WSJ columnist not a fan of Tesla and electric vehicles

March 25, 2015

Tesla has been upgrading its Model S via over-the-air software updates—most notably its Range Assurance application, which communicates with Tesla Supercharger stations and directs you to the nearest available one should your battery run low. It even accounts extra energy you might need to climb hills between you and the station. And last month the company tried out the Roadster 3.0 prototype upgrade, enabling the Model S to traverse the 340 miles from San Jose to Santa Monica on a single charge.

Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr. is unimpressed. He suggests Tesla’s best hope is to sell out to another car manufacturer, who can sell Tesla vehicles at a loss to meet government mandates restricting sales of ICE vehicles. He directs much of his ire at electric vehicles’ propensity to cause  range anxiety, and with regard to Tesla’s latest upgrade, he writes, the car’s software “…will constantly tell the driver if he can hope to reach his destination or the nearest charging station.”

I think the range-anxiety argument against electric vehicles is just silly in this context. If you have range anxiety, don’t buy an electric car. If you regularly drive 400 miles per day, a Model S is probably not for you. If you are seven feet tall, a MINI Cooper is probably not for you. But just because these vehicles don’t meet your personal preferences is no reason to rail about the concept in general.

Jenkins makes the curious claim that Tesla has not developed a disruptive technology—but Uber has. Really? We used to have to use a telephone to call a taxi—now we can use an app. Meanwhile Tesla has built out a multistate multi-country network of charging stations and is adding autonomous features to its vehicles (although with regard to the latter the company isn’t necessarily ahead of traditional manufacturers).

Jenkins is on much firmer ground when he discusses a focus on zero-tailpipe emissions without regard to upstream environmental degradation. That’s certainly a valid point if you don’t have access to a renewable energy source to recharge your vehicle, but many readers who commented on Jenkins’s article claimed they do. Local or grid storage can allow you to store solar-generated energy for overnight charging.

And even if you don’t, you may gain access to at least some renewable energy before you trade in your recently purchased electric vehicle. If you buy an ICE vehicle, it’s guaranteed to use fossil fuel throughout its life.

Even if you are relying entirely on fossil-fuels, the conversion efficiency of a power plant far exceeds that of an ICE, although traditional automakers have made substantial improvements to some ICEs and will no doubt continue to do so.

Finally, Jenkins criticizes the government subsidies for electric vehicles, and I’m no particular fan in general but consider them helpful at times. And it would be hard to identify any industry that hasn’t benefited from government handouts in some form or another. For the traditional auto industry, cash for clunkers comes to mind.

About the Author

Rick Nelson | Contributing Editor

Rick is currently Contributing Technical Editor. He was Executive Editor for EE in 2011-2018. Previously he served on several publications, including EDN and Vision Systems Design, and has received awards for signed editorials from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He began as a design engineer at General Electric and Litton Industries and earned a BSEE degree from Penn State.

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