An Argument for Electric Vehicles
The following information was presented to the Cars and Culture class
at Pitzer College on 19-Apr-1995 by Chris Yoder:
Electric vehicles have been a part of the automobile scene as long as there
have been cars. They provide a clean, trouble-free means of transportation
that can serve the needs of 90 percent of Los Angeles area commuters right
now. In addition to their ecological benefits, EVs have the potential to
become the performance vehicles of the future.
A Brief history of Electric Vehicles (EVs)
- EVs were a significant portion of the automobile mix in the early 1900's.
1/3 of all automobiles were EVs, 1/3 were steam, and 1/3 were Internal
Combustion Engine (ICE).
- Early EVs were designed to replace horse carts, thus were designed for
what we would consider 4WD conditions. This meant that many had a top speed
of 20 MPH. Even so EVs were quite competitive with other vehicles of the time,
competing in motor races and setting speed records.
- Early EVs had a range of between 50 and 100 miles.
- Early EVs were much more reliable and easier to handle (no need
to start or shift them) than the other automobile choices of the time.
This meant that even little old ladies could and often did drive them.
- By 1935 EVs had fallen out of favor with the public as the invention
of the starter motor, the gradual improvement of the reliability of the
internal combustion engine, and the invention of the automatic transmission
made the internal combustion engine equally practical while lifting the range
- Note that the advent of the automobile solved a major problem of pollution
stemming from horse emissions.
The problem of ICE vehicles today.
- Air pollution is a major problem in most cities.
- 60 percent of the pollution in the Los Angeles air basin is attributable
to the automobile.
- Tougher emissions standards for automobiles have helped to keep the air
breathable in Los Angeles, however more and more vehicles continue to be
introduced to the Los Angeles air basin.
- As ICE vehicles age, their emissions equipment wears and breaks down.
The worst polluters are often 1980's vehicles with broken or missing emissions
- Petroleum based fuel is a finite resource.
- Short trips in an ICE vehicle produce relatively more pollution than long
trips. Short trips also wear the components of an ICE vehicle more than
The transportation needs of urban dwellers.
- 90 percent of Los Angeles commuters travel 74 or fewer miles per day to
and from work. 50 percent of Los Angeles commuters travel 30 or fewer miles
- The average vehicle occupancy rate of these vehicles is less than 2.
- People like to have their own comfortable space, temperature controlled
with a good stereo.
The EV as a part of the transportation solution in Southern California.
- Hobbiest EVs have a range of 30-90 miles today with golf-cart batteries.
- Pre-production EVs such as the GM Impact have a range of 80-130 miles.
- AC drive systems eliminate the need for variable-ratio transmissions
in US street-legal vehicles. (Vehicles requiring top speeds of less than 80
- EVs are inherently simpler than ICE vehicles, thus need much less
- EVs are 98% cleaner than ICE vehicles when you account for emissions from
the generating facilities.
- Electric power will come from cleaner and renewable energy sources in the
future, so EVs will only get cleaner as they age. Southern California energy
mix includes a large portion of hydro and natural gas. Southern California
Edison one of the leading consumers of solar and wind energy.
- Electric busses are finding their way into fleets even now. Fleet
operators find them to be much more economical that diesel and alternatively
The EV as a performance vehicle.
- Current land-speed record for a non-track based EV is 183 MPH set by a
modified GM Impact in 1994.
- Fastest 0-60 time recorded by a commuter-class EV is 6.5 seconds.
- Fastest electric drag vehicle (1/4 mile): 10 second ETA, 120 MPH
- EVs make cheap, reliable race cars, $2,000 will get you racing
very competitively in the Electrathon class. (Cheap and reliable usually
don't apply in racing!)
Back to Chris Yoder's EV Page.
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Last Modified: January 13, 1997 (links modified for Caltech) by