There Will Always Be Cars, But . . . .

You Can’t Stop Evolution

Where to now?

If you were a stable hand in 1880, you probably had no idea that if your son followed in your footsteps, his sons might someday find  scarce employment in the same field. The garage mechanic specializing in the internal combustion automotive technology of today is in a similar situation.

There are probably a few decades of life left in the gasoline-powered automobile as the primary mode of personal transportation, but the writing is on the wall. When the world’s capacity to extract petroleum finally falls behind the demand of an increasingly hungry market, the personal automobile will by necessity have fallen to a low priority on the list of necessary uses for the dwindling supply.

For instance, your airliner is unlikely to find a flying battery recharging station over the Pacific, so in the competition for liquid petroleum, airlines are likely to be willing to outbid you.

The day when demand exceeds supply is now predicted to arrive some time in the next fifteen or twenty years.

Buggy Whips and Buggie Windows®

None of us is old enough to remember when “groom” and “knacker” were common occupations that might last the whole of one’s working life. In 1880 the knackers of New York City hauled away an average of forty-one dead horses a day, and in 1908, the year Henry Ford introduced the Model T, the good citizens of our great metropolis had no choice but to breath the dust of horse manure kicked up by the hooves of 120,000 horses, who produced the 1,320 tons of the stuff that had to be hauled away every day.

Model T From the Petersen

When Henry Ford introduced the ground-breaking Model T, I suspect the farthest thing from his mind was fulfilling some altruistic goal like solving a monumental public health problem – or creating a social problem by putting millions of people out of work.

Those occupations are now the province of a relative few, working in racehorse stables, or on cattle and dude ranches.

Those butchers, wranglers and stall shovelers probably had no idea that the sons of their sons might end up greasing zerk fittings, adjusting valve tappets and replacing gear synchronizers. No doubt your engine or transmission mechanic is equally clueless about the future of their respective specialties. Will their grandkids be rewinding armatures, adjusting brake regenerators, and tracing computer bugs?

Hey! What Could Go Wrong? 

If they are, there will be a lot fewer of them than those who plied the automotive trades that preceded them. There are just fewer things to go wrong with an electric car, and what few parts there are, fail infrequently.

Consumer Reports’ and others’ studies have pretty much laid to rest the fears that the batteries in gas-electric hybrid cars will cost a fortune to replace. The reason of course is money (or greed, if you prefer). There’s a wealth of valuable stuff in those batteries, and they are sought-after by recyclers, leaving the owner with a relatively small replacement cost after the trade-in value of their batteries is taken into account.

When you consider the contrast between the mechanical complexity of the engine and transmission in a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle, and the elegant simplicity of an electric motor and its shiftless direct drive power train, it’s easy to see that the advent of an electrically driven personal transport model may make periodic maintenance and emergency mechanical breakdown practically unknown.

2009 LA Auto Show Cut-Away 4-Cylinder

Even a four-cylinder internal combustion engine, with its transmission, like the cutaway above is an assembly of hundreds of precision parts, the failure or inefficiency of any one of which can degrade performance, lower fuel economy, or cause the whole system to break down.

Contrast that to the simplicity of the Tesla S’ electric drive train below, with one powerful electric motor whirring continuously, without the monkey-motion of pistons and valves reversing direction in every rotation of the crankshaft, and no need for several gears to keep in the “power band.”

Tesla S Motor

Consider this: The fans in the buildings most of us work in are driven by electric motors that were installed when they were built. Most of those electric motors function for the life of the building with no more than an infrequent squirt of lubricant.

That’s partly because none of its moving parts ever has to reverse direction. In an electric car the same applies except when you want the car to reverse direction, and then the motor is stopped when you switch to reverse. Note you do not need a reverse gear. You just reverse the motor’s polarity.

Extreme Stress

Contrast that to a piston engine in a typical car. Each time the crankshaft turns, the pistons move up and down. At the top and bottom of that revolution the piston associated parts have to stop moving in one direction and start going the other.

When an ordinary engine is going as fast as the manufacturer recommends (the “redline”) this happen a little more than 500 times per second. If it’s a highly tuned racing engine that could be maybe 1,200 times a second. Newton would be aghast at the forces involved as all that mass is accelerated and decelerated!

That’s an extreme case, but even at idle that mechanical do-si-do has to happen 33 times a second.

And the valves have it even tougher.

The pistons have a relative eternity to pick up speed and slow down, while the valves have to flick open  in a comparative eye-blink so that the incoming charge has the maximum amount of time to fill the cylinder, and then slam shut to create the maximum pressure in the compression stroke. The same prerogative applies to the exhaust valves, to get all the spent gasses out and be ready for the next intake charge.

Automotive engineers, metallurgists, and petrochemical engineers have performed miracles in making all that happen reliably over the life of a car, but the technology required to do so is expensive, and the failure of one part can be catastrophic.

So there’s a good reason why the motor in our Maytag washer outlasted seven cars, through two moves and the diapers from raising two daughters. Imagine a car that reliable, that emits not one gram of pollutant, yet still makes you whoop like a kid on a roller coaster when you floor the accelerator!

If that’s the automotive future, count me in!

CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press
a service of Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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About carmacarcounselor

I'm one of those people that friends call "that car guy," except I've made it into a profession. Since 1988 when a friend found my help in choosing, finding, and negotiating for a new car was worth a fee, I've helped countless people, listening to their car questions and challenges, and helping with their car purchases, insulating them from the adversarial process that is the new car retail model today. Their word of mouth is my only publicity. My newsletter CARMA won the description "The clear crystal ring of truth" from award-winning automotive journalist Denise McCluggage. Now I'm going global!
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