I don’t think so:
Electric cars have everyone in a snit. The traditionalists are crying into their float bowls while progressives are rejoicing that a chink has been found in the hitherto impenetrable armor of the petroleum dragon.
I understand the concerns of the traditionalists. I’m a shameless carbon addict, I love the smell of gasoline fumes. The sweet scent from the stack of a coal burning locomotive can (no exaggeration) move me to tears. But, I’m taking a measured and pragmatic view of the situation. I accept that one day, probably soon, my daily driver will not have an internal combustion engine. Change is inevitable, however unpleasant it may seem while it’s taking place. An earthquake is terrifying in the moment, but it can bring the opportunity to rebuild better.
When the motorcar first began to proliferate it encountered a great deal of resistance from many fronts. The people clinging to the gasoline car today are the same ones who clung to the horse then.
Those who put their faith in horseflesh weren’t necessarily luddites. It’s just that the horse was familiar, its virtues and vices were well understood. Old Dobbin had provided reliable transport since time immemorial.
The motorcar was a challenging new technology. If you weren’t strong and adept at crank starting you could end up with a broken wrist. And, horses weren’t flammable. The car was considered a real fire risk. My home in Baltimore stands in one of the first subdivisions there built with the motorcar in mind. The basement garage is literally a solid concrete bunker, so constructed to protect the house in case your flivver should spontaneously self combust.
Never mind that IF you got your car to start on the crank you had to be very skilled at shifting straight cut gears. It’s little wonder that (perhaps predictively) electric cars enjoyed some popularity in the early part of the 2oth century. They were expensive and marketed primarily to upper class women. In fact, Mrs Henry Ford drove a Detroit Electric Model 47 Brougham.
Pioneer automobilists had their (frequent) mechanical problems greeted with cries of “get a horse!”. Royal Doulton China produced a range of pottery called Motorist that was decorated with artistically rendered, satirical cartoons of disabled motorcars and their frustrated owners. There were novelty songs, released on the newfangled phonograph records suggesting that car owners lead their automobile around and offer it some oats if it didn’t cooperate. R.E. Olds hedged his bets, his Curved Dash models came from the factory with a whip socket.
The gasoline car’s faults were gradually ironed out and its ease of use kept increasing with every new model. By 1912 Charles Kettering had perfected the electric self starter and it became available (along with electric lighting) on Cadillac cars that year. That innovation alone did more to help gasoline powered cars gain in popularity, it also signaled the death knell of the pioneer electric cars.
Manufacturers upped output to meet demand(Ford in particular with the Model T). Prices dropped to the point ordinary folk could own a car and it’s not hard to understand why.
You didn’t have to feed your Model T hay, even when you weren’t using it, nor did you have to shovel its waste out of a stable. Further, when your car died, its carcass was much easier to dispose of and didn’t begin to stink if the junkman couldn’t pop ‘round right away to collect it. Eventually the naysayers had no choice but to accept that the car was here to stay.
A century on, the internal combustion engined car is also seen as a devoted family retainer who has foibles and flaws but has also given sterling service and in the process has endeared itself to us.
The electric car too has its drawbacks. Some opine that the power grid couldn’t sustain the charging of a large number of electric cars. All I know is, the electric grid we have today is far better than the service station situation at the beginning of the twentieth century. Back then you bought gasoline in gallon cans from the drug store. Once the gas car became popular, the infrastructure came into being to support it. The same will happen with electric cars. So too will their range (already good) improve and their price drop as sales volumes increase.
Where I start to get lukewarm about the electrification of the motorcar is in performance. And it’s not that they can’t perform. Measured empirically electric cars offer superb, even superior performance. A certain Tesla model is already the quickest accelerating car in the world at 0–60 in 2.5 seconds, although a C8 Corvette can come close at 2.8 seconds. The sprightliest version of the Lamborghini Countach did the same in 4.7. But the Tesla does it with a back seat. The twisties can also be dispatched more quickly electrically. I’m no chassis engineer, I’m not even any great shakes as a driver. But it’s no stretch of the imagination to assume that an electric car with a drive motor for each wheel could have computer controlled torque vectoring that would give preternatural cornering abilities.
Yet electric cars deliver this amazing speed with cold, near silent efficiency. Enzo Ferrari loved “the song of the 12”, an electric motor doesn’t sing like a choir of cylinders. It lacks the emotive crackle of synchronized explosions happening hundreds or thousands of times per second. It does not buzz, fizz, vibrate and speak to the driver. It just delivers gobs of instant power in frigid quietude. It is superior to the piston engine in the same way that a microwave is superior to the wood fired cooking hearth. But let me ask you, if you had a home with a wood fired cooking hearth that also had a microwave, which would you use more often? I will bet even money that you wouldn’t bank a fire every night and kindle it every morning just to heat your Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich.
I will sorely miss the daily conversation with the controlled detonations under the hood of my car. Just as I will miss the way in which the transmission’s gears mask that peaky power delivery with their constant changing. It could be posited that the less advanced a technology is the more engaging it becomes for modern folk to deploy. Undoubtedly, we strive to defend that with which we engage, “Save the manuals” anyone?
That said, there are greater hardships than getting used to an effortless, utterly silent, wickedly quick car. Who knows, maybe the inherently refined nature of electric power will foster a resurgence of the boulevard ride and brougham package type luxury trimmings. The death of velour upholstery in cars was really too tragic for words.
Whatever vehicles the future may bring. I sincerely hope that electric (or other) power does the same thing for internal combustion engines that the internal combustion engine did for the horse. Liberate it to be enjoyed occasionally and at leisure.
Bryan Raab Davis