Tesla Grills

I’ve just read an interesting response by Elon Musk of Tesla to the most recent attempt at negative publicity over the Tesla Model S electric car.

I’ve noted with interest the media’s tendency to try to undermine the emergence of electric cars. Nothing surprising there – the media generally concentrate on negative stories. In recent days, I’ve seen them turn their attention to three reported Tesla fires (all of which involved collisions and none of which resulted in serious injury).

What’s going on here? Whilst I don’t ‘do’ conspiracy theories, it’s interesting that the matter of three fires, none of which caused serious injury or death, should attract such widespread media attention against a backdrop of 250,000 petrol car fires in the same period in the USA alone, which led to 1200 serious injuries and over 400 deaths (see linked article above for sources).

Sure, there’s the natural ‘rite of passage’ love of a powerful engine sound and the machismo which fuels the success of the petrol-head attitude on display on Top Gear. I’m sure the fact that Top Gear’s live events are sponsored by Shell would have little bearing on their attitude towards electric cars. OK, I’m being facetious.

Actually, putting aside any such idea of conspiracy and oil company influence, in the case of Top Gear, we may just be dealing with three middle-aged blokes who like the sound, smell, and look of vehicles which are still fundamentally based on early 20th century technology. Their gleeful bashing of electric cars (hideously expensive hydrogen fuel cell Honda Clarity aside) is just a bit of an act. I enjoy Top Gear just as much as most people as a form of entertainment, and I can even put up with their mocking of electric cars, as strange as it is.

But it goes beyond that. There is almost widespread public ridicule about electric cars and any supposed flaws around electric cars appear to be met with glee. Why is this? If the oil companies are controlling the narrative, how are they doing it? I can see how they might feasibly be stuffing large wads of cash into the pockets of politicians and decision-makers, but in terms of controlling the public narrative, which seems very cynical about electric cars… I don’t get it.

I’ve read enough discussions around the Web to know that I’m not imagining this prevalent public cynicism towards electric cars. The majority of comments I read spread myths about electric cars, which have been repeated uncritically and on the basis of misinformation.

Even when they do concede that the days of the internal combustion engine may be numbered, they still seem to suggest that the next logical step would be hydrogen fuel cells – a ludicrous suggestion, although one which oil companies have a vested interest in promoting, because any realistic commercial production of hydrogen requires their involvement in producing the hydrogen (through fossil fuels) and allows them to maintain their grip on the motorist through their network of filling stations. Then there’s the matter of transporting the hydrogen to the pump, the costs and environmental impact of having to do this, the engineering tolerances and physical space required to safely transport hydrogen in the average car versus the not so complicated task of creating a network of fuelling points for battery cars through, erm… the national grid – and being able to refuel one’s car overnight at home – or even during the day, free of charge, through solar PV for example.

No, it strikes me that whatever happens in the short to medium term, the long-term future of vehicles is that they will certainly be powered by batteries, not hydrogen.

By all means, we can ignore that future for now and continue to mock, but we need only consider the current cost of oil, its increasing scarcity, and its usefulness and importance in other industrial processes, to see where things are headed. After all, regardless of where you stand on environmental issues, it takes a strange mind-set to believe that burning an increasingly scarce but useful resource is a sensible thing to do; that’s before we get to into the geopolitical aspects of our requirement for the black stuff.

At the same time, batteries, which are used in all manner of goods, are certain to become more efficient, smaller in form, and longer-lasting, due to both their ubiquitous nature and competition between manufacturers.

Existing electric cars suit 90% of people’s requirements today in terms of daily mileage. The only issue for most people is the current cost of them. I suspect we’ll start to see large uptake of them very soon as the first wave of family cars start to hit the second-hand market.

Elon Musk (and other pioneers like him) are on a mission which goes beyond their own vehicles. Musk doesn’t just want his brand to be a success – he wants electric cars to be a success, and has stated so on several occasions. He won’t be dissuaded from this goal by negative media campaigns, but it would certainly be refreshing if electric cars weren’t held up to a level of scrutiny which goes well beyond that applied to conventional ICE cars.