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Monday, March 24, 2008

Left Coast

posted by on March 24 at 10:18 AM


According to, the future is the Pacific Seaboard.
Sadly, there’s a very long way to go to get to where we need to be now.

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Hybrids are expensive, clunky, stepping stone pieces of technology.

There was an AP story about a contest being held to design a 100 mpg car. This reminds me of a group of students in the 80s who actually DID design a 100 mpg combustible vehicle engine. And, of course, the Feds stepped in and silenced the project to protect auto manufacturers and the beloved oil industry. Had they not done so, this gasoline problem would've been solved 20 years ago.

Posted by Gomez | March 24, 2008 10:28 AM

I'm completely shocked that my home town, Phoenix makes the top 10. And this is not sarcasm.

Posted by Mike of Renton | March 24, 2008 10:28 AM

I heard a great piece on KEXP a couple of Saturday/Sunday mornings ago about California working out a deal with the private sector to develop hydrogen cars and fueling stations. According to the speaker, anything nearby could serve as the source for fuel - even waste water from LA could be used to fuel most of the city.

The dilemma seemed to be that you couldn't have the cars without fuel stations and vice versa and that's where the state was stepping in. It was pretty inspiring, and I'd certainly be interested in more info. Why not develop this up and down the left coast?

Posted by left coast | March 24, 2008 10:42 AM

Um, bullshit, Gomez. Lots and lots of people have designed 100 MPG (and more, much more) cars. There are competitions every year. None of them are suitable for commercial use, nor ever will be; they're more proofs of concept. No conspiracy theory is necessary to explain their absence from the roads. In actual fact, the car companies are busting their balls to design more efficient vehicles, not so much here as in other places where "the Feds" don't have a say.

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 10:43 AM

If everyone either converted their existing vehicle to a plug-in hybrid (biodiesel or not) that got 80-100 mpg (at least three firms exist that do this in King County alone, plus more in Snohomish and other counties) - or when they got their next car/truck/SUV bought one of the (last count) 4 models of plug-in hybrids for sale in the 2010 model year (fall 2009) - we could literally cut our fuel use and global warming emissions by ... FIVE.

Yup, met and exceeded the Kyoto accords, because an 80 percent cut in emissions (half of WA emissions are from transportation) means 40 percent cut in total greenhouse gas - and in POLLUTION overall.

And electricity costs between 1/10th and 1/20th as much as gas or diesel or biodiesel.


Not words.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 24, 2008 10:47 AM

I'm the happy owner of a 2007 Toyota Prius, and I take exception to Gomez' comment that its expensive, clunky, etc. Yes, it's more expensive than a comparable Corolla, but the gas savings each month more than cover the added monthly payment to the Credit Union.

Most of all, it's a perfected technology. It operates seamlessly, and virtually the same as a conventional car.

In fact, this purchase has provoked me to make a vow: I will never again buy a new car that's based on old technology. If I need a particular type of vehicle that isn't available with new technology (e.g. a minivan) I'll buy a used vehicle that meets my needs for that time.

Posted by Transit Voter | March 24, 2008 10:50 AM

And, no, I didn't count the diesels that get 80-100 mpg in the above number - at least one has been announced to be sold in the US as well as the EU by 2010 model year as well. And Fnarf can rail all he wants - it's happening - and it's happening NOW.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 24, 2008 10:52 AM

burning any fossil fuel, or biofuel, IS NOT "GREEN".

Posted by max solomon | March 24, 2008 10:55 AM

The incident from the 80's is not full of shit, Fnarf, but go ahead and insist so if you wish. Sloggers will believe you anyway because they love you and all.

Posted by Gomez | March 24, 2008 10:58 AM

I wish Charles would have mentioned that the car in his picture is the Aptera (, it will be available in either EV or hybrid, and they're *supposedly* making them right now. Though initially just for CA. And I want one more than I've ever wanted any material thing in my life. ~$35-40k.

I totally agree with Will in Seattle. Here's hoping the revolutionary car makers (Aptera, Tesla, maybe Toyota/Honda) realize the huge market that exists out there from folks like us.

Also, and I don't remember where I read this, but 60% of all hybrids are sold in CA and 20% in the rest of the west coast (the remaining 20% is the rest of the US.) West coast is the best coast!

Posted by Big Sven | March 24, 2008 10:59 AM

@5 Plug-ins are no good either. You're just offsetting the pollution to the power plant. Half of the power in the US is generated by coal, which creates far more emissions, including mercury, than gasoline. Here, of course, most of our electricity is hydro, but do we really want to be building more dams?

Also, you have to move around several hundred pounds of batteries, plus an electric motor, plus a gas engine. The current hybrid technology, plug-in or not, is still too messy and inefficient (and the embodied energy too high) to make it a viable alternative.

Posted by cmaceachen | March 24, 2008 11:01 AM

And of course connected engineers are going to say they're not practical. The domestic gasoline industry would collapse overnight if these were mass produced. Combustible engines can be easily engineered for practicality.

Posted by Gomez | March 24, 2008 11:02 AM

Hydrogen economy? Honda is building it, starting in Southern California. I still prefer EVs, but would be happy with a car that only produces water (you can crack the H2 from water using electricity from hydro, wind, tidal, etc.)

Gomez, forgive, but your story does reek of urban legend. Could you perhaps include a link to mollify the skeptics?

Posted by Big Sven | March 24, 2008 11:03 AM

cmaceachen@11, what is your solution?

Posted by Big Sven | March 24, 2008 11:05 AM

That Aptera pictured probably gets close to 100 mpg. The problem isn't that it can't be done. The problem is that for most people it's impractical. That car fits two people and a sack of groceries. Maybe it works as a commuter car for a single person. But if you have a family, it's out of the question. It won't work for going skiing, or a road trip to Vancouver BC with your buddies, etc.

Most people who want a car, want a bigger car that isn't so limiting. A bigger car means a heavier car, which means worse gas milage.

With gas heading toward $4 a gallon, I think we'll see more of these tiny cars that get spectacular milage. But there is a limited market for that kind of thing. Most people want something bigger. And if you think its possible to build a production car the size of an Accord that gets 100 mpg or better, you need a refresher on basic physics.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | March 24, 2008 11:12 AM
Posted by elenchos | March 24, 2008 11:16 AM

@14, I don't have one. I don't think there is one yet, aside from driving less and using mass transit more.

Also, carbon and global warming is not the only problem we face. Mercury, sulfur dioxide, batteries are all major environmental issues that will be increased with PHEV use. Perhaps some biofuel that burns cleaner, is easier to make than what's available now, and doesn't cut into current farmland use is the shorter term answer, with truly clean electricity production as a long term goal.

Posted by cmaceachen | March 24, 2008 11:27 AM

@13 The problem with hydrogen (from water) is it takes more energy to create than you get. So again, just offsetting the pollution to somewhere else, somewhere the consumer can't see it and therefore feels better about themselves.

Just call me Debbie Downer

Posted by cmaceachen | March 24, 2008 11:35 AM

@18, I'll call you a red herring. Every currently marketed form of energy requires energy (the tar sands being the most extreme example). What you cite is an advantage of hydrogen. First, it can be generated from renewable sources (sun, wind, tidal). Second, it can be generated from what is available locally (i.e. waste water) and that drastically cuts the amount of energy that is lost in transporting it to the user.

Posted by left coast | March 24, 2008 12:06 PM

cmacheachen, while you're right that plug-in hybrids use energy from power plants, you're ignoring the economies of scale from producing the energy that way. Energy savings are about 67% compared to gasoline-powered cars. (I don't have a link handy but I found one with a quick Google search a while back and the source was a credible study and not some pie-in-the-sky site.) 67% is almost enough to reach long-term GHG emissions targets for the transport part of the economy.

As for hydrogen, it's nothing more than a storage medium and like any storage medium energy is lost during the storage process. However, hydrogen does have a potential role in storing excess energy from renewable energy sources that produce energy in off-peak hours. It will never be a viable way to fuel all cars but it certainly could fill part of the demand. I actually think hydrogen makes more sense for home-based hydrogen fuel cells rather than vehicle fuel cells, because it's a lot easier to place a large and leaky storage unit in a fixed position and produce energy intermittently than it is to use it as the main power plant for a vehicle.

In the end, we need conservation and a change to more compact development patterns so that people can travel for its own sake rather than be forced into long commutes. But that doesn't mean that the technological solutions that help us make the transition are worthless.

Posted by Cascadian | March 24, 2008 12:09 PM

Hydrogen has always sounded good but the realities of making it and building the fueling network seem to move it further out than electric powered vehicles.

We could be investing in new wind power, solar power and other truly clean green technologies. There are solar carports that generate enough power to charge up a car while at work. Battery technoloy is progressing and the batteries can be recycled without polluting the atmosphere.

We will have hybrid electrics that use only electric motors for power with a ICE generator on board to extend range to hundreds of miles.

As soon as I can I will get an electric car and will rent what I need for special occasions: vans, large cars, trucks etc. I'm hoping for the Volt or something like it.

Posted by McG | March 24, 2008 12:20 PM

Hindenberg! Boo!

Posted by elenchos | March 24, 2008 12:25 PM

16, Ah, thank you, elenchos. I knew about the story but had seen/heard it in other channels: I wasn't aware of a web resource that covered it.

Posted by Gomez | March 24, 2008 12:31 PM

Cascadian - yes we need to design transportation plans to reduce total VMT. We need to combine transit, power production, living location and employment center management in order to reduce pollution and overall energy production.

As much as I don't buy into "clean coal" in the short run perhaps trading coal electric cars for gas ICE cars is a benefit but I'd rather see a national true green electric power generation effort. If Tesla can be trusted their 125 mph car gets over 125 mpg equivalent.

Posted by McG | March 24, 2008 12:33 PM

At the risk of reinforcing the SLOG old-boys-patriarchy-network, Elenchos is my favoritest SLOG commenter ever.

Posted by Big Sven | March 24, 2008 12:34 PM

The fundamental issue with all internal combustion engines is that while you can make engines that are slightly more efficient and thus produce fewer nitrogen compounds and carbon monoxide, the laws of thermodynamics state that you can only get so efficient with a hydrocarbon (HC, gasoline or diesel) engine, and we're already pretty much there. Power= carbon dioxide output. Double your power, you double your fuel use and double your carbon dioxide output.

So the research has been to get more oomph (to use a technical word) for a given power output. That's what hybrids are all about. A given HC engine has an optimal power output, and if you keep it chugging along at that level, with batts taking care of peak loads and getting some power back from regenerative braking, you get 25-35% more efficiency.

Alternately, you can make a lighter car that makes do with less power. The Aptera, for instance, is something like 1200 lb in EV form including batts. It does this through the use of composites. Composites are light and strong, but even in mass production it's hard to get their cost below $100/lb, so a 200-300lb frame adds a lot to the cost.

Composites also tend to fail catastrophically when they break, unlike say chrome-moly steel frames that bend and thus absorb energy. Composites break the way an eggshell breaks.

The biggest problem is that mass wins. A 2000lb car is going to get creamed by a 5000lb SUV in a head on collision. The 5000lb SUV is going to hardly slow down at all, whereas the 2000lb is going to take on almost all of the velocity difference between the two vehicles.

If our next President- I'm not going to yield anything here, but I'll just call him or her "President O"- were to get on national TV tomorrow and say...

"Ladies and Gentlemen, with the very real global warming that we are experiencing, and the strategic ramifications of relying on middle eastern oil, we must act now. All new cars will get 50+ mpg, and all vehicles below that will be phased out as a function of mpg starting today- all Hummers are gone starting now..."

...then I think tons of people would buy Smart cars and EV/Hybrids. As it stands, I will buy an EV/Hybrid for my next car, but I'm not willing to subject my kids to that level of risk while there are still all those F150s and Suburbans out there, so Inga and the kids will stick with a minivan or crossover for now.

Posted by Big Sven | March 24, 2008 12:48 PM

ps- I'm willing to pay more taxes to offset the costs of my safety choice of a minivan/crossover, by the way.

Posted by Big Sven | March 24, 2008 12:51 PM

Once again, Will prompts the gong.

Fact: there are no 80-100 MPG diesels.

The two highest-mileage commercially-available diesels on earth are the VW Polo Bluemotion and the diesel Mini, both of which get about 60 MPG. Will doesn't know how to convert from Imperial Gallons.

Note that the EPA ratings in the US of those vehicles would likely be less than that, as they are for every comparable vehicle, due to the way they calculate it (which more closely resembles the way people actually drive).

Once again Will takes what might at core be a reasonable argument -- high-mileage vehicles are practically possible -- and accidentally smashes it to pieces with his clumsiness and allergic reaction to facts. Among other things, he can't tell the difference between "announced in a press release for 2010" and "widely available today". The fact that he's suggesting a couple of local one-off custom shops as a possible answer to our national problem is typical.

Here's the deal: Will, you are completely and utterly full of shit up past your eyebrows on every conceivable subject.

Gomez: feel free to explain what authority "the Feds" have over the auto development programs in France, Germany, Japan, etc. While pondering that, have a closer look at the link Elenchos provided. Concentrate closely on the word in red after the word "Status".

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 12:52 PM

I blindly figured elenchos had posted a link to a story about the aforementioned project. Should've read it in my haste.

I so need to get back to sleep.

Posted by Gomez | March 24, 2008 12:56 PM

Fnarf, they sell them in Europe. We even linked them last time you said they didn't exist.

Now go sit at the back of the short bus.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 24, 2008 12:57 PM

@19 As much as I hate batteries (yes, they can be recycled, but often are not, and are usually recycled oversees where the health of workers and the environment is of little concern) I think they, in combination with local electricity production to avoid transmission losses and transformers, make more sense. If it's a choice between the two, why use electricity to make hydrogen when you can just use the electricity?

@20 Your statistic is comparing efficiency and does not take into account pollution. Coal and Oil produce much more pollution (and again GHG is not the only issue) than gasoline. And how do you even begin to compare nuclear and hydro?

You may be right about hydrogen for home use, assuming clean production of electricity, but it seems like a larger storage medium at the source (likely hot water) would be more efficient.

And I'll defiantly agree with you that the only real solution is conservation and more dense development. And of course an economy based on sustainability rather than growth.

Posted by cmaceachen | March 24, 2008 1:02 PM

No, Will, you are wrong. They don't sell them in Europe or anywhere else, and the links you provided, then as at all other times, don't say what you think they say.

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 1:06 PM

In the face of suggestions, we get ad hominem attacks. Wait on our hands and start pools to guess Exxon's future record quarterly profits - I wonder if our oilman President would agree with that solution?

I don't really care if it's 100 mpg or 100 kmpg, diesel hybrids may be a solution, and we need to find a solution. Plenty of challenges, but California is exploring hydrogen. Drilling in Alaska, Canadian tar sands and bombing Iran do not qualify as solutions.

Posted by left coast | March 24, 2008 1:12 PM

How about 1) stop owning a car 2) stop eating beef (which causes more global warming emissions than all personal transportation combined)?

Pretty simple solution.

Posted by poppy | March 24, 2008 2:01 PM

I think we should all follow Fnarf into his vision of a future of 12 mpg SUV suburban heaven. And look at all the pretty air we can eat.

After we all get high on whatever he's on.

Posted by Will in Fnarfian Seattle | March 24, 2008 2:15 PM

Big Sven @26 - interesting and thoughtful post.

Posted by Dougsf | March 24, 2008 2:33 PM

You're a fucking idiot, Will, and a fucking asshole. SUVs? Once again you resort to the lamest imaginable attempt at insults when your arguments cave in upon themselves because of your pig ignorance. I've forgotten more about environmental vehicles in the past twenty minutes than you will ever know, because even when the information is sitting right in front of your fat, furry face you can't take it in. Dumbfucks like you are a cancer on the environmental movement; you do more harm than good. Go away.

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 2:49 PM

There's a few problems with that, Sven. For one thing, Smart cars don't get 50 MPG, they get 40. No car EPA-rated at 50 MPG is available on the US market right now; even the Prius is only rated at 48.

On the other hand, the "safety" of SUVs has been grossly overstated, because people only look at collision results. Yes, a 5,000 lb. SUV will cream a tiny car in a collision -- but it is also several times more likely to get into one. Small cars are maneuverable, stable, have better brakes, and react better to skids. If you look at the safety of vehicles per mile, rather than per collision, you'll see that SUVs actually perform pretty terribly. Not as bad as pickup trucks, but far, far worse than even the smallest cars.

You're on the right track. However, we don't need to jump right to 50 MPG, even if we could. All we need to do is phase out the 10-15 MPG behemoths. If every sub-15 MPG car on the road today suddenly got a mere 25 MPG instead, we could almost eliminate our need for foreign oil, for the time being.

However, the public only sees one thing: cheap gas, expensive gas. Some other mechanism has to be imposed to force high gas prices to keep the pressure on the research for new energy.

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 3:01 PM

Yes, SUVs. That's what our current car companies find most profitable, and that's what it wants to sell you.

But they'll sell you 22 mpg SUVs instead of 17 mpg SUVs and slap a Hybrid label on them to convince you they're more "green" than a 36 mpg car is. Even though it's not.

Want to impact our pollution and our energy usage? Import India's Tata cars that get 60 mpg and cost $2500 - that would literally CUT emissions in HALF for all 30 mpg cars and CUT it to ONE FOURTH for all 15 mpg SUVs out there.

You argue about form and function and try to say we can't get 60 mpg or 80 mpg - when we had 100 mpg TRUCKS when the Model T rolled off the line.

Now, realize that the Global Warming and other Emissions LAWS our Govs signed in CA, OR, WA, ME, VT, etc etc mean that the 50 percent of the US market that requires such measures must be supplied with vehicles that meet these standards. Which means the market HAS NO CHOICE but to ADAPT or DIE.

Europe gets by quite nicely with diesels. The average mpg equivalent there is in the 60 to 80 mpg range. Diesel is a denser energy equivalent to our gasoline formulations, and corn ethanol isn't the solution.

Again - you can quite LITERALLY buy a VW bus and have any number of existing firms in King County, Spokane County, and a number of other counties convert it - TODAY - into a 100 mpg plug-in hybrid vehicle. There are four models that the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and many other business sources have been pre-marketing for the 2010 model year.

Now, STFU and get to the back of the bus.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 24, 2008 3:32 PM

"The average mpg equivalent there is in the 60 to 80 mpg range."

No matter how many times you repeat this, it still isn't true. Will: get a fucking grip. You're just wrong. And arguing with you is like trying to stuff decomposing eels in a bag; slippery, smelly, and not worth the trouble. It's made even more difficult by your habit of changing the subject three times a sentence.

Since you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about on MPG, you've switched to emissions. You think the Tata Nano, which has zero emissions controls of any kind, is going to reduce emissions? You're stupid. You're beyond stupid. And the Tata will never be imported into the US.

People like you make it impossible to formulate a decent argument for change. The real interesting trends that are happening in small car design are invisible to you; all you see is press releases and addle-pated fantasy, through a fog of pot smoke and misfiring neurons.

Your references to the Model T are a case in point; the Model T got 13-21 MPG, not 100 as you claim. As is your suggestion that a handful of custom conversions are meaningful in a world of six billion people.

You contribute NOTHING to this debate, and you contribute the SAME NOTHING over and over and over. You contribute nothing to ANY debate, here or anywhere else. You're a fucking waste of food, you are.

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 4:07 PM

There was an interesting Popular Mechanics article on whether or not it was possible to build a practical (meaning "family car") 100 mpg automobile. Their conclusion was, for a mass produced automobile, "probably yes, but with an MSRP in the ballpark of 200K".

Posted by Dougsf | March 24, 2008 4:12 PM

I just want someone to build an electric car for $30-40k. I think they'd make tons and tons and tons of money. They'd be doing good by doing well.

I can't say how much I hope Aptera and Tesla succeed, though I don't have much faith in Elon Musk, the megalomaniacal owner of Tesla...

Posted by Big Sven | March 24, 2008 4:19 PM

We agree with @40. Please remember, America is stronger when you buy an SUV! It doesn't just create jobs, it makes you safer!

Posted by Big Oil Lobby | March 24, 2008 4:23 PM

Data point: drove a Honda EV Plus for a week back in in 1999. Great car. Kinda slow- 0-60mph took on the order of 20 seconds in "Sport" mode, 45 seconds in "Economy" mode. ~80mi range, realistically. Perfect mobile audio platform- essentially no engine noise meant the accoustic properties were like no vehicle I had ever experienced. I would have bought one in an instant.

And that was with lead acid batteries- it would have had 4x the range with lithium ion batts... Sigh...

Posted by Big Sven | March 24, 2008 4:25 PM

#42 - I actually saw one of those Teslas (the ones built on the Lotus body) zooming by my building a few months ago. It's weird to see a little sports car race past as quite as a bicycle when you're expecting that nasal high-pitched buzz cars like that usually make.

I hope their apparent success leads to some innovation in the realm of more practical cars (I know they originally had planed a more affordable sedan, but I haven't seen anything come of it). It's impressive what they've done there, but the problem with expensive toys that they are always in addition to necessity.

Posted by Dougsf | March 24, 2008 4:44 PM

@43: nice try, Willie. Feel free to point out where I have advocated in favor of SUVs, ever. Moron.

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 4:45 PM

@45 Since Tesla Motors chairman just recieved the very first one on February 1st, and series production didn't begin until March 17th, I seriously doubt you saw one a few months ago.

Posted by cmaceachen | March 24, 2008 5:06 PM

Guess your just wrong cmceachen - Doug didn't say it was a production model - the CIA guy Woolsey tested one in July of 2007

Popular Mechanics

August 21, 2006

First Drive: The Tesla Roadster
We’ve taken a look at the Tesla Roadster from afar and we’ve taken a ride in the spunky electric sports car too. But recently we had a chance to pry the keys away from a Tesla engineer and climb behind the wheel of a hand-built $350,000 Development Prototype Tesla Roadster.

Posted by McG | March 24, 2008 5:20 PM

@47 - This was in downtown San Francisco (Tesla's based in the Peninsula). I'm positive what I saw, as I've been passively following the story on these since I first heard about them. Even easier to spot than a eerily silent sports car streaking by is the Lotus the body belongs to, those things sound horrible.

As McG @48 pointed out, they've been driving hand-built versions of these around for about 2 years now. I haven't read any news on them in a while, but the March 17 delivery date you pointed to is probably some sort of OEM milestone they reached.

Sorry, drifting way off topic here.

Posted by Dougsf | March 24, 2008 6:07 PM

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