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Friday Mailbag: Electric cars are not your friend

Is it Friday already? It is! This week, it’s Fall Cruise photos and electric cars. Sit back, take a read and enjoy your weekend.

If you’d like to participate, drop me a question at mike@machineswithsouls.com. As always, you’ll remain anonymous.

Question

“Did you happen to snap my car on the Fall Cruise?”

– Everyone that didn’t see their car in the original post

Answer

The perfect roller is easy to grab, but the conditions that allow it to happen are elusive. Sometimes my car hits a bump as you pass. Or your car does. Maybe the background stinks, or the lighting is bad, or it’s not framed right…you get it.

BMW M3
Shots like this are taken on a closed course, with me hanging out the back and the camera just a few inches off the ground. Conditions that can’t really be duplicated on the cruise.

My Nikon Z7, good as it is, doesn’t auto focus very well. I work around it, but with only a few seconds to grab each of you as you pass, sometimes the magic doesn’t happen. If it’s not in the story, that means I usually couldn’t grab the right shot. Sorry, I try.

But, there’s always a chance I simply missed the edit, so email and ask, and if I have a shot I’ll gladly share with you.

And remember, if you’d like one while we’re cruising, just hang back off my left three-quarter rear for a few seconds. Zooming by sounds awesome, but isn’t so good for photo ops.

m4-roller
Sometimes the stars just don’t align.

Question

Hey Mike, I have a question regarding electric cars. I’ve yet to see you really post an opinion on them.

I saw the Taycan and i4 reviews, which seemed positive overall. But do you feel that electric cars are truly the future? Will you ever review a Tesla?

– Tim

Answer

Tim, you ask a short question that has a long answer.

Tesla is easy – they have no press cars (Mr. Musk isn’t a fan of criticism). If I can get a hold of a privately owned one, I may review it. But your question is much broader than just Tesla, because what they started has now spread to nearly every corner of the automotive market.

There are two ways to view an electric car: as a stand-alone invention, and as an answer to the problem of climate change.

Porsche Taycan
The Taycan is an excellent car that I actually enjoyed driving.

The electric car as an invention

Cars really were meant to be electric from the beginning. The first electric car, primitive as it was, appeared in 1832. That’s not a typo.

Add a hundred years and in 1932, cars like the Ford Model T were getting cheaper while a Detroit Electric was beginning to languish. Gasoline-powered cars were receiving electric starters. No more hand-cranking in the dead of winter.

But you’re not here for a history lesson, so let’s talk about why the modern electric car is a good one:

  • It never needs gas (duh).
  • Battery packs are flat and installed on the bottom of the car, making the heaviest part the closest to the ground. This aides handling.
  • Power. Stupid, endless amounts of uninterrupted torque make mincemeat out of even the most powerful gasoline engines.
  • Owning one is pretty much maintenance free, aside from brakes and tires. Hold that thought.
  • They are not considerably more expensive than their gasoline-powered counterparts. Yet.
  • They are quiet, if that’s your thing.

Driving both the Taycan and i4, I can tell you that they function like regular cars. I really enjoyed the Taycan – great steering response and power. What I’m saying here is it’s still a Porsche.

The government is on board too, and I’m sure you know they always have your best interests at heart…

BMW i4 M50
You can feel the added weight the i4 has, even if it’s kept low.

The electric car as the answer to a (big) problem

I just gave you a bunch of benefits for the electric car, and if you like the car because you like it, that’s absolutely great. I encourage you to buy it. Just don’t think you’re saving the planet. I think you’re making it (gasp!) worse.

We start with weight. Batteries are heavy, which in turn makes the car heavy. So they add more power via a bigger battery pack, which adds more weight. It’s how we end up with an i4 that weighs 5,000 pounds, more than my X3 M40i, and over 1,200 pounds heavier than my M3, a car that’s almost identical dimensionally. No matter what we’re talking about with cars, when it comes to weight, more is bad.

Let’s move to science. I know, buckle up.

Finished before we start

It takes a lot of energy to make any car, but batteries are a unique animal. The metals that go into them are refined all over the world, often with some pretty nasty consequences (look up “Nickle mining” to see what I mean.)

The metal then gets shipped to a factory across an ocean (do you know of any electric shipping boats?). It’s then refined and shipped to another factory to be installed in a battery and finally, a car. But that car still needs to get shipped to the country it’s being sold in.

Let’s use an all-electric Volvo Polestar 2 as an example. Creating one produces 17 metric tons of CO2 from refining raw materials, seven from the batteries, 2.1 from the chassis’ manufacture, and half a ton for disposal, totaling 26.6 metric tons. A Volvo XC40, an equivalent ICE model, totals 16.7 tons of CO2. So making the all-electric Volvo produces nearly 10 tons more bad gas than its gross, fossil-powered brother. Somebody open a window.

Ah but, surely the Polestar will make up the environmental difference quickly, since it emits nothing from its non-existent tail pipe. You’re right! All you need to do is drive the XC40 for 68,000 miles before it catches up to the emissions produced by making a single Polestar. That’s right – the Polestar doesn’t make up for its auspicious beginnings until well into year four of ownership.

Have you noticed that most luxury cars are purchased with three-year/36,000-mile leases? Using that logic, let’s do simple maths:

  • Two Polestars over six year/72,000-mile leases = 53.2 metric tons of CO2 produced.
  • One purchased XC40 over six years/72,000 miles = approximately 27 metric tons of CO2 produced.

That’s pretty sobering.

BMW i4 M50
Electric cars aren’t our fate just yet.

Horse cower

I’m also going to throw in that the XC40 makes the same amount of power on day one as it does on day 1,001. A battery-powered car loses a little charge with each cycle. Notice how you have to plug in your iPhone more as it gets older?

You paid for a car with whatever, say 400 horsepower. But by year two, you’ve got a car with a maximum charge of 380 horses, maybe less. You think Volvo refunds you for those horsies out to pasture?

And eventually, batteries must be replaced. Where do they go? You can’t recycle all the components. New ones sure are expensive too. All that money you saved on oil changes and coolant flushes is about to be paid ten times over.

Tepid times

One last point I’ll make. Auto makers aren’t exactly convinced that batteries are the way to go. Toyota isn’t, and they make the most cars on the planet. It’s why BMW hasn’t yet made a dedicated platform for electric cars. The iX? Directly from BMW, Ahem…

“The electric platform is a “totally new development”, though it is “highly compatible” with the modular CLAR platform. This shared chassis componentry allows BMW to produce the iX alongside cars with combustion engines at the Dingolfing plant.”

If they were winking at you any harder, they’d go blind.

BMW i4 M50
Imagine the infrastructure needed to allow everyone to charge their cars overnight in New York City.

Perhaps you’ve heard California will outlaw gas-powered cars in 2035? How does that work, exactly? You can buy an ICE car in 2034, and then suddenly, one year later, it’s worthless and illegal? How ironic that they already have rolling blackouts without everyone plugging their cars into the grid at night.

We won’t even mention electric trucks. The Hummer is 9,000 lbs. The Ford Lightening can’t tow anything. We’re not there yet folks.

And what if you live in a place without electricity, or a very limited amount of it? You know, so you can turn the light on and see? Countries that have people driving around in 30-year old Nissan Hard Bodies aren’t exactly worried about pollution.

So Tim, that’s my opinion on electric cars. A cool invention. A good car when evaluated in a vacuum. But a bad car when evaluating it against its mission.

The internal combustion engine isn’t dead yet.

Support the cause

Commissions may be received for product links on this site. Help out if you can.

I use Nikon camera bodies and lenses, a Westcott Ice Light 2, Manfrotto tripod, B + W filters and an iMac Pro to make the art you see here.

Email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions. Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

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