Saturday, September 20, 2014

Electric Vehicle Rally 2014 and World Record

Today, September 20, 2014, was time for the annual electric car rally put on by the Electric Automobile Association on Silicon Valley.  I had been looking forward to this event for weeks, as it’s my one chance to geek out and see what’s new in EV’s this year.  I had an opportunity to sit in a new Kia Soul electric and to test drive a Fiat 500e.  I found the Fiat to be a bit more “normal” feeling than my Mitsubishi i‑MiEV, but I prefer the interior utility of my car.  There was a converted Porsche convertible from 1958 which had a 60hp motor and lithium-ion batteries.  I also spotted a guy standing on what amounts to a motorized wheel.  The device is controlled via foot actions on the pedals upon which the rider rests.  There were also several companies selling infrastructure or apps related to charging electric vehicles.  But my favorite exhibit remains the electric bathtubs.  These tiny fiberglass bathtub shells, complete with spigots, are little electric cars (along the lines of Barbie’s cars) that kids can drive around in a small coral.  (I was told I could try one, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to extract myself afterwards.)

Electric-powered bathtub cars for the kids
Of course, all of these exhibits paled in comparison to the main draw of the event.  It would seem that earlier this year the good citizens of Stuttgart, Germany, got together and assembled a parade consisting of 481 battery electric vehicles (no gas engine hybrids) and made their way into the book of world records.  Earlier this week came word that Silicon Valley was going to break that record.  With little notice, and even less marketing, we cobbled together a band of hundreds of electric cars.  Each car was registered ahead of time and had to present credentials for driving on the road.  We all filled nearly two parking lots at the community college where the event was held.  There were low-flying drones capturing a record of the event, and countless smartphones snapping pictures and videos.  By the time I had arrived, most of the drivers had filled the main parking lot and were overflowing into a second.  Finally came the call to start.  I did some math and estimated that 500 cars spaced 30-feet (front-to-front) would occupy about three miles.  Sure enough, just before my section from the parking lot departed, I could see the first cars arriving from the two-mile loop.  The official count for the parade was 507 electric vehicles, breaking the Stuttgart record by 26.  There was a loud cheer as the officials announced the final tally. 

The official world record plaque
As I was stuck in traffic trying to pull into the parking lot, and during the two-mile loop around the college, I could not help but notice two things.  First, electric cars really are quiet.  There was no droning of gas engines idling, waiting to inch each car forward.  There were no exhaust fumes from the other cars either.  If this is the traffic jam of the future, I’m all for it.  The second thing I noticed was how well electric cars drive at slow speeds.  My gasoline-powered car is a blast to drive at highway speeds and through the mountains because of its manual transmission.  But creeping along at 4 to 6 MPH is a task that wears on your left foot and is anything but smooth.  Likewise, the small rental car I drove last week was jumpy off the start, lurching forward and unable to get going smoothly.  By contrast, the electric car gets going and maintains these speeds easily, comfortably, and quietly.  Again, driving in heavy traffic is best enjoyed in an electric vehicle.  I still prefer the wide-open roads, but now I don’t object so much to congestion.
The parade of all-electric vehicles (including conversions)

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