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ENOUGH ELECTRON GUZZLERS?

IN SAE AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEERING, February 2023, Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Brooke addresses “electron guzzlers,” what he calls today’s equivalent of muscle cars of an earlier era.

Lindsay writes, “It’s time to acknowledge that many incumbent EVs are as ‘electron-inefficient’ as the thundering muscle cars were fuel-inefficient back in the day.”

“EV engineers,” he says, “know how to configure electric-propulsion systems to deliver optimum miles per kilowatt-hour, or MPGe. Unfortunately, however, OEM product planners and marketers rule that max buzz is essential for making mass electrification attractive. They mistakenly chose 0-to-60 mph (0-to-97 km/h) acceleration as a key selling point.”

“ ‘We had to dispel the notion that electric cars perform like golf carts,’ one marketing boss told me,” Lindsay recounts.

A Diminishing Bogey. Back in 1959, R&T marveled at Lance Reventlow’s Scarab race car’s 4.2 seconds to 60; this, at a time when anything below 10 seconds was considered sporty indeed. Perfectly nice sedans, the Volkswagen Beetle for example, recorded 0-60 times well into the 20s. 

I remember my first piloting of a Porsche 911 Turbo in 1978. I was in awe (and cautious respect) of its 0-60 time of around five seconds. 

Image from fastestlaps.com.

In time, anything taking longer than 10 seconds was considered something of a laggard. 

Today, a goodly number of cars reach 60 mpg in less than three seconds, with Ferraris, Bugattis, Porsches—and Teslas—rich in the list. 

Lithium-intensive Hogs. Lindsay writes, “As a result, most current EVs are over-batteried, overweight and overpriced for the majority of customers and their use cases. Electron guzzlers are by design lithium-intensive hogs.”

Image from SAE Automotive Engineering.

Lindsay continues, “GMC’s Hummer EV, a notorious example, packs a 400-volt, 200-kWh, 617-amp-hour Ultium battery that weighs just shy of 3000 lb. (1360 kg), pushing the vehicle’s curb weight to more than 9000 lb. (4082 kg). The Hummer’s specs were driven in part by a silly 0-to-60 bogey: three seconds.”

“Sure,” he says, “it’s quicker than a golf cart. But wouldn’t a 6- or 7-second truck be just as marketable?”

EV Semis. “Further up the GVWR scale,” Lindsay observes, “Tesla’s Class-8 semitractor is the ultimate guzzler. Its battery is estimated to weigh 10,000-lb. (4536-kg). With the transportation sector already concerned about future battery-materials supply and cost, the prospect of millions of pounds of lithium-battery demand serving comparatively few heavy trucks is lopsided. And heavier vehicles mean more tire wear, already an issue in the airborne-particulates battle.”

Tesla Class-8 Semi. Image by Steve Jurvetson from Wikipedia.

Rationality Coming. Lindsay says, “The escalating cost of both lithium batteries and EVs is finally bringing some rationality to product development. New approaches to electrical architectures and component design are helping to reduce battery size. Hydrogen fuel-cell developments, as noted in this month’s issue, are a real alternative for larger vehicles. And the 0-60 obsession may be fading.” 

Indeed, the February issue of SAE Automotive Engineering is focused on hydrogen; a favorite topic of mine and sure to appear here at SimanaitisSays. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023

7 comments on “ENOUGH ELECTRON GUZZLERS?

  1. Michael Rubin
    February 21, 2023

    Indeed, even early Prius often surprised stoplight racers trying to squeeze by on the right hand side. My sister said it was like throwing a switch, “All on!”

    • Bill U
      February 21, 2023

      I did enjoy this quirk in my ’07 Prius, I enjoy immensely this quirk in my Volvo hybrid, with a 145HP motor in the rear axle (battery is in what was the driveshaft tunnel). Electric motor performance is all out of proportion to gas engines. If all you need is a quick 0 to 40 there’s really no reason to light the ICE.

  2. photowrite2000
    February 21, 2023

    Nice take on an area of electric vehicle manufacturing and marketing I was only vaguely aware of, or more correctly, somewhat curious about. I did find it interesting to read somewhere in the past couple of years that electromotive force has a lot of torque and thus capable of impressive jackrabbit starts in appropriate vehicles.

    In a side note, just yesterday I was reading an online article (in Nature?) about the recently rediscovered natural resource of underground deposits of hydrogen and its potential to revolutionize the affordability of hydrogen powered vehicles, either with fuel cells or by burning it in engines.

    Turns out there are likely enough reserves around the world to supply all our needs for many, many years. Plus, unlike fossil fuels, the hydrogen is being continually produced deep underground by the interaction of water with heated rocks under pressure. It just seeps up and gets trapped in underground reservoirs. Discovery of these things was made well over a hundred years ago, but then largely forgotten because, ya know, oil. And it isn’t found with oil or gas deposits either.

    • photowrite2000
      February 21, 2023

      By the way, I’ve owned a 2011 Prius for five years now and definitely appreciate the Power Mode button. I think it has surprised more than one big-ass coal-rolling pickup truck as we were on the freeway on-ramp.

  3. Bill U
    February 22, 2023

    Dennis thanks, another good series of arguments for hybrids – the middle way.
    Of interest – PC magazine is conducting a poll (1,463 responses as of yesterday) of vehicle purchasing preferences: 10% gas only, 12% for BEV, 26% for HEV, and 51% for PHEV.
    My 2023 Volvo S60 PHEV sedan has averaged 90mpg and ~180 kWh/mo. since Nov 1 in chilly Pa. (90mpg winter compared to 29.7 year round for six years in my previous 2L ICE only.)
    And yes, the performance (4.1 sec. 0 to 60, Car and Driver) is eye opening considering the efficiency.
    Compared to a national fleet of EVs or hydrogen powered cars, this can’t this be emphasized enough: Hybrids require no new infrastructure or charging network. Consequential? . . . trillions of dollars? . . . societal upheaval? . . . ecological / mining upheaval? . . . no EV range anxiety?

  4. Sabresoft
    February 22, 2023

    Heavy batteries not only affect tires, but road pavement as well. As the vehicle fleet gets heavier, the lifespan of roads will decrease. This will require more frequent rebuilding of roads, with attendant CO2 hits from production of asphalt, or even concrete (which isn’t any better and maybe worse). Not to mention increased demand on a limited supply of aggregate for both the pavement and road base.

  5. oregoncoaster5
    March 8, 2023

    Dennis, I never looked into the energy required to compress hydrogen. I recall an article by Bob Lutz several years ago ridiculing the hydrogen believers because of the compression problem. I suppose it’s dependent in large part to what area of the country you’re in. Say, if a hydrogen powered motor was used to compress hydrogen … Perpetual Motion Realized!!!

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