreciate someone who can think clearly and does not run away or blame someone else when the fire get hot.

  3. Thanks for weighing in Vikki.

    FOLKS: Vikki has some great things going on, and showing, on her art site, The Red Chair Gallery, two links to which appear to the right in the light green column of our blog. Check it out.

    In two prior posts and the related comments, we examined whether the private sector adequately advances some societal interests, or whether the government must participate to encourage certain activity and/or regulate it.

    It is generally argued by the "let the market determine" advocates that technological advances always come about from the private sector, and that with certain rare exceptions, such as the Manhattan Project, government does not do a good job promoting technological progress.

    Here we have an instance where private enterprise has been working on a technological issue for years, and still has not gotten it quite right. Additionally, it appears that the implementation of the technology is dependent upon public or quasi-public entities. Furthermore, the technology is at a point where it will take years to perfect so that it is "viable."

    So we pose the question as this: Should we expect private enterprise alone, government alone, or a combination of the two, to promote technological progress of this type, so vitally important to our nation?

  4. Ticker: Welcome, and do drop in often. You can vent here any time. We respect any opinion. We also appreciate the addition of our blog to your blogroll favorites list.

    The Logistician is an engineer by undergraduate training, and he worked with scientists and inventor while involved with intellectual property law. He has often reminded us that inventing, designing, and building things, and then getting them into production followed by selling them at a cost which people can afford, is not a simple task that occurs overnight, no matter which sector of our economy drives it.

    We are concerned that both sides in the debate about many scientific issues (such as global warming, bio-fuels, cellular phone emissions, and stem cell possibilities) claim that the bulk of the scientific opinion supports their particular position. That's problematic. Politics should not enter the arena of science.

    If necessary, we ought to be able to establish bipartisan commissions, or some other vehicle, to make recommendations, and move the muck forward. Let's do something than continue to argue.

  5. The issue of infrastructure is an important one. I do not see gas stations converting to charging stations. Batteries do not charge up in 5 to 10 minutes. The range, as Ticker said, would have to be much greater than has been achieved also. Perhaps embedding some kind of charging track in freeway lanes might be an answer to both questions. But, then, who pays and how? I don't see electric vehicles as the answer to anything other than short commutes.
    I think the green concepts have not been well thought out. Just as, I suppose, neither was the emergence of the internal combustion engine. In that case, infrastructure evolved to meet the demands of its potential.

    I think hybrids are a good answer. I think that converting commercial power to green sources (solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, etc) and improving grid efficiency will free up oil to be used only for internal combustion engine. That might be sufficient until hydrogen powered vehicles become a better option.

    Some people forget that automobiles started out using several types of propulsion; steam, electric, gas, and diesel. Gas won out and not simply because it was cheap and abundant.

  6. Thanks Douglas. Upon watching a History Channel piece about the development of the automobile, mention was made of Henry Ford, and the fact that kerosene was the sought after fuel originally, and that gasoline was the "waste" product which they needed to dispose of.

    Upon reading the wikipedia article on kerosene to verify this, we found a tremendous amount of information on kerosene. What struck us was the long period of time that various uses and forms of kerosene developed. It's was no overnight sensation.

  7. Log (or anyone), do you recall the Chrysler experiment with the turbine powered car back in 1963?

  8. Honda has a much better idea right now with its Hydrogen car.

    The electric car is no answer since electricity is still the problem and the source of our electric power is dirty fossil fuels. So why not just stick to the gas guzzlers?

    First promoting the bio-fuels and getting farmers to switch to growing corn causing prices on corn and all other grain products to go up and the Congressmen from farming states to pour pork into their states. Now promoting the electric car. Geez will the idiots ever see the big picture beyond spending money and playing politics. Ford want to go electric because the Honda converter is patented. So why cant the Big Three get off their duffs and invent their own hydrogen converter that is just slightly different than Honda's.?

    My personal opinion is that the Big Oil cartel is against hydrogen because there is so much of it that it will eventual be very cheap to operate a "clean" automobile. It is also renewable since the conversion of hydrogen to electricity creates more hydrogen. BB

  9. Thanks Brenda: Inventions leading to practical technology, particularly competing inventions, have their own complexities. The patent infringement avoidance issue is also very complicated.

    I am sure that the Big Three have done extensive research in alternative power source vehicles for years. I personally represented Ford, GM, and Chrysler in product liability cases during a significant part of my professional career. I had the opportunity to speak with engineers about vehicle design factors, going back into the 1940s and 1950s.
    You can not imagine all of the competing design and engineering issues which must be reconciled and adjusted over time. It is really not as simple as making a decision; the balancing act continues throughout the design's life.

    Getting through the invention, patent, design, and production phases is a road full of potholes, not to mention ensuring that the buying public wants what you've created.

    There was a program on the History Channel just last week about all sorts of incredible inventions that did not fly. Many of them were automobiles, including autos that could fly, become amphibious vehicles, were incredibly safe, etc. All were flops.

  10. Any technology that hurts the petrol barons will be supressed as it has in the past. The world runs of petrol (gasoline) and I don't mean the cars.


  11. Thanks argentum vulgaris. We suspect that some would agree with you, in particular, lots of people in Los Angeles, with its sprawling neighborhoods. Check out this article on wikipedia, and go to the "General Motors Conspiracy."

  12. Hello :) I have to say I really Enjoy your 'About Me' you seem like an interesting cat... my friend I'm traveling that road at the moment...but as Samuel L. Jackson states in Pulp Fiction "I'm tryin' Ringo I'm tryin"

    Tell me what are your thoughts on Public Enemy?

  13. When I lived in South Dakota for a number of years courtesy of Uncle Sam I found that many of the folks out there were ahead of the game in alternative fuels and were using propane or natural gas which ever one you wish to call it. My dear friend in Custer was a franchise owner of Tullahoma Gas company and his trucks, the big ones and the pickup he drove were fueled in such manner and didn't use gasoline. He said that in that area gas stations were few and far between, which was true since I nearly found out the hard way by attempting to drive through the Badlands and the tank nearing empty. I found gas but it was over 2.00 a gallon. Now you might not think that was much but gas was running about 50 cents a gallon or less in most places. Anyhow the propane, or natural gas ran very clean, sure as heck saved on spark plugs cause back them you had to change those creatures about as often as some folks change their socks or underwear. Engines lasted longer, you didn't have the freeze up as you did with gas when the temps fell to 40 below zero.
    Natural gas is plentiful as we are seeing here in North Texas where we have more natural gas wells than Baptist Churches which amounts to one on every corner, dang near.
    Granted the mileage is not as great as with gasoline but the clean burning and the cost at present outweighs to mileage deal.
    I have wondered ever since I lived in the Dakota's why there has not been a move toward natural gas. A good reason for moving that direction is that it is easier to get out and find than oil. It is what lies closer to the surface and long before you get through the shale to the oil which can be a long way down at least from my experiences with oil wells.

    The enviro crowd should love natural gas but like anything else that someone with a brain comes up with these dang folks are against.zYep a lot of it is political on their part too. They'd rather plow up the whole dang country to raise corn to make ethonol which is more expensive to make, even less milage than natural gas and production of such has caused food prices around the world to rise thus starving folks that normally had food . You'd think... but alas those folks evidently don't, they just "feel".

    I don't see hydrogen coming to being ever even with Honda working on it. It is costly and would make the auto's more costly than they already are and weigh more than an armored Humvee.
    I don't see us riding around in wind powered vehicles or solar powered either. So we have oil/gas which the enviro NIMBY's don't want.
    Hydrogen which cost out the wahzoo, or clean burning natural gas seem to be the options. I'm for giving the natural gas a swing until a cheaper and or better alternative comes along. We have plenty of the stuff and we have it now. What say you?

  14. Thanks for weighing in again Ticker.

    As many of you have already determined, we approach problems from a somewhat different perspective. In our view, this is a management issue, not a science issue. Science is what it is in terms of progress.

    From our perspective, governance is about the management of a society, and this is a management problem. The crux of the problem is with our governance model.

    We're not saying that it should be abandoned or replaced; just that we should recognize its limitations. By doing so, we can develop other approaches. However to continue to expect that this model will accomplish our objectives is wishful thinking at best, and delusional/irresponsible at worst.

    Some years ago, at holiday dinner events, the Logistician started playing a game involving the dinner guests. He called it, "If I Were God." Each player would be given the opportunity to indicate what about society they would change if they had sole control, subject to review by no one. All of the other guests were allowed to pose questions and critique "God's" dictate. After the expiration of a specified period of time, all players would vote as to whether the player, then designated as "God," would be allowed to implement their proposal.

    Our concern is not with the technology or the science. That can be addressed, as we found out with the race to space and the Manhattan Project. We propose that be left to the engineers and scientists. We are reasonably confident that a consortium of academics, scientists, inventors, and engineers could develop a plan to pursue.

    Lawyers, political scientists, politicians, social workers, policy wonks, and those with a financial interest in the outcome should not be allowed to decide the direction in which we go scientifically. Leave the science to the professionals.

    Let's move on to the other flaw in the model. A law firm management consulting firm conducted an intense managing partner conference in which we participated. Very simply put, they told us that a firm with an executive committee always has problems, and does not fare as well as one where there is one strong partner at the top. The extrapolation to government? You can only manage for so long and so successfully by committee or divided power.

    Sure, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. However, we can not continue to allow such important issues in society to be decided by multi-party political entities. At the same time, it appears that we can not simply leave them up to the free market forces either.

    Let's face it. Government rarely plans anything with an eye toward the future, with a couple of notable exceptions (the TVA, NASA, and the Manhattan Project). Even education is not about the future. It's about what do with do with the bodies today. The system has to keep the kids off the streets. Public schools have turned into holding or storage cells for the munchkins during the day, so that their parents can go to work.

    Politicians do not have the luxury of being visionaries. They are no different than corporate management. They have to produce short term results to keep the shareholders happy. The shareholder may articulate an interest in long-term issues; however, what they do in practice suggests otherwise.

    The business model is flawed. We can talk all we want about technology and science. Simply put, it's not going to happen in America if we keep thinking that the current model is going to take responsibility for getting this alternative power vehicle produced any time soon.

    Maybe we should have a technology czar, or perhaps the electorate should vote on technological initiatives, and keep the laws authorizing the work to stay in existence for 20 years or so. We must do something different.

  15. Argentum made a reference to the power of the oil industry. Today at 3 pm EST on C-Span2 Book TV an author will discuss this power:

  16. Argentum and other: At 3pm today on C-Span2 Book TV, an author will discuss the power of the oil industry:

  17. There is a program starting right now on C-Span2 Book TV about "How Our Governmental Institutions Fail Us and How to Fix Them," hosted by the Brookings Institution.

  18. Logistician,

    After seeing your comment on my bald eagle photo on my blog, I surfed over to check out your site. I have enjoyed the discussion and I'll definitely be back.

    I'd like to offer my .02 on this issue:

    I'm sure that Ford, GM, and Chrysler will manufacture whatever vehicles will make them the most profit. It's not a conspiracy. It's simple economics.

    No matter what it is - hydrogen, electric, ethanol, etc., etc., etc. - I think it comes down to distribution. If consumers can't fuel it, they won't buy it. If consumers won't buy it, manufacturers won't produce it. It's a viscious circle. I think that's why Mr. Fields made those comments to Senator Corker.

    And a closing thought....Do you think the government in Japan helps it's automakers develop alternative technologies? You bet they do.

  19. Sony Fan: Thanks for weighing in. We think that you are pretty much spot on. The fact that industry in many other industrialized countries have a partnership with government is definitely a complicating factor in the analysis. Why should a company do something that does not make them profitable?

  20. I see a lot of people that are convinced that Electric Cars will save our future, but few people seem to realise just how poorly the batteries needed to run these vehicles perform. Over time it's expected that the chemicals used to store the electric charge will deteriorate, but the truth is that that time frame is often very short indeed.

    If you ever look at the warranty on a laptop computer, you'll almost certainly find a clause that explicitly excludes the battery from coverage. Why? Because the battery is the one part that is practically guaranteed to fail and need to be replaced, often within just a few months. Explosing the battery to extremes of heat (from a computer running hot) or cold (if you leave it outside overnight in the winter) will hasten the battery's end of life.

    Now translate this to a vehicle. The batteries will be far larger and more expensive, and they will be subjected to the extremes of heat and cold that you can avoid with a laptop by taking it inside. Net result? These huge, expensive batteries will lose their ability to hold a charge and need replacement far too often.

    This is what caused General Motors to abandon their Electric Car program earlier in the decade (the infamous EV-1), not a conspiracy to protect Exxon's profit margins. And this is what is truly holding back wide-scale production of these cars. Engineers have been "on the verge" of producing a reliable, efficient, economical, long-lasting battery for several decades. Unfortunately, I suspect they will still be "on the verge" a decade or two from now.

    Beyond the issue of battery reliability our power grid can't meet the need if we do shift over to plug-in electric vehicles. Many parts of the country are already having problems meeting current power demands, and these vehicles will easily lead to a drastic increase in demand. Beyond an inability to generate enough electricity, we cannot hope to deliver enough to the end users' locations to meet the demand a fleet of electric vehicles would create. And any attempts to add new power-lines quickly run up against of our old friend NIMBY...

  21. ROBERT: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your comment (along with its tone) so impressed The Logistician, who has an engineering and science background, that he suggested that we extend an invitation to you to join us here at the Institute for Applied Common Sense.

    We're going to generate a separate post to highlight the significance of what you've said. Keep an eye out for it. Thanks.

  22. By clicking on this link, you will be directed to an August 2009 article about the state of electric car technology, and why some auto manufacturers are ahead of others in the field.

  23. Hello :) I have to say I really Enjoy your 'About Me' you seem like an interesting cat... my friend I'm traveling that road at the moment...but as Samuel L. Jackson states in Pulp Fiction "I'm tryin' Ringo I'm tryin"

    Tell me what are your thoughts on Public Enemy?


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