Despite all the hype about electric vehicles, including President Biden’s decision to “electrify” the US government fleet of over half a million vehicles, nobody seems to be talking much about the challenges of switching from gasoline or diesel to electric power. Toyota has gone on record often in the past, pouring cold water on such heated claims. It did so again a few months ago.
This week, Toyota reiterated an opinion it has offered before. That opinion is straightforward: The world is not yet ready to support a fully electric auto fleet.
Toyota’s head of energy and environmental research Robert Wimmer testified before the Senate this week, and said: “If we are to make dramatic progress in electrification, it will require overcoming tremendous challenges, including refueling infrastructure, battery availability, consumer acceptance, and affordability.”
Wimmer’s remarks come on the heels of GM’s announcement that it will phase out all gas internal combustion engines (ICE) by 2035. Other manufacturers, including Mini, have followed suit with similar announcements.
Tellingly, both Toyota and Honda have so far declined to make any such promises. Honda is the world’s largest engine manufacturer when you take its boat, motorcycle, lawnmower, and other engines it makes outside the auto market into account. Honda competes in those markets with Briggs & Stratton and the increased electrification of lawnmowers, weed trimmers, and the like.
Wimmer noted that while manufactures have announced ambitious goals, just 2% of the world’s cars are electric at this point. For price, range, infrastructure, affordability, and other reasons, buyers continue to choose ICE over electric, and that’s even when electric engines are often subsidized with tax breaks to bring pricetags down.
The scale of the switch hasn’t even been introduced into the conversation in any systematic way yet. According to FinancesOnline, there are 289.5 million cars just on U.S. roads as of 2021. About 98 percent of them are gas-powered.
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Toyota warns that the grid and infrastructure simply aren’t there to support the electrification of the private car fleet. A 2017 U.S. government study found that we would need about 8,500 strategically-placed charge stations to support a fleet of just 7 million electric cars. That’s about six times the current number of electric cars but no one is talking about supporting just 7 million cars. We should be talking about powering about 300 million within the next 20 years, if all manufacturers follow GM and stop making ICE cars.
Simply put, we’re gonna need a bigger energy boat to deal with connecting all those cars to the power grids. A LOT bigger.
But instead of building a bigger boat, we may be shrinking the boat we have now. The power outages in California and Texas — the largest U.S. states by population and by car ownership — exposed issues with powering needs even at current usage levels. Increasing usage of wind and solar, neither of which can be throttled to meet demand, and both of which prove unreliable in crisis, has driven some coal and natural gas generators offline. Wind simply runs counter to needs — it generates too much power when we tend not to need it, and generates too little when we need more. The storage capacity to account for this doesn’t exist yet.
We will need much more generation capacity to power about 300 million cars if we’re all going to be forced to drive electric cars. Whether we’re charging them at home or charging them on the road, we will be charging them frequently. Every gas station you see on the roadside today will have to be wired to charge electric cars, and charge speeds will have to be greatly increased.
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Half an hour is an unacceptably long time to spend at an electron pump. It’s about 5 to 10 times longer than a current trip to the gas pump tends to take when pumps can push 4 to 5 gallons into your tank per minute. That’s for consumer cars, not big rigs that have much larger tanks. Imagine the lines that would form at the pump, every day, all the time, if a single charge time isn’t reduced by 70 to 80 percent.
There’s more at the link.
The biggest single problem I foresee with electric vehicles is that they depend on a stable power grid to be able to recharge their batteries. Mother Nature isn’t all that good at providing such stability, and nor are less than reliable electrical utility companies, as demonstrated in Texas during recent months. Hurricanes can disrupt electricity supplies over a wide area for weeks on end – precisely the situation where emergency repair crews need power for their transportation, chainsaws and other gear, but won’t be able to recharge their batteries. What’s more, when power is restored after such an outage, people are going to be desperate to warm or cool their homes, power appliances, etc. – not compete with auto recharge stations for the limited power that’s available.
I’m seeing an awful lot of hype about this, but not much hard-headed reality. Until the latter becomes more prevalent, I’ll stick with gasoline engines, thank you very much . . . at least, until the government decides it knows better (again) and restricts gasoline supplies!
(Oh, yes – on that point, what about those folks who rely on portable generators to power their homes and businesses during a power outage? If you replace fossil fuels for vehicle use, what about small engines such as those in generators? I’ve never heard of an electrically powered electric generator – have you?)