The Difference Between A Car Enthusiast And An EV Fanboy…

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Ferrari has decided to stick with internal combustion engines rather than join the crowd.  The famed Italian supercar manufacturer is known for its shrieking V8 and V10 engines.  And, despite government pressure, will not force electric drivetrains onto their customers.  The sound is, after all, a big part of what makes them a Ferrari.

Under the article, there was a comment “a Ferrari that doesn’t win races isn’t a Ferrari” and went on to suggest that the tune would change “when their $600,000 works of art start getting blown away by an electric minivan full of kids, driven by a soccer mom sipping a latte and talking to her mom about her test results, and towing two jet skis.”

If owning a Ferrari was about winning illegal drag races, redlight to redlight, this is a valid point.  Obviously, being formidably fast is part of the supercar equation and electric does have a significant torque advantage right off the line.  Nobody who spent half a million on a vehicle wants to be dusted by a minivan full of kids.

The van was faster and legend is, in the book of Things That Never Happened, the guy with the McLaren traded it for the modded Honda.

However, the problem with this argument is that there are already muscle cars that will beat a Ferrari in a straight-line race.  And many mundane cars can be modified or tuned to at least give a supercar a run for their money.  But that’s not the point.  Nobody is going to trade their F50 for a Civic with a big turbocharger.  Why is that?

First of all, what it takes to win a drag race is completely different from being competitive in the 24 hours of LeMans.  

Currently, there is no EV in the world that has the kind of endurance to go full bore (or coil) for as long as a real track car.  The Tesla P100DL can only last a lap and a half before it must be pitted due to the batteries overheating.  But the main problem is simply that batteries do not store enough energy and take far too long to recharge to be viable in competition.

The huge advantage of petroleum is energy density.  This means both extended range and also lightweight.  This translates to better driving dynamics, and less demand (or wear) on brakes and tires, which is key to winning races.

And there is no magic wand that will solve these massive drawbacks of EVs either.  It’s just how the chemistry and physics work out.

Secondly, most people who drive a Ferrari aren’t racing them nor do they need to own the fastest car on the road.  They own the car for the same reason that a person buys a painting rather than a photograph.  Sure, the image a cell phone can produce is much more realistic than the artwork, but arguing that this makes a van Gogh worthless is silliness.  

Or, more to the point, a true aviation enthusiast isn’t going to turn down a ride in a P-51 Mustang arguing that commercial airliners are fast or that the jet engine made that V12 Merlin obsolete.  Sure, the car may have replaced the horse, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who enjoys these beautiful animals is Amish or a Luddite.  No, rather they enjoy the experience of riding a horse, being near something with a personality, breathing and majestic.

A pure driving experience is not about only the performance stats on paper.  No, it is about way more than that.  It is about how it feels.

There’s a reason why Mazda Miatas are a favorite and it had nothing to do with being able to blow the doors off all comers.  It was about those intangibles.  A combination of size and handling makes a driver’s car.

My Shelby GT-350 isn’t the fastest Mustang on the road.  The manual transmission makes it slower than it could be with the latest automatics.  But there is just something glorious about the whole experience that was not matched during my test drive of a similarly powered Mustang Mach-E. 

Sure, EV fanboys may only care about the 0-60 numbers.  But, if that’s all it is about, then why not buy the theoretical future EV minivan that accelerates like a top fuel dragster while pulling jet skis?  It’s much more practical than a Ferrari.  Why pay a premium for a less capable vehicle?

A car enthusiast knows the answer. They know why the old guy in the neighborhood putters around in their Model T Ford and they also understand why someone restores a vintage Porsche that’s not even a match for a family sedan. 

There’s no way to rank fine art.  It is all subjective, finesse and balance, what does it for you, those who want to turn everything into some kind of adolescent tool measuring contest don’t get it—they never will.

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Tesla’s Uphill Battle in the Trucking Industry…

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There is no question that Elon Musk has changed the conversation as far as electric vehicles.  Musk, unlike his predecessors, focused on building an image of luxury and performance.

Electric powered vehicles, until the Tesla Model S arrived as an option, were boring, slow and impractical.  Now, while Musk’s cars still remain impractical for most people (both in terms of range and price) and while it remains to be seen whether or not his company could survive without corporate welfare, Tesla has at least undone some of the negative image of electric vehicles.

Tesla seems to be taking one more step in the direction of practicality with the introduction of commercial vehicle.  Semi, this latest opportunity for Musk to attract media attention, reminds me of something I would’ve drawn up in a middle school daydream: It has a sleek exterior, it is loaded up with LCD screens, it promises to perform at a level one would expect from a sports car, it is priced similar to other Class 8 trucks, and yet also makes me question if any experienced truck drivers were consulted in the design process…

Sure, middle school me would be salivating over this technological wonder.  However now, as one having had years of experience behind the wheel of a big rig, the center seating position, glare of screens, wheel fenders and charging times make it totally unappealing to me.

The ergonomic and design issues, obvious from a driver’s perspective, are covered in another former trucker’s article (click here if you want to know more about them) but there are more serious matters and practical concerns yet to be addressed.  Acceleration numbers and having the fastest truck on the road might increase coolness factor, but it might also leave all of your cargo on the road (or like the unmitigated disaster recalled unfondly from my days unloading trucks at the paint store) and distracts from questions of actual viability in the real world.

To many the promised 300-500 mile range and 30 minute recharging may seem wonderful. But, from a trucking industry standard, it is truly abysmal and completely impractical.  The range of an over-the-road diesel truck, with 250 gallons of fuel, is anywhere from 1000 to 2000 miles and it only takes fifteen minutes every other day to refill the tanks—multiple extra stops per day is intolerable given the current hours of service requirements.  

And, that’s assuming good conditions, what happens in cold weather when battery capacity is reduced by 40-50% like owners of other Telsa products have experienced?

It is no big secret that fossil fuels carry a greater amount of energy per pound than the alternatives currently available. This energy density is especially important in commercial trucking where every ounce of extra weight takes away from payload.  Batteries with the range Telsa has promised will certainly be very heavy and that will be a huge competive disadvantage.  It means you might need an additional Tesla truck to do what one diesel truck does—which wipes out any illusion of energy savings and cost effectiveness.

Then there is the question of longevity and servicing the truck.  It could very well be that the Tesla Semi will be completely reliable and go a million miles like a diesel truck.  But, even assuming that is the case, what sort of maintenance program and roadside assistance will they offer when things do inevitably go wrong?  Service infrastructure is a more significant in commercial trucking than it is in general.  Diesels are relatively easy to work on and the network is already established—those are questions that must be answered.

My own back-of-the-napkin analysis, based in what has already been said and can be reasonably assumed, is that this new Tesla offering will have the same liabilities of other battery electric vehicles except on a far larger scale.  The question of Tesla being the future of trucking (or is simply a niché vehicle for those who can afford the unavoidable range and weight disadvantages, as well as potential maintenance issues) is not answered.

Trucking companies, unlike wealthy luxury car buyers aided by government subsidies, need to be profitable and competive to survive.

What do my trucker friends think?