Tesla Model S: Best Damn Car Ever?

August 22, 2013

I was walking into my local Kroger store the other night, and, well, funny thing.
I’m not a car guy. Never have been. I hardly know one make from another, and don’t care a whole lot.
But I’m walking in the store, and I feel this, like, magnetic pull,…from this gleaming, jewel like, black thing in the parking space next to mine.. that makes me swing around like I’m pulled by strange tractor beam.  Stop. And look, and stare.
I’m thinking..
What is that? BMW? Infiniti? Lexus?

Nope. It’s a Tesla. And Dayuum – that is some kinda beautiful machine. All sleek, and black, and shiny, and polished, and curvy, and sleek, and well, just..wow.

So I go in and buy some fruit and hummus. And on the way out, I see this tall, distinguished looking gent approach the car and beep it with his keys.

“How do you like your Tesla?” says I.
He cracked a huge smile.

“It does exactly what they say it does. I’ve been to Detroit and back, Grand Rapids and back, with no recharge. I love it.”

Sorry Fox News. Electric and Hybrid Cars are taking over.

NYTimes:

In a welcome development for the planet, the cars on American streets are becoming much more climate-friendly much sooner than many had expected. Consumers are increasingly buying fuel-efficient hybrid and electric vehicles thanks to breakthrough innovations and supportive government policies.

The transportation sector accountsfor 28 percent of American greenhouse gas emissions, the most after power plants. Reducing those emissions will require many changes, including greater use of public transit. More efficient cars will almost certainly play a critical role, too; increased fuel efficiency helped reducecarbon dioxide emissions from passengers cars by 16 percent from 2005 to 2012.

Automakers sold more than 350,000 hybrid and electric cars in the first seven months of this year, up 30 percent from the same period in 2012. While these vehicles make up less than 4 percent of light vehicle sales, hybrids, which use electric motors and conventional engines, are now so mainstream that there are more than 40 models available. The most popular one, the Toyota Prius, is among the 10 best-sellingpassenger cars in the country.

Fully electric cars are still a niche product bought mostly by affluent drivers. But sales of even these vehicles have been growing fast, thanks in part to federal and state tax rebates. Among the best selling of these cars is the luxurious Model S produced by Tesla Motors, which has been so successful that companies like BMW and Cadillac are also rushing to bring out high-end electric cars.

Federal policy has been an important driver. The 2010 mandate requiring a doubling of new-car average fuel economy by 2025 has pushed industry to accelerate the development of more efficient cars. So has the Obama administration’s program, much maligned by Republicans, of loan guarantees to renewable energy and electric-car companies. Despite a few regrettable failures, the government’s $36 billion loan portfolio has suffered losses of just 2 percent; in May, Tesla paid off its $465 million loan nine years ahead of schedule.

Hybrid and electric cars still have a long way to go. That they have come this far shows that timely regulation, targeted assistance and government-private sector cooperation can pay big dividends for industry and the environment.

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86 Responses to “Tesla Model S: Best Damn Car Ever?”


  1. Good point jcl64. I often wonder how accurate LCAs are. The subject is complex. LCAs must also assume auto construction is done with a mix of energy sources. The electric energy source during charging is only part of the picture. As you say, extracting and shipping, refining, and transporting the oil is part of the picture. Tar sands generated gasoline is a much worse GHG contributor. Meanwhile, an EV powered from the amount of electricity used to refine one gallon of gasoline, could travel the same distance as the ICE using the one gallon of gasoline. Clearly, on the fuel side of the equation, EVs win hands down. The discussion has missed that point. Its only in the assembly and construction phases that current EVs have higher GHGs than conventional ICE. Studies of LCA now are ignoring the fact that the EV industry is in its infancy and has not achieved the full benefit of years of optimization in assembly of chassis, motor, and battery pack. At such time, the EV assembly will have closer to the same amount of GHGs as the present ICE auto. At that point, and with increasingly dirty fossil fuel, there will no longer be any debate. Fact is, right now, only high mpg hybrids, and a few high mpg ICE can compete in lowest GHGs with EVs in the a few of the dirtiest of coal generated electric generation states.


  2. I think one reader of the study Nick Carter referenced summed it up nicely

    http://e360.yale.edu/feature/why_pushing_alternative_fuels_makes_bad_public_policy/2682/

    Key point missing from this article is the increasing carbon intensity of fuels, with unconventionals such as tar sands coming on. They can be around 20\% more carbon intensive than standard petroleum. So even an ethanol that may not be much better than gasoline from conventional oil is substantially better than tar sands.

    John is right that a cleaner grid is key to unlocking EV carbon reductions. We’re already there in part of the us. “In 11 states (Washington, Oregon, Connecticut, Idaho,Vermont, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, South Carolina, California, and South Dakota), the best electrics are better for the climate than any gasoline car even when manufacturing is included.” http://www.climatecentral.org/news/a-roadmap-to-climate-friendly-cars-2013-16318

    The either-or of this article is not helpful. We need a both-and strategy, and allocation of resources equal to the scale of the problem. It’s not efficiency or clean fuels – it’s both.

    I say lets have EVs, bikes, public transport and a cleaner, smarter grid powered by clean renewable sources like wind, solar with distributed local generation that puts power back in the hands of those that use it both economically and politically.


  3. Here is the skinny on the Climate Central Report and why it overestimates the GHGs from EVs. Given the criticism of the report, we are back to EVs produce less GHGs regardless.

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/a-roadmap-to-climate-friendly-cars-2013-16318

    Again, a good commenter:
    It’s good to see a more detailed analysis of indirect CO2 emissions from EVs instead of using the simplistic US Average. Though ClimateCentral.org touts peer-reviewed scientists, it appears this report was not peer reviewed.

    One major problem is reliance on a single source (the Hawkins paper) for estimates of EV manufacturing emissions, in turn based on another single source from the same institution. The numbers in Hawkins and extrapolated by this ClimateCentral report do not seem credible, and there was little discussion of alternative estimates of EV manufacturing. Even the Hawkins paper mentions their estimate of 22 kg-CO2/kg-battery is more than other estimates of 6 and 9.6. The Hawkins paper assumes a motor twice as heavy as an actual Leaf motor in estimating copper and aluminum smelting CO2. Likewise, other parts of the EV power train and charging seem to have unrealistic assumptions for CO2. With some difficulty, I followed the chain of references in composing the estimates for EV manufacturing CO2 and found them to be unrealistic. The errors are compounded by making assumptions based on scaled curb weight.

    A better source of CO2 from battery manufacturing is Plugging in some actual numbers for the LiMn2O4 Leaf battery (it is not LiFePO4), the 1521 kg-CO2/leaf-battery in the EPA report (with better sourced data from manufacturers) doesn’t match the ClimateCentral calculated 5224kg. EV CO2 emissions in the ClimateCentral report appear to be about 3-4 times higher than more credible sources for an emissions model.

    The ClimateCentral report assumes the life of an EV to be 50K miles and sometimes 100K, rather than a more realistic 150/200K. Choosing 50K miles has an appearance of a bias in the author to prove EVs as bad for the environment. So the per-mile CO2 of battery should be another factor of 3 less, meaning the EV CO2 emissions from the battery are likely to be an order of magnitude off.

    Even with the apparently pessimistic assumptions on car lifetimes and CO2 of battery manufacture, a look at the uncertainty in the model (which wasn’t done) would show that the error in estimates of CO2 is much larger than the differences in (short) lifetime emissions between a Prius and Leaf in states with emissions near the US average. So the moral should be that even including pessimistic assumptions on manufacturing-related CO2, the amount of CO2 emission is comparable to petroleum-hybrids for most states currently with substantial coal-based electricity, and states with cleaner energy have even lower CO2 emissions. Besides CO2, there are other good reasons to substitute home-made electricity for imported oil.

    Also mentioned above is the ClimateCentral report’s analysis of the change in CO2/kWh across the US between 2010 and 2012 and future implications. The lifetime comparison of EV vs hybrid assume states will stay at the 2012 emissions level rather than improve. So if I go to the dealer today and want to compare lifetime CO2 of a Leaf and Prius, I need to make some assumptions on the future CO2 intensity of electricity. Using a more realistic 10year 150K car lifetime, I should use CO2 electric estimates around 2018 not 2012. If CO2 reductions continue as noted between 2010-2012, the results shown in the ClimateCentral report will be quite different (more favorable to EVs).

    There is also an issue of assessing past sins in subsidized coal generation to new uses of electricity. If we compare new uses for electricity and new generation, the incremental change makes EVs more favorable. Wind energy is currently the least-cost new generation technology, and the most common new form of generation last year (see other GTM articles). EV buyers often support renewable energy, e.g. by installing solar panels with comparable generation capacity as their EV. So the CO2 from marginal electricity is different than the per-capita statewide average.

    Sadly, anti-environmentalists will quote this report as proof that EVs are bad for the environment, not bothering to even read it. The real message is that as we move to a cleaner electric generation grid, the benefits of EVs become even greater and apply to states with higher current CO2 emissions. Life-cycle emissions including manufacturing is important for EV technology, and we should focus on reducing manufacturing emissions as well as cost in battery manufacturing. More detailed (and actual) calculations are needed to determine a credible evaluation of manufacturing-related emission comparison between EV and hybrid cars.

    Right now the nice-looking graphs in the report have a margin of error that would make any picture meaningless when including manufacturing-related emissions, besides being wrong (overly pessimistic).

    The heading should be “Greener Grid to Reap Benefits of Electric Cars”—the word Needed is wrong in most cases in the figures above.

    • jimbills Says:

      EVs are bad for the environment. They are better than the average gas-powered car today, but that’s a relative term. It’s like saying one psychopath is better because he only killed 4 people when the other psychopath killed 16 people.

      I used this analogy earlier, and I’ll repeat it again, because it’s important:

      “Take a tub. Fill it with full glasses of water to about the midway point. Now, have more people pouring water to illustrate a growing economy. It’s going to fill twice as fast. Now, reduce the water poured by each person to half a glass to illustrate efficiency measures and technological innovations. But the tub is still getting filled, and if the number of people doubles again it’s getting filled rather quickly.

      Or, figure out how to not pour any water AT ALL. We can’t handle that, though, because it won’t grow our economy, it won’t let us each show off our shiny new things, and it’ll require personal sacrifice from us all. But if we don’t, that tub still gets filled – and rather quickly.”

      We want to believe we can have our cake and eat it, too. EVs give us this illusion. They’re an improvement, emissions-wise, over most to all gas-powered cars – but as the grid stands now they are only a minor improvement. We should be focusing on using far less energy – not the same amount of energy. Even using slightly less energy than we currently do now leads to the same +2 degrees Celsius projections we’re facing.

      • MorinMoss Says:

        See my previous comment about the up & coming nations – they’re not satisfied with using far less energy and will take the 16-psychopath route without an alternative.

        What’s your solution for them?

        • jimbills Says:

          We don’t, and shouldn’t, control them. What they do is up to them. What we do is up to us.

          • jimbills Says:

            And I generally don’t see the Nigerians leapfrogging to $50K EVs over $5K used compact cars. And their emissions won’t be much higher from doing so.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            Seriously!??

          • MorinMoss Says:

            Alright, then. Let’s inject some more math into the discussion. And I’ll be borrowing your bathtub (analogy).

            (Most of these numbers come from Wikipedia, World Bank Indicators and Google Public Data Explorer and IndexMundi. Accuracy is a bit skewed as some numbers are from 2008, others somewhat more recent and some are rounded off)

            Energy consumption per capita in kWh ( this is TOTAL energy use, not just electricity )

            World avg – 21,250
            US & Canada – 84,000
            Euro-27 – 40,250 (Russia not included)
            China – 18,500
            Brazil – 17,000
            India – 6250

            Just to bring per-capita energy use to the global average would be a 15% rise for China, 25% for Brazil and 240% increase for India.

            So for those three countries to reach the world avg energy consumption would require:
            Country Population Chg in Energy use (Terawatt-hours)
            China 1,359,550,000 3,739
            India 1,210,200,000 18,153
            Brazil 199,000,000 846
            Total 2,768,750,000 22,738

            Let me reiterate that 22,738 terawatt-hours is only the INCREASE in consumption required for those 3 countries to reach the current world average.

            If we wanted to offset this increase by reducing the consumption in the US & Canada, what would that mean?
            With a combined population of 347 million, it’s 29,148 TWh total annual energy use so we’d be left with 6410 TWh so about 18,500 kWh per person – where China is at right now.
            The EIA reports that the avg American home uses 11,300 kWh annually so a lot of folks will have to make drastic changes to their living arrangements.

            I’ll leave it as an exercise to calculate the impact of raising the energy consumption of those countries to that of Spain or the UK.
            And if you want to be really depressed, do the math when all of Africa and the rest of South America is added in.
            Even if the offset is spread across us and Western Europe, it’s still a shocking change.

          • jimbills Says:

            “Seriously!??”

            I’m speaking from moral terms. The West does have great undue influence on the developing countries. We’re actively engaged in pumping them for all they are worth.

            But climate change is essentially a moral question. What do we choose to do about it? Will we accept less in order to give our descendants more? Or will we just pretend that the status quo, or the status quo with slight technological efficiencies, will give them the world they deserve?

            Each person, and each nation, has to decide this question for themselves.

          • jimbills Says:

            Numbers: what you are illustrating is that growth is, and always has been, our enemy.

            Believing in things like EVs is just an extension of belief in growth. It can’t, and absolutely won’t, last forever. We can choose to lower our consumption, or we can choose to have this forced upon us – not by governments, but by nature itself. And unfortunately, this will be forced on those generations after ours – not on our own selfish selves.

            I’d say the Chinese and Indian people were perfectly fine before they started this rapid economic growth. I’d say the Amish are perfectly fine today. I’d say we were fine before our own Industrial Revolution.

            But instead, we are choosing to use up as much as the Earth as we possibly can as quickly as we can. Much of this is for personal profit so that a few people get to have the resources to buy things like EVs.

            My solution is: use less. It’ll happen one way or another.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            I sincerely doubt we have the vision and the will to act in time.

            In the end, some sort of sequestration will be necessary

      • jimbills Says:

        And just looking at this realistically, will a population that moves seamlessly into EVs from gas-powered cars be willing to cut their driving miles with bikes and walking and mass transport? Wouldn’t they be exactly the same as we are now?

        Adding EVs onto the grid will cause electrical demand to rise, which will offset the gains we make in replacing fossil fuels with renewables. The road is hard enough with just 1:1 replacement. Adding growth to the system makes it much more difficult. We’ll have to keep increasing our coal and natural gas usage that much more.

        Here’s what we’re most likely facing with oil – increased prices. Increasing the price of oil WILL cause us to reduce our oil demand. We’ll start to figure out how to reduce our travel miles – and this is happening already. As a result, emissions are and will go down.

        If we replace the fleet from oil to electricity, we’ll just be shifting the problem.

        Here’s another analogy:

        Say someone cares about the environment and they want to reduce their emissions, so they go out and buy an EV. To them, travel will be virtually guilt free. Their daily costs will also be lower, so they’ll feel it’s close to economically free, too. Not using a $40K to $80K car will feel like a waste. They’ll be happy to drive as much as they can.

        Let’s take the same person with a compact gas-powered car or hybrid. They know their travel adds to emissions and they’ll have to pay more at the gas pump. Will their total driving miles likely be more or less than the person with the EV?

        Another issue with EVs is the travel radius. Most people who buy EVs these days have another gas-powered car, just in case. It basically doubles the production costs for their personal footprint:

        And finally, expensive items in our economy ripple into the system, requiring heavier energy and resource use. An item that costs $40K will require more labor and more resource use to create the money needed than an item that costs $10K.

        Or, just use less in the first place. A person who owns a compact car and figures out how to halve their travel miles will have lower emissions than if they had kept the same mileage with an EV, and they’d save several tens of thousands personally.

        I’m not saying we should stop making EVs. We’ll make them, anyway. But I’m saying they’re a distraction on the climate change front – they aren’t a real solution. At best they’ll cut our total emissions a few percent per year a decade from now. Cutting energy usage, building up mass transport options, and replacing the grid with renewables are our only real solutions – all of which we can do now, and all of which will have far greater effect than EVs.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          “Most people who buy EVs these days have another gas-powered car, just in case. It basically doubles the production costs for their personal footprint:”

          That ship sailed a long time ago in America. The link below mentions the average household in the USA owns 2.28 cars with 35% owning 3 OR MORE vehicles.

          http://www.autospies.com/news/Study-Finds-Americans-Own-2-28-Vehicles-Per-Household-26437/

          I’d say there a HUGE opportunity for EVs if they can bring the price down.
          If just 5% of the 3-or-more families replaced one auto with an EV, that would be more than 1.5 million new EVs sold.

          I’m down with more and better mass transit but cars are NOT going away anytime soon and there’s more to the equation than personal passenger vehicles.

          For as long as I’ve been interested in EVs, I’ve wanted to see taxis, light trucks, delivery vans and company fleets converted as quickly as possible.
          Converting those would have a greater +ve effect on air quality and would have a quicker payoff.

          I’m also hoping that some, perhaps the Sumitomo MSB, will be cheap, durable and power-dense enough to be used in heavier vehicles
          ( Sumitomo Technical Paper: http://global-sei.com/tr/pdf/feature/76-06.pdf )


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