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Electric Cars, Autonomous Cars – They’re Just Cars!

I have been pondering some items related to electric cars and autonomous cars, and in particular how messy even the automotive press treats these subjects.

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Which is point one. While the development of electric cars is expanding seemingly in tandem with electric cars, they are in fact separate and distinct. More on that later.

Tesla Model 3The release of the Tesla Model 3 seems to be at the heart of the current news wave. So, while I love the direction that Tesla is taking the automobile industry and what I’ve seen of the Model 3, let’s remember that it is just a car. Four wheels, a steering wheel, a pedal or pedals, seating for a driver and passengers, etc. In the end, it’s just a car! The propulsion system is the only real change. The advantage with the Model 3 or any electric car is that an owner gets to leave home every day with a full tank of fuel.

In the meantime, Chevrolet released its Bolt fully electric car and Nissan has updated the Leaf, already fully electric. And what does the press do? It compares the Bolt and Leaf to the Model 3! This is akin to comparing a Honda Civic to a BMW 3 Series. The only thing the Bolt and Leaf have in common with the Model 3 is battery power, period. Talk of range is in parallel to talk of fuel mileage. The Civic wins, but the BMW buyer couldn’t care less!

That said, while the Civic outsells the 3 Series, the Model 3 will eat the Bolt’s lunch on style alone. Electric cars a not so mainstream that value purchasers are driving market volume. So until BMW or Audi or Lexus, etc releases a pure electric – not electrified – model that looks like it belongs to their family of cars, BMW i3the Model 3 will stand alone. Sorry BMW, while upcoming changes are a plus, the current i3 simply looks like a toy with a matching grill. Until value buyers begin opting for electric- rather than gas-powered cars in general, the Model 3 will outsell all comers.

Chevy BoltBack to the Bolt, it is a step back for Chevrolet. The Volt looks like and is a wonderful, useful, attractive sedan. While it shares some styling cues from the Chevrolet line, the Bolt returns to what U.S manufacturers have done since the 70s when they’ve attempt to build a car ultimately aimed at saving gasoline – making them too small and too unappealing. One would think that they had learned something from Tesla’s success and they’re own failures from the past.

Updated Nissan LeafMeanwhile, the Leaf is a definite step in the right direction for Nissan. It important to remember that the Asian market is far more important to them than the U.S. market and that the Leaf already sells well. Range anxiety is far less an issue overseas. That said, the restyle is far more appealing – the Leaf now actually looks like a Nissan – and sales will likely expand across the board.

Developments do point to the acceptance of electric cars. I ran across a wonderful quote in an article from Automotive News recently. It noted that Volkswagen founder Ferdinand Porsche had shown an electric car with motors in the wheel hubs at the 1900 Paris World Exhibition. One hundred seventeen years ago! The suggestion was that the oil boom that occurred at about the same time set the current auto industry in motion (pun intended).

Ulrich Eichhorn, corporate research manager at Volkswagen Group is then quoted as saying: “If the technologies had been reversed, it would be hard to conceive an engineer now successfully proposing that combustion engines replace electric cars. Imagine that person would say, ‘Rather than having maximum torque available from the start like an electric car, it had to ramp up over time.’

“Imagine he then said it involved a device where thousands of tiny explosions occur every minute using a toxic and highly flammable liquid that had to be stored in the vehicle somewhere. And then imagine him saying that this fuel came almost entirely from crisis regions. What do you think his boss might have said to him?”

Oh an interesting question indeed.

Which brings me back to autonomous cars. In the middle of what was painted as a discussion about electric cars, I heard the following (it is paraphrased because I didn’t save the content): cars are like guns in the U.S., its freedom, don’t try and take them away.

This left me scratching my head until I realized that electric propulsion had been confused or paired with autonomous technology! The electric car, regardless of make and model, is still just a car. Just as the comparison of electric cars on range alone is a massive mistake, merging the rise of autonomous technology with electric propulsion also misses the mark.

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Any move to force autonomous driving is decades off, assuming it ever occurs. But perhaps by then, jumping into the car to take a weekend drive without actually having to do any work at all will seem very, very appealing.

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