I am a habitual recycler, so much so that I make sure to stick my worn-out bus pass in the neighborhood bin that is normally reserved for bottles and newspapers. Green blood flows through my veins. Even so, anyone will have a hard time persuading me to buy an electric car from Better Place.
Buying a family vehicle — particularly a new one — is a considerable expense. That is because once the nylon has been removed from the seats, the value of the sticker price drops by 20 percent. The drop in price of an electric car is liable to be even steeper because there is still no used car “market” to which to sell. When demand is at a minimum, the whole thing is in danger of turning into a Catholic wedding. The owner is stuck with the car until its dying day.
The list of worrisome phenomena is extensive. Let’s take the battery, for example. I saw the electric exchange stations in Eilat and Metullah. How many batteries are there? After I get there with my new car — and the new battery that came with it — I pull into the station. Do I get my battery replaced with a new one, or an old one that has been charged a number of times, and whose lifespan is not as long as it was before? How does one know?
The battery is problematic also because of the increased weight of the car. This is a very poor utilization of energy. An electric car weighs 200 kilograms more than its gas-powered counterpart. That means it needs more energy to move it from one point to another, a total waste of energy. It is as if there are two extra passengers in each vehicle.
The rate of acceleration is also slower. There is also a difference in the horsepower of the engine. A small difference, but a difference. That’s okay, since in any event there is less room in the trunk. It was downsized so that there would be more space for the battery. The most one can hope to fit into the trunk is a suitcase, a folded-up baby carriage, another bag, and not much more. The rest should be left at home.
A heavier car means a longer braking distance. From a safety standpoint, it’s a drawback. A liter of gasoline weighs about 1 kilogram. A 500-kilometer trip requires 50 kilograms of fuel, or 1 kilogram per 10 kilometers. If we divide the weight of the battery by 150 kilometers, it would take 1 kilogram of battery to travel 250 meters. The weight of the battery remains constant throughout the trip. Fuel, on the other hand, is used up, and its weight on the car decreases. This is a more effective, ideal usage of energy.
What also disturbs me is the huge electric field generated by this battery. There are no research studies about the effects of electromagnetic fields in electric cars, but in another few years I don’t want to hear about how I’ve been endangering the children in the backseat of the car.
Hospital officials are concerned about electric-powered beds due to the magnetic field that the electric motors — which are much smaller than the motors in cars — generate. Maybe they are safe, but we were also once told that second-hand smoke was not bad for our health.
The distance that can be traveled on a fully-charged battery is a problematic thing when embarking on long trips. One would need to plan each step of the way to find a charging station. If at the start of my journey I only had 100 kilometers worth of energy left in the battery, I would have to quickly plan an alternate route and change the battery before it empties.
One would also need to plan every stage of the trip. The car’s computer will notify the driver when it is time to fill up the battery. While this may seem like a convenience, it is a nuisance that any driver would gladly avoid.
In fuel-powered cars, one full tank is enough to drive at least 500 kilometers on major highways. There are batteries being developed that will have enough energy to power a trip stretching between 800 and 1000 kilometers. This technology, however, is still about five years away. That means that one would need to “fill up” at least four times to drive the same distance as pumping fuel into your car just once.
Driving to an electric power station requires deviating from the original road plan a number of times, and each time just adds on more mileage since one cannot find stations at every corner. The amount of money it costs to fill up the battery is commensurate with the number of kilometers driven. It’s not just a matter of money, though, but time. If there is no line at the pump, every trip to the station lasts five minutes.
Nowadays, there are no lines. But what will happen when there are lines? How many batteries will be available at these stations? If the company is in distress, it will not boost its inventory of batteries at every station. Will there be another station available nearby?
What about competition? Today, there is competition between gas stations who try to outdo each other by offering perks and benefits. In Shai Agassi’s — yes, Shai Agassi’s — electric car business, there’s just one option available. If the price goes up, I have no choice but to agree to pay it. If the state decides to do away with tax benefits for electric cars, this cancelation will be felt in my bank account. There is a very good chance that this will happen.
That state will not quickly give up the cash cow of taxing gasoline. It is convenient to forgo tax revenue from electric cars when the number of customers is small and there are just a few electric cars on the road. Once the use of electric cars proliferates, it will be an entirely different story. The same thing happened when diesel-engine cars were being sold to customers other than taxi drivers. There was a time when diesel fuel cost one-third of unleaded gasoline. Today, diesel is 20% more expensive.
Maintenance costs for electric cars will also be high. After the warranty expires on a fuel-powered car, we know where to find a garage that doesn’t belong to the car importer and where the service is usually cheaper. Which garage would be willing to touch an electric car? Instead, we will be stuck with authorized, more expensive garages.
If Better Place fails in Israel, then what? Where will it be possible to buy a battery? How much will it cost? What will be the value of my electric car? Can anyone guarantee that the company will be active here throughout my car’s lifetime? Perhaps the company will prefer friendlier markets and abandon us. This is a publicly traded company that is beholden to its shareholders, not its customers. There is a good chance we will be left with a huge box on wheels.
If we connect to a power outlet at our regular parking spot near home, it shortens the distance we can travel by half since after half the trip, we would need to return home. Parking lots will not be eager to set aside separate spots for electric cars with an outlet to electricity, since that would be like a car for the disabled. It takes up space that cannot be occupied by any other vehicle. It would make no sense financially.
I am also disturbed by the manner in which Agassi ended his tenure at Better Place. He was the face of the company. He was the address. Now it is bringing in a former Australian member of parliament with an entirely different agenda. The board of directors is most concerned with pleasing shareholders, so the person in Israel who will have to address our concerns is Idan Ofer and Israel Corp.
I am in favor of transitioning to electric cars, but not with all of these question marks. Want to start a green revolution? Go ahead, just do it without me.