Our Car Lexicon is Changing

By: Chandu Visweswariah

[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about Electric Vehicles marking Croton100’s observation of National Drive Electric Week, September 26 to October 4, 2020.]

Something profound is happening right in front of our eyes. Our very language around the topic of cars is changing. Gone are the days when you can tell a taxi driver to “step on the gas!” In fact, electric vehicles don’t even have a gas pedal, maybe it should be called a “go pedal” or we go back to the staid polysyllabic “accelerator.” “Gas up” used to mean being a chatterbox, later it meant a visit to the dentist, then a visit to the gas station, and now maybe it will go back to meaning a chatterbox! “Charge up” means excited and full of energy to drive a fully charged EV!

A whole slew of jargon went out of fashion when the “buggy whip” was no longer needed, and it is incredibly exciting that we are experiencing something like it again. As the Electric Vehicle (EV) revolution sweeps us into a cleaner future, no longer will we have tailpipes (or their pesky emissions) or mufflers. “Muffler” will go back to being an alternative word for “scarf.” Can we even call it an engine if it doesn’t roar? Gas stations will be gone. No more spark plugs. No such thing as “ignition” (unless you take a ride on a SpaceX rocket) or cylinders or timing belts. One thing we’ll never miss is a check engine light telling us that an oil change is overdue! And words like “just-in-time charging,” “superchargers” and “battery health” will roll off our tongue like a fast EV on an open highway under a silver moon.

Speaking of gas pedals going away, maybe brake pedals will also go away. More to come on this intriguing concept in a couple of paragraphs.

I’ve been driving an EV for the last 7 months and I’m convinced that I will never look back. Here are my top reasons:

a) I can drive for free. Yes, you read that right, unlimited driving for free. From my most recent electricity bill, the supply plus delivery cost of electricity per kWh during off-peak hours was 6.9074¢ per kWh. By enrolling in Smart Charge New York, I get back 10¢ per kWh for charging during off-peak hours, plus some additional rewards for not charging on summer afternoons.

I’ve simply programmed my car to begin charging after midnight. The more I drive, the more I get paid! (If you own a plug-in hybrid or battery EV, contact me for a referral code for Smart Charge New York. I will donate the $25 referral fee to Croton100). It seems just and liberating that sunshine is free, the wind is free, electrons should be free, and driving should be free!

b) EVs have lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). That’s right. When you take into account purchase price, maintenance, fuel cost, insurance and trade-in value, EVs beat their traditional counterparts. While you may have to pay a little more up front (and even that is blunted in many cases by generous subsidies), the car has many fewer moving parts and needs little to no maintenance. Evidence is mounting that they last much longer than internal combustion cars. Tesla is rearing to announce its “million-mile battery” program at its upcoming shareholder meeting on September 22, 2020.

c) Zero emissions. You read that right, zero emissions. I’m doing my part, I can sleep well at night, I am not harming anyone by my carbon emissions – this means a lot to me!

Since most of us are already using zero-carbon electricity (by signing up for Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) or Community Solar or a clean Energy Services Company (ESCO) or installing our own solar panels), our EV driving becomes a zero-carbon activity.

d) I can emphatically say that I have never suffered from range anxiety. Cars with higher range are coming out fast and furious, and ranges of 150 to 400 miles are available, with generous subsidies. The one time I was returning home from a long day-trip and needed 50 miles of additional charge to make it home safely, I was directed by my car’s navigation to stop at a supercharger just off the highway (it even told me how many bays were free). To my amazement, the supercharger achieved 600 miles of charging per hour, so I had to stop there for less than 5 minutes! Planning supercharger stops as part of navigation for longer trips is built into many mobile apps and embedded in car navigation systems.

e) EVs are safe and fun to drive. They are efficient. They don’t waste energy by getting hot and making noise and creating exhaust. They have a low center of gravity due to the positioning of the batteries.

They are great in snow. EVs are essentially batteries + software on wheels! They have the latest software that evolves at the speed of the internet (my car’s software updates itself about twice a month). They have the best safety features on the market.

And all the above benefits are getting better at a torrid pace, and not just because the underlying battery technology is improving and getting less expensive at an impressive and sustained pace. Of course, despite my examples in this article, it is not just Tesla. We all understand that these advances will be commonplace in a short time.

Back to the topic of pedals. It is fascinating that we are evolving from 3 pedals to 2 to 1 to zero at a fast pace! Those of us with grey hair remember cars with 3 pedals, from left to right, a clutch, a brake and a gas pedal.

Then cars evolved into automatics and we did away with the clutch – now the term is most often heard in relation to a “clutch play” in sports or women who “clutch their purses!” With the advent of regenerative braking, EV enthusiasts revel in “one-pedal driving.” Here’s how it works: electric vehicles harness the momentum of the car to charge the battery when you need to brake. You simply let go of the “go pedal” and the car automatically and quite aggressively slows down while harnessing energy. In addition, when the car is at a stop but in “Drive,” the car does not creep forward unlike traditional automatics. Thus, cars have borrowed and enhanced a page from old-style bicycles in which stopping to pedal is tantamount to braking. Once you’re used to this, you find yourself not using the brake pedal at all! You simply let go of the accelerator in a gradual manner till the car stops precisely at the stop light or stop sign, then accelerate to get going again. Not only is “one-pedal driving” more pleasurable and intuitive, it is also more energy efficient! An example is the Nissan Leaf’s e-Pedal.

Self-driving vehicles are just around the corner. Tesla offers “Full Self Driving” that will change from one highway to another, merge, navigate, slow down, speed up, change lanes, recognize turn-only lanes and react to stop signs and stop lights all by itself! Look Ma, no hands! So, is a “zero pedal” car that far away? Not really! Just as “clutch” went from cars to sports and handbags, let’s relegate the use of the word “pedal” to bicycles, then. Hmm, can’t really put that pedal to the metal, can we?

These subtle vocabulary nuances are indicative of a seismic shift away from the internal combustion engine. Frankly, I don’t want your fumes in my atmosphere any more than you want my fumes in yours. Every time you start your car, you play a role in causing global warming, you are complicit in sea-level rise and extreme weather (recall Isaias, Lucy) and forest fires and polar melt. There are more than 20 fully electric models available with generous rebates. Whether you run a small business or a large corporation or a school district or you’re making a decision for your own private vehicle, I urge you to abandon your proverbial buggy whip by NEVER EVER BUYING A GAS VEHICLE AGAIN!

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