There are not many electric cars or plug-in hybrids on the road but there may be a good reason for that. Past the sticker shock and into the driver’s seat, summer road trippers wanting to take advantage of their fuel-saving vehicles are having a hard time going very far. Other than in California and the Northwest, plug-in stations are hard to find. One car manufacturer is doing something about it.
“It is very important to address this issue of long-distance travel,” said Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in a Mercury News article. “When people buy a car, they’re also buying a sense of freedom, the ability to go anywhere they want and not feel fettered.” Musk has a road trip of his own planned for this summer, driving his kids across the country.
Tesla wants their premium electric vehicles to be driven coast to coast and is rolling out a rapid-charging network for its electric cars, tripling the number of stations they now have. That will allow drivers to travel to New York from Los Angeles. Not that a lack of charging stations should keep those cars from making the trip; it will just take longer. Rapid charging stations fuel their cars in about an hour. Plugging into ordinary current requires an overnight charge.Tesla’s plan will add more stations every 80 to 100 miles on heavily used routes such as the corridor between New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. They also hope to improve the technology used for charging so their Model S cars will get three hours of driving time from only 20 minutes of charging. They will eventually install 100 of the stations along U.S. and Canadian highways.
Thinking of an electric car? In this video, a recent Consumer Reports test of Tesla’s Model S brought surprisingly good results:
For decades the Land Rover has been an iconic part of the classic African safari. The four-wheel drive vehicles were once the only way to travel through the rugged countryside while following the massive herds of wild animals that inhabit that continent. Soon, an electric version of the Land Rover Defender may be available, allowing for an even more eco-friendly approach to spotting animals.
At the 2011 INDABA Travel and Tourism show, which ended yesterday in South Africa, Axeon, a company that specializes in lithium-ion batteries, unveiled a concept vehicle which was co-developed with Jaguar Land Rover South Africa. That vehicle had its usual 2.4 liter diesel engine replaced with a drive system powered by an Axeon’s high-capacity battery that is designed to perform in extreme conditions and in rugged environments. Axeon says that its testing shows that the electric Land Rover does very well in those conditions, while still having three times the range of a typical game drive.
Of course, the most exciting thing about this prototype is that it has zero emissions. The standard LR Defender spews out 295 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, which makes it a less than stellar performer in terms of being ecologically friendly. Considering that it is often used in some of the more spectacular, yet fragile, environments on the planet, only adds to the concern. Axeon’s model is completely carbon neutral however, which heightens its appeal amongst tour operators across Africa, many of which specialize in the ecotourism trade.
The electric Defender has an additional side benefit for travelers as well. It is completely silent, which means that it doesn’t disturb the animals on safari either. While going through a series of rigorous tests at the Land Rover Gerotek proving grounds, the battery powered version was able to consistently get closer to the wildlife than the traditional model powered by a combustion engine, something that will probably be highlighted in the travel brochures of early adopters.
While the electric land rover has been well received by tour operators, it may yet be some time before we see them in the field. Still, it is nice to envision a day in the not too distant future when travelers can take a safari that has no impact on the environments they are visiting, protecting the natural resources there for future generations to enjoy as well.
In the video clip above, you’ll see a scene I have always dreaded when I walk through an airport terminal – about 35 seconds into the clip, an electric airport cart slams into passengers. What caused the crash is something that should have been prevented – the driver picked up a passenger, and that passenger placed her suitcase on top of the accelerator pedal.
Before the driver even had a chance to warn others, he had been thrown off the cart and ended up underneath it. It took seven passengers to lift the cart off the driver. Four passengers ended up in the hospital, but none were seriously injured.
According to ABC News, there have been 19 other incidents involving electric carts at Bush Intercontinental alone – and that is in just three years. I understand the need for an airport transportation method that can aid the elderly or disabled – but these carts can pick up quite a bit of speed, and any time you combine a very heavy and fast moving vehicle around crowds, something is bound to go wrong. I’d prefer that the carts only be allowed in the terminal during off-peak hours, and that airlines only use wheelchairs during peak hours. Then again, I’ve sometimes been picked up at the lounge by a cart for a speedy trip to the gate, and I didn’t mind that one bit…
There is a plan underway to create a network of several stations where cars totally powered by batteries could be recharged. Batteries could also be “swapped” out at recharging stations if a car owner is in hurry. The idea behind this plan is that with more stations and a quicker method for recharging, people will be more drawn to using electric cars.
According to this New York Times article, the reason Hawaii is being considered for such a venture is because it has favorable conditions for a positive outcome. Fuel costs are generally high in an island economy which makes transportation alternatives alluring. Also, people in Hawaii don’t normally drive more than 100 miles at a time which is less than the distance that the newer electric car currently under construction will be able to go.
This all electric car will be ready for the mass market in 2012. Between bicycle sharing and renting electric cars, Hawaii’s tourists might be less concerned about their carbon footprints.
The photo by McPig is of an electric car being recharged in Italy. The difference between what is currently being used in various parts of the world, and the system proposed for Hawaii is that Hawaii’s network will be on a much larger scale and will be more efficient and effective. That’s my understanding from what I’ve read.
The bike sharing program in Paris known as Vélib has been so popular that the city’s mayor is considering launching the same version with electric cars. Just like its sister cycle program, with Autolib a driver could pick up a car on the Left Bank, cruise the Champs Elysées and return it a couple of hours later with enough money left over for a pain au chocolat.
There is some debate regarding the program, which would launch in late 2009 or early 2010 with a fleet of 4,000 cars. Some — motivated by high gas prices and the parking nightmare — love it. Others are less excited, holding that it would lead to more car dependence in a city already packed with vehicles.
Judging by the craziness of Parisian traffic, I would personally stick with the bicycles. Take the metro or a nice stroll and save yourself some stress; leave that to the Parisians.