The little car that could . . .
The fluctuating price of gasoline has long driven drivers to distraction. Up and down and up and down; there never seems to be any rhyme or reason to the pricing of petrol. Trying to budget for your gasoline needs is like trying to catch the Loch Ness monster – it might be possible, but it’s never probable!
Alternative fuel sources are also subject to unpredictable price fluctuations– the price of ethanol, hydrogen, and natural gas, is as skittish as a young colt.
So what’s a frustrated driver on a modest budget to do?
Well, you can always dream about the electric car and hope it makes a complete comeback.
Yes, comeback! Rechargeable lead-acid batteries were invented by Gaston Plante in France in 1859, and electric carriages were on the road in continental Europe and in Great Britain by 1885. London had a fleet of electric hansom cabs from 1889 to 1910, called Hummingbirds because of the constant low humming their motors made.
Major cities in the United States, such as New York, Chicago and St. Louis, also had streetcars that ran on rechargeable electric batteries, until about 1912, when the internal combustion engine was finally improved to the point where it could outperform rechargeable batteries, and became the standard engine for all Ford cars.
The trouble with those early lead-acid rechargeable batteries was two-fold. First, they weighed too much. An average electric automobile had to carry a battery that weighed anywhere from 100 to 140 pounds. This allowed the vehicle a range of about 120 miles before it needed to be recharged. Second, lead-acid batteries were prone to explode if mishandled or allowed to run dry. The fumes created by the lead-acid combination were noxious as well as inflammable, and many an early pilot of an electric automobile suffered a touch of lung trouble from inhaling those battery fumes over a period of time.
And so gradually the electric car, for all its convenience and economy, fell out of favor and became virtually extinct in the United States by the mid-1930’s, when gasoline was cheap and abundant.
Today, of course, there is a renaissance of plug-in cars, as battery technology starts to finally catch up with the internal combustion engine, and fossil fuels become more and more suspect, not to mention expensive.
Using a lithium-ion battery, which takes only 3 hours to recharge, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, from Daimler, was first introduced into the United States in Orlando, Florida, in 2012. You’ve probably seen this peculiar little vehicle, which looks like a refugee from clown alley, as it is now being mass produced and leased all over the country. It only seats two (obviously!) and can obtain a maximum freeway speed of 70 mph for up to four hours. You can lease one for about $225.00 per month.
There can be significant savings, since no gasoline is required for an electric plug-in car. But please keep in mind how much electricity costs in your area. In some areas where hydro-electric power is abundant, charging up your car is a real bargain. In South Florida, where most power comes from nuclear plants, the cost of electricity is middling – not too high and not too low.
If you’ve got a little bit more cash on hand, Consumer Reports magazine just released their Top Ten Electric Cars list. At the top of the list is the Tesla Model S, retailing for around $89,000. Of course, if you can afford THAT kind of car you’re probably rich enough to have everything and everybody brought to you – so WHY HAVE A CAR AT ALL?
Just for the fun of driving, right?
The Tesla Model S; retailing for a cool $89-thousand.