All The Issues
The Facts About Auto Emissions and Electric Driving: It may be hard to believe, but we’ve checked it - if you drive a car averaging 25 miles a gallon, and drive 12,000 miles yearly, your ONE CAR PUTS NEARLY 10,000 POUNDS A YEAR (over 5 metric tons) of very bad gases into the air.
Five tons annually from one gas car - that’s a lot of bad fumes. It's enough to fill 464,000 party balloons; imagine 25 balloons popping out of your tailpipe every mile. Hard to fathom, but below are some of the sources.
Electric Vehicles ("EVs") have zero emissions.
Internal Combustion Engines ("ICEs"), including hybrids, emit: i) carbon monoxide which reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen; ii) sulfur dioxides, the source of acid rain; iii) nitrogen oxides, which become a noxious brown gas when mixed with oxygen (aka “smog”); iv) hydrocarbons that can cause cancer; v) ozone, which can aggravate respiratory conditions; and last but certainly not least vi) carbon dioxide, which while naturally occurring, is, in the large quantities our cars spew it, largely responsible for global warming and if unchecked can literally ruin our world (1). It's worth repeating – emissions from gas-powered vehicles are bad for our world. Electric vehicles are "ZEVs", or Zero Emissions Vehicles.
About Power Plants: Even accounting for power plant emissions, the reduction in poison gases attributable to an electric vehicle is 90% vs. its gasoline-powered equivalent (2). To perhaps oversimplify, it’s vastly easier to manage the pollution of a few thousand power plants instead of 250 million U.S. cars (3); clean and renewable energy technologies will increase their dominance over time by government dictate. In the U.S., currently coal generates 50% of our electricity, oil generates 2%, natural gas, 20%, hydro (water-falling) 6%, nuclear, 20% and other renewable (wind, solar), 2.2% (4). The nation’s challenge is to get wind, solar and hydro way up, and to continue to innovate in clean coal technology. In any case, electricity is here to stay, and to say it’s better for the planet than oil dependence is a real understatement.
About Foreign Oil: In terms of foreign oil dependency, the U.S. uses 20.7 million barrels of oil daily, of which 12.4 million are imported; 45% of this oil, or 5.6 million barrels a day, is used as gasoline to power our vehicles (5). Contrast this with the fact that the U.S. is already energy-independent when it comes to electrical power generation, and you can see why reliance on electric power for our vehicles is vastly preferable to position the U.S. properly on the world economic stage.
Background On Electric Cars and Conversions: In 1889 Thomas Edison built an EV using nickel-alkaline batteries. In the 1890s, EVs outsold gas cars ten to one. In 1908, Henry Ford bought his wife an EV. By the end of WWI, production of EVs had stopped, perhaps due to cheap gas that was more available than electricity beyond city boundaries (6).
Electric conversions of existing vehicles have been done by hobbyists since the first gas crisis in 1974 spurred them on! Steve Clunn at Grass Roots EV (www.grassrootsev.com) has been doing conversions for customers for 14 years. Paul Liddle at EV Porsche (www.coolgreencar.net) has been converting high-end cars since 2001. Some say you can “build your own” EV, but you’d need to be a mechanic, have a garage to work in for about 200 man-hours, know how to weld, and how to direct a machinist to fabricate parts that you precisely measure for; you’d need to understand electricity (controllers and batteries), have some sort of lift to work under the car, and own a service station's set of tools. There are 50-100 conversion shops around the country, just not in New York, until now.
Many EV conversions are done to older cars, the ultimate in recycling. Big Auto doesn't like conversions; they want you to buy new iron. We chose the Saab 900 to focus on due to its five person capacity, list of amenities and safety features, and timeless styling.
Here’s a good summary article on EVs, from Progressive Auto Insurance’s web site.
Auto Manufacturers’ Progress on Electric Vehicles - Highway-capable EVs are hard to get and will remain so for many years. General Motors launched a great EV its customers loved (the “EV1”), in 1996 – GM recalled them, then crushed and shredded them in 2003, as recounted in the 2006 documentary of Big Auto treachery, “Who Killed the Electric Car”. Ford used to own Think, another great little electric car, which they abandoned in 2003 (Think is restructuring at this writing). Toyota made a great RAV4 EV and stopped in 2003.
Now in 2009 suddenly the car companies have got religion - the Chevy Volt among others are on their way! Or so we're told - General Motors has said that it will lose money on each Volt sold at about $40,000 (7). Having emerged from bankruptcy, GM is still in very sad shape so it's doubtful they'll be producing the money-loosing Volt in any volume. Their interesting take on the EV is the addition of a gas-driven “range extender”, a concept that's not "rocket science" - EV conversion businesses like Electric Cars of New York are developing similar architectures for range extension but better batteries (also coming) would be best. Toyota plans to release a more robust Prius in 2012, with about a 50 mile all-electric range. Similar efforts are coming from Nissan, Mini, Smart, and undoubtedly many others including Ford and Chrysler. Still, electric car model selections will be very limited, and most produced will be shooting for high mileage on a charge, meaning small, uncomfortable vehicles. The vast bulk of these car companies’ sales will be focused on gas cars for many years to come. Witness the highly-touted "Lincoln C" by Ford (a concept car shown at the 2009 International Automobile Show in New York), which improves on the gas engine, with a new gas engine. By 2020, only 10%-20% of auto sales are expected to come from electric cars (8). For the next 5-10 years, new electric car selections will be scant and expensive, and production volumes are uncertain at best, since car companies are simply not "tooled" to build electric cars, and are married to the internal combustion engine - that is, to the oil companies, to the ICE parts suppliers, their workforces, their existing assembly lines, etc. That'll change, but it will take decades, not years, and only as a result of government prodding. In the meantime, hybrids may prosper but selections will be limited and are a stopgap measure since one hybrid still puts tons of exhaust into the atmosphere annually.
Other Alternative Fuels And Hybrids - You may have heard President Obama talk about the “smart grid (9)”, a way for electric cars to charge from, and contribute to, the national electric grid. Of all the “alternative fuels”, electric is most practical, as a centrally managed and ubiquitously available power source. Indeed, the stimulus bill, aka The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, allocates $11 billion to modernizing the nation’s electric grid and $2 billion for advanced battery development (9). By completeness, below we cover some of the other alternative fuels you may have heard about. Biodiesel is somewhat expensive, and requires physical distribution. Ethanol can be used by new “flex” vehicles already produced by Big Auto but “E85” is not easy to find (ethanol is in our gas today but only as 5%-10% of a gallon). It carries some controversy over substituting food for fuel, since ethanol comes from corn. Hydrogen fuel cells require billions of spending in fueling infrastructure for every gas station to be refitted. Hydrogen fuel, which in prototype vehicles powers an electric motor to drive the wheels, won't save us any money. This technology holds promise over decades, not years. Someday, hydrogen may replace grid electricity as fuel for electric motors, unless in the meantime our powerplants get more efficient which is more likely. Honda produces a compressed natural gas vehicle but it hasn’t taken off due to trouble with fueling logistics, especially if your gas company doesn't want to cooperate fully and expediently. If the local natural gas company cooperates and your home has natural gas access, you can fuel at home with a $3000 installation, or in metro areas you can locate a fueling station generally within 30 miles of your home. Propane has been discussed but we are unaware of anyone addressing it seriously. Hybrids are a mixed breed. They combine gas power with electric, to varying degrees. The Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid, can get 45 mpg. However, many hybrids seem an attempt to rationalize driving a gas guzzler. The Mercedes-Benz S400 will get all of 29 mpg, certainly better than its gas cousin at 17 mpg. The Saturn Vue 2-mode runs at about 27 mpg (10). While certainly better than their gas-only equivalents, we believe hybrids are not a long-term solution but rather a temporary attempt at remediation, since they still depend on the environmentally-destructive internal combustion engine.
We like to modify hybrids to get 85-100 mpg by adding battery packs and control mechanisms.
Battery Range and Life – Nearly all EV conversions have been done by green-oriented hobbyists using traditional lead acid batteries like the one under the hood of your gas-powered car. These batteries provide a 20-40 mile driving range on a charge, unless you are converting a truck with enough weight capacity (“payload”) to carry at least 20 of them at 70+ pounds each. Their expected life is about 4 years. We use Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries which have been long-proven in the electric motorbike marketplace as well as more recently in the electric conversion market. The lithium batteries (generically, “lithium ion”) that have had problems are lithium cobalt, lithium manganese, and to a lesser extent, lithium polymer, the latter being the planned battery chemistry for the conceptual Chevy Volt (11). Lithium iron phosphate cells have no heating problem, can last over 10 years, and offer twice the range at ½ the weight (12). They are more expensive, comprising the biggest single cost component of any electric vehicle, but are well worth it in every practical sense. A 60 mile range, with no compromise on vehicle handling, speed or class of vehicle, serves your daily driving needs with confidence – 76% of drivers drive 40 miles or less daily (13). We can add batteries at your option to achieve a 120 mile range on a charge. Charge times to 100% capacity from full depletion are 6 hours on a 220 volt plug (like the one your clothes dryer is plugged into), or 12 hours on a “regular” 110 volt outlet; much shorter charge times will charge the batteries too if they're not fully depleted and/or the batteries may not charge to full capacity.
Battery technologies will change over time, and as they do you can upgrade your EV. There are no heavy metals, rare metals or toxic materials in lithium iron phosphate batteries. They can legally be put in a landfill, however, in practice, Tesla explains that the cells can be recycled by a hammer mill that turns them into pulp. The mill then separates the elements for re-use (e.g., cobalt, aluminum, nickel, and copper).
Below are a few links with concise battery information, in addition to covering some of the science involved.
Pragmatic Considerations and Your “EV Grin”: Converted EVs meet all federal motor vehicle safety requirements, since the basic car has not been altered – steel roll cages, air bags and other key systems remain as-is. Batteries are sealed and all high-voltage circuits are protected from casual contact. These vehicles pose no additional risks over a conventional vehicle, and are arguably safer since there’s no gasoline to explode in an accident.
Comparisons of an electric vehicle conversion to the purchase of a conventional car are subject to an individual's judgement and value system. For instance, compare our $27,500 Saab (after your 10% tax credit for converting) to a similarly-priced used Mercedes; the Saab is much less expensive to own, and you spare the planet tons annually of noxious global-warming emissions. Compare our electric Saab to a new similarly-priced Prius, and the Saab is nicer, cheaper to run, and again, saves the planet tons annually of global warming and health-threatening emissions.
If you drive electric, you’ll feel great about it, will set an example (and draw attention if you like), and you get to put on that “EV Grin” that people tend to wear when driving electric for the first time. Keep in mind that for most people, with an all-electric range of about 60 miles, your EV is a “2nd car”; that is, for the near future, it’s the gas car that will take you 300 miles without refueling, to take that occasional long road trip.
Costs and Maintenance: You CAN get a 100% electric vehicle that's a real car, not a tiny lightweight, from Electric Cars of New York for about $28,500 - as said above, that's the price of our electric Saab, competitive with, for example, a new hybrid Prius or a used Mercedes. (Price includes a 10% tax credit as provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aka the “stimulus bill”.)
With an electric car, the vast majority of parts that break down and need repair in a gas engine are removed. No more oil changes, "check engine" light mysteries, or repairs to the emissions system, radiator, fuel injection, alternator, sensors, etc. Most importantly, no more gasoline and no more fumes. Every 80,000-100,000 miles, the brushes on the electric motor should be changed, an easy job. Every 40,000 miles, we suggest the transmission fluid be changed. Electric motors have a theoretical 1 million mile capacity (14); that’s because electrons are flowing, not a thousand moving parts as on a gas car.
At 25 miles per gallon and 12,000 miles driven annually, at $2.75 a gallon (New York metro area as of 10/09), gas will cost about $1320. The electricity for your EV to drive 12,000 miles, at 12 cents/kwhr here in the northeast, will cost about $300, a current savings of $1020. You’ll save another $1,000 or more annually in unneeded oil changes and other unneeded routine maintenance and repairs. If gas costs rise (it seems inevitable) and your electricity happens to cost less, cost benefits rise proportionally. Of course, there's no putting a price tag on the literally tons of emissions you’ll spare the air. And there's that "EV Grin" you'll enjoy.
EV Quiz – Is an electric vehicle right for you? Let’s see if an EV conversion by Electric Cars of New York might suit you.
Does polluting by driving a gas vehicle bother you?
Do you already own a car you like, which you’d like to be driving as a “clean” vehicle?
Do you drive 50 miles a day or less, most days of the week?
Do you own another gas or hybrid car which can be used for long trips?
Can you afford to buy a moderately-priced new car?
If your answer to most of these questions is “yes”, we encourage you to contact us to learn more. Call us at 914.944.4034 or email us at email@example.com. The test drive is eye-opening.
2 – California Air Resources Board
3 – US Department of Transportation Vehicle Profile
4 – Electradrive.net
5 – US Department of Energy
6 – “The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History”, David Kirsch; “History of the Electric Car”, Barbara Taylor
7 – The New York Times, 2/16/09
8 – The Wall Street Journal, 4/9/09
9 – U.S. News & World Report, April 2009
10 – The New York Times, 2/16/09
11 – Per General Motors' display at the New York International Auto Show in April, 2009
14 – Electric Automobile Association