Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Buy a horse or buy a Mitsubishi i-MiEV?

As the negative comments about Electric Vehicles (EV’s) and hybrid vehicles pile up, it’s worth considering if similar critiques have existed in regards to advancing technology in the past.  The avid supporters of Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) are quick to point out the limitations of EV’s.  Are the gas and diesel powered vehicle owners of today the same as the horse owners of a century ago?  What would some of the possible criticisms have been when gasoline powered cars were in their infancy?

·         There would have been debates about the high initial cost versus horse cost.
·         The lack of road infrastructure and gas station infrastructure would certainly be a negative.
·         The unknowns of vehicle maintenance would be a hindrance.
·         The overall durability and life expectancy were points for scrutiny.
·         Crank starters before the invention of electric starters were potential arm breakers.
·         The longevity of the market most likely would be described as a fad than a century plus industry that easily affects over 99% of Americans.
·         The lack of acceleration, lack of top speed, lack of range, lack of mobility etc. would have been the prized criticisms to the detractors. 

Yet we are not still riding horses, buggies, and covered wagons.  What happened?  The innovators refused to listen to those afraid of progress!  Imagine where we would be if ocean going explorers were afraid to sail to uncharted waters for fear of falling off the end of the earth.  Imagine where we would be if inventors were afraid to see if they could harness the power of steam or create explosions in a controlled environment with a reciprocating engine.  Imagine if tinkerers had never tried to leave the ground in a self-propelled winged structure.  Imagine where we would be if test pilots were afraid to see what happens when traveling faster than the speed of sound.  Imagine if engineers listened to the detractors about the merits of humans or objects leaving Earth’s gravitational field.  Imagine what could happen if battery power is given another 10, 50, or 100 years of progress!

Innovation is rarely inexpensive, and sometimes unfortunately the ultimate cost is human life.  Sometimes the result of innovation has a negative impact for the environment.  But most innovation has the goal of improving an existing situation.  I believe Electric Vehicles improve the existing situation and are worthy of further enhancements.  I applaud the recent innovators of this technology that had its roots established around a century ago.  I am proud to consider myself an early adapter of EV’s, even if it means having to add clarification that there have been numerous Do-It-Yourselfers who converted an existing car rather than being able to buy one off a dealership lot.  (It probably makes me more like a pilgrim than like the original explorers.  But relative to how small the EV market is compared to the overall automotive market, I consider myself a candidate in that category.  I am the first person I know personally to have an electric car.)

There is no reason despise the critics.  Sure it would be great if they demonstrated an open mind, but they do provide market feedback for the manufacturers.  The technology is not yet mature enough to be universally accepted.  Reflect on the path the computer industry has been on over the last 40 years.  Microsoft in particular did not start off with an operating system that was universally accepted.  They listened to the customer and adapted the product to what the customer was requesting.  If they waited until they had a product that would be universally accepted before introducing anything to market, they would not exist today.  Sometimes it takes a while for technology to catch up with expectations.  Is it reasonable to expect EV’s to have universal appeal?  Today, the answer is NO.  In the next few decades, I certainly hope so.  In the mean time, I’ll try to inform and convert a few open minded individuals and praise the ongoing efforts of those willing to push the boundaries.

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