Battery, Parked

Attentive readers may recall that a few years ago we U.S. taxpayers lent $465 million to Tesla, a maker of electric cars. More recently we restructured the loan so that Tesla wouldn’t run out of money. (It is now, after all, a matter of vital national interest that Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial speculations actually pay off.)

Though I don’t think any of us were consulted about this, I guess we’re all Tesla investors now, so it’s only natural to ask: How’s our little business venture going?

Well, I’ll say this: I’ve seen these cars up close (Rob Nail of Singularity University had one parked out front while I was there last year), and they certainly look mighty snazzy, tooling silently around the streets of Silicon Valley. But a New York Times reporter recently tried to use one of these government-subsidized doo-hickeys for the sort of thing people actually need cars for — going from one place to another place far away — and the results were a bit of a letdown. Pit stops for recharging took an hour, and the battery, clearly better suited for the clement Bay Area than for the meteorological rigors of the Northeast, failed to hold its charge in the winter chill. All in all, our man would have been better off in a Yugo, and that’s saying something.

It’s really frustrating; electric batteries just seem to have some serious intrinsic limitations. As Joshua Treviño remarked Twitter, just imagine if instead there were some sort of energy-dense substance that was cheap to produce — maybe some sort of naturally-occurring material that concentrated eons of energy from the Sun into some convenient liquid form — that our vehicles could simply carry on-board in some sort of container?

Naah. That’s just pie in the sky, folks.

Anyway, read the story here.

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  1. JK says

    Ya know, maybe that Elon feller ought take the easy route. I hear Boeing has some surplus batteries.


    Posted February 11, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  2. Elon made $160 million with Paypal and he took his pile of cash and investing in three things: rocket ships, electric cars and solar panels. Stupid? probably so.

    An $80k Tesla will be a cheap form of transportation when gas is $20/gallon. Gas was under fifty cents when I was a kid so don’t laugh at my $20 projection. Also, battery prices could drop. If they drop like solar panels dropped over the last decade then they would cost 1/5 as much as they do now, making the Tesla a <$20k car.

    Posted February 11, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    When the day comes that gas is $20 a gallon, and we can drive 300 miles on a two-minute battery charge, and we don’t have to force taxpayers to subsidize the manufacture of electric cars to make them competitive, I’m sure we’ll all be interested in buying them.

    Posted February 11, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Actually, if you normalize historical gas prices to current dollars, the numbers are surprising. Here are some charts.

    Posted February 11, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    I don’t think that many people buy a Tesla as their primary vehicle. For that, you might want a Pontiac Bonneville, or perhaps a BMW 1600 (provided the owner has the presence of mind to have it looked at when the oil warning light goes on).

    You see a lot of Teslas around here, and their owners use them for commute cars and trips around town. Presumably later iterations will improve the technology so they have greater range. However it’s a popular car which fills a niche, as well as a very cool looking car.

    Posted February 12, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Yep, they’re snazzy. Good performers too, till the battery runs out.

    Posted February 12, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Those cars were a ’65 Tempest, by the way, and a ’69 BMW 2000ti.

    And for the latter, there was no warning light; that was the fatal problem.

    Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  8. Maybe the NYTImes reporter pulled a Jason Blair?

    Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink