I’ve wondered why every single hybrid or fully-electric vehicle except the Tesla is hideously ugly. Think about it. Toyota’s Prius. Nissan’s Leaf. Chevy’s Volt or Bolt. BMW’s i3. Ford’s C-Max. I had never heard of a C-Max until someone from General Electric was issued one as a company car. She hated it and now drives a Camry. I was curious why the C-Max model was suspiciously missing from all of Ford’s mass media advertising, until I actually saw one. I wouldn’t advertise a jacked-up mini-station wagon either. It almost seems as if there’s a – forgive me if I dare say it – conspiracy by the major automobile manufacturers to produce unstylish vehicles to dissuade consumer purchases.
But why the lame designs? Is there something about aerodynamics that needs to be different for electrically-propelled vehicles which mandates strangely shaped rear ends? Apparently not, because the C-Max electric-hybrid (it has a gas engine for battery charging, like Chevrolet’s Volt) looks like any other small bubble-shaped mini-SUV. After speaking with my friendly neighborhood aeronautics engineering bros on Florida’s Space Coast – a very strange and boring area filled with real, live rocket scientists – aerodynamics is apparently not the case. Most of today’s vehicles have incorporated aerodynamic designs to save fuel, whether drivetrains are electric or gasoline.
Perhaps it’s the configuration of the drivetrain, or maybe the battery storage or cooling requirements that forced the odd look. If that were the case, how did Elon Musk and Tesla make a beautiful vehicle (with the longest electric range) that compares with any of the leading luxury brands? Is Musk simply smarter than any of the thousands of engineering teams who work for the large automobile manufacturers? It seems there’s no material difference in the look or design of the chassis. So why hasn’t General Motors put an electric Volt drivetrain in a Camaro? Can you imagine how many electric Camaros might fly out of showrooms?
Automobile manufactures may be pushing slow rollouts for two reasons. First, there is a psychological condition known as range or mileage anxiety, the fear an average consumer might have that their electric vehicle will not have enough power to complete a commute. Apparently, it’s better to have range anxiety in an ugly vehicle. Secondly, battery technology is still in its infancy. Lithium-ion batteries are heavy, expensive, and temperamental. They don’t work well in heat, and we’re really not sure what they’ll do in various types of accidents.
I began to look a little deeper into this situation. Oil companies stand to lose the most from a transition from oil to electric automobiles. Obviously, electric cars don’t require gasoline unless they have generators built in, like the Volt. But they don’t require oil changes either, which would put a big dent in oil revenues. Ironically, automobiles began with electric engines in the late 19th century, but were switched when oil provided more power and longer ranges. For years, big oil and automobile manufacturers have had a symbiotic relationship, especially in research and development. But things are beginning to change, according to a Huffington Post report, and big oil is worried. A new group plans to spend $10 million dollars per year to boost petroleum-based transportation fuels and attack government subsidies for electric vehicles. Koch Industries, the nation’s second-largest privately held corporation, is an energy and industrial conglomerate with $115 billion in annual revenues that is controlled by multibillionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. James Mahoney, a confidante of the brothers and member of their company’s board, has teamed up with lobbyist Charlie Drevna, who until last year helmed the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, for preliminary talks with several energy giants about funding the new pro-petroleum fuels group.
In a strange twist of fate, global oil prices have fallen dramatically as the threat of electric vehicles looms. Even so, if you pay $2 a gallon for gasoline, a 25-mpg gas car needs $8 in fuel every 100 miles. An electric car uses as little as a single dollar or two in electricity to cover that same 100 miles, depending on your local rate per kilowatt-hour. Factoring those savings over a year, and an average driver might save over $350 in fuel charges. That’s not a fortune with low gas prices, but there are other benefits. Consider the cumulative hours you’ll save driving to and fueling up at a gas station, along with the risk of being robbed or carjacked while your defenses are down, potential credit card fraud, or boogers (or worse) on gas pump handles. Ewww. And what about the additional calories taken in from junk food purchased at convenience stores while fueling up? Let’s not forget the main benefit – the reduction in the tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants emitted from burning fossil fuels.
Tesla’s Model S is a gorgeous fully-electric automobile. It’s no slouch in the performance department, either. You can drive carelessly and illegally while accelerating from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds while enjoying a top speed of 155 MPH while outrunning your local law enforcement officers on your favorite Interstate highway. Range anxiety? Puh-lease. A range of 270 miles between full charges will get you virtually anywhere you’ll need to go. And a plethora of Tesla charging stations is appearing nationwide. There’s actually one about a mile from my office for the three or four Teslas in my county. I considered leasing one, but the lease payment on a $120,000 vehicle is slightly beyond my comfort range. A $350 annual fuel savings wouldn’t dent a single monthly payment.
If Tesla can make a pretty electric vehicle, why are the rest of us stuck with cars like the tiny, ugly, underperforming i3 or Leaf and its paltry 100 mile range? I hoped Chevy would come to the rescue with its upcoming Bolt. But it too looks like a jacked-up Prius on cheap crack. Fortunately, it’s range is supposedly in the 200 mile neighborhood, which will hopefully open the doors for my electric Camaro. Or better yet, a DeLorean. Staying tuned.