I’ve been thinking a lot about electric cars recently. They are simply not the same as gas cars with different engines. Diesel cars are pretty close, but electric cars are so different.


Let’s rewind, to the beginning of time, the beginning of real human civilization: the beginning of Unix time, 1 Jan 1970.

The ole 55, double nickel, national speed limit was dropped in place (from what I hear, who knows).

It was kind of weird to think about, to learn later, that the MPG/efficiency of a car rose pretty steadily with speed until it got much worse. It peaked right around 55 mph, they said.

Of course, who knows? Any round number like that is always going to be “close enough”, but presumably they did tests in average-ish cars for the time and got some number close to 55 faring best.

I should note, for all the real scientists at home (lmao), almost nobody actually tests this stuff. And if we do, it’s usually super imprecise. Tests aren’t repeatable, who knows when what’s been calibrated, etc.

For all you turf-steppers, I have done at least some number-watching, and I can say on my old ‘03 Caddy DeVille with the Northstar it got about 28 mpg cruising at 73 mph, but I couldn’t get 27 mpg at 78 mph nor below 70 mph. All on the same road trip, car pretty loaded. That was a good car in many respects, to begin with space, mileage, and power. And, well I know you can look it up somewhere, but I want to say it was spinning at about 2,350 rpm around 73, so not idling but I suspect good power-to-fuel ratios. Which don’t exactly show up on the normal dyno curve.

In comparison, my Toyota MR2 would spin at about 4,000 rpm to maintain 80 mph, at about the same mpg.

Anyhow, it kind of shocks me (mildly, like the taste of a food you haven’t had since a kid) that range really drops off hard with speed on electrics. I don’t know what the optimal is, but it sounds like it might be closer to 55 than 85.

That sucks, but not too bad. It’s not an aerodynamic exception, it’s the brutal inefficiency of low-speed gas driving vs electric. If the engine can idle in top gear and not stall (at such bad leverage), you wouldn’t drive it in first gear (much better leverage, engine halfway stall-proof). Top gear will always be faster, that’s why we have gears. So as long as you’ve got power to make it up the hill or what have you, top gear should be best on a gas car. And to get there, you’ve pretty much got to be going at least 40.

I have wondered what the best natural, a la analytic solution, sweet spot for mileage is. Growing up on turbo diesels, I’d say if you can idle in overdrive you’ve won, more or less. If you’ve still got excess power in top gear, I think you might could add another gear.

Presumably Cat & Waukesha & GE et al have figured out how to run engines at 1 speed forever, at optimal efficiency. It’s usually quite slow, on large engines, so I can’t really relate it to car engines.

And it doesn’t really address the acceleration problem: how fast should I spin the motor up to, to cover the most energy a trip would require? Idling up to 65 mph is annoying as hell, would you even ever get there, but maybe gets good mileage. It would take much longer (maybe 30 seconds, for a short trip) and 30 seconds of idling does burn some gas, face it. So you might as well push it to 2,500 or 3,000 rpm to get Some Power out of it, I feel, but maybe I’m just burning gas.

It’s definitely more fun to push to 3,000 rpm. Too bad I can only really go past it in gears 2 & 3.

Short trips

You really shouldn’t drive a gas engine just 5 miles at a time for 10 years. It needs to warm up. Not just warm up, but like hot up. Like every time, or every other time, preferably.

On the other hand, electrics seem to have no issue? And the batteries seem to prefer not-so-long trips, so it’s rather backwards.

So it’s the perfect commuter car, especially if you have a garage, or less especially if your work has charging (ok, free charging.. well..).

Road trips

On the other hand…

These suck in gas cars enough already. You drive for hours, find an exit w/ a gas station, choose the one that’s easiest to get back on the highway (to the right, on the left), fill up in the freezing wind in your flip flops and t shirt because your jacket’s in the back seat, lock the car, hit the bathroom, maybe buy a caffeine drink on the way out, go time.

Total stop: like 7 minutes, tops. Maybe you’re crossing the Australian outback and need to fill 5 metal cans, ok, maybe it takes you 12 minutes.

I once drove an Audi 501 miles straight (at least..) before filling up, and was back driving in no time. Liquid fuel fuckin’ rocks! For a 700-800 mi trip, one short stop makes it doable in 1 day of 11-ish hours driving. Gas car, 1 stop, 7 minutes. Electric car, like 5 stops, like 37 minutes each. But.. cheaper still! Actually, since quick charging isn’t as cheap as home charging (what a concept, too bad) the savings start to wash out already.

So you have to split up your trips. At least you could sleep in the back while it’s charging or something. Still, what are you gonna do, though, nap every 2 hours? It’s a strange way to drive.

Road trip in an electric car sounds like donkey balls. Bring a pillow, and a blanket, and something to do.

Fast cars are dead, long live fast cars

I might could buy an electric soon with 300-400 horsepower. And I’m not even looking at “sports cars” or performance package necessarily.

Ok kids, if you’re a lot younger than me (and most aren’t), cars used to have dog shit power. Like nothin’. Like a large chihuahua was under the hood, pedaling. 130 horsepower was middle of the road. Prius fast, if you will. You stomp the gas pedal, and it just kinda makes sounds; it does move, subtly. Cars that weak are drivable “around town”, which means under 35, but trying to go from 55 up to 70 to pass is basically never going to happen unless the road is empty. That said, cars were a lot lighter, and lighter is faster, but I’d say nobody wants to “go back” on safety.

Long before even that, famously, cars used to be really powerful. Back up until around, I want to say, 1968 or so. Sports cars, at least. Regular cars still sucked. They were putting 5, 6, 7 liter engines into sports cars, just spraying fuel in like a bathtub, and making over 300 horse in production cars. Then something something, EPA, middle east, who knows, probably something to do with the ole 55, anyways cars sucked for a long time after that.

Only recently has the production motor really broken clear past 300 horse, most easily done in V8 (OHV first I think, then SOHC/DOHC) but also V6 before you start adding induction. Yeah, I know your Grand Nat’l made big power but I’m talking Camry here, not Corvette.

So to witness the comeback, and what seems to be the impending doom of the gas engine car (I mean..just my honest feeling), it all seems bizarre.

How it all comes together

I think all the gas cars on the road are going to stay driving for a while. All the V6 Toyotas will still be here. Big wheels, keep on turnin’.

Honestly, if you don’t drive much, it seems to not matter so much. So for the get-me-to-work market, gas cars are fine. (cheap electrics would, too, but so-future cars do not affect current ones)

I do feel like hoppin’ on the ole wagon, though. I am excited to see what cars come on the market, although I can’t really say what people are going to look for in cars, anyway. The power will likely be a blur of “comparable”, range “enough”, space “adequate”, &c.

Cars already look pretty much the same, and now they’re basically getting the same drivetrain?

Cars are done. Solved problem, nearly. All cars are fast. Thus the fast car hides in plain sight, it does not exist as a distinction. Or, won’t. You can hardly even drive a fast car fast, roads are so busy, so that you’ve got the fastest electric amongst 300 horse rivals just seems to matter not much.

the blind spot

There’s always a catch, a bump in the rug, of course. Electrics can’t tow.

They can’t, like many a truck I’ve seen, put a gigantic fuel reservoir in the bed of the truck replete with a dispenser handle with a trailer that could carry 5 tons. You could drive that, even at 7 mpg, probably 500 miles.

You just can’t do that in an electric. Not yet, anyways.

And cold weather sucks, but only by a finite uh, 15%. Extra if it’s, uh, extra cold. Obviously! Park in a garage, when possible, of course.

the future

I still can’t wrap my head around the fact I’ve never seen an electric “pump” at a regular gas station. Yet.

Not at Kroger, not at Shell, not.. well I only really go to Kroger so give me a break but they usually have parking spaces at most gas stations to make it happen.

It’d be nice if stations had big displays as to if they’re occupado, or if you can just pull in, but well it’d be nice if they had ya know anything at all, first.

I think charging will become easy, and the filling station will return.

Maybe Buc-ees will lead the way. Beaver power!