I spotted what I suspect was our first Tesla Roadster in Texas this month. It was breathtaking. I made an abrupt U-turn just so I could watch it glide. I’ve seen plenty of Teslas in San Francisco, but not here. In Texas you’ll see 10,000 rugged and fuel-thirsty F-250 pickups before you ever see an electric car.
My friends all say that they’d love to switch over to electric cars, but it’s sadly unrealistic. It’s not a matter of cost, and certainly not a matter of will. For years, I’ve heard pundits say that the electric car won’t take off in the USA because the recharging infrastructure doesn’t exist yet.Build a comprehensive network of charging stations, pundits claim, and people will gleefully switch over. I don’t buy it.
I suspect that the adoption problem is exacerbated by a lack of charging stations, but it isn’t caused by it. Infrastructure is crippling the public’s acceptance of electric cars, but it’s not a problem of electronics… it’s our roads. I’ve driven a thousand miles on British and German motorways.
The absolute worst day that I spent driving in Europe was on a rainy winter’s day on the M11 after a Ford Ka overturned and caught fire. Traffic slowed to a crawl… for a few minutes. It was, at most, a mild inconvenience. Contrast that with my drive home from Dallas every single day: I always get caught in motorway merges where a dozen lanes collapse and intertwine, snarling traffic. On average, I’ll come to a dead stop because of major accidents at least three times a day, and that’s before I hit the inescapable five-mile long construction corridor.
Last Wednesday, it took me 45 minutes to cover four miles on suburban thoroughfares thanks to a single ice-choked intersection. Our roads are overcrowded, and most are in terrible shape. Many major motorways are under constant construction. There are often no safe shoulders to flee to after a breakdown, and collisions are as common as red lights. Every freeze creates wheel-warping potholes. Every rainstorm floods low-lying roads. Construction zones are littered with tyre-shredding debris.
In addition, many parts of the USA feature extreme weather challenges. Getting stuck on a Texas overpass three stories off the ground for a half-hour is painful enough on a pleasant spring day. When it’s 45°C and the sun is shining directly into the driver’s window, turning off the aircon to spare your car’s range is insane. Come winter, all our bridges become ice rinks. Our major traffic arteries are treacherous, overcrowded, and dangerous.
This is why it’s largely impractical to switch over to an electric car for the vast majority of American drivers. It may be practical to drive an electric car in a dense, organised, and well-maintained urban core where you always have the option to safely pull over and walk when you run out of charge. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us in the USA live 25 or more miles from our workplaces. We rarely ever have trains or buses linking home to work. So, we all drive.
There’s little question that we have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and that electric autos are a compelling tactic to work towards that objective. All of the new breakthroughs in range-extended motors and better batteries and faster chargers are exciting, and I can’t wait to see them flourish. Unfortunately for us in Texas, we’ll probably be among the last to get on board. Dense urban areas like Washington DC and New York City will likely get there first. Even then, our earliest adopters will likely be years behind Europe.
Your roads are simply better – smoother, better maintained, and better engineered. That will allow you to focus on the charging infrastructure problem, solving it for the rest of us. We’re simply not ready. Until we can modernize our roadways, it’s simply not realistic to expect our commuters to trade in their petrol burners.
I’d dearly love to drive a BMW i8 to work, but the odds of breaking down on the way are simply too high, and the range of electric autos is just too unpredictable. Call us when y’all figure it out…