A more nuanced view of BEVs

To date I haven’t been kind to BEVs.  With the appearance three weeks ago of the Chevy Bolt on dealer floors I’ve come to realize that my objections to BEVs were based on the fact that every production model BEV was either too expensive or had too short a range.

The point of electric vehicles is that they don’t emit CO2, a growing hazard for climate today.  Some approaches to climate mitigation have been denounced by their opponents as too painful to consider, much as one would not go to a medieval dentist for fear that the cure might be more painful than the disease.

The climate counterpart of modern dentistry is painless mitigation. At least in first world countries austerity will be no more effective for global warming than diet has proved for obesity.

Painless climate mitigation is coming slowly, give it time. As an early adopter I’ve put 7000 miles since May on my Toyota Mirai.  I have found it a pure joy to drive. There are just enough hydrogen stations in California for me to be able go pretty much wherever I want within the triangle bounded by Ukiah, Reno, and upper Baja.  A fill-up takes only five minutes every EPA 312 miles (best I’ve managed is 370 miles). California has 25 hydrogen stations now, almost all commissioned within the last 18 months. In 2013 California Assembly Bill 8 authorized the California Energy Commission to build a hundred at an expenditure rate of $20M a year, so there are 75 to go. The expectation is that private investment will step in once this bootstrapping phase has created a market.

Toyota and Honda have committed to ramping up delivery to California of respectively the Mirai and the Clarity. In their price bracket and range the only BEV competitor today is the Chevy Bolt which I test drove just two days ago. The past three weeks Peninsula Chevrolet Cadillac has been selling them like hot cakes a mere two miles from where I’m typing this at my beach house. (GM picked them over their nearby Salinas counterpart because last year they sold ten times as many Volts.) My wife’s 1987 MBZ 300TD needs to find a new home (even though it should still be good for another 300,000 miles) because she’d like something with more modern safety features. Interesting options for us are the Honda Clarity FCV and the GM Bolt BEV, with respective EPA ranges of 366 and 238 miles, both leasing for around $370/mo (the Mirai is $349/mo but we already have one).

While there’s no shortage of sour grapes about these cars online, most of the complaints concern mere teething problems. I’m convinced these EVs are the cars of the future, with batteries for commuting and short trips and fuel cells for that plus longer trips, infrastructure permitting. (BEVs are ok for long trips provided you set aside time for refueling, e.g. at meal stops.) Germany and Japan are way ahead of the US with FCV infrastructure and other European countries, in particular Nordic ones. are starting to put their toe in the water.

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