Free Markets, Free People

115 year old electric car gets same mileage on charge as Chevy Volt

We’ve come a long way baby:

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.”

Decades of research.   Yield?  40 miles on a battery charge.

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 much-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.

What a leap, no?

Yeah, I know, the Volt is much heavier, yatta, yatta, yatta.  But seriously, if it was really a “leap forward” and the “culmination of decades of high-tech research”, why does it get the same per charge mileage as a car 115 years old?

I mean maybe I have a higher standard for things described as a “leap forward” and perhaps I expect too much from the “culmination of decades of high-tech research”, but 40 miles a charge?  Come on.

So why didn’t the Roberts catch on then?  Well, the market said “no”:

If you didn’t know there are electric cars as old as the Roberts, you aren’t alone. Prior to today’s battle of electric v. gas, 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.

Now, of course, we find that the market isn’t to be trusted and government knows best – thus the “leap forward” (sound familiar to anyone?) and the brutally poor sales of the Chevy Volt.

Yes, friend, you’ve got it.  We’re again seeing the government – which knows best – picking winners and losers.   Except, as usual, the government’s winner is a loser.

Can you say Solyndra? 

Sure you can.


Twitter: @McQandO

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39 Responses to 115 year old electric car gets same mileage on charge as Chevy Volt

  • Yep. The rolling Solyndra.
    East German central planning NEVER works.
    Obama made it worse.

  • I’m sorry but comparing two vehicles based on range is bullshit.  Just about every production internal combustion vehicle made today has about a 300 mile range.  This is because they are designed that way.  This does not mean they are equally fuel efficient or get the same gas mileage.  How many kilowatt hours does it take to charge the Roberts?  The Volt?  For that matter, the Roberts is a one-off not a production vehicle.  You couldn’t build it today as a production vehicle because it wouldn’t meet safety standards and a dozen other regulations.  Not that I love the Volt, but this is a complete apples to oranges comparison.

    • it is not bullshit, of course the volt is going to be a better vehicle than a 115 year old automobile. But the salient point is that electric cars are not a new technology, they are a very old technology and a century of improvements still only shows it’s inherent drawback which is range.
      You are very obtuse.

  • a Tesla owner in Boulder Colorado has a bumper sticker on it that says

    ”Environmentalists took money from the poor to pay me to buy this car”

    Claims he got back almost $50,000 from the state and federal governments to buy a Tesla.

  • Yeah, I know, the Volt is much heavier, yatta, yatta, yatta
    So basically you’re going to throw physics to the wind so you can go forward take a cheap shot.
    Let’s ignore, top speed differences, creature comforts like heat or a/c, 4 seater vs. 2 seater, dual fuel use, government regulations on safety and emissions, …
    Silly comparison.

    • Nigerian, please…!!!
      One FLUCKING hundred years PLUS of R&D is the point.  NOT the physics.  BTW, what impact do the “creature comforts” have on the EPA “estimates”?
      A BUNCH in the case of A/C AND HEATING!!!
      Face it: the VOLT is a rolling boondoggle.

      • Take your car and make it 4x heavier and then drive it over 2x faster than you normally do and you seem to expect your mileage to not be affected?
        And those 115 years haven’t had a lot of serious focus on electric cars for the most part by anyone let alone actual serious car maker.
        And the Volt is no more a boondoggle that the Prius originally was.  But for Toyota it drummed a lot of good credit with the environmental types.  People who hold more sway than they should in Washington and in the EPA and DoE.  But the fact is that they do have that power and no one seems interested in putting a leash on them.  So this is what you get.

        • Hep me out here.
          How much was the DIRECT subsidy on the Prius?
          Electrical storage is electrical storage.  Cars, submarines, wattever (get it?).  If the MARKET COULD make energy-density greater, it would have.

          • About $2000 per car from the US taxpayer.  It finally expired with the car being in existence for 15 years, they’ve paid off the initial investment, so they probably sell them close to break even now.  Will be a long time with even the Volt’s larger subsidy to match the money Toyota has received.
            From a former Toyota exec, their government funded all their R&D.
            As for storage, you realize the energy to have that 40 mile range on a car like a volt is vastly greater than the energy required for a 40 mile range on car which is barely removed from a wood buggie.  If you want to continue with a silly comparison on range in a vacuum from all other capability, we should all switch to solar cars because they have infinite ranges.

          • Will be a long time with even the Volt’s larger subsidy to match the money Toyota has received.
            From a former Toyota exec, their government funded all their R&D.

            So, you seem to warmly approve of stacking stupid on stupid.
            “Vastly greater”.  Very scientific.  No.  It is not “vastly greater”.  It is several times the 115 year-old capacity, but the internal combustion engine is WAY more clean/fuel efficient/reliable by comparison to the advances in battery density.
            Bottom line: it HAS to FLUCKING be subsidized WITH TAX MONEY.  BECAUSE THERE IS NO MARKET OTHERWISE.

        • Sorry jpm, but the lead quote tells us this great “leap forward” is the result of “decades” of research.


          • How far has the IC engine come in 30 years?  Especially if we throw context away like government regulation for safety and emissions.
            Today a small car might get 40 mph give or take if you’re lucky.  30 years ago the same car got about 40 mph.  Actually probably a little bit more.  In fact, engine technology has barely kept cars treading water against the fuel economy impacts of government regulations.  And the amount of research dollars spent by auto companies put into squeezing additional fuel economy out of an IC engine over that 30 years is easily magnitudes above the sum total of 115 years of electric car  development.  And who does all those research get passed onto?
            Then keep in mind that gas has increased from $1 to $4 in about 10 years.  What if that rate of increase holds up over the next decade?  I haven’t seen arguments we’ve topped out gas prices.  If its linear we’re looking at $7-8 gas and if its geometric, we’re looking at $15-20 gas in the next 10 years potentially.   To keep the math simple, imagine a person driving 25,000 miles a year in a 25 mph car.  Each dollar is $1000 out of their pocket.  At lower incomes $4 gas is already devastating.  $8 would be a disaster.  $8 gasoline makes a unsubsidized Volt a valid option.
            IC engines don’t have range issues, they have efficiency issues because of the cost of gas.  The can story a reasonable amount of energy in a fuel tank.  Electric cars have range issues.  Soe the ‘mileage’ issue for an IC engine car is engine efficiency.  The ‘mileage’ issue for an electric car is its range.  Thermodynamics pretty much puts a cap on engine efficiency.  There’s only x amount of energy is gas and only y potential maximum yield from an IC engine of that energy.  So improvements are really just chipping down to a single idealized number.  At least without changing the car.  And the IC engine is basically maxed out for relatively cheap fuel economy improvements.  Fuel economy is going to come from very expensive gimmickry for less and less efficiency or by down scaling the car itself so you can use a 4 cylinder (or 3 cylinder).   Energy density on a battery is completely different issue.  There isn’t a hard limit you’re working down to like there is a limit on the energy in a gallon of gas.  If you know one, please mention it.
            So although there is a valid argument against subsidizing anything.  And even though I’d like to drive a gas fueled SUV, I’d much rather see it back well below $3.50.  If it goes to $8, I don’t see the need to keep wedded to it.  So I don’t see the need to propagandize against technical limit when in comparison to where IC’s are now, there’s still opportunity.

          • OK, this last post proves you are an idiot.
            My 1980 model Mercedes 300 SD gets right at 30 MPG.  It is a HEAVY mid-sized car.
            Look up the mileage on the new, computer-controlled diesels.  They burn very, very clean, too.
            Compare a 1980s model heavy truck to one built today.  Really NO comparison.
            Now, we ARE pushing the engineering envelop as to IC engines.  The MARKET did that.  NOT FLUCKING GOVERNMENT MANDATES.
            IFFFFFFFF there is “opportunity” in EVs, guess who has the HIGHEST incentive to exploit it?

          • @R.
            You diesel’s development was driven by the the European market and Fuel Economy Requirements.  And you probably have no clue that the premium to do anything but a tiny diesel is comparable in cost to doing a hybrid.  In both cases, some of that expensive gimmickry I spoke about.  And compare the cost of a truck today to the truck of 30 years ago as well as how few trucks were mainstream vehicles 30 years ago vs. today (aka, nobody cared about truck fuel economy until they represented large numbers of sales).
            Back to gas engines.  Look here.
            CAFE barely changed after the early 80’s until the past few years.
            As for government standards driving anything, I never said that.  Besides shifting the public into SUVs, government safety and emission actual prevented the public from realizing any mileage gains.  That was baked into the CAFE standards.  Huge gains have been made, they’ve just been offset by increased burden.  Any further gains are going to be expensive.  When you overturn the laws of thermodynamics, let me know.
            But otherwise keep embarrassing yourself.

        • just like Jeff you miss the entire argument, it goes right over your head. The argument is that even after all this time the range of electric vehicles are still their major drawback.
          They are crap, which is why the government likes them.

          • It may not be cost effective, today.  And flushing tax money down on it may be dumb.  But that’s a separate issue from the issue at hand.
            The issue is to say the technology is at dead end.  Something that isn’t proven in a serious way from the quoted article.

          • Quote the place in McQ’s piece that suggests that.
            What he DOES say is that the hyperbole about a “leap” in technology is just BS.
            I don’t think anybody here would be stupid enough to say what you suggest.
            Making your “dead end” a complete straw man.
            Electric vehicles have at least TWO venues for a REAL innovative break-through; motors and storage.
            The Volt embodies neither.

          • @R,
            ok, what is the energy density of the Volt battery vs. the Roberts battery?  I gave your reasons why the range factor taken out of context is foolish.  So, unless you can’t tell me the actual energy density hard numbers, please stop.
            Add in that GM doesn’t do the batteries, they buy whatever exists out there tweaked to their need.  They haven’t had any serious interest is pushing battery makers until recently.

  • Think of it like Mao’s great leap forward and it makes more sense.

  • 40 miles? That’s it? So it’s only good for running a few errands, then you are a pedestrian until it recharges. If I wish to go to DC from Baltimore for business or pleasure, I am out of luck. If I wish to visit friends in WVa I will have to hitchhike. What a useless and expensive  piece of crap.

  • Chevy-Dealing Congressman: “There Is No Market” For The Volt
    In addition to being a representative from Pennsylvania, Republican Mike Kelly is also a Chevrolet dealer whose family has sold Chevys since 1953.

    I’m a Chevrolet dealer… we have a Chevy Volt on the lot, it’s been there now for four weeks. We’ve had one person come in to look at it, just to see what it actually looks like… Here’s a car that costs $45,763. I can stock that car for probably a year and then have to sell it at some ridiculous price. By the way, I just received some additional information from Chevrolet: in addition to the $7,500 [federal] tax credit, Pennsylvania is going to throw another $3,500 to anybody foolish enough to buy one of these cars, somehow giving them $11,000 of taxpayer money to buy this Volt.
    When you look at this, it makes absolutely no sense. I can stock a Chevy Cruze, which is about a $17,500 car and turns every 30 to 40 days out of inventory… or I can have a Volt, which never turns and creates nothing for me on the lot except interest costs… So a lot of these things that we’re seeing going on have a tremendous economic impact on people who are being asked to stock them and sell them. There is no market for this car. I do have some friends who have sold them, and they’re mostly to people who have an academic interest in it, or municipalities who are asking to buy these cars.

    With dealers like that, who needs competitors?

  • Heck, wait until the battery pack has to be replaced in just a few years. $$$$ AND environmental degradation.
    Think CFL light-bulbs are a PITA?

  • The original Model T, with a top speed of 40MPH and a 37 HP engine got 15 MPG.
    My 1970 Chevelle with 396CI and 330HP did 0-60 in 7 seconds, and got 15MPG, and got squirrelly over 100MPH.
    My 2009 Maxima with 3.5L/ 285HP does 0-60 in 6 seconds, gets 24-28MPG (at 80 MPH), is a four door sedan and did 115 MPH (AZ Desert going to California) quite smoothly.
    In essence, folks, that old BS about “Planned Obsolescence” is just flat out, well, BS.

  • To replace the batteries on the Volt it is going to cost the consumer $7000. The battery packs are supposed to last 10 years but will actually last about 5. So an initial cost of $45000 plus $7000 every 5 years. My regular car battery lasts 5 years and I pay $60 to replace it. Tell me again why I would buy the Volt.

    • “Tell me again why I would buy the Volt.”
      Well, according to some of what I read above, the governments will hand you $11,000 of some one else’s money to buy it, and because, well, it’s just a dramatic leap forward in the technology because NOW you can burn your 40 miles of battery in a car running the battery down faster and in greater safety and comfort to it’s passengers , and of course it’ll give you moral superiority for being all green and earth conscious, and mostly it’ll help Government Motors and that’ll help the boob we put in the White House 3 years ago.
      I don’t see a lot of sensible economic reasons for doing it, but given the fact that we’re throwing common sense out the window at the moment acting like we don’t HAVE any superior alternatives (fossil fuel, baaaaaaaad) jump up on the wagon, grab your shit sandwich and enjoy.

  • There is still the matter of recharging the battery. Planning your life around the need to spend a few hours recharging my battery doesn’t appeal to me. Gee, I would love to go out to a football game or dinner, but I have to charge my battery for work tomorrow. Camping trips are definitely out. If you live in an apartment you will need a very long extension cord, which kind of ruins the market for electric vehicles in urban areas.

    • Ah, but you can run on gas.
      And if that’s the answer someone trots out here, my question would be “if I can run on gas, why did I bother to get an electric car in the first place?”
      10 hours at 120, 4 hours at 240
      Or you can spend (after all you’ve spent) an additional $1500 to have the speed charger (which, buy the way, is how you get that 240 at 4 hours, get it, “buy the way?”) installed in your home  :).  This is one of those annoying little facts the GM FAQ doesn’t mention when they mention 4 hour recharge.
      And their FAQ says you get your electric drive in the first 35 miles, after that, you’re on the combo engine/motor.  So, the 40 miles isn’t really 40 miles.
      The more you look, the better it gets, eh?

  • My rough math says based on the gas savings, after all your groovy government deductions granted to you with other people’s money, it would only take you 24 years to make up the price difference between that $17,500 gas guzzling pollution machine and your cool eco friendly green Volt in gallons of gas not used (based on the EPA estimates of $600/year on electric and $1300/year if you’re a polluting evil environment raping scum bag).
    Sounds excessively sensible to me, I understand they still drive ’54 Chevy’s in Cuba, so 24 years to keep your Volt is really not that far fetched.

  • I’ve gone off on this before, to me this is the height of (our) governments stupidity.
    We produce our own coal, oil and natural gas in this country, not as much of the oil as we use but the global market for oil is wide and the greatest problem today is the weakening US dollar.
    But Obama’s  goal is to replace the internal combustion engine with hybrids and electric drive cars (union made). These need rare earth elements and lithium which we don’t got, and the nations that do possess large deposits are fewer in number. The largest supplier is China who doesn’t intent to ship the raw material our of their country.
    As a photographer I buy Hi-power lithium batteries regularly, these batteries keep going up in price every year. They do not follow the normal pricing trend for high tech equipment, they do not get cheaper as their production is being sharply ramped up.