Imagine Life With A One Million Mile Car
The current collapse in car sales isn’t all that bad.
Earlier this month, I read that new car sales are “collapsing” as Jalopnik put it. It’s been on my mind for some time now. Toyota and Honda reported new car sales with a drop of 12% year over year. That’s an impressive decline. And at the time that I read it, GM, Ford and Chrysler had not made their reports known yet, but it wasn’t looking very positive for them either. I reviewed that same article again today and found that an update to their story reports that GM and Chrysler suffered 10% declines and Ford was down 12%. The carmakers are starting to freak on this trend.
I don’t mind buying a used car. Nowadays, they’re put through a rigorous inspection with some warranty, so there is less risk involved in buying a used car. Plus, you avoid most of the depreciation that comes with driving a new car off the lot. And current trends suggest there are going to be a lot more used cars around to buy and trade.
The recent trends in car sales are a clear indication that stagnant wages most people endure are no longer enough to support a monthly car payment in the $400–500 range, plus increased insurance. Yes, the economy has done OK under Trump but only if you listen to Grover Norquist of Americans For Tax Reform and you take his word as gospel. Norquist claims that the middle class has received healthy gains from the Trump Tax Cuts, even after inflation. But if that were true, I doubt we’d see car sales in such a slump.
I think it’s fair to say that people are not buying a new car every 4–5 years like they used to. I know I sure don’t. I like to hang onto my cars, keep them up with regular service and drive them until they are done. I prefer to live my life without debt service. But I’m now well beyond the point of buying another internal combustion engine. I have a very high degree of confidence that the next vehicle I buy will be an electric one. My dream car is a Tesla Model 3.
I’m a big fan of Tesla. I’ve been reading up on his cars and who owns them and what they think of them. My favorite example is comedian Jay Leno. You might remember him from The Tonight Show, you know, before Jimmy Fallon took over.
Leno is a great example of an EV owner because he’s a car guy and he likes to collect cars. So he would know what there is to like about electric cars, and Tesla’s electric car, in particular. Jay Leno is also the host of the CNBC series, Jay Leno’s Garage, which you can also see on YouTube. CNBC interviewed Leno in August and here are a few things that Leno had to say:
“For new technology to succeed, it can’t be equal,” he said. “It’s got to be better and [Tesla] sort of solved the battery problem. It can go 350 to 400 miles at a charge. … There’s no maintenance. They’re faster than the gas car. So there’s almost no reason to have a gas car unless you’re doing long-haul duty.”
Well, there is windshield wiper fluid to replace and brake fluid, and pads to replace, but other than that, he’s happy with his Tesla. And I have heard Elon Musk quoted to say that the brake pads will never need to be replaced.
Then I got wind of some news about a million-mile battery being developed by Tesla. Wired ran a story on this news here. What I found really interesting is the opening paragraph to the story. Wired says that a million-mile battery is double the expected lifetime of their current batteries. And they say that even Tesla’s half-million-mile batteries are well beyond the range of other EV batteries.
Doing some simple math, we can find that at 24,000 miles a year, we’d still get 20 years of life out of the Tesla battery as it stands now. I do about 12,000 miles a year on my cars, one a Honda and one is a Toyota. Both cars, with regular maintenance, will last about 250,000 miles. So I can easily expect my cars to last about 20 years with our current driving habits. But that internal combustion engine maintenance bites me every year. I’m spending about a minimum of $1400 a year on maintenance every year for both cars.
Typical maintenance costs for EVs is a fraction of that cost. In a recent study by the 2 Degrees Institute in Canada, savings in ownership costs ranged from 66% to 77% compared to internal combustion engines. Energy Sage cited a Michigan study that found that “The average (energy) cost to operate an EV in the United States is $485 per year, while the average for a gasoline-powered vehicle is $1,117.”
Cleantechnica reports that maintenance costs over 5 years for a Tesla to be about $980 if you do a few easy tasks yourself. Actual maintenance costs were very hard to come by even with diligent research. On the other hand, I did notice that a few studies of total cost of ownership were using depreciation costs to show that an EV had a much higher cost of ownership than an ICE vehicle. Inside EVs had one here, and so did Arthur D. Little, here.
Yes, there are some upfront costs to EVs. And yes, there are some inconveniences here and there. This can be expected with new technology, and early adopters are willing to pay that price.
But I see a one-million-mile battery coming. I can see in the not so distant future, an economy that leans on a more sustainable automobile lifecycle. Instead of people buying a car every 6 or 7 years, they buy a new battery pack, recycle the old battery pack, and drive on. They aren’t so familiar with their mechanics anymore. Dealers spend more time maintaining cars than selling cars. The finance model takes a beating and the dealers get used to selling fewer and fewer cars.
A car designed to last a million miles is something that can be passed down generations with regular maintenance and care. What I really like about electric cars is that they aren’t spewing exhaust everywhere. The pollution from generating the energy to charge the battery can be better controlled at the source. The fuel doesn’t spill. When I walk in a parking lot, I see the oil spots from cars that are not maintained very well. Those spots go away with EVs.
I also see a life where instead of going to the gas station to fill up, I plug in once a week at home for a charge, if that. I see gas stations take a hit as their convenience stores and all their junk food dry up. I can also see that along major corridors, like the I-15, charging stations will pop up next to restaurants, motels, and entertainment.
Changing from gas to electric cars will require a major restructuring of the economy. And I think that kind of change will create greater awareness among the people here, that we’ve been taken for a long lost ride by the oil industry. According to the US Department of Energy, The first electric cars were sold in 1828. That’s 190 years of development time. Just imagine what our lives would be like had we invested our time, money and know-how into electric vehicles since then.
We would not be so involved in wars in the Middle East as oil is a very inefficient fuel for generating electricity. We would have focused our talents and ingenuity on energy efficiency, and we would have taken greater notice of all of the pollution from internal combustion engines. We would have invested more of our talents in finding better ways to generate electricity than drilling for oil. And we’d be breathing a little easier today.
At least for now, we’re finally on the right track.