Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Electric Transportation

It seems like every blog and/or online news source I read regularly has had something about the public pissing contest between The New York Times and Tesla Motors.  The subject of the debate is a 500-mile  test drive of the Tesla Model S done by John Broder, a Times' writer.  Mr. Broder gave the car and Tesla's rapid charging stations located along the route a bad review; Elon Musk, Tesla's founder, claimed that the writer was biased and had gone out of his way to make the car look bad.  One interesting side note is that Mr. Musk's assertions are based on the very detailed data logging that the car performs.  He notes that such logging is now standard practice for cars provided to the media after the Top Gear television show gave the Model S a pre-planned bad review.

To the extent that their budgets will allow, most Americans who purchase a car get one designed to deal with the most extreme 10% of their driving experience.  Weight and drive-train designed to get to work on the six days per year that it has snowed.  Cargo capacity to take the family on the annual camping trip.  Range to drive 600 miles to Grandma's for the holidays.  The Tesla Model S is an attempt to design a car that meets one set of extreme needs -- certainly not the most extreme set -- subject to the constraint of an all-electric traction system.  On the one hand, Mr. Musk asserts the design is successful.  On the other hand, Mr. Broder asserts that it is not.  On the gripping hand, it's a moot point; most of us are going to live long enough to see the day when most Americans no longer buy vehicles based on their extreme needs, but rather their routine ones.

What I'm anticipating is that within our lifetimes we're much more likely to be covering most of that 500 miles in a pleasant electric train at 120 or 150 mph, with the driving on each end in something like MIT's city car.  At the home end of the trip, it gets you and your bag(s) to the station; quite possibly a neighborhood light-rail station and you change to the long-distance train elsewhere.  At the destination end, you pick up a rental from the head of the line and pay by the mile and days for the short distances you drive it.  Or if Google and Tyler Cowen have their way, the self-piloting car drives you, which would be particularly helpful in an area you don't know.  Yes, it's slightly less convenient since your schedule is dictated to some degree by the train schedules.  In exchange, covering the main part of the trip in three hours, with none of the hassles of driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, makes up for quite a lot.  And very much worth pointing out, for the 90% or more of the routine driving trips, from home to work and back, or on a loop covering a batch of local errands, the city car provides a far better match to the job than the Model S.

Photo credits: Tesla Model S, Motor Trend.  MIT city car, MIT.

1 comment:

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