A couple of weeks ago the BBC ran a story titled “Climate change: Electric trucks ‘can compete with diesel ones.'” My (admittedly knee-jerk) reaction was that it was obviously a load of nonsense. (The argument is that (counter-intuitively) by shrinking the size of the battery you improve the truck. That reduces the range but supposedly makes the truck more cost effective.) Anyway I reined myself in and thought: “Jit, you can’t just reject the idea out of hand, you have to read the paper the story is based on with an open mind.” So I went to the journal “Joule” but couldn’t access the paper. Then I went to Google Scholar but couldn’t even find the paper. Instead I stumbled across an article called Electric Vehicles and Psychology by Fabio Viola*, lately published in the journal Sustainability. So I began to read that instead. What follows is a brief review.

1. Introduction

Car owners, Viola says, fret about the reduced range of an EV over a good old-fashioned diesel. What psychological tricks can be used to speed up the adoption of EVs? The plan to ban engines had

“…already put the comics industry in crisis, which has not yet found a single onomatopoeia for the noise of the cars. “Brooomm,” “Drooow,” “Vroom,” and “Roammm” are the standard noises, but now we will have to find something more significant than “Zzzz!”. The matter is serious. To solve the problem, the iconic German manufacturer of Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) performance machines asked for the help of one of the greatest modern composers of movie soundtracks, Hans Florian Zimmer, to create a sound of electric cars worthy of the ICE sisters.”

Yes, that Hans Zimmer^. But there was more. The weedy sound of a Porsche EV could be enhanced by artificially-generated grunt.

“The same philosophy [generating artificial noise for an EV] has been adopted by Porsche in its Taycan luxury electric sports car. The buyer can, in fact, decide to add the Electric Sport Sound to his car, an optional item with a cost of EUR 500, which adds a real soundtrack, both inside and outside the car.”

By soundtrack I don’t think he means REO Speedwagon. An alert is required under EU law, but car makers don’t want people to notice that their car merely exists. They want people to notice that their car is Rarrrghh.

“If the reader is looking for simple answers, the author does not recommend reading the subsequent sections, as few paradoxes are solved.”

Naturally I read on.

2. Finding Early Adopters

Where new tech is concerned you can either be an Innovator, an Early Adopter, in the Early Majority, in the Late Majority, or you can be a Laggard. I’m in the last group, which has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the EV shop:

“The descriptor says it all! Typically, they prefer traditional ICE and will adopt new EVs when there are no alternatives. Laggards are convinced of machinations and have their own ideas on everything, often supported by pseudoscientific reasoning.”

Well, we’ll see. The important people are apparently the second lot, the Early Adopters, the opinion formers, the YouTubers, Instagrammers, etc. There is seemingly a “chasm” between the Early Adopters and the third group, the Early Majority, into which some innovations fall, never to be seen again (possibly the Sinclair C5 did not manage to power itself far enough upslope to even reach the precipice, and the Thingummywig must have crawled into a drain before the Instagrammers latched onto it, or before it latched onto them, face-hugger style). Anyway we need the shiny Early Adopters to cajole, encourage, and generally harass the rest of us into jumping on the EV bandwagon.

3. Chicken or egg paradox

This particular paradox is no paradox at all for anyone who has heard of evolution, because the ancestors of chickens were egg-layers. This particular version of the paradox is that folk are reluctant to get an EV until the charging infrastructure is in place. But no company in their right mind would invest in infrastructure when there are no EVs to charge. Paradox!

According to Viola, the “hegemony of the present” dictates that we human car users want to drive, refuel, and carry on driving. It’s what we’re used to, but it is no good for the Anthropocene. If there was a fighting chance of that being possible for EVs, it could only be done with battery swapping. But that would make the battery less well protected, and we all know what might happen when an EV battery gets bashed (see later).

Viola then enthuses about the panaro, the basket that Italians used to lower down from their windows to receive deliveries of bread. The EV version of the panaro is a jungle of extension leads depending from the high windows of tower blocks down to the street below. Dangerous, but it encourages EV adoption, so it gets two thumbs up. I think the upshot here is that although most charging events will happen at home, the most important infrastructure is still the motorway chargers, so that we stop worrying about…

4. Range Anxiety

If you asked me what my principal objection to EVs was, it might be range anxiety. It might also be that I don’t have a driveway, or that an EV costs more than a normal car, except second hand, when it goes for so little that the only conclusion is that the battery must be shot.

“By range anxiety we mean the anxiety of not succeeding, not reaching the goal, an anxiety of performance.”

This particular anxiety cannot be cured by a rhombus-shaped blue pill. Because the battery is the weak point, we overlook all the good things about EVs. Like the Zimmer soundtrack fitted as standard. Here Viola goes into an interesting aside about the way cars with an internal combustion engine displaced EVs, horses, shanks’s pony, etc, in the early 20th century. Initially EVs were better than petrol cars owing to the lack of reliability of the latter. Then the petrol cars started coming off a moving production line, their power increased by an order of magnitude, they were cheaper… and EVs were just too damn gendered. Men, it seemed, wanted grunt. EVs were not only gentle, they were simple to operate, so they were popular with the ladies (I am paraphrasing the history as given here, don’t shoot the messenger).

“…the limited range of EVs cooled the desire to undertake journeys into the wilderness.”

Where once we crossed the desert on a horse with no name, now we sallied forth in a Model T. Ford, Edison, Firestone and Burroughs went on camping trips, calling themselves The Vagabonds**. Naturally this was done in a convoy of petrol cars, not equines or EVs.

At its simplest, range anxiety happens when we have further to go than the dashboard tells us we can go. This is not usually a problem in a car with an engine that can be refuelled in 4 minutes and when there are petrol stations every 30 miles or so. Naturally when recharging takes a long time, it is preferable to do it at home, or at your destination. This makes abundant sense to me. But there’s a more insidious version of range anxiety, something to do with algae apparently:

“…a phycological anxiety arises “the distance to be traveled is below to [sic] the vehicle’s range, but users irrationally are worried about the possibility to finish the charge””

My apologies to Dr Viola, especially since his English is a hundred times better than my Italian, which is limited to “Ciao, bella!” (probably redundant language these days, even in Italy) and a variety of cussing that I picked up from an actual Italian, but can’t repeat here.

There is though yet another form of range anxiety: rhetorical anxiety. Viola discusses at length Hirschman’s The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy as it applies to EV adoption. Intransigents, or conservatives, are opposed to innovation, but for irrational reasons. The first excuse we trot out for our knee-jerk opposition is the Perversity of the entire project: EVs are charged by fossil fuel anyway, so what is the point? Second, we cry Futility! Buying an EV won’t change the world, so why the hell should we bother? Third, EVs place us in Jeopardy. They are too expensive: we don’t want to burn money on an EV when we could be spending it on something particularly appealing to intransigents, bills for example. Jeopardy also comes into play with range anxiety, because we fear conking out in the middle of nowhere. All these objections seem perfectly rational to me.

But wait. There’s something we’ve forgotten. Most of our trips are actually quite short, so at least our fears re: conking out are groundless! Hm, yes, but if I want to drive to a city 200 miles away a few times a year, what am I going to do? Drive all that way, pull up in the hotel car park on my last electron, and find that the two chargers are both occupied?

Apparently we intransigents are naught but foxes, who declare that the out-of-reach grapes are unripe. That’s a reference to a fable I don’t quite grok. I mean, if the fox declared that some out of reach hens were unripe, or better overripe, a bit too stringy for his taste, I could see it. But how many foxes eat grapes, even if they’re ripe?

5. Things that go boom in the night (actually this section is called “My Cousin Told Me EVs Explode…”)

Here Viola argues that any crash that would cause an EV to auto-incinerate and cremate its occupants would be severe enough that the occupants would be dead anyway before they were burned to ash. So that’s all right then. EVs are a neat little self-extracting ACME funeral service machine if you crash them hard enough. They leave nothing unpleasant for the emergency services to clear up afterwards.

6. Viking Men Paradox

“(about Tesla) It’s a real housewives’ car. You can put all the groceries in the back, and your handbag between the seats in front. If you haven’t bought the stupid centre console, you can do that, at least. That’s what women wanted: a place to put their bag.”

I think that was a comment by a Viking Man. Men Want Big Truck. Women Want Handbag Place. Or something.

7. Autonomous Silver Vehicles

Crusties are going to be zooming around in robot EVs, statim. I mean the elderly are naturally going to gravitate towards these things, because they want to knit as they go, or they can’t see very well, or something, all very demeaning non-reasons which I reject out of hand.

8. Marriage or Cohabitation?

Don’t have an arranged marriage with your EV. Shack up with it first, and you will grow to love it. Then you can marry it. Try one and you will be pleasantly surprised.

9. Conclusions

“The advent of Tesla connected the male and female worlds: for enthusiastic males, the Tesla was a technological advancement akin to that from a Nintendo Entertainment System (1983) to a PlayStation 3 (2006), while for enthusiastic women, it was a refined place to put the handbag.”

Unfortunately for EV enthusiasts, finding psychological ploys, or even phycological ploys, to make people believe that EVs beat cars with an engine relies on a healthy dose of petitio principii. The assumption made is that EVs are better, and that resistance to them is therefore irrational. Well, I like to think of myself as rational, and I also like to think of myself as a very small part of the resistance. If I ever have an EV, it will be because the fuel duty/VED of petrol cars has become so punishing that they have been completely driven off the road. Or maybe dragged off the road. Or maybe left on the side of the road to rust into millions of sad little heaps. And as an intransigent, even if I can’t drive a petrol car any more, I might just walk instead, and sneer impotently in the direction of that BMW whizzing past with its Zimmer soundtrack blaring out.

REFERENCES

* The paper

**A bit about the vagabonds

^ Perhaps in embarrassment, BMW have deleted the story about Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for their EVs, so you have to go to Archive.org to find it.

20 Comments

  1. Presumably, ‘depending from’ should be ‘descending from’. Autocorrect can be such a pain.

    I like to think of the introduction of EV as a transportation autocorrect. We know what we mean to do but someone knows better.

    Like

  2. “I want to drive to a city 200 miles away a few times a year” encapsulates the problem with all the clean and green solutions offered. That sums up my problem with ECs – several times a year I take long trips carrying a big load. Elsewhere the Texas electrical system worked most of the time except when the cold every ten year extreme happened – then disaster. Air source heat pumps for my home may work most of the time but don’t work when I need the heat the most. The arrogance of those who think our concerns about 24- 7 reliability are unwarranted is the true irrational position.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I live in a small market town, so mostly walk around town. I don’t need an EV for local town journeys. I make a lot of long journeys, whether for holidays or visiting and supporting relatives. An EV wouldn’t begin to work for me, as things stand. My diesel car averaged 67mpg yesterday while making a long journey to support my elderly mother, and the journey used about 1/4 of a tank-full. I couldn’t have got there and back on an EV charge.

    Rejecting an EV on those grounds alone is perfectly rational. That’s before one considers the cost, potential problems with batteries, and the problems for the National Grid if we’re all driving EVs and depending on unreliable “renewables” to provide all the extra electricity that will be needed.

    Oh yes, and what WILL the Government do to replace all the lost diesel/petrol duty and VAT?

    And how are people without drives and garages going to charge their EVs without a massively expensive infrastructure of rapid charging points?

    All rational objections, IMO. For those with a garage and/or drive, and the ability to have a charging point at home, who only drive short distances, fair enough, if they can afford the extra cost of virtue-signalling (and it IS extra cost, even after all the poorest taxpayers have helped to subsidise the virtue-signalling). For everybody else, forget it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If anyone has read to the bottom but has not clicked to hear the Zimmer “soundtrack,” you must.

    @John, my writing has a number of acknowledged weaknesses. It has a lightness that may be incompatible with the seriousness of the topic at hand. It also incorporates words or senses of words that should have been retired around the same time as the matchlock. The fifth sense of the verb “depend” at the free dictionary:

    Archaic To hang down: “And ever-living Lamps depend in Rows” (Alexander Pope).

    @Roger, I once saw a petrol tank described as “an organic battery that gets lighter as it discharges.” Seemed like the perfect way to power a vehicle to me. You can even keep instant recharges for the “batteries” in the shed in jerry cans, just in case.

    @Mark, one thing I didn’t have room for was Viola’s admission that, in a lot of circumstances, the uptake of electric vehicles has been by middle-class families as a second car. They can drive into town and back without fear of conking out, they can virtue-signal to their hearts’ content, and they still have the Audi A4 to drive to see the rellies up north. No VED, no fuel duty, easy home charging, what’s not to like?

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  5. @Paul. Try putting that search into youtube. It seemed to me that the connection between the archive page and youtube had broken.

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  6. “bmw zimmer soundtrack” retruns a few things in YT – more than 16 secs – with audio commentary. Second choice even longer talking head …

    I like music but not such a fan of BMW tho I had one as a company car …

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  7. “UK must do better over electric cars – MPs”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-57160298

    “The government has no plan to meet the “huge challenge” of persuading motorists to switch to electric vehicles, MPs have warned.

    The Public Accounts Committee said the official target of banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 could be missed without urgent action.

    It also argued that electric vehicles were still too expensive and there were not enough charging points.

    The government said it was on track to meet its targets.

    A spokesman said It was investing £2.8bn to help the car industry and drivers make the switch to electric.”

    Translation: A Government spokesman said it was wasting £2.8Bn of taxpayers’ money to try to persuade taxpayers to buy a product that they neither need nor want, and which in many cases doesn’t work for them.

    “Sales of electric vehicles are by far the fastest growing segment of the car market, but they still only account for only 11% of new registrations.

    The committee warned that this would not get to 100% unless prices fell and charging infrastructure was installed quickly.

    Only 13 electric car models on sale in the UK at the moment cost less than £30,000, its report said.

    It pointed out that the majority of charging took place at home and claimed the government had not focused enough on helping people who do not have off-street parking.

    The committee also said the government needed to develop the skilled workforce and electric power infrastructure needed to support the transition.”

    Goodness knows how much this pointless piece of international virtue-signalling is going to cost in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Ford launching electric F-150 truck in ‘huge’ shift for low-emission vehicles
    F-150 Lightning will be most powerful version of vehicle in lineup as Biden says ‘The future of the auto industry is electric’”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/may/19/ford-f-150-electric-pickup-truck-low-emission-vehicles

    “Ford will launch the electric version of its bestselling F-150 pickup truck on Wednesday, a move that automotive experts called “huge” deal for the shift to low-emission vehicles.

    Joe Biden has pushed for the US to become the world leader in electric vehicles and has proposed spending $174bn of his $2.3tn jobs and infrastructure package to promote the transition from fossil fuels.

    Ford’s F-Series has been the US’s bestselling vehicle since the 1970s. Last year the company sold 787,422 of the vehicles, a disappointing slide amid the coronavirus pandemic from the 896,526 units it sold in 2019, but the number still made it easily the bestselling truck in the US.

    The latest version of the truck will be officially unveiled on Wednesday evening, timed for the California market, which is the largest electric vehicle market in the US.

    The new F-150 Lightning is seen as being so important to the electrification of the US car pool that the president visited Ford in Detroit this week to promote his plans to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure and promote electric vehicles.”

    Right at the end of the article:

    “But the US must tackle significant infrastructure issues if the F-150 and other electric vehicles are to become mainstream. While China has 800,000 public charging locations, the US has only 100,000. Meanwhile Republicans are pushing back against the size of Biden’s infrastructure plan.”

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  9. Mark, I dunno much about the F150 Lightning but I have discovered that thanks to a question from Joe Biden we now know the battery will weigh 1,800 lbs.

    I am also quite confident that it will cost more than the regular version. And a pound to a penny not many people who actually need a truck for their livelihood will buy one over an ICE.

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  10. “Car buyers still sceptical about going electric, says Ford boss”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57200593

    “Consumers are still sceptical about electric cars and switching from petrol and diesel remains “a real challenge”, the boss of Ford UK has told the BBC.

    Lisa Brankin said more government support for the electric car market would be needed ahead of a proposed ban on new petrol and diesel sales in 2030.

    Research from energy regulator Ofgem suggests 6.5 million households plan to buy electric cars by 2030.

    But the number of electric vehicles (EVs) currently in use remains low.

    Research from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) found EVs account for just over 1% of the 35 million vehicles on UK roads.

    However, numbers are increasing, with sales of battery-powered vehicles more than doubling last year while the number of plug-in hybrids also grew by more than a third.

    But Ms Brankin, managing director at Ford of Britain and Ireland, told Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money programme many customers were sceptical about buying an electric vehicle. The carmaker is still the leading manufacturer in the UK in terms of vehicle sales, according to 2020 figures from Statista.

    “We did a survey looking at customer attitudes and we saw that just over 10% of customers were actively considering a battery electric vehicle as their next purchase,” Ms Brankin said.

    “Most other people were still concerned about a number of things – range, the charging infrastructure, the lack of information available to customers and obviously the price as well.

    On the cost of electric vehicles, she said: “We do recognise that that is an issue and that’s why we’ve been calling on government to continue to support the whole range of battery electric vehicles.

    The government’s goal to phase out vehicles which generate tailpipe emissions is part of a wider plan to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050.

    The RAC said in May the UK’s charging network would need to grow “exponentially” to cope as electric vehicle sales surged….”

    Like

  11. “£300m investment to fuel electric car take-up”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57225856

    “The UK’s energy regulator has approved plans to invest £300m in low carbon projects including support for 3,550 charging points for electric vehicles.

    Ofgem said the funds would allow energy networks to build robust electricity infrastructure for installing charging points across UK motorways.

    It said while more people are buying electric cars, others are put off due to a lack of charging points near home.

    Ofgem said a wider charging network would help address “range anxiety”.

    The new funding will support the infrastructure needed to support 1,800 new ultra-rapid charging points at motorway service areas.

    There are currently 918 ultra-rapid charge points in the UK which can add a range of 100 miles to an electric car in around 30 minutes.

    The investment will also allow an additional 1,750 rapid charging points to be installed. In addition to motorways, cities and train stations will also see increased network capacity to support more charging points.

    In total, the UK has nearly 24,000 charging points, which have more than 41,000 connectors – or cables – that can be plugged into an electric car, according to electric vehicle app and website Zap-Map.

    “As drivers make the switch from petrol and diesel to electric, Britain’s cables, substations and other infrastructure need a massive upgrade to support this new demand for electricity,” Ofgem said.”

    Like

  12. “This is how many electric vehicles there are in Cumbria”

    https://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/19326218.many-electric-vehicles-cumbria/

    “The number of Cumbrian drivers that are doing green and using electric vehicles has been revealed.

    Statistics from the Department for Transport show that 1,260 ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) were licensed across the county at the end of last year.

    This is an increase of 420 on the previous year when there were 840.”

    A 50% increase! How exciting. Yet out of a population around 0.5M, that’s a risibly small number. Especially when analysed in a little more depth:

    “Overall, ULEVs still only accounted for about 0.4 per cent of all vehicles licensed in Cumbria at the end of 2020 – below the UK average of 1.1 per cent.”

    And:

    “In Cumbria, 697 of the ULEVs licensed at the end of the year were battery electric vehicles – defined as zero emission.

    A further 510 were plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which combine an electric motor with a petrol or diesel engine.”

    Perhaps the people of Cumbria know which way the wind isn’t blowing.

    Despite the obvious fact that the people of the UK don’t want these things in other than very small numbers (and then only thanks to the subsidy regime), we still get the same old tired nonsense from politicians:

    ““This is proof that more people are moving away from diesel cars, as we build back greener and clean up the air in our towns and cities,” she added.

    “With £2.8 billion of government support to encourage their take-up, there has never been a better time to switch to an electric vehicle.””

    And:

    “”With the climate emergency worsening, increases in electric vehicle sales are always welcome,” said Kerry McCarthy, Labour’s shadow minister for green transport.”

    Then there’s this:

    “Across the UK, about 431,600 ULEVs were licensed at the end of 2020 – an increase of 162,300 over the year.

    The majority of the spike – about 101,800 – were company-registered.”

    So most individuals aren’t buying them, most new purchases are by companies for tax/subsidy reasons. That’s going well, then.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. First the hype:

    “Tesla Model 3 becomes most popular battery electric car on UK roads
    Surge in sales for US carmaker in first four months of 2021 pushes Nissan Leaf into second place”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jun/06/tesla-model-3-becomes-most-popular-battery-electric-car-on-uk-roads

    “The Tesla Model 3 has become the most popular battery electric car on British roads after a surge in sales, as the race to dominate the car industry’s new era heats up.”

    Then the reality:

    “As the cost of making electric cars falls, other carmakers are hoping to create truly mass-market cars that are cheaper than the Model 3, which at a minimum of £40,990 is still out of the reach of many. Volkswagen is rapidly ramping up production of its small ID.3 family car, while BMW hopes that the electric Mini, built in Oxford, will repeat the success of its petrol version.

    Despite the barrage of new electric models, the scale of the challenge of electrifying the UK’s fleet of 35m cars – and actually reducing CO2 emissions meaningfully – remains enormous. The number of Teslas on UK roads is only a tiny fraction of combustion engine models. In 2020 there were almost 1.6m Ford Fiestas in use in the UK, and 1.2m Ford Focuses, according to the SMMT.

    An electric car model will have to garner as many as 500,000 UK sales to make the top 10. The market for secondhand electric cars is growing quickly as the first generation of models is passed on but it will take years for electrics to trickle through to people who will not or cannot afford a new car.

    Carmakers also face a significant challenge in ramping up production of electric cars. Nissan on Friday revealed it had to delay the release of its Ariya electric SUV because of the global shortage of computer chips. Cars already use as many as 100 chips to control functions ranging from air conditioning to entertainment touchscreens, while electric cars are even more reliant on chips to control their batteries. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, this week said on Twitter that prices were “increasing due to major supply chain price pressure industry-wide”.

    The industry is also concerned that efforts to electrify the fleet in the UK and elsewhere will also falter without more public investment in charging points across the country.”

    Like

  14. “As NSW roads minister, I know we have to incentivise electric cars
    Andrew Constance
    A road user charge for EVs should be many, many years off. Not before we have a reasonably priced market”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jun/10/as-nsw-roads-minister-i-know-we-have-to-incentivise-electric-cars

    “…We can’t spend any more time, or expend any more energy, debating climate change. We need to take action now. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s real or not – regardless of your viewpoint, you will be a beneficiary of the innovation.

    An immediate way we can lead change is to increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads.

    What we have seen in Australia is too much concern around losing tax revenue. There is a belief that as we scale up our electric vehicle market, we will see the dollars coming in from the fuel excise scale down.

    But we need to encourage, not discourage, change for the better. We need visionary thinking to deal with this issue. We need to incentivise the market. We need to see a variation in price points – the notion of electric vehicles as being only for the wealthy must be dispelled – and importantly, we need to do this here and now….”.

    If the people thought it was change for the better, they’d embrace it without the need for a carrot and stick approach from the Government.

    “I travelled to Oslo a few years ago to have a look at what is happening with electric vehicles there. ”

    Yeah, right. How did you get there? Was it really necessary to go? I have a pretty good idea what’s going on in Oslo with regard to electric vehicles, and I found that out on the internet without the need to fly half-way round the world (and back) to find out.

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