by Tod Mesirow
The Future of the Automobile is electric.
The gasoline powered car will battle it out with electrics until all the ice on earth melts and we’re just scrabbling as a species to find food and shelter.
That could happen. If there is a future.
But for now, billions and billions are being spent by every major automobile manufacturer on electric cars. Think of all that investment like a ship-destroying iceberg. Even if the icebergs are melting, that’s not the kind of momentum you turn around for hydrogen, or diesel. Unless Tony Stark lets everybody in on his super-secret glowing blue power source, we’re looking at an electric wheeled future for all our mobility options.
Sure the purists will hold on to gasoline-powered cars the way Charlton Heston held on to his guns. But he’s gone, and soon, so will the majority of the gasoline-powered vehicles.
And really – what’s to be missed?
Well, I will admit, plenty. The throaty grumble turned to a roar as small explosions power the piston – say, eight of them – up and down as the gears are manually engaged one at a time through the power curve, the wind whipping in the windows or over the windshield, the peripheral view a blur as the world is altered with a sense of certain power and the sensation of speed. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy those moments in spectacular cars, and hope to have more such experiences before it becomes completely out of reach for the non-billionaire.
An apparent 180 from those rarefied gasoline infused realms, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a 2019 Jaguar I-PACE all-electric SUV.
One of the early challenges to Tesla’s dominance from a major manufacturer of the upper echelons of electric vehicles – with a nod to the Leaf, and the Bolt, and others – the I-PACE from Jaguar looks like a car, by which I mean a gasoline powered car, unlike the Teslas, which feel more like high end display booths at a technology trade show, or the cockpit of a shuttle one might find on the starship USS Enterprise. The Teslas are wide open, with minimal controls, and a massive touch screen – like a computer tablet – that replaces every knob and dial on an old-fashioned car.
And that’s part of the appeal. Tesla owners embrace their journey to the future every time they open the door and climb in to their cars. More power to them. But their numbers after the initial stampede seem to have plateaued, and the brass ring of a giant best-selling all electric vehicle has yet to be grasped by any company riding the scary not merry go round. Huge fortunes have to be committed to bring about the electric vehicle future, and there is no way that everyone in the car manufacturing world is not terrified and consistently tense about when the future will arrive.
Meanwhile, the I-PACE.
I walked to the NY garage where I was to pick up the car. It was parked on the street in front of a garage. Passersby stopped and gawked, a few inquiring about it. Being orange helped it stand out from the other cars, but the design was the major factor. It looks sleek, with the signature Jaguar nose, scoops to either side, low to the ground, powerful haunches over the rear wheels. Appealing slope to the roof line, which becomes glass, leading to straight rear, 90 degrees from the ground. Overall, a successful first impression, of refined aggression, that looks commanding and potentially fast.
The instructions from the representative were brief but thorough – the interfaces all very intuitive.
I was ready to hit the road.
My destination was Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
As I sat in the car, and the display told me I had a full charge, and 231 miles of range, I wondered how much of a fool I was.
Rehoboth was 210 miles. That gave me a 21 mile cushion. Or so I thought.
My friend Brett Burke, automotive writer, gave me some helpful advice. Download the apps, he said, that will tell you where there are charging stations. You’ll need them.
He was right.
Jaguar included a small piece of plastic attached to the key chain with an RFID and their account. Radio Frequency Identification. It was linked to a Charge Point account. Which was one of the apps that Brett suggested I download.
Off I went. My iPhone linked easily with the I-PACE, not just because they both use the “I” naming architecture. I had my route plotted.
Helpfully, the map also displayed Charge Point stations along the route.
One thing that everyone says about electric cars is that there is no power curve. All of the energy is immediately available.
What this means is that when you put your foot on the gas, and press it to the floor, the acceleration is fantastic. Rocket launch amazing. The battery sends all the power the wheels can handle to them in an instant, and that’s why electric cars routinely get to 60 from zero in 4.5 seconds. With a weight close to 5,000 pounds that’s impressive. The lowest priced level I-PACE, the S, has an MSRP of $69,500. Which is part of its appeal.
The First Edition I-PACE I drove has an MSRP of $85,900.
But all that speed comes at a price. The faster you drive, the faster the batteries are drained.
Which is why of the Mode choices, I chose Economy. My goal wasn’t speed, as much as I enjoy speed whatever the power source, my goal was to arrive at my destination without stopping.
Good luck with that, I can imagine some of you saying. And you would be correct.
Because the modern electric cars – there were actually many electric cars built and sold and happily owned by Americans from the late 1890’s through the 19-teens but they lost out at that time to gasoline powered cars – are new, the calibration of power, and speed, and distance, and battery life are not an exact science.
Which means that as I’m driving south from New York to Delaware, I’m watching the number of miles I have left – my range – reduce at a rate greater than the miles traveled.
In other words – when the display indicated I had 183 miles left, and I drove ten miles, which would, in a perfectly calibrated world, result in 173 miles of range left on the display – the display instead said 161 miles. I was losing energy faster than the display had indicated that I would.
And – this is based on highway driving, in Economy mode, with Cruise Control engaged, so I wasn’t using energy in a reckless, foolhardy or fun manner.
This was serious. I wanted to avoid a charging stop.
Driving the I-PACE is superb. It’s quiet inside, comfortable, all the elements one expects to find in a luxury car. But less the Starship Enterprise and more what all modern cars have become – sleek with touch screens – but with some functions performed by buttons knobs and dials, and not just the touch screen. Awesome sound system. Huge panoramic moonroof. Seats with many adjustable areas. The automatic systems function well, and are easy to turn on and off. The lane reminder includes haptic feedback – the steering wheel shimmered when the car went over a lane line without signaling first. Super handy for these days of distracted driving. The cruise control includes an automatic braking system that reads cars in front of you, and adjusts speed and braking accordingly. The I-PACE will stop itself when the car in front stops. And the distance from the car in front – when following someone on the highway – can be adjusted depending on the driver’s preferences.
But range anxiety is real. I’m not the first, and won’t be the last, to experience the concern of running out of power.
“What happens if you run the battery down to zero?” someone asked me.
The car stops, I told them. Time to call the Three A’s. As my Mom calls them.
So running out of power, out of charge, out of energy, is something to be avoided.
The Charge Point app has a location function built in, among other helpful tools, so it knew where I was. And I knew where I was going. I searched along the route and found a Level 3 charger at a Royal Farms in Smyrna Delaware.
Royal Farms are like 7 Elevens for people who have not been to one, but better in my opinion. The sell gasoline, and all manner of food and snacks. And they sell giant drinks for $1.00. Including unsweetened iced tea. Or if you want a sugared fizzy soda beverage – they have that too, of course. They also had two chargers, and both were available.
Entering the Royal Farms at a destination and doing some elementary school level math I figured I had 40 miles to spare. Which felt like a big enough cushion. I wasn’t trying to run the car to zero. That would not be pleasant.
But from the time I realized I had to make that stop, and actually arriving at the Royal Farms, with less than the 40 mile buffer, I was a tad anxious.
Electric car chargers cost money. The price differs from station to station. The amount of charge per time on the charger varies as well. Level 3 chargers are the fastest. The app said in an hour it would yield 180 miles of range. More than enough.
So I put the car on charge, and went for a walk around Smyrna.
Which is an interesting many hundreds of years old town. Brick sidewalks. 19thand 18thcentury houses. A great small public library. And a really delicious falafel at a small restaurant that seemed to be run by a husband and wife in a shopping center named Freedom Plaza. Every now and then America can still offer up surprises.
Back at the car, all was well, and the display indicated many more miles of range than I needed.
Because the Level 3 charging stations seemed to be a bit scarce, and because I had to return to New York in a few day’s time, I used the I-PACE sparingly around Rehoboth, mindful every time I turned it on, I was using energy, and of my upcoming trip.
Why not plug it in to the house current? The rate of energy gain from the 110 outlets available were not worth buying or finding the long extension cords. Again – the infrastructure, out on the road and at home – needs to be built out to reduce or remove the range anxiety.
When it was time to head back to NY, I had more than enough range to reach my Smyrna charger – mine, because it had served me well before, and therefore was my friend – and with a full charge there, more than likely enough range to reach the garage where I was to drop it off.
Pulling in to the Royal Farms, I was happy to see the Charge Point available. Even though the app indicated it was free, part of the modern world is that technology is often less than reliable – it fails us in unpredictable ways, which is worse, and why range anxiety falls under an entire umbrella of technological dread – not just fear of Terminators, but fear of internet connected toasters and microwaves, of all of IoT in general, and the people or robots watching everything we do.
I plugged the I-PACE in, used the RFID, heard the buzz of electricity flowing into the car, saw the % start to climb, and headed out on another walking tour of Smyrna.
When I returned after an hour plus I was confronted with the unhappy fact that for whatever reason the charging had not happened as it had before. Or as I had wanted it to. I was 4% more charged than when I had arrived at Royal Farms. Not good.
There was no need for immediate panic – no one was injured, it wasn’t a disaster – but it wasn’t ideal. I called the Charge Point people, and a nice woman on the line was able to link her system up to the car, and the Charge Point station, and confirmed that what I was seeing was correct – the charge hadn’t happened as planned. She didn’t know why. We both came to the genius conclusion that I should move the car to the other Charge Point right next to the one that had failed – which luckily was unoccupied – and try again. She stayed on the line as I moved the car, and plugged in the other charger. Again I heard the buzz, the charge started, and it seemed as if all would be well. I waited a few more moments with her on the line, as the battery began to fill up, and after passing 4% gain, was assured enough to thank her for her help, hang up, and head out for more walking around Smyrna.
Happily – luckily? – upon my return after another hour – I found the batteries had reached 98% charge. The range stated was quite a bit more than the number of miles from Smyrna to NY – a good 50 or so – and I thought if I had to stop again I would, but that 2% more wouldn’t make much of a difference. So off I went.
As I drove past all the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike – and stopped at one for coffee, where I saw wild mushrooms growing next to the parking lot trash can – why do these not have charging stations? None of them do.
And that’s the big problem with electric cars – today – and was the problem around the turn of the 20thcentury when they were battling it out with gasoline engines. The infrastructure just isn’t here yet. Why haven’t state governments taken steps to combat greenhouse gasses by mandating more electric charging stations? One positive aspect of the horrific illegal and deeply evil scheme promulgated by Volkswagen to cheat everyone on the planet by rigging their emissions testing of diesel engines – for which they were caught and prosecuted – is that as part of the settlement they’re required to spend two billion dollars to install fast charging stations nationwide that work for all electric cars over the next decade. But that’s probably not enough to eradicate the range anxiety that almost any owner of an all-electric vehicle has felt, especially for now.
The I-PACE is amazing to drive. It won’t be alone for long among major manufacturers – there are a bunch on the way. The Audi e-tron SUV is due this year, with a base MSRP of $74,800, the Mercedes EQC Crossover arriving in the U.S. supposedly after the start of 2020, has a price for its UK release this July, at £65,640, or $83,625 give or take a few based on currency fluctuation, and the Aston Martin Rapide E with no announced price but a 2020 sale date projection.
Electricity generation itself is not always a climate change plus. If the electricity comes from burning coal, then in all likelihood there is no net gain over gasoline. But if the electricity comes from renewable resources like solar wind or hydroelectricity then bring it on. California is faced with a glut of renewable energy – and storage is becoming the key issue.
We’re facing a future that in some ways looks exactly like the past. And in other ways, looks and feels a whole lot better.
I will miss the visceral pleasure of gasoline powered internal combustion engines, but I will enjoy the crisp clean and pleasingly shocking speed of electric cars.
The 2019 Jaguar I-PACE is a nice entry point.
- Zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds
- 90 kwH battery
- 234-mile maximum range
Photos (c) Tod Mesirow
I-PACE interior photos (c) Jaguar USA