Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Most Important Car in the World

Picking up from where I left off earlier in the week, I said that it may be possible an EV is the best car in the world.  If the Tesla Model S is not the best car in the world, which it may or may not be, then I am convinced that it is the most important car in the world.

Those who have driven the Model S have been effusive in its praise.  For example, what can you make of this quote:

Having driven the Tesla Model S on the neighborhood roads back-to-back not only against most of the other electric cars in the market today, but also comparing it against other premium cars such as Rolls Royce Corniche, I came to this startling conclusion: The Tesla Model S is so superior that it seems that it's just a matter of time until all the other car companies will have to file bankruptcy.
Others have been similarly over the top in their praise for this car, but since I have not even seen it, much less driven it, I am afraid that my own opinion on the question is yet to be formed. Suffice it to say that I cannot wait until I have a chance to form that opinion.

I believe that I can say that it is the most important car in the world because it is the first car ever to have been designed on the premise that an electric car might actually be the best car in the world.  Whether it has achieved that status is somewhat beside the point; it is enough to acknowledge the unique motive behind the car's conception.

Electric cars have, let us face it, not been devoted to the idea of excellence. They have been curiosities. Burdened by idiosyncratic styling, most electric cars have been cute but weird urban toys.

The late -- and ugly -- GM EV1
The General Motors EV1 was a perfect example.  Its styling shouted out that it was something other than a regular car.

Early hybrids were styled with the same approach.  The original Honda Insight looked like an ugly cousin of the EV1.  There was nothing attractive in these designs.  They were designed to appeal to ...  well, who exactly?  Presumably people who were above such trivial concerns as appearances.

The hideous Honda Insight
Cars have always been at least partly about sex appeal.  Good-looking bad cars will sell.  Ugly good cars won't.   When you go out of your way to make a car ugly and appliance-like you are either inept or appealing to a different market than the average car buyer.

Electric cars and early hybrids were deliberately made into anti-cars.  Every lustful reaction we may expect to have in relation to cars was erased.

The Tesla Model S is, by contrast, designed to be as sleek and lustworthy as any other car in its rather elevated class, a class that includes the Jaguar XJ, the Audi A8, the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S Class.  These are formidable competition.  These are well-engineered, luxuriously appointed, fast and desirable.  And the Tesla Model S, an EV is, by design, every bit their equal.  And its very "EV-ness" may well make it their superior.

This is something entirely new.  An EV that makes no excuses, that does not hide behind weird looks and that is willing to go toe-to-toe with the very best cars in the world.

The Tesla Model S is sleek, handsome, well-appointed, fast, smooth and sexy.

The beautiful Model S
As are its competitors.  The Model S, though, has the advantages of being an EV.  This means that all the torque from its electric motor is available from 0 RPM.  This means that there is no noise from the powertrain.   There are no emissions at all.   Its enormous battery pack forms a floor to the car, lowering the centre of gravity and aiding in handling.  Regenerative braking means that kinetic energy is converted back into an electric charge to be reused again for propulsion rather than wasted as heat in an ICE car.

The lack of an ICE, a cooling system, a transmission, a driveshaft, a differential and many many more parts means that the Model S is simple and relatively free of parts that can wear out or break.  This also frees up huge amounts of space in the car for storage.  The motor needs almost no maintenance.  Regenerative braking greatly reduces wear on the brakes, which are only needed a fraction of the time compared with a conventional car.

All of this results in a driving experience, as every review of the car but I have read indicates, that is superior to any conventional car. But even with all of this, it is not why I believe that this is the most important car in the world.

Tesla, led by its CEO Elon Musk, has set aside the constraining conventional wisdom of the past 125 years, and has reimagined the car for our century. Not only that, Tesla has reimagined the car company itself, car manufacturing, and car sales and service. And all of this is due to the unique advantages of the EV over the conventional ICE car.

Elon Musk himself has gone on record as saying that he founded Tesla to prove that an EV could be the best car in the world.  I would say he has already proven that with the Model S.  At the same time, it is by no means assured that Tesla will survive.  As I write this, only 100 Model S cars have been made.  While Tesla can sell as many of them as they can make at the moment, its survival will depend upon the continuing credibility of the company to deliver on its promises.  Now that it has designed and started to make what is possibly the best car in the world, it must prove that it is capable of making a lot of them at a cost that will enable the company to make money.  This may prove to be a very significant challenge, given the decision of the company to be vertically integrated, making nearly every component of the car in house.

The all wheel drive chassis of the amazing Model X
Having going on at some length about the Model S, I should close by saying that it is not this car that I am interested in buying. I have my eye on the Model X.  Assuming that Tesla can stay alive, this car will be going to market in 2014.

It is a kind of SUV that can hold seven adults and all their luggage but will have the performance of a Porsche Carrera.  It will be a taller version of the Model S, and should have equivalent performance.

However, it will come in an all-wheel-drive version with a second electric motor at the front of the car.
Elon Musk showing off the "Falcon Wing" rear doors of the Model X

After that, Tesla has plans for a smaller and less expensive car that will compete with the BMW 3 series and others in its class.

Tesla has delivered. It has forever altered our idea of what an electric car can be, and in doing so has given us an idea of how in we will be able to continue to travel in comfort and with awesome performance while living sustainably.  No longer do we have to look ahead to a future in which we have to abandon our beautiful sexy vehicles for hideous objects like the EV1.

It all makes the future of driving exciting again.   For now, I am going to take great pleasure from driving my last hydrocarbon burners.


manoj singh said...

An excellent blog on some most desirable and famous cars.My favorite brand is BMW.
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ToBlog today said...

Indeed, these are exciting times as the development and design of cars not only provide "greening" but also deliver on power and performance we expect in traditionally designed cars.

A great review!

Brian H said...

Well, Alan, lots of good thinking -- somewhat undercut by severe errors and lack of awareness of recent developments.

Some highlights:
1. Solar make no economic (or social) sense, even if PV panels were free. Variability, huge real-estate demands, cost of establishing and using transmission lines covering long distances, and unacknowledged maintenance costs are huge holes below the waterline.
2. Lithium is not "disposed of". It does not degrade in batteries, and is recycled as close to 100% as feasible -- it's valuable. And there are no other "exotic materials" in lithium batteries to speak of.
3. The 7%/annum figure is implausibly conservative at the present time. Large step-changes are in the labs right now. Half a dozen of them could multiply capacity and speed of charging by 5-10X.
4. Oil prices anywhere near present levels are quite sufficient to justify extraction methods adequate to handle oil sands, tight oil, and deep offshore reserves. Tight oil alone, in the federal Green River play in the eastern Rockies foothills, is rated by the GAO as having recoverable high-grade oil equivalent to the rest of the world put together (~1.5 TRILLION bbl). The US is de facto an Oil Empire, right now.
4. A wild-card energy source is rushing towards validation. See for details. It would slash power costs 10-20X worldwide, starting in 5 yrs., maybe less. The machine-gun Ehrlich fears in the hands of the idiot child (humans), "cheap, abundant energy", could arrive with a bang very soon.
5. Carbon(-dioxide) is a totally bogus issue, except insofar as it boosts ag output. Every dire prediction based on its steady rise has failed, and there is no prospect of success for any of them.
6. Warming is similarly a bogus issue. There are only counter-examples in history and pre-history, and no prospect that warming will be anything but as beneficial now as anytime in the past. (Drought, btw, is caused by cooling and consequent drop in moisture transport.)

EVs are superior on efficiency, performance and design flexibility grounds. None of the above-cited nonsense justifications is necessary.

Brian H said...

Every word of Part II is a gem. Excellent insight about the importance of Musk's challenge and his approach.


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Most of these cars are out of my price range, but I still enjoy looking. And, I don't think the EV1 is that's actually kind of spaceship-like in my mind. Either way, since I don't really need great performance for the stop-and-go commuting I do, I'll probably stick with my plans to get one of the slightly-more-upscale used cars in Mission TX. Enjoyed this post though! Thanks!

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