One of the best parts of working on this story was stumbling upon a subculture of electric car fanatics, like Darell Dickey, many of whom drive incredibly rare, full-size all-electric cars that were available for a blink of an eye in the late ’90s and early 2000s. There are just hundreds of these cars left today and they’ve become collector’s items. One EV enthusiast I interviewed flew out to Arizona at his own expense so that a car dealership could interview him to decide whether he was worthy of a 1998 GM electric truck. (He was.)

In fact, Darell Dickey is even more hard core about this stuff than the piece reveals. Darell powers his Rav4 EV – as well as his entire house – on 100% solar power, and he took pains to tell me that he considers even the EV a compromise. Most of the time, like so many Davis dwellers, he rides his bike.

Today if you’re driving a full size EV, you’re likely either extremely devoted, extremely wealthy, or both. The Tesla Roadster retails for about $100K; another car we mention briefly, the Scion eBox (converted from gas versions by LA-based AC Propulsion) sells for $70K. Most everyone I spoke with hopes this will soon change.

Make sure to check out our photo set on Flickr which includes: photos of all the cars discussed in this report. You can also hear our radio story on electric cars online and find additional links and resources.

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Reporter’s Notes: Who Will Revive the Electric Car? 12 June,2013Amy Standen

  • Sharon Pettie

    Wow! This is great! Where do I sign up to help?

  • I wonder why the AIR CAR never gets any mention when I see or hear stories on saving fuel. This runs on compressed air and can travel over 100 miles at 70 mph. An onboard pump will refill the tanks, or for $3 a quick trip to a station with a high pressure pump will do it. Plans are in place to build barges to be anchored in rivers with impellers, so NO electricity would be used.

  • Sharon – Sign up at your local auto dealership. Tell them you won’t buy another car until you can plug it in! They only laugh the first time that a potential customer does that. Once we all start doing it, there won’t be so much humor in it.

    Erik – I can give you several reasons why the Air Car is not mentioned in these stories. Much like Fuel Cell cars, Air Cars promise great things, but have not delivered. Where are these wonders of efficiency? Compressing air takes more energy than charging a battery for the same number of miles – so no matter how you harness the energy, you’ll do better to put it into batteries. While batteries have improved in energy density and cost every year for the past generation, compressed air storage has not. There are physical limits to how much air you can store onboard a car. There are no limits to how good batteries can become. And there is a reason that when the automaters HAD to come out with ZEVs in the 1990’s that the car makers did NOT choose Fuel Cells or Air Cars. Quickly: The battery car is the most efficient, cost-effective way to produce a full-performance, full-size, non-polluting automobile. And the infrastructure is 90% in place EVERYWHERE.

  • Tom C Gray

    Unfortunately, even $8 per gallon gasoline makes gas powered cars a better economic decision than a battery-only EV, which is an oxymoron. These cars can’t do much of anything and the batteries cost a fortune and don’t last long. The only car that’s even close to practical is the Chevy Volt, which can eliminate 97% of the need for any gasoline, which is actually better than what a fleet of battery-only electrics can do, as there are millions of trips they cannot manage, which the plug-ins can, and use a lot of electricity doing so. Battery costs have to come down a lot
    and recharge capabilities have to imporve by 1000% percent before battery only cars make any sense at all. Right now they are being shilled by mostly those ignorant of just how painfully incapable, inconvnient, and expensive they really are. And the claim that the crappy Evs of the 1990s were availabe for an instant is total llie – both the EV-1 and the Rav4 were available for over 6 years, far more than the availability of the typical gas powered car model. Nobody wanted the stupid things, and with a $25,000 1200 pound battery pack that lasted fives years, the per miles costs were closer to an M1tank than any gas powered car, despite the transparent and silly lies in the equally silly crockumentary fiction called “Who Killed ..”

  • Wow, Tom. Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?

    We have Rav drivers who have already saved $20,000 on gasoline alone. Not to mention oil chainges, tune-ups, etc. And I suppose we shouldn’t bother putting a price on life, health, clean air, national security or foreign policy. And those batteries that don’t last long? They’re still going after eleven years – and in many cases 150,000+ miles. My car that I took Amy for a ride in last week only has about 60,000 miles on the clock. There’s one on Ebay right now that has 126,000 miles,and it is still using the original batteries. I don’t have that much time to put that many miles on a car. We only do about 11,500/year on any car.

    Since our EV is used for 90% of our automobile trips, I’m not sure how that corresponds with your claim of doing “not much of anything.”

    You claim that the Chevy Volt – a car that does not yet exist – is the only car that is “close to practical” and eliminates 97% of gasoline. While we dream of what the Volt might be, you claim that I am am ignorant of my EV’s capabilities? My car that exists?! My car that we have driven seven days/week for the past six years. My car that was designed in the early 1990’s? Hello? Is this thing on?

    Where are you getting your information, I wonder? Certainly not from anybody who has tried to purchase, nor anybody who has leased nor owned a production EV. Not from anybody who knows the first thing about the “production” EVs of the late 90’s. The Rav4EV’s were available to the public for six years? You are wrong. From 1996 to 2002 they were available for fleet lease only. For eight months in 2002 they were availalbe for purchase or lease to individuals. The EV1 availability was on again, off again. Except for a few rare instances, there was never a car sitting at the dealer that could simply be leased and driven home. I tried to lease (no purchase option) an EV1 for three years, and was consistently denied. I was even one of the prototype test-drivers, and was assured that I would “be on the list” when they were available. After three years of grovelling to GMAC, I eventually got one through other channels for a two year lease. Lucky me.

    You may do well to listen to some first-hand accounts of the situation, instead of relying on industry spin. Nobody questions the fact that the auto companies wanted to stop producing EVs just as quickly as they could. The big mystery is why do all the drivers who have the cars choose to drive them – deperately in most cases – over the other gas cars that they own? Especially when they’re as horrible as you claim.

  • Earl

    Wow Tom,
    You sure seem rather certain for someone with the facts wrong. GM and Toyota leased (or in the case of Toyota, sold) every single EV they made and still had waiting lists of people who wanted them. I had to pull strings even to get an EV1. They were great cars.
    I agree that the Volt will be great if they actually build and sell it.
    Battery costs do need to come down. A market that will allow for mass production will handle that part.
    I’m a bit confused how you can suggest that those promoting EVs are “ignorant of just how painfully incapable, inconvnient, and expensive they really are.”. Most of the more vocal EV supporters drive RAV4EVs today or drove EV1s until they were taken from us and destroyed.

  • Greg

    Hey Tom, when you find an M1 tank that can be driven 100 miles for three cents a mile, tell the military to buy a bunch, because that’s what it costs to drive a reasonably efficient freeway capable EV…that was designed ten years ago. The Nickel Metal Hydride batteries have shown real-world longevity of over 100,000 miles. You may want to check your “facts” with some of the lucky few who actually own them, or stats from the business fleets that drive them.

  • As President of the Electric Vehicle Association of Southern California, I can attest that every single person I’ve encountered who has driven an EV for any length of time will echo what Earl and Darell said. The only people who have negative things to say about EVs are those who have never actually driven one. Why is that?

    If you don’t think EVs are right for you, Tom, then by all means continue driving on gas. Continue polluting your air and water and everyone else’s, your children’s included. Continue giving an ever increasing percentage of your money to the oil companies, and by extension the Saudis and their terrorist Wahabis surrogates. Continue taking your car in for tune ups, oil changes and all manner of engine repairs that will inevitably be needed. Oh, and don’t forget the smog checks.

    When you spout nonsense based on ignorance, you look foolish. Please, next time you want to respond to one of these things…don’t.

  • Ah… before anybody else wastes any time on “Tom” (with more aliases than you can shake a stick at) please have a look here:

    For just a *partial* list of what he’s written elsewhere.

    If anybody else would care to engage in intelligent conversation, I’d love to just ignore “Tom” from now on – and am sorry that I responded to him the first time.

  • RAV4EV in Dallas

    I drove a RAV4 EV in Dallas, TX for 5 years, every single day, carrying dogs, groceries, furniture, helping friends move, taking my employees to lunch, going to DFW airport, driving to Fort Worth, etc. So how is this not practical? Around here, people either fly or rent cars to drive out-of-town anyway because they don’t want the miles and related depreciation on the cars they own, so while I didn’t even KNOW the price of gas for 5 years while my friends laughed at me, I had the LAST laugh when I told them I sold it for more than I paid for it, thus driving a car for free for 5 years, including electricity, repairs and maintenance! The only reason I sold it was because it was out of warranty.

  • I had designed the open source auto of the future already. It’s a human/wind/electric powered vehicle.

    I had seen one company pick up the concept of an inflatable body already. Supper safe and super light.(They didn’t mention filling it with helium jet)

    One should look at this car as an oversized bicycle. Recumbent bicycles can go 60 mph, making it bigger will make it slower. This is where the wind turbine and the electric motor kick in.

    Negative weight, negative drag and by utilising human power the passenger is sufficiently conditioned during the ride to beneficially influence the total duration of their life.

    This is what allows the vehicle designed to travel from A to B in zero seconds or less.

    Alternatively from the alternative ordinary vehicles can run on batteries and water using GEET or Brownsgas fuel saving technology.
    YouTube – Waterauto

    Think about electrolysis as conversion from electricity to fuel. The only difference is that there is oxygen in the exhaust. Mixing the hydrogen soup with “conventional” fuel the oxygen will help burn that fuel. So you get more boom for your buck then you putin.

    Make it so that it uses a significant percentage of the batteries you plan to stick in the car. Make it so that you have something to charge up when you get home.

    Other things can also be done.

    Remove everything from the car that has weight other then the driver seat and the spare tire. Make the tires extra hard.

    I’m sure any alternator can be replaced by an electric motor.

    I know it sounds weird but if you just keep adding things that cost electricity it will use more and more of it.

    Keep adding batteries when you manage to make it consume the power within. 🙂

    Then can buy or make a ram implosion wing.

    It could take a long time for the fuel to run out.

    Add some strips of that nanosolar stuff to keep the batteries topped off.

    Then when you get 10% better fuel efficiency you can pay the rest of the fuel with the books, seminars.

    People will pay good money to hear they are being helped.

  • Robert Betancourt

    New GI bill sets up ZAP Dealerships. 50 K grant to veterans with training program with the new Montgomery GI Bill could revive the electric car dealership. Zap makes the Xebra electric car and truck that seats four and dose 45 MPH for fifty miles using a three prong plug. The truck dumps and can carry 1000 KG at the same speed. Costs only 11,800 today with a life expectancy 15 years. Cost to operate 6 cents a mile.
    Yes, the electric vehicle is here at 501 fourth Street Santa Rosa California with the new Detroit Electric being revivive(2009 100 miles an hour for 100 miles). Solar grants and windpower work ask Contra Costa county. Why not do it and revive the Walnut Creek station car project.

    Oh, did you forget about Adelante California 100 Muskrat Road DUFFY BOATS. Yep electric boats and cars are certainly fasterthan golf carts and prettier too. How about sailing dinghy program with the sip&puff sailing in McCovey Cove. Too bad KQED is not looking in their back yard. Let us have a program on PBS show KTLA and KCET what can be done NOW!


Amy Standen

Amy Standen (@amystanden) is co-host of #TheLeapPodcast (subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher!) and host of KQED and PBSDigital Studios' science video series, Deep Look.  Her science radio stories appear on KQED and NPR.

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