Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Can the ICE age return?

This article is written from the perspective of some time in the (hopefully not too distant) future when electric cars are common and ICE cars are declining in popularity.

There is much speculation on whether internal combustion engine (ICE) powered cars can make a return. Many people have been driving electric cars for years now and have become adjusted to their advantages and disadvantages. Recently, several of the old school auto companies have introduced new models of ICE cars. Can they recapture the electric vehicle (EV) customer?

Now that more people have become accustomed to the convenience of just plugging their car in at home at night, will they return to the gas station to refuel? There are still a large number of gas stations but the high cost of building and maintaining them means that they are slowly disappearing. The establishment of high speed charging stations means that long distance driving is no longer a limiting factor.
The other factor is the high cost of gasoline or diesel fuel. Crude oil has to be extracted from increasingly difficult to reach places and transported, refined and delivered to gas stations. All of this contributes to its high cost. Once the fuel is in the car, only 25% of it delivers useful work, leaving a lot of waste heat (and wasted money). Gasoline and diesel cars are very inefficient and expensive to fuel. Electricity is only about one tenth the cost.
ICE cars have thousands of precision moving parts and complex control mechanisms. The engine, clutch and transmission are incredibly complex and difficult to manufacture compared to the electric car which replaces all of these parts with one moving part, the electric motor. The maintenance on an ICE car requires visits every three months to change fluids and filters and make adjustments to the complex machinery. This is expensive and time consuming. Electric cars only require routine tire rotation.
ICE cars produce a lot of toxic pollution. This includes CO2 as well as NOx. Electric cars produce no pollution and even when they are charged from a coal fired power plant, their total lifecycle pollution is about one tenth that of ICE cars.
Electric cars last a long time since they have few moving parts. The engines and transmissions in ICE cars have limited life. They are just not as reliable.
One adjustment that people moving back to an ICE car from electric will be getting used to the ritual of "starting" the car and engaging the transmission. Since ICE cars have a narrow power range, they use complex transmissions and a clutch to adjust the engine to the speed of the car. Even in ICE cars with automatic transmission, this produces a lurching acceleration.  Electric cars offer powerful, smooth, quiet acceleration and operation at all speeds.

It will be difficult to bring people back to ICE cars.