Steve Hawkins
Vail, CO, Colorado

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March 8, 2013
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Vail Daily letter: A fuller picture of electric vehicles in the mountains

Re: "It'll never work" (Sunday, Feb. 24): That's too bad. Rather than talk about science, facts, truths with a modicum of respect and dignity, some folks attack and try to belittle other people's efforts.

I will have to apologize to Mr. Donnalley up front, as this not-so-short rebuttal will have no negative or derogatory comments about he, his presumed politics or anyone else. I would like to simply refute a few points from the gentleman's Vail Daily letter, which seemed to encourage people to do nothing rather than do something to prod us toward a better future.

True, I drive an electric-powered car every day, everywhere, and have for the past many years.

Battery electric vehicles have an electric motor and batteries with very few moving parts. They also have the ability to recharge when traversing downhill, slowing or stopping, thus adding additional energy to the battery pack and extending driving range via 'zero emissions' technologies.(Delete underlines) This is not a plug-in electric vehicle or a hybrid.

Electric vehicles have no engine, gas tank, transmission, mufflers, vibrations or any of hundreds of other moving parts that wear, break and cause repairs.

Gas-powered cars are generally referred to as internal combustion engine vehicles and are what 99 percent of the U.S. population drives today. They contain all those parts.

True, The New York Times did write a derogatory article about Tesla cars. The crux of the story was that the author tried to drive from Washington, D.C., to Boston and back using the SuperCharger network and did not successfully complete the trip. As with anything, we would also be advised to read the follow-ups and fact checks that have left that particular author scrambling to justify his commentary.

What the author did not understand when he wrote his negative article is that electric vehicles like the Tesla run on computers that precisely record every detail of the vehicle's performance, so facts could be checked.

The actual facts showed that the author intentionally caused the trip to fail and subsequently misled his readers. Dozens of other Tesla drivers, as well as other journalists including CNN, CNBC and Consumer Reports, have since completed the Washington, D.C., to Boston SuperCharger run without incident. Furthermore, The New York Times has apologized for their inaccuracies in this matter.

True, electric vehicle batteries work less efficiently in cold temperatures. But indeed, that is true of internal combustion engine cars too. That's why we warm up our gas-powered vehicles in the morning and also why Tesla actively heats and cools its battery packs.

It is indeed wasted energy, but either way, the Tesla just wastes less of it. Last night my Tesla sat outside in 10-degree weather all night. When I parked, it had 268 miles of range and when I got up in the morning it had 261 miles of range, a seven-mile loss for heating the traction pack overnight. That's a loss well worth the performance gains.

As for the Leaf's batteries, my Leaf was outside in the daytime and in an unheated garage all last winter and its batteries worked just fine. The Leaf never came close to a "too cold" warning. This is because the car was actively using (during driving) and replacing (during charging) energy regularly.

The Leaf's actual problems are in extreme heat, not cold, but that is a manufacturer design flaw and not a valid condemnation of an entire technology.

True, with the Tesla you can use an incredibly expensive charger called the SuperCharger. It charges a 300-mile range Tesla from zero to full in 55 minutes, equaling 5.45 miles per minute. However, that charger is not available for sale to the public. That would be equivalent to having a personal gas pump in your garage. Those particular stations and their fueling costs (gas prices) are included in the vehicle's purchase price.

The Tesla SuperCharger infrastructure is designed specifically to accommodate folks who want to drive up to 600 miles in a single day. They can drive 300 miles, plug in the vehicle at a SuperCharger station, take an hour for lunch, and then go another 300 miles.

Also absent from the commentary were the facts that Teslas also charge on three other readily available levels of electricity through simple extension cords with no additional equipment beyond the car, a cord and a regular wall outlet. These cars can charge on everything from an ordinary wall outlet to a clothes dryer or electric range outlet, all available in any building in the United States.

Also, when you plug a Tesla into an outlet, it will automatically figure out what level of electricity is available and how much it can charge. If you can plug in a toaster, you can charge an electric car. I do every week.

Not completely true: Electricity does come from fossil fuels. It also comes from solar, wind and hydro, which are all zero emissions. I suspect folks might consider the fact that the fossil fuel component pollutes when mined, when transported, when stored, when refined and lastly when the end-user (you and I) drive internal combustion engine vehicles. The electric car simply cleans up one of the more significant issues in that long line of polluting. Ask yourself this: "Is it easier to control pollution at one stationary source (a power plant) or in a million moving objects (all our vehicles)? I would reason that a stationary source and a zero emissions vehicle would be a step in a positive direction.

Fact, a recent Tesla trip yielded 32 kilowatts of energy to drive from Vail to Boulder and 47 kilowatts to drive back to Vail. The difference in energy consumption is the length and severity of the gradients along I-70. The Tesla holds 85 kilowatts of electricity. A gallon of regular gas holds 35 kilowatts of electric equivalency.

With the round trip at 79 kilowatts and gas at 35 kilowatts equals a 2.25 gallon equivalency on 206 mile trip, or a 91.5 mpg equivalent when driving an electric vehicle. Considering the climbs and passes, that's not very efficient, but it's better than any known alternative.

Next, if a Tesla is in Denver and wants to extend from Vail to Aspen or Grand Junction, then they will need to plan to stop and charge. That is where SuperCharger technology fills the gap by allowing longer trips in a single day.

Progress isn't free. It takes some adjustments, efforts and vision. Don't be too surprised to see SuperCharger infrastructure in our valley in the near term.

True, Tesla is an expensive ride. No doubt about that. But the Tesla's pricing isn't $100,000 as quoted, but is base priced at $57,000. The Leaf's base was $36,000. Both are dependent on extras as with any other vehicle. Nonetheless they are relatively priced comparable with many of the vehicles we see in our valley every day.

I would like to think that each of us participates in whatever way is available to us. That could be a Tesla or an internal combustion engine vehicle that gets a little better gas mileage then the one we have now. Every little bit helps.

As for me, all six of my electric vehicles have been more enjoyable to drive than any internal combustion engine car I have ever had. I have hundreds of thousand miles in electric vehicles and they are simply smooth, quiet and clean vehicles that put fun back into driving.

Steve Hawkins


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 8, 2013 07:40PM Published Mar 8, 2013 07:38PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.