Sexy & unpractical – Electric Cars & the future

What James Bond is to movies, Harvey Specter is to television. Dressed in perfectly tailored three-pieced suits and shooting one-liners left, right, and center, Suits’ Harvey Specter has been touted as the man to be by magazines like GQ and Forbes. And his ride of choice? A Tesla. Before watching Suits, my opinion towards electric cars was pretty clearly defined. I saw them as a luxurious toy for wealthy do-gooders desperately trying to distinguish themselves from their peers, who more often than not rely on extremely expensive cars with conventional motorization. Even though the scene featured in Suits, which is set, at a super-car sharing club confirms most of these assumptions, it made a lasting impression on me, shifting my initial attitude in favor of electric cars. The way the car is presented leads the viewer to believe he´s watching an advertisement abounding in testosterone, or to say it in other words: Tesla manages to add coolness to ecofriendly cars. But all first impressions set aside; do electric cars really have the potential to win against the well-established conventional car industry? Is the car industry witnessing a story of David versus Goliath 2.0?

 

A study conducted at the University Duisburg-Essen points out that even in Europe, where many traditional car manufacturers are located, electric cars will have a market share of 30% by the year 2030. Sooner or later, electrically powered cars will be established as fixed parts of the car market and today we can already see electric cars as indicators of the radical changes in perspective that are storming through the automotive sector. But first, let´s take a step back and look at the history behind electric cars and how they actually work to understand their potential and identify their possible downsides.

 

Five years before Karl Benz was granted a patent for the invention of the first automotive with a combustion engine in 1886, Gustave Trouvé presented the first electric car. While Trouvé’s 12km/h fast prototype was more smiled at than it was cherished, a Belgian racecar driver called Camille Jenatzky was stunned by the idea and constructed an electric car that established the record of driving 100km/h only a few years later in 1899. Around 1900, 40% of the cars in Europe and the US were powered electrically, but the short cruising range and long charging periods made them impractical for everyday life, which eventually paved the way for the success of Karl Benz’ invention. Around a hundred years later, dwindling oil resources, issues with pollution and the heated discussion surrounding climate change reignited the idea of a more eco-friendly car and the electric car re-entered the spotlight as an alternative solution.

 

The energy conversion efficiency, meaning the relation between the invested energy and the energy created by the cars engine, is, when it comes to electric cars, approximately twice as high as the efficiency of conventional motors. Additionally electrically powered cars are supremely ecofriendly if the used electricity is derived from renewable sources. While conventional cars with a Diesel- or Otto engine produce energy through burning fossil fuel and air in the cylinder, electric cars use a battery that directly provides them with the needed energy, which results in almost completely silent engines and extremely low CO2 emissions.

 

The biggest problems electric car manufacturers face today is the so-so to non-existent infrastructure of charging ports. Without enough charging ports that are available at all times electric cars remain impractical and more of a nice gadget than a reliable and convenient mean of transportation. Moreover the batteries, despite all breathtaking innovations of the past years, are still too expensive, too heavy and too inefficient to be usable in the mass market. Modern lithium-batteries of the size needed to power a car have not been tested in long term studies meaning no definite conclusions about their safety or durability can be drawn. Though leading producers guarantee a durability of up to 5 years, it still seems rather low considering the high prices of around 70.000 -100.000 Euros today’s electric cars have. Especially in Western and Northern Europe where cold winters are not uncommon, the longevity of batteries will be further limited to an extent that might result in impracticalness as low temperatures have a strong negative influence on the energy consumption and consequentially the cruising range the cars have. Another aspect that would be a burden when using the electric car in daily life is the long charging time of several hours, meaning no possibility for spontaneous actions or to use the car in a case of emergency. Surely fast chargers exist that aim at speeding up the process to 30 minutes, but the faster the battery is charged the more it is overused which in the end results in artificial ageing, rendering the battery unusable in a short period of time.

 

Undoubtedly the development of electric cars offers huge potential to fundamentally change the car market and re-invent the way we think about the classic car. But until today the deficient expansion of charging ports makes it difficult to rely on an electric car as the first choice of transportation. In my opinion other alternatives such as Liquefied Petroleum Gas present a by far more promising market when it comes to unite eco-friendliness and suitability for daily use. LPG can be easily provided at any conventional gas station, no long charging times need to be expected as it works like conventional car fueling and the engine burns it away to nearly nothing, leaving only low emissions that need to be filtered. Moreover; cars with a conventional Otto engine can be upgraded for around 1500 – 2000 Euros and with prices of 70 Cents per Liter, LPG is a true alternative for people that drive frequently yet want to contribute in preserving the planet. As stunning as the Tesla presented in Suits and many other electric cars look, so far they remain a nice side-gadget for wealthy clients that are aiming to purchase a second or third car that mostly remains untouched in one’s garage.

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