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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Electric cars – no progress in 115 years

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Greenies, including Our Dear leader, have been pushing electric cars for quite awhile. Much hot air and even more ink has been expended in extolling the virtues and benefits to the environment and everything else.

As it turns out, electric cars are nothing new, and the 35-miles-per-charge limit the Chevy Volt boasts is no better than was was achieved way back in 1896. That’s not a typo — 1896. Check out the following short piece I founded today on the Daily Caller.

115-year-old electric car gets same 40 miles to the charge as Chevy Volt

Meet the Roberts electric car. Built in 1896, it gets a solid 40 miles to the charge — exactly the mileage Chevrolet advertises for the Volt, the highly touted $31,645 electric car General Motors CEO Dan Akerson called “not a step forward, but a leap forward.”

The executives at Chevrolet can rest easy for now. Since the Roberts was constructed in an age before Henry Ford’s mass production, the 115-year-old electric car is one of a kind.

But don’t let the car’s advanced age let you think it isn’t tough: Its present-day owner, who prefers not to be named, told The Daily Caller it still runs like a charm, and has even completed the roughly 60-mile London to Brighton Vintage Car Race.

If you didn’t know there are electric cars as old as the Roberts, you aren’t alone. Prior to today’s electric v. gas skirmishes, there was another battle: electric v. gas v. steam. This contest was fought in the market place, and history shows gas gave electric and steam an even more thorough whooping than Coca-Cola gave Moxie.

But while the Roberts electric car clearly lacked GPS, power steering and, yes, air bags, the distance it could achieve on a charge, when compared with its modern equivalent, provides a telling example of the slow pace of the electric car.

Driven by a tiller instead of a wheel, the Roberts car was built seven years before the Wright brothers’ first flight, 12 years before the Ford Model T, 16 years before Chevrolet was founded and 114 years before the first Chevy Volt was delivered to a customer.

As the New York Times reported September 5, “For General Motors and the Obama administration, the new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid represents the automotive future, the culmination of decades of high-tech research financed partly with federal dollars.”

Like “green technology’s” most powerful proponent, President Barack Obama, the 1896 Roberts was made in Chicago. Obama, who supports the $7,500 tax credit for the Volt, is not fazed by its 40-mile electric limit — he only drove the car 10 feet.

Interesting, eh? The car of the future gets less mileage-per-charge than the car of the long-past. Unless, of course, you do as Chevy has done and build-in a gasoline generator.

For someone who lives in a city and never ventures very far outside its borders, the Volt might be a good choice…if it really doesn’t spontaneously catch fire sometime after an accident. But I would bet most of us regularly need to travel significantly farther than 40 miles when we hop in our vehicles. So you are still going to regularly be burning gasoline. And you’re going to pay $40,000 for a Volt instead of $16,000 for, say, a Toyota Corolla, the car my wife is very happy driving. Of course, if you buy a Volt, the taxpayers will help pay for some of it via a $7500 tax credit.

In a free society, shouldn’t it be up to the people to decide what they want? Shouldn’t it be the government’s job to make sure nobody tries to force citizens to make choices they don’t want to make. Shouldn’t it be government’s job to ensure a level playing field for business where each is free to compete and free people making free choices in a free market will determine the winners and losers?

The answer, of course, is yes, unless you are the American government. Then, because politicians and bureaucrats are so much smarter than the rest of us, it’s your job to decide what you think is best and use the power of government to force the rest of us to toe your ideological line.

We’ve reached the point in America where government no longer even pays lip service to the idea of freedom. It spends all it’s time picking winners and losers and taking from those who produce and giving to those who do not.

Is it any wonder that so many long for a new American Revolution, one way or another?

What do you think?

Do you own or would you consider a Chevy Volt?

And what do you see as government’s job?

By the way, Discovery has a History of Cars timeline on their website, if you’re interested.

11 Responses to “Electric cars – no progress in 115 years”

  1. Stephen B. Says:

    Boy, I could write pages on this subject. Let’s see, however, if I can contain myself.

    Yes, the Volt only goes 40 miles on a charge, but it goes FAR faster during those 40 miles, than that old car ever did, and with MUCH more comfort and carrying capacity as well.

    Other, pure electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, manage to go about twice as far, almost 100 miles, on a charge. The 1896 car should be compared to the true electric, namely the Leaf.

    Oliver, I well get at the point you are trying to make, and to a point I agree. But I’ve also seen quite a few anti government types such as us, become rabidly anti-electric car in the past year or two, owing to the Government Motors Volt.

    Don’t lose sight of the fact that the Volt was in development at GM even before the government bailout.

    More to the point, the Oil Age is coming to a close. No matter how much some of us think that Drill Baby Drill will save us. It won’t. Even though I grant you that we have seen a small increase in US oil production in the past year or so, owing to the North Dakotan, Bakken oil formation, overall, US oil production is only about 60 percent of its all time, 1971 high of 9.6 Mbbls/day. Bakken won’t make up for the decline in production of the rest of the US. It just won’t. The US has more oil and gas wells drilled into it THAN THE REST OF THE WORLD, COMBINED, already. It will therefore be very tough to improve on the production we already enjoy.

    Peak Oil is pretty much coming true. Here, look at this blog entry by physicist Stuart Staniford. Pay close attention to the 4th graph here.

    Note the lowest, blue layer of that graph. That is conventional crude oil and condensate production, the stuff the late M. King Hubbert, in his peak oil theory, said would peak and fall, in terms of production. Note how production has been stuck, flat at best, worldwide, since 2005, despite a doubling or more, of annual, avg. oil prices. All of the growth in world liquid fuel supply has come from mainly natural gas production liquids and “other” liquids, the latter being mainly biodiesel and especially ethanol.

    Now, given that it takes a lot of food land to grow ethanol and biodiesel, we won’t see “other” liquids growing much more, and even if we converted all of our car and truck fleet to natural gas, on a BTU for BTU basis, even a 100 year supply of natural gas, drops to a mere 24 years’ supply, because cars and trucks use so much and even then, it is doubtful we could produce enough nat. gas, on a daily basis, to run the near one billion cars and trucks in use, worldwide today (and indeed, it is worldwide that we must worry. For even if we just tried to keep the fuel in the US, unless we enact export bans, world prices will pull the fuel to the highest bidder, even if those bidders lie outside of the US. See more below.)

    Then too there is something called the Export Land Model of oil production, introduced by an Internet acquaintance of mine, geologist Jeff Brown. (Google will find a reader more on this Export Land Model.) Basically, the Model shows that oil available for export to countries such as the US, is going to drop RAPIDLY, due to not just decreasing world oil production, but increasing oil consumption in oil producing countries. That is, oil exporting nations, faced with decreasing production, and rapidly increasing internal consumption, end up keeping the oil for their own use. Even though world oil production is now flat, soon to decline at maybe 5% a year, coupled with rapidly developing economic growth in otherwise undeveloped countries, the US and other importers will most likely experience year over year declines of 8 to 10 percent or more in oil available for import. That means the US within 9 years, will have less than half the imported oil available presently. That’s a BIG drop!

    Look at this other interesting graph, brought to my attention by a friend of mine. Look at the historic break in the until-now, ever increasing amount of vehicle miles driven by folks in the US.

    We will very shortly have a very serious liquid fuels crisis, not just in the US, but in countries around the world. Indeed, that US DOT graph suggests we already have suffered the effects of less gasoline availability.

    Then too there is the issue of the million or more new cars that the likes of China and India are adding to their roads every year. Countries such as these are actually outbidding us for gasoline and diesel. Indeed, even though the US is still a net oil importing nation, BY FAR, as of late, there has been significant finished, refined product (meaning gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) leaving the US – made in US refineries, but mainly with Canadian and Mexican crude oil and going to countries such as China.

    I agree, electric cars are indeed less capable than their gasoline and diesel brethren, but when gasoline and diesel is no longer for sale at all, or is for sale in a few remaining gas stations at $10 a gallon or more (most likely for sale in the hardware store or Walmart in 5 gallon cans at that point for chainsaws and other boutique uses), a car with a plug in capability, will be far more desirable than walking or using a bike, even if that car costs more and only goes one third the distance that the old gas car did, on a fill up. Yes, families might own just one or two cars, versus two or three at present. Yes, they’ll drive less miles per week. Indeed, as I showed above, we already ARE driving less.

    I share your political opinions for the most part, as I do most blog readers here reading this, But folks really have to keep their politics, either left or right, in check, as they look at the geological reality that is now evident in our world liquid, fuel supply situation lest our politics blind us. If we can’t see clearly, past the politics, the coming new transportation reality most likely will run us over.

    Let go of any ideas, of business as usual for automobile transportation, going forward from here.

  2. Eric Says:

    There was an electric car on eBay I saw about a month ago, from about the early 1920’s, as I recall, refitted with modern Wal-Mart deep-cycle batteries and wooden spoke Model T wheels/rims so it could use the more common size tires, for what I thought at the time was a decent price for a used car of any sort. Range? You guessed it, about 40 miles at 45 mph.

  3. Steven Says:

    Absolutely not true. The Volt has more comfortable seats, a CD player, and bursts into flames weeks after being in an accident! See what government subsidies and UAW labor get you? ;)

  4. Ralph Says:

    I live in the West. Many of us drive distances on a regualr, often daily, basis that would be greater than some city folks drive in a week.

    I live 26 miles one way from work. My kids go to school 20 miles one way from home. These distances are not unusual for our area. The VOLT isn’t going to work in the West. Even folks that live in the big cities out here drive a bunch.

    I am all for energy independance, but we need to do some more work before we shove electric cars down the American peoples gullet.

  5. Stephen B. Says:

    Folks, it won’t be the government that shoves electrics down our throat, it will be millions of new Chinese and Indian drivers and cars, combined with stagnant to falling world oil production, producing $10 a gallon gas, that will do it.

  6. John Says:

    What do you think?
    I try to keep thinking to a minimum, or at least not let the thinking show as I am one of those with little social intelligence who thinks (bad word perhaps?) that others are able to determine fact and bias in a situation and that others will act on the facts…
    Stephen B. prompted this response so here we go. I think there are energy dense sources (hydrocarbons, uranium, etc) and sources with less energy density (wood, solar, wind, etc.) – and that competition for the energy dense sources will increase leaving those who cannot compete effectively relying on the less energy dense fuels and working like crazy to find accumulators and storage devices for the energy those less energy dense sources can provide. Yes, that is a just fancy way of saying poor folks just trying to do like grandparents did – use it up, wear it out, do without.

    Do you own or would you consider a Chevy Volt?
    Being eclectic, of course I would consider a Chevy Volt!! Perhaps the question should be “How long would you consider owning a Chevy Volt with your current circumstances?” Not that long most likely considering capital and maintenance costs…

    And what do you see as government’s job?
    Providing a common goal and also providing all the related facts and possibilities related to that goal to allow participants in said government to argue and fight out the details using any and everything from opinion pieces in the newspaper (Lincoln didn’t like those…) to gunfire (Kadafi didn’t like those…) Kennedy did it well with going to the moon. Reagan did it well in knocking out the cold war. Others also deserve mention, as we all know.

    So what is our common goal, Oliver? Putting a Republican / Democrat (pick ’em) in the house on Pennsylvania and / or in the other house lying between Constitution and Independence Avenues? Class warfare? etc.

    Perhaps it is time to fly an old yellow flag having a chopped up rattlesnake on it. Chopped up rattlesnakes aren’t too dangerous, well, according to my grandmother’s word…

    Thank you, Stephen B. for the information and the conclusions drawn. Don’t know if I will agree with them after running things through the eclectic mindset, but I do appreciate the willingness to share what you know.


  7. John Says:

    Was the flag yellow? Fact checking is important… lol

  8. Oliver Says:

    So what is our common goal, Oliver? Putting a Republican / Democrat (pick ‘em) in the house on Pennsylvania and / or in the other house lying between Constitution and Independence Avenues? Class warfare? etc.

    Our common goal used to be ensuring the freedom of individuals to live their lives as they see fit, to make the choices they think best for them, regardless of what others may think and to live with the consequences of those choices.

    Now, for far too many, their “common goal” seems to be to get as much from government as they can, to use government to force others to fit into some idealistic mold, to absolve themselves and others of any responsibility for their actions.

    That is not what America was meant to be and our decline is a direct result of our straying from the path.

    Free market capitalism may not be the best system in the universe, but it used to be the best system on Earth. Then government started making things better.


  9. John Says:

    Well said, Oliver. Very well said.


  10. Leonard Barnes Says:

    Let the market decide, build a better eCar and buyers will go for it if and when it compares or beats what else is available. The government does not belong in business and should not favor or discriminate with or against any of the players as long as they all play by the rules. Free markets and competition, worked well until regulations against some and favors to others tilted the playing field.

  11. Stryder Says:

    I’m not a mechanic but maybe someone could come up with a battery/steam hybrid that would work. Steam powered cars worked really well but took more upkeep so gas cars took over. But if your heat source for a steam car was batterypowered and you captured kinetic energy to help recharge your battery….. feasable?



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