Electric automobiles have been around since the 19th century, Englishman Thomas Parker built the first production electric car in 1884. The land speed record was held by en electric car until 1900. Not much has changed since The Electric Construction Corporation’s car to today’s Tesla. (Nikola Tesla was a Serbian physicist.)
ALL electric cars have 5 main systems;
- The Vehicle. Since the early days this has standardised around 4 wheels, a chassis, and something to keep the rain off. The modern Tesla is maybe better looking and a hell of a lot more sophisticated than a 19th century dog-cart.
- The Electric Motors. These convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, (and nowadays they also convert mechanical energy back into electrical energy via braking regeneration). Again these are far, far better and more sophisticated than they were in Victorian England, but the basic principle hasn’t changed at all. Electric motors as used in cars have one huge advantage over the internal combustion engine ~ massive torque at low rpm, so no separate gearbox is needed.
- The Control System. Modern methods of controlling the amount of electricity that gets to and from the electric motor / dynamo are light years ahead of how it used to be done, which was basically a variable resistor. The Tesla has computerised Intelligent Motor controllers.
- The Batteries. This is the Achilles Heel of electric cars. Batteries are bulky, heavy, expensive, can burst into flame, and have a limited life. Early electric cars had a lot of damn heavy lead-acid batteries, of exactly the same type as a normal car has at the heart of it’s electrical systems. The Tesla uses a hell of a lot of lithium-ion batteries, of exactly the same type that powers your mobile phone and laptop / tablet…
- The Power Source. Electricity doesn’t appear for free out of thin air, it has to be generated from a primary energy source. For pure electric cars, like the Tesla Model S, this means plugging them into mains electricity to charge the onboard batteries. Hybrid cars also have an onboard internal combustion electricity generator. (Which makes one wonder why all the batteries and other complicated stuff? Why not just connect the petrol engine directly to the wheels? Oh, we’ve done that, it’s called a normal car.)
The Weak Point of any electric car is battery life. This comes in 2 flavours;
- Range. How far can one drive on one battery charge? The Tesla Model S is supposed to do either 230 miles, or 320 miles, on one charge. (Depending on how big a battery you’ve bought.) That’s assuming a constant 55mph, (and that you’re not killing the A/C). Also, charging a battery at a normal plug in socket will take 30 hours. In normal, everyday, long-distance motoring, that’s as much use a cell phone in a lifeboat, in the middle of the Atlantic ~ no damn use at all.
- Total Battery Life. How long will the vastly expensive lithium-ion battery pack last before it’s only so much junk? All batteries have a finite life, so how long will the battery in a Tesla last? If you drive it every day, then my guess is performance will start to fall off, (a lot), after 4 or 5 years. Total usable life? I have no real idea. Hey, I know the theory of making baked Alaska, but any real attempt by me would be just embarrassing. (If you want to be an expert start with Arrhenius’ Law.)
Tesla make great looking, technologically advanced cars, with one huge flaw ~ all batteries eventually die, even sophisticated rechargable batteries die eventually. One day the battery pack in your Tesla will reach the end of its usable life. But the Tesla is a fashionable throw-away product, made for fashionable throwaway people. (It’s also very unethical and environmentally damaging. Recycling lithium-ion batteries is damn difficult. You get toxic waste, not wildflowers.)
I would drive an electric car, if I had to. I would not choose any electric car for a cool road trip. The Tesla is very sexy looking, but it’s got no soul. For the price of a Tesla, I could buy a really cool car instead.