Why Electric Cars are NOT the Answer – Go By Bike Episode 14

Will electric cars solve our oil dependency problems?

There’s a lot of hope and hype about electric cars, with just about every car company jumping on the promised future of these vehicles with a design of their own. But electric cars just don’t solve one fundamental problem of transportation by car. What problem is this? Watch to find out.

What do you think about electric cars? Give me your comments below.


Go By Bike is a daily video series that talks about how to be green by riding more and using your car less, including electric bikes, electric kits, cargo bikes, bike safety, and getting motivated to bike

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4 thoughts

  1. Two other sets of problems with e-cars — whether they’ll compete effectively with alternatives (this is a market problem, not a “it works” problem) and how much expensive/limited material will be required to build them.

    Each (full-size) e-car requires at least one large efficient electric motor, meaning a good quantity of copper and magnet, and the batteries to run it, meaning (right now, at least) lithium.

    The lithium calculations I’ve seen, suggest that outfitting the developed world, plus some fraction of India and China (both would like to be part of the “developed world”) with e-cars, would consume a lot of the world’s reserves. Doesn’t mean we’ll run out necessarily, but it won’t be like digging coal. Bolivia is sitting on the largest, cheapest chunk of lithium, plus there’s more in Argentina and Chile.

    The world’s biggest supplier of neodymium (for magnets) is China, and they have recently gotten a little picky about shipping the raw stuff out, preferring instead to keep the money for magnet-manufacture within China. However, despite being called a “rare” earth, it’s not that rare, and there are sources outside China (Australia, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, US).

    We won’t run out of copper, but it can get expensive (that is, the cheap-to-extract reserves are limited).

    The market problem is more interesting. E-cars have a practical range limit that is not a whole lot larger than a bicycle’s, once you ride a bicycle much (that is, once you have the legs for it), and the daily use of a car (single-occupancy, light load) is well within the reach of even ordinary bicycles, never mind cargo bicycles. Compared to an e-bike, an e-car has even less of an advantage — the e-bike increases speed, range, and load abilities of an ordinary bicycle.

    The two major advantages that an e-car retains are that it comes equipped with a locker for your stuff, and that it protects you from the weather, provided that the water is not so high that the road is flooded, or the snow so deep that the car gets stuck (in both cases, you simply walk your bike around to the other side of the obstacle; not so, the car). Extending the car’s range forces it to be smaller, but the cost (of the batteries, which is quite large) remains the same. In terms of pure car-vs-bike, and considering how new cars compete, versus old cars, you see that new cars are smaller (carry less), perhaps slower (depends on range and cost), more expensive, and have a limited range. It is an inferior car, in every way except for its carbon and acoustic footprint. How much will people want these new cars? Consider that the people who care most about reducing their carbon footprint, surely know that they can do even better with a bicycle (assuming they don’t eat steak for bike fuel). This seems like it will lead to a Goldilocks market — eco-aware, but only so much, and with a commute that is just long enough, but not so long that it exceeds the range of the car, and with enough disposable income to justify the purchase of the e-car. Or, they have to live someplace really bike-unfriendly. Anything else, and they’ll look hard at a bike, a cargo bike, an e-bike, or an e-cargo-bike. Or maybe, folding bike+mass transit, or folding bike+car pool.

  2. RIGHT ON, RIGHT ON! I have ridden over 250,000 miles without any major accident (PRAISE THE LORD). I have been using the bicycle for transportation since I was very young (yes, I do have a car, and it gets great gas mileage sitting in the driveway!!!). I have 2 long wheelbase recumbents, and both are electrified (great for going somewhere and not getting all sweated up). Also, they are very cheap to operate, and there is very little maintenence. In 2008, I used the bikes so much, that a tank of gas lasted 4 1/2 months!

  3. Great blog– well informed too!

    I’ve had a number of electric bikes and converted a car last year. The main problem with electric cars are their expense. My car conversion was around $8000. A bike conversion that can go about the same distance (20 miles) is about $1500. I like the car because it’s more luxurious (or as luxurious as a toyota tercel can be). You are out of the elements and you can carry passengers easily. It’s a hair bit quicker than an electric bike. An electric car isn’t going to be for everyone due to limited range.

    The likely scenario for electric vehicles is that gas prices will shoot up, there won’t be enough electric cars or they’ll be too expensive. People will find a combination of electric bike and gas car to cover most of their transportation needs. People will continue to buy electric cars but I think it would be better to think of the electric car as an upgrade from an electric bike.

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