The Electric Car That Didn’t Climb Mt. Washington

For the July 4th weekend I met up with my brother and some good friends to hike Mt. Washington & Mt. Madison. I would’ve loved to have taken MINI E #217 up there, and I actually spent a few minutes kicking around some scenarios. But it all came down to one simple fact: Twin Lakes, NH is 332 miles from Pearl River, NY.

A gas-powered vehicle offers the convenience of fast refueling at disparate locations. The fastest that I can refuel #217 will be about 4 hours (from zero), when the high-voltage cable is installed (fingers crossed, this Thursday). And while that can only happen at my house or another similarly equipped location, let’s say that I had such locations spaced about 100 miles away, here’s what this weekend’s trip would’ve taken:  7 hours to travel + 12 hours to recharge = 19 hours.

Now the math still vastly favors the promise of an electric car – I need to drive 90 miles a day for work, 5 days a week. I only need to drive outside of that range maybe once every two months. It’s no contest that the electrical car makes sense for 95% of my needs.

But long-term, what can we be looking at to address that other 5%?  Shai Agassi, CEO of Better Place, thinks he has the answer: replaceable battery packs that can be swapped out in about 2-3 minutes, available at Swap Stations that are as ubiquitous as today’s gas stations are.

This past March, David Pogue of the New York Times interviewed Agassi. Like a Railroad Baron of old, Agassi has a grand vision that sounds almost ridiculous, and yet makes logical sense and is technically viable: sell miles like AT&T sells you minutes, and sell those miles in the form of charging stations (available at your local parking garage, commuter stations, etc.) for daily use, and battery swap stations for that occasional trip up to Twin Lakes, NH.  Here’s the key – those charging spots and swap stations are up and available before you buy the car. You can read the full article here.

This Brother Climbed Mt. Washington

This Brother Climbed Mt. Washington

As I was hiking those miles away this weekend, I couldn’t poke any holes in the thinking: nobody bought a train ticket when there was just one station to go to; nobody bought the first fax machine until there was a second; nobody bought automobiles until there was a significant gas distribution system. Those other innovations took several years to tease out, all Agassi is saying is let’s leap to the logical and inevitable future now.

It’s a bold vision, and there’s a ton of strategic threats to it (a new battery technology that increases range dramatically could come along, or on-board energy generation – solar, wind, fuel-cell – could become far more efficient, etc.), but you have to admire the beauty of the idea.

Meanwhile, my brother and I were admiring the beauty of Mt. Washington on the 4th of July. Unfortunately, #217 was back home in my garage.


3 responses to “The Electric Car That Didn’t Climb Mt. Washington

  1. Yes, I’ve been thinking Better Place has the right idea. I’ve heard Agassi interviewed several times, and I am impressed. And, even after 2 weeks, I think the 2-passenger limit and lack of cruise control is getting to me. The MINI E is a lot of fun on city streets, and could be a gas on country roads [ha, no pun], but I have not tried it there yet. But to commute on the GSP when everyone is going 75-80, for 40 miles, it does not shine.

    • Hello Tim – I too miss the Cruise Control, but I have to say the pure fun of the vehicle has been refreshing. Maybe after everyday use (which will start tomorrow for me!) it’ll change, but I hope not!

      I do plan on pushing it to the limit on days when I can spare an hour or two in case I run out of juice – I am dying to know the “real range”.


  2. We’ll be climbing Mt Washington next week, going up tuckerman revine, not beinging #304 either 😦 got caught in a hail storm there last year.
    When I get a Volt Extended Range Electric Vehicle I plan to drive it up Mt Washington, I think for the short term ER-EV will be the way to go, but in the long term, I’d like to see a system that allows you to charge while driving on the interstates, maybe cables baried in the road with magnetic induction. a system powerful enough that semi-trucks could use it, to drive across the country, on 90% electricity.

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