Last Monday, Nissan announced that it is partnering with NEC to make entirely electric, zero-emission vehicles. Reading between the lines and among the web pages, it is clear to me that if we are not very clear with policy-makers, we will be as stuck to big business as we ever were, zero emissions notwithstanding.
Here’s the deal: these guys are in it for the money. So, how do you continue to make money if you can’t sell gas? You make sure that the mechanism that powers the car breaks down at just that profitable sweet spot where customers aren’t so pissed off that they quit purchasing your product and you still get to pocket a good profit.
The auto makers’ secret weapon is the lithium-ion battery: Zero emission (directly from the car, don’t think about the coal-powered electricity plant), but the battery is going to wear out in two or three years. Two to three years and we are back on the hook for another $10K? Aw, c’mon!
Unfortunately, keeping stupid consumers on the hook is not a new strategy. Industry can make a light bulb that won’t wear out for years and years, but we keep purchasing the ones that wear out.
But maybe we won’t be as stupid as we have been. A quick web search indicates that a California company, zevcat.com, is going to start to sell air-powered vehicles built by MDI, a Luxembourg company, in the next few years. If you have any shares in Nissan, you might want to dump ’em when you read this: Compressed air vehicles are cheaper, go farther on a “tank,” and can be “refilled” in two or three minutes (as opposed to the five hours required for battery-powered vehicles). They go a maximum speed of 68 mph, which is not as fast as the battery-powered ones, but they cost way less: $15K to $20K for the car as opposed to $50K. In a pinch, you could probably refill with a foot pump. Imagine that: a car that goes on and on, powered by “air stations” that I would imagine could give away the air for free (making their money on snacks and coffee). Heck, maybe the air stations could be totally off the grid: run the whole shebang on solar.
Boy, that would be great. I gave up my car last year and I am not even slightly annoyed by taking the bus or riding my bike. In fact, riding my bicycle to work and back means that I have a slight chance of maintaining a reasonable ass size well into old age. (Also a reasonable ass shape, the importance of which can be reinforced with a stroll through any mall parking lot.) But every now and then I have to carry far too much, or travel far too long, for a bike to be reasonable. I would probably not purchase a $50K car at this point, addicted as I am to the convenience and stresslessness of public transit and biking, but I can absolutely imagine spending $20K on a vehicle that will take me anywhere I want to go while setting me free from the carbon-based corporations.
That will be a great day. I look forward to it — and I am going to wait to get one of those rather than spend thousands on an already-available Zenn that won’t go fast enough, takes four hours to recharge, and for a battery that is going to crap out in three to five years. But Zenn Canada deserves recognition if only for the fact that they have put pressure on Ottawa to license electric vehicles. Apparently, even though Zenn has met all requirements for low-speed vehicles, Ottawa is “reviewing the requirements.”
What requirements? That it goes fast enough? Gee, how many lives could be saved by not being able to speed? Safety? Oh, please. If we license motorcycles for the street and allow people to put their kids on ATVs, we can license electric vehicles. So what is it? A sudden drop in revenues related to oil production? Listen, Ottawa, you guys had better start planning for it because the world is going to drive electric vehicles powered by wind and sun, and that’s going to shut down those filthy tar sands. Wrap your heads around it, boys and girls. And do it fast because Canada isn’t going to be able to sustain its activities as a carbon criminal very much longer.