Why your car is not electric
Interesting article by Maggie Koerth-Baker in the NY Times:
It will come as no surprise to hear that only a tiny fraction — less than 1 percent — of cars driving along American roads are fully electric. What might be more surprising is the fact that this wasn’t always the case. In 1900, 34 percent of cars in New York, Boston and Chicago were powered by electric motors. Nearly half had steam engines. What happened? Why do we end up embracing one technology while another, better one struggles or fails?
The easiest assumption is that some powerful entity suppresses one technology and favors another, and so the wheel of progress slowly turns. But historians of science and business will tell you that this isn’t the whole story. Instead, the culture we live in and the technologies we use are constantly shaping and being shaped by one another, and it’s this messy and unpredictable process that determines winners and losers.
There are plenty of reasons Americans should have adopted electric cars long ago. Early E.V.’s were easier to learn to drive than their gas cousins, and they were far cleaner and better smelling. Their battery range and speed were limited, but a vast majority of the trips we take in our cars are short ones. Most of the driving we do has been well within the range of electric-car batteries for decades, says David Kirsch, associate professor of management at the University of Maryland and the author of “The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History.” We drive gas-powered cars today for a complex set of reasons, Kirsch says, but not because the internal-combustion engine is inherently better than the electric motor and battery. . .