Op-Ed: In Truth, EVs Are The “Normal Cars” and ICE Vehicles are “Niche Cars”

DEC 24 2013 BY ASSAF ORON 30

We’ve all heard and read the slurs that EVs are not “real cars”.  According to what is till the conventional wisdom EVs are novelty toys, or they are nonviable, or they are “golf carts”, etc. Analysts using more politically-correct language call EVs “niche cars”.

Ok… so what is the niche? To answer that, we need to list the common use cases of the private automobile. In the urban/suburban industrialized world (where most private cars still are), these would be, in descending order:

  1. Commuting to and from work;
  2. Leisure and errand drives to destinations around town;
  3. Occasional (or rare) longer drives, mostly on weekends and vacations, for day-trips and road-trips.

How well-suited are ICE vehicles to these tasks? They literally suck at #1 and #2, our most common use cases.  Not only do they waste energy and release pollutants while idling at stoplights and traffic jams; the stop-and-go is against their grain. It causes far more wear and tear on their engine, cooling and other systems than high-speed driving. Face it: ICE vehicles were designed for the wide-open road trip – a use pattern that most of them only experience rarely, if ever.

LA Traffic (via learningtolovalalaland.wordpress.com)

LA Traffic (via learningtolovalalaland.wordpress.com)

By contrast, EVs are perfect for tasks #1 and #2. In reasonable weather they will spend no energy sitting in jams. In extreme weather whey will need some to keep you comfortable – but it will take hours for them to run out of juice on heating/cooling alone. In any case, while in traffic they will emit no tailpipe pollutants into the lungs of stranded drivers and pedestrians.

A side comment: by rights, for task #1 (commute) the normal mode of transportation should be public transit. But if you must take a private vehicle, then EVs are far more natural for the task than ICE vehicles.

As to task #3, the capabilities of current first-generation modern EVs vary from minimal to reasonable, depending upon the car (the high-performers would be the Teslas). But to accomplish specific drives beyond your BEV’s ability, you can always take an ICE vehicle (rented/swapped/your own).  This is the very definition of “niche”.  Or, if those drives are fairly common for you, get a PHEV/EREV instead of a BEV.

Few Electric Vehicles Today Can Handle The Deadly Combination Of A Long Range Trek In The Cold

Few Electric Vehicles Today Can Handle The Deadly Combination Of A Long Range Trek In The Cold

Insisting that ICE cars are “the only real car” because they’re better on road trips, and that EVs are a “niche car” – is like hauling an 80-liter rucksack to work and school every day instead of something more reasonable, and boasting that “this is the only real backpack“. Sure, you can plop your school folder and lunch bag into the rucksack and there’s plenty of space remaining; and taking your day-to-day bag on a backpacking trip is infeasible. But there’s no question as to which one is “normal” and which one is “niche”.

As it stands, current BEVs are already superior to ICE vehicles on every major aspect except for three. The first aspect will forever remain an ICE specialty: the deep off-grid/off-road adventure. If you want to tour the back roads away for civilization for a week – a 4×4 ICE vehicle with a full tank and an extra jerrycan will remain your best bet.

The other two aspects where ICE still has a clear edge – range/charge and extreme-weather resilience – are current areas of focus and quick progress for the emerging EV segment. EVs might not exceed ICE vehicles on these two, but being “close enough” will be sufficient, because EVs beat ICE on everything else, and are much better suited for most drivers’ most common needs.

Furthermore, it is widely overlooked that besides being “niche” on use cases, ICE vehicles are by design a niche technology.  They are closely tailored to take advantage of an extreme and unique biogeochemical phenomenon: the ultra-concentration of energy in liquid petroleum distillates. The ICE is essentially a narrow-use mobile thermal power plant, converting this energy to linear piston movement (losing a ton to waste heat in the process), and then to the circular motion needed to turn the wheels (incurring more losses).

This monopolistic reliance of a huge segment of modern human activities upon a niche technology, with a niche single-source specialized fuel, is one of the main reasons for the distortions underpinning so much of our economy and politics, distortions that are now hurling us towards the abyss of global warming.

By contrast, a BEV integrates 5 mainstream, generic, multiple-source, well-established technologies:

  1. The “glider” or the vehicle body: – the frame, steering, wheels, brakes, etc. – essentially the same for any car regardless of motor type. This is tech that has been around for >100 years, and arguably for thousands of years (if you count pre-motorized versions);
  2. The electric motor – tech that has been around for >100 years;
  3. The rechargeable battery-pack – tech that has been around for >150 years;
  4. Computerized control and coordination of the whole thing – younger, but still tech that has been around for decades and is rather mainstream nowadays;
  5. The electrical grid itself.
The 2014 Chevy Spark EV, described by Consumer Reports as the best Spark ever made. Incoming GM CEO Mary Barra says she loves it. Will she also let Americans buy it?

The 2014 Chevy Spark EV, described by Consumer Reports as the best Spark ever made. Incoming GM CEO Mary Barra says she loves it. Will she also let Americans buy it?

The final testament that EVs are more “natural” cars, is how relatively easy it has been, already in the technology’s first decade of mass proliferation, for so many automakers to churn out EVs that win multiple awards and recognition in all-vehicle comparisons. The pinnacle is of course the Tesla Model S, but the Leaf and Volt have won their share of awards and score very high on user satisfaction. Even BEVs made solely as “California Compliance Cars”, with minimal investment, have somehow managed to turn out much better than their ICE counterparts (the Fiat 500e and the Spark EV come to mind).

In short, the next time someone blabbers to you about EVs being “niche cars” or worse, you’ll know what to say to them…

Happy Holidays everyone, and may 2014 be the year EVs broke Big Oil’s back!

Note: this is an abbreviated variation of my longer post about EV technology at DailyKos:

Categories: General


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30 Comments on "Op-Ed: In Truth, EVs Are The “Normal Cars” and ICE Vehicles are “Niche Cars”"

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I’d love for some group of concerned scientist to take a temperature reading of that pictured roadway during that traffic jam then take the temperature again on a different day (same time) when the road is not in use. My hypothesis is each car is like a fire place releasing heat into the atmosphere. Multiply that by the ever increasing number of ICE cars sold each year and you have the cause of global warming.


Well… not quite. Globally speaking the released CO2 is far more consequential than direct thermal emissions.
But yes, the highways during traffic are typically warmer than a random spot not far away, both due to thermal emissions and to the asphalt or concrete retaining heat.

Having just gone through a “gentle” ice storm (nothing like The Ice Storm, but the worst in my 6 years here) raising temperature of the road is actually a nice side-effect of ICEVs for winter as the hot cars help clear the road. In a world of BEVs the roads would melt and dry much more slowly.

Please don’t use those images of the 405. I used to drive that everyday and it gives me PTSD.

Sorry Ted… it just looked like the perfect pic. In the original post the caption said something like

“ICE vehicles were definitely not designed to do this – and yet, this is what most of them do most of the time.”

I was breathing a lot of exaust during the year and a half of that commute. Electric would make the drivers life better in traffic over the long haul.

The beauty of my Volt is that it does ‘all of the above’ in an efficient manner. In good weather, I do my commute totally on electricity. In colder weather or longer mileage days, the ‘inefficient’ ICE comes on and sips just enough fuel to get me back to the EVSE in my garage. On road trips, I get 40mpg while driving an incredible road car.

What’s not to like?

GM and dealers are doing Volt an injustice. All the ads for Volt show the ICE mileage and totally ignore the dual-fuel nature of the vehicle.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

There are Volt ads?

Dealer ads in newspapers and on the web. No GM ads for a while.

That’s awsome Loboc! Super nice one car solution.
The reasons GM’s ads are that way is because they are still about selling ICE vehicles. Even your super cool Volt has an ICE with all the trimmings. Good news is that these days, between word of mouth and the Net, the important story that you mentioned WILL eventually make it out there to the masses 🙂

Here is a link to a hard to find Movie called Oil Storm it was made a year before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and oddly in the movie it did mention a monster hurricane smashing into the oil factories along the gulf cost http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqArSrZHGi8

This is one of the movies that makes me want to get a EV in that when you own a EV you are Oil Storm proof.

However, you are not power outage proof when you own an EV. There are more power outages than hurricanes. In fact, hurricanes have been the cause of most of the power outages I’ve experienced. Gas powered cars and generators helped me to retain some semblance of civilization during these periods. I’ll grant you that some day, I expect that gasoline will be too expensive to burn, and I’ll want an alternative to my ICE. I’m not there yet.

Agreed. This is indeed covered under the off-road/off-grid aspect which will probably always remain a solid ICE advantage.

That being said, once you have affordable 50+KWh EVs, these can still run around through quite a few days of power outage, if used judiciously. And, given the rapid advance of vehicle-to-home/grid systems, they can even be used for emergency power to your power-outed home.

One of my dreams is to own a house covered in solar panels with battery back up and storage and to own a EV so that I could in theory not worry about the oil companies or the electric company trying to take my shorts. As for the time being I think I’m planning on getting the EV first and get the solar panels later or buy a house with a existing solar panel system and add batteries to it. Also unlike other doomsday preps like guns or landmines or underground bunkers the solar panels and electric car would have a use right off the bat in that they would save money and pay for themselves as soon as I buy them in that I could start using them right away. A example is that you spend $70,000 dollars building a giant underground bunker under ground. Well unless a comet hits or a atom bomb goes off or you live in tornado alley the $70,000 bunker sits there as a giant closet or garage or in a lot of cases fills with ground water. And in a lot of cases people will prepare for doomsday but in a lot of… Read more »

Grid-tied solar with V2H backup and all you need is a small 2kwh generator for an emergency emergency, or better yet a PHEV with V2H. People who have lived through prolonged outages don’t realize that gas station pumps take electricity. In most places they don’t have generator backups at the stations. When your out of power, you are out of gas refills too.

Awesome Op -Ed Assaf! You have to nail the arguments one at a time. Well done!

“If you want to tour the back roads away for civilization for a week – a 4×4 ICE vehicle with a full tank and an extra jerrycan will remain your best bet.” Though true today, as an engineer, I say “never say never” http://insideevs.com/solar-racing-sunswift-eve-gets-unveiled/
Not practical today, but fast forward 50 years with solar efficiency improving by a factor of at least 3 and you never know.

Still I argue to point exactly the same by giving into long distance adventure or hauling freight. That is their niche usage!

Oh, I wish we live to see the day… Thanks Mark!

Bravo Assaf, VERY well articulated!

And… thanks for posting that picture of the 405 to remind me why I left the beach cities/L.A. 25 years ago!

in that first picture the smart is the only good looking car with a solid tangible design

They’re all pretty ugly.

“The 2014 Chevy Spark EV, described by Consumer Reports as the best Spark ever made. Incoming GM CEO Mary Barra says she loves it. Will she also let Americans buy it?”

Well, apparently GM does not want to let the Europeans buy it.

In addition to convincing individuals that EVs are normal one also needs to convince most of the manufacturers, the politicians, and the employers. Also we need to agree that although current EVs are sufficient for many, they are not for all and could be improved.

Great job Assaf! Happy Holidays everyone!

Great article.

You forgot to mention brake dust pollution which is also nearly eliminated by electrified vehicles thanks to regenerative braking which is also a significant portion of air pollution from ICE vehicles:


Hmm… haven’t thought of that. Thanks!

I love EVs. Most people don’t care. In general, the public sees transportation as either a necessity or even commodity. Most cannot yet afford EVs and our children might be able to if we can keep jobs in our country going long term and not outsource everything to other countries or tax ourselves to death trying to pay off our national debts.

The truth is that oil made us rich. It also made our economy grow and our populations grow. As we ease off oil, this all may reverse. So, be careful out there. Take it slow and steady and grow truth of EVs over the FUD. EVs will succeed when used ones can be bought by your local Walmart or McDonalds worker to help them get to work. It will take decades but we will get much more traction once higher capacity and safer batteries are available.


The future you are talking about is already here. Leasing the 2013 Nissan Leaf leads to lower cost-of-ownership than nearly all new cars, and most used cars. I made the calculation here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/10/16/1247718/-Dispelling-Electric-Vehicle-Myths-3B-Business-Viability-and-Consumer-Value

And here’s someone testifying that his Leaf has lower cost-of-ownership than the 1998 Volvo it replaced: http://www.dailykos.com/comment/1265057/52211723#c25.

When the 2014 Mistubishi MiEV arrives in a few months, it will be so ridiculously cheap that even your proverbial McDonalds workers might find it their best option (considering they won’t have to pay for gas anymore). And that’s NEW, not used.

….Beyond that, I am sorry but I wish it were true that “… the public sees transportation as either a necessity or even commodity.”
What I’ve seen, esp. in the US, is that buyig a car is more of an emotional/ego decision process than a rational “commodity/necessity” one.
I work in downtown Seattle, and the amount of *sports* cars and huge SUVs/minivans you see here is ridiculous. There is no “necessity/commodity” value in crawling a sports car or SUV/minivan through the snarling Seattle-area traffic jams to and from work. None.

If indeed people would place “commodity/necessity” over all other aspects, this little op-ed of mine would have hardly been necessary.

As to “oil made us rich…”, I will take just a teeny bite at this obvious provocation.

This statement might have been true, I dunno, 80-100 years ago. Maybe. It has long since ceased to be the case.

You can also say that “slavery and Indian-slaying has made us rich and grown our economy, and as we ease off it all may be reversed. So take it slow and steady.”

Actually people did say that back in the day 🙁

As far as piont #1 and #2 goes, (commute and stop/go, in town driving)

Electric motors are far more efficient than ICE in those situations, but it is still FAR LESS efficient than if the motors are at constant speed or load. Regen helps, but that can be implemented in the ICE cars as well (hybrids are ICE cars, unless it has a plug).

So, all cars regardless of type all like long straight trips. It is just that EVs and hybrids can handle the stop go trip a bit better.. However, EVs don’t like a lot of stop and go while the weather is extreme cold, b/c your “effiective range and efficiency” during the extreme cold and extreme slow driving drops signficantly.

Many of us who own a Leaf already consider our ICE to be a niche vehicle. I only plan to take mine out 4-5 times per year, but will occasionally drive it to work if I forget to plug in or just to keep the engine in good shape with a good drive on the freeway.

Here is a link to another more realistic end of oil situation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBkp0J5Oj30 unlike in the Oil Storm Movie one they show what would really happen if oil started running out granted I think it would happen in 2023 and not 2016 like in the documentary. In this one the global oil production declines across the board by 10% to 15% which triggers localized oil shortages and gas lines and some form of gas rationing. This to me is far more realistic. The only unrealistic thing about this is that for some reason no one mentions electric cars at all even though the EV1 was around a few years before these programs where made like people would take it on the chin and not do anything about finding alter net cars or at least GM would try to bring back the EV program to save it’s self as it’s big gas guzzling trucks and SUV market goes in the toilet. I know for one thing if the events like this happened in this documentary in that around 2016 Tesla would be having their first mass marketed long range electric car hitting the mass market for the first time around this… Read more »