If you’ve ever driven a car with a large engine, say a truck with a 454 cubic inch engine, you’ll remember the powerful, noisy commotion. That noise is something you get used to, and some find it satisfying. I completely understand: I had a BMW motorcycle back in the 80’s and loved the throaty rumble it made cruising down the highway at 4000 rpm.
But let’s stop a moment and think about what’s going on inside those engines. You punch the accelerator, gas is delivered to the engine block where it is burned in an explosion that creates smoke, heat, gas, a whole lot of noise, and finally movement. And let’s not forget, those are explosions. Mufflers are needed to muffle the deafening roar coming from your engine. Case in point: ever heard a motorcycle with straight pipes from a mile away? Exactly.
Now that car with the big block V8 will get you moving, and maybe get 15 miles per gallon. Over the years the efficiency of gas powered cars has increased slowly. The national average in the US is now around 25 mpg. Automakers keep tinkering around the edges, providing a bit more power here, a few more miles per gallon there. But it’s like rearranging deck chairs on a cruise ship: small incremental changes that don’t change the century old design of gas, explosion, smoke, heat, noise, exhaust, and finally movement. It’s not a very efficient way to travel. 70 to 75% of the energy released by burning gas in an internal combustion engine is wasted. So 25 to 30% pushes you down the road and the rest is gone, leaving nothing but a trail of smoke in the air.
The gasoline powered cars that get the best MPG actually have small electric motors that help power the car. For example, the current-generation 2015 Toyota Prius has an EPA-approved combined gas mileage rating of 50 MPG. The technology is interesting, but it has nothing to do with the power of a 454 cubic inch monster.
Enter the electric car. Electric cars can deliver that same thrill, but in a much more efficient package. In comparison to gasoline engines, electric motors are powerful, silent, and much, much more efficient. 90% of the energy stored in the battery pack is used to drive you down the road. I’ve been driving an electric car, a 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV, for over two years (see my past reviews here and here).
I’ve logged 30,000 trouble free miles so far and love this car more than any I’ve ever driven – except for that Tesla Model S test drive, but that’s a different story. Three months ago I bought a data logger that plugs into my EV’s electronic circuits and monitors, among other things, how much energy is used to drive a given distance. Since installing the data logger I’ve driven 3,500 miles – 2/3 highway and 1/3 city streets – and have been getting the equivalent of 144 MPG. From a 4000 pound Rav4 EV that has the aerodynamics of a brick! Granted, I’m a slow driver, but the same style of driving gets me 53 MPG from my ‘efficient’ Prius. This is strong testimony to the efficiency of electric cars.
But don’t let that efficiency lull you to sleep. If you need the full power an EV can deliver, it’s there waiting for you. Punch the accelerator and BAM! Immediate torque, immediate power. The energy stored in the battery pack is not wasted in heat-generating explosions. It’s delivered to an electric motor that instantly propels you down the road. It feels effortless. In general I don’t drive fast, but it still amazes me when a light turns green and I silently pull away from other cars roaring with noise and laboring furiously to get moving and keep up.
Here’s a real world example of how you might use the power of an EV: Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that your son’s daycare calls you and says, “Steve, your son Jimmy, I mean your hypothetical son, has bumped his head and I think he needs stitches… an ambulance is on the way to take him to the local clinic!” Before they hung up I was in my EV flying down the road, perhaps slightly over the speed limit. But 10 minutes later the daycare called me back and said, “He was acting funny, the paramedics think he might have a concussion so they’re taking him to the children’s hospital.” Which was in the opposite direction. Talk about alarming. I turned around and in a matter of seconds was doing Speed Limit X 2 on Interstate 80. Now, I don’t recommend driving over the speed limit, but it is good to know that when you need it, EVs have the power to drive you safely and quickly where you need to go (ps: Jimmy is fine, no concussion!).
So back to all that noise. Do I miss the rumble of gasoline engines? The noise of explosions under the hood of my car? Not at all. I don’t need the noise to remind me that my EV has some serious power under the hood. After driving gas powered cars our whole lives, we’ve become accustomed to that noise, it’s just background noise. But the minute it’s gone you realize that your ears, and your mind, are getting a break. I enjoy the silence of driving my EV, the daily commute is more relaxing. One way to describe what it’s like, is to imagine that you’re in a night club where the music is just too loud. Maybe you’re in there having fun with friends, but the minute you step outside you are struck by the silence, and might feel relief! For those who crave noise, the silence of an EV actually allows for all sorts of possibilities. In the digital world there’s not much stopping you from driving a car that sounds like George Jetson’s car, a Star Wars Tie fighter, or a Harley Davidson if you prefer. In fact, artificial noises are already used by the auto industry. Ford, BMW, and maybe others, pipe fake noise into the cabin of some of their cars – ‘augment’ is the word they use – to make the cars sound like they have a V8 under the hood. To each his own. But perhaps you could just enjoy the silence.
Disclaimer: The author has no financial interest in companies linked in this article.
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