Friday, September 3, 2010

The Urban Umbilical Cord - Part 2

The electric car will arrive and be in your garage or more likely the garage of your children. It is foretold and prophetically announced here. The current politics and your tax dollars are pushing this as the savior to all our problems: the Middle East and Venezuela (we will show them), the oil companies (the unfeeling bastards), pollution (that ol’ CO2 thing), and the car companies (we will force them to make them). Now if we could find a way to make them run on static electricity like John Galts’ motor.

The biggest difficulty the automobile consumer has with the electric vehicle is the fear of no power and a too short extension cord. This anxiety cannot be breached by government grants, free plug-ins for your garage, or assurances that there will be a power station just a short push down the road. It was the same in 1915, gas stations were few and the rise of the automobile forced the market to supply the product – gasoline. No government grants back then, just Standard Oil and Sinclair to name two.

I suggest, quite strongly, that the current designs with their self-contained battery are just plain wrong. Think of it as a rechargeable flashlight, you need the flashlight when there is no electricity to light your household – yet you cannot recharge the flashlight because there is no electricity. That is why they have replaceable batteries (rechargeable or not). Two major industries: the flashlight makers and the battery makers and throw in the bulb manufacturer as well – each trying to make the best product. The electric car can be exactly the same.

Imagine a system where, as you are getting low on power for your snazzy electric car (the one with the cool cup holders), you pull into your neighborhood power station. There you are guided by laser sensors (not unlike the self parking features of today), that align the vehicle with an exchanger that uses hydraulics to slide out battery packs from a tray under you car, and then slide in replacements – fully charged. The cost is charged to your credit card. You are on your way in less time then it take to fill up your old gas-guzzler with its 20-gallon tank. The power station makes its profit by recharging the packs with electricity the station buys wholesale and what it charges for the pack to be placed in your car. In effect the pack is like the old milk bottle (bear with me youngsters), it is returned and refilled, you may never see the same bottle twice in your icebox. This system is less complicated than the current car washes out behind the gas station of today.

The electric car is exactly the same as your gasoline or natural gas powered car. The only difference is the power plant. I have often heard that the electric car companies are more concerned about the batteries in their cars than the car itself – why should they even need to worry. Did Henry Ford spend his fortune trying to build gas stations for his cars? The solution is simple - there must be standardization of interchangeable batteries for the electric car industry. Put that annoying pink bunny in undercarriage of the Leaf or Volt or whatever silly name you want to call them. Let the battery industry develop efficient and rechargeable power packs under international standards – these can be leased or owned to an oversight company – and each recharge sends a small payment to the manufacturer and the oversight manager. In many ways it is like the shipping container industry – those steel boxes are independent of what they carry – funds are allocated to the box owners each time they are used. I can imagine companies that own millions of these power packs, each receiving payment each time a charged pack is sold.

Well that’s off my mind. The system is no more complicated than the current gasoline supply system – except for that Middle East and Venezuela thing, those damn oil companies, pollution (except for that pesky nuclear waste thing), and the car companies (private and government owned) who will again compete for the best cup holder category.

Next week let’s take a look at what the government will do to promote housing – it was tried in the 1930s.

Signing off from Alaska's Inland Passage


  1. The electric car world that you describe sounds nice. I believe it will have to be legislated into existence. I'm wracking my brain to think of another industry that has invested hundreds of billions in its supporting infrastructure only to tear itself apart and rebuild itself in another form (to the tune of hundreds of billions more dollars). I'm not sure this could be phased in comfortably like just adding a tank that dispensed unleaded gasoline back in the '70's. This sounds like a wholesale change to how business is done. Two things will need to happen before the market makes this a reality:

    1. gasoline becomes either scarce or is priced in a manner that truly changes our habits
    2. the electric car provides us with a cheaper alternative without a material change to the service it delivers (relative to the gas-powered auto).

    If these things don't happen, Government will have to create this market and, as you've mentioned in some of your other blogs, our Government doesn't have a very good record of running industry.

  2. We do this with BBQ propane tanks...