Monday, November 6, 2023

The Things We Want, The Things We Need

The movement towards electric cars has reached an impasse, one that was utterly predictable.

On the one hand, sure, EVs are less expensive to run, and over the course of the life of any given vehicle produce considerably less carbon than an internal combustion engine vehicle.  They are part of the necessary reduction in emissions that may help blunt the impacts of the climate crisis.

But they're also not the solution.  Particularly not in America.

Part of that is because we Americans have made some catastrophically unwise decisions about our infrastructure.  Despite rail having been central to our rise as a nation, the twin demons of profit maximization and planned obsolescence painted us into an unsustainable corner.  Our suburbs sprawl out endlessly, so decentralized that creating public transit to serve them is nearly impossible.  Rail systems are orders of magnitude more efficient, and well-run rail liberates the working classes from being slaves to car debt, so...yeah.  No rail for America.

We have no choice but to drive oversized SUVs, because our culture demands it.  Our entire system is maximally inefficient, because efficiency is the enemy of profit.  That manifests in the way that electric cars express themselves into our society.  American EVs are large, stuffed with doodads and gegaws and luxuries.  Because they are large, they have large batteries, because to move a big vehicle requires more energy.

Take, for example, the electrified version of America's bestselling vehicle: the Ford F-150.  It's a full-sized pickup truck, and the EV version...the Lightning...weighs in at well over three tons, four if loaded.  It's blisteringly fast, at four and a half seconds to sixty.  

To move all that mass that quickly requires a nearly 100 Kwh battery at a minimum.  It costs, modestly equipped, just over sixty thousand dollars.  On a sixty month loan, and at current interest rates, that's gonna run you just under a thousand dollars a month assuming a $10,000 downpayment.

As a counterpoint, let's look at the electrified version of Japan's bestselling vehicle: the Honda NBox/NVan.

It's a tiny little box of a thing, being a kei car, the twee little Japanese runabouts that are ideally suited for urban and suburban driving.  The ICE engines are limited to 660cc and under 70 horsepower, which means they ain't fast.  Think Volkswagen Beetle levels of acceleration.  But they fit a family of four in comfort in their passenger vehicle edition, and in commercial applications, can carry a remarkably amount of stuff.  They are highway capable, in that they'll putter along at 65 mph.  Just don't push 'em much faster.  The NBox/NVan does all of those things, while sipping gas at the rate of 55-60 mpg.

The first electrified version will be the commercial NVan, which is perfect for delivery duties in a suburban/urban setting.  It's spartan, focusing on utility rather than frippery.  It's got a wee little battery, and about 120 miles range.  

The expected price of the electrified  NVan: $7,300.  It costs less than a downpayment on a Lightning.  The passenger version, the electrified NBox, is likely to cost considerably more.  Fully equipped, an NBox runs around $18,000.  Let's assume you get the most expensive NBox.

A thirty six month loan at current interest rates, assuming a $3,000 downpayment, and your payments are six hundred dollars a month less than a Lightning.

That's not chump change, and you'd save it every month.  Plus, you'd be paid off two whole years sooner.

For Americans drowning in debt and unable to afford the overstuffed behemoths that pad the profit margins of vehicle manufacturers, these little cars would be lifesavers.  They'd get us to work.  They'd do everything we needed.

But Americans don't want small cars, and certainly not small EVs, because we are good obedient little debt slaves who have been trained to only desire what we cannot afford.  Small isn't safe, or so marketers tell the gullible American womenfolk.  What about the children?  Small isn't powerful, or so marketers tell the insecure overweight American menfolk.  You'll look impotent!

That, and the American auto industry years ago paid off Congress to pass a law that banned these little cars from our shores.  We're not allowed to buy them.

Not that we notice, because we've been bamboozled into a place where what we need and what we desire are so very, very different.