The Death Of The Fossil Fuel Companies – Sell Your Stock Now While It's Still Worth Something

Am I serious? Yes. Very.

I spent a lot of time working with engine companies, in getting their engines certified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. I designed a range of 3-Way Catalytic Converters, worked to get a retrofit kit verified (you can read a copy of the interim verification here). I’ve worked with emission control systems for Diesel, Gasoline (Also called Petrol), Natural Gas, and Propane fueled internal combustion engines, used on a wide variety of machines. I’ve even done some work on automobiles. During this time I also worked with staff at both major U.S. agencies, and several of the minor ones (each state has it’s own environmental regulator) as well as Environment Canada.

The above is basic background. I know a lot about vehicle emissions, fuel costs, engine costs, vehicle operating costs, vehicle design, etc., from a sales point of view. While I’m not an engineer, to effectively sell this sort of product, you need to know more than the science and engineering basics. In fact many sales representatives in the business are engineers, because of the complexity of the systems.

So when I predict the death of the Fossil Fuel Companies, I have good solid reasons for doing so. Everyone has heard of Climate Change, and that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a major contributor. Some of you don’t believe that Climate Change is real, others do. Even those who don’t believe in Climate Change do understand basic economics though, so let’s look at some of them.

My 2003 model year Chrysler minivan has a 3.3L V6 gasoline engine, and with gasoline at about $1.00 Canadian per liter, costs about $80.00 per week to operate if I’m driving to work. Since there’s 52 weeks in a year, the cost of fuel would be about $4160.00. This assumes that I don’t go to visit my wife’s mother, who lives six hours north of us. If we do that, it costs us $160.00 for a round trip, so say we do that twice per year, and the fuel cost is now $4480.00. Add in oil changes, and other scheduled maintenance, and the total per year is about $5500.00.

Nissan is going to start shipping their Leaf compact car in December. The Leaf is an electric vehicle, with a round trip range of 160 kilometers (100 miles). It seats five, and has gotten excellent reviews from the automotive press. Here’s a review by the London Sun that was posted by the Sun on YouTube.

I hope you watched the video all of the way through – isn’t fueling simple? It’s no harder than putting gasoline into your current car, and you wouldn’t have to worry about fumes from the fill up igniting, since there aren’t any fumes. And yes, I saw the Mythbusters episode where they had a hard time igniting gasoline. I also know that gas stations have caught fire and exploded in the past, that’s why the current ones have all of the safety features that are installed on the pumps, and the warnings about smoking while you are filling up your car.

But let’s get back to the Leaf. First, instead of visiting a gas station, you plug it in every night at home. The cost in electricity will be about $2.25 per charge (information from Nissan Canada). This compares very favorably with a cost of $11.42 per day in gasoline with the Chrysler. Another issue is maintenance – the Leaf has electric drive, it doesn’t have an engine. There’s no need to change the engine lubricating oil. There’s no air filter, oil filter, or gasoline filter. In the calculations above I allowed $1020.00 for maintenance. Electric vehicles require very little maintenance, but to be fair we’ll cut the cost to $500.00 per year. So let’s add it up. $2.25 * 365 days =$821.25, plus $500.00 for maintenance, and the yearly total is $1321.25, for a $4178.75 saving per year. This is a huge saving – just think of what you could do with $4000.00 to spend!

While the range is limited, it would suffice for all of our needs, except our twice yearly trips to visit Mom. For most families, it would cover all of their needs, period. And if you do need to travel a longer distance on a weekend, rentals are available, and fast charge stations (25-30 minute charge) are going to be installed in many places. We could make the trip to Mom’s with three stops to charge. Since I never drive for five hours straight, three stops to recharge, and walk about an stretch is feasible.

Another thing to consider is that many jurisdictions have government rebate programs for electric car buyers, in Ontario a rebate of between $4000.00 to $10,000.00 is available starting july 1, 2010 (Government of Ontario Press Release).

How reliable will an electric car be? I don’t know about the ‘average electric car’, but Nissan has been building electric vehicles for over thirty years. You might have even driven one, if you are a forklift operator. While there are a lot of differences between an electric forklift and an electric car (forklifts for instance operate at slow speeds), the basic technologies are very similar, in fact Nissan’s gasoline powered forklifts use Nissan automotive engines, modified for off-road use.

Nissan hasn’t sold an electric car before this, because the technology that would work in a forklift, wasn’t practical in an automobile. Forklifts use cumbersome lead acid batteries. A standard 4000 pound capacity forklift has a battery that weighs between 3500 and 4000 pounds, more than many cars weigh. In a forklift the weight is an advantage, it is part of the counterbalance effect that keeps the rear wheels on the ground when you are lifting a load. In a car the extra weight would cause massive problems – the braking system, the frame, and the body of the car would need to be significantly strengthened. Lead Acid batteries use Sulfuric Acid, and it is nasty stuff. The small lead-acid battery that powers the starter motor in your car doesn’t hold a lot of it. A 4000 pound battery does. Cleaning up sulfuric acid spills isn’t fun. While Baking Soda will neutralize the acid, you’d need to carry a lot of it!

Also until recently forklifts used Direct Current (DC) motors, it’s only been recently that forklifts have switched to more efficient Alternating Current (AC) motors. AC Motors produce far more torque than DC motors due, which is useful, because when you need the most power is starting the car from a stop. Anyone who has learned to drive a car with a manual transmission has experienced this – you need to feed enough gas to the engine to get moving, but not enough to spin the tires. With an AC motor you don’t need to worry, it produces so much torque all you need to do is put it in gear.

So I expect this to be a real success for Nissan. While other companies are producing electric vehicles, Nissan is the only one that has long term electric vehicle experience, and a look at the Leaf shows the amount of work that they have done. This car is going to be the hottest car of 2011, with the Chevy Volt coming a close second (the Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid)

This car will really hit the fossil fuel companies hard. You don’t have to believe in Climate Change to see the advantages of a Leaf. The monetary savings are real, and huge. Nissan has hit a home run with it. The Premier of Ontario wants 5% of cars in Ontario to be electric by 2020. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that nearly 50% of cars will be electric by 2020. Yes, I expect electric car adoption to occur that quickly.

Oh, and as for Prime Minister Harper, and his government’s support of the Oil Sands project? He’s just wasted a whole pile of taxpayers money for nothing.

Wayne Borean

Sunday May 30, 2010

Disclosure: I used to work for a Nissan forklift dealership, and later called on Nissan when I was selling catalytic converters. I have worked with General Motors (Chevrolet) on several projects. My personal liking for those two companies may have affected my view. But I don’t think so. WB.

Further Links:

Nissan Leaf on WikipediaWired Article on the Leaf

The Eliica – a 230 MPH Electric Limosine

Currently Available Electric Cars (from Wikipedia)

Renault Fluence ZE – from Nissan’s sister company

Chevy Volt Plug In Hybrid – shorter range batteries, range extender gasoline engine

Wikipedia Category – Battery Electric Vehicles – lists a lot of other battery vehicles

Wikipedia Category – Plug In Hybrid Vehicles

Wikipedia – Electric Motorcycles and Scooters

Wikipedia – Electric Boats

Wikipedia – Electric Bus

Society for Sustainable Mobility

Electric Car Dreams from PBS


7 thoughts on “The Death Of The Fossil Fuel Companies – Sell Your Stock Now While It's Still Worth Something

  1. Wayne,

    You are right the days of the fossil fueled internal combustion engine are numbered. That said I don’t believe it is just around the corner. The killer for anything other than short haul urban use remains the batteries. The batteries are expensive and do have a limited life of maybe 5 years, which is why one rarely sees cost of ownership of electric vehicles projected beyond the five year right off.

    In the case of your 7 year old mini van if it was electric you would be on the second set of batteries, or would have junked it by this point in its life. I think maybe this financial cost and environmental cost has to form part of the big picture.

    The oft repeated “zero emissions” is not really true in many cases when you factor in the the source of the energy, it’s not all solar and wind.

    Another thing that rubs me the wrong way are the tax breaks that owners of electric vehicles are going to receive both in purchase subsidies and operating costs, road taxes, fuel taxes etc. A false utopia and who is picking up the slack? Guys like you and me with our aging mini vans.

    I also have a “wife’s mother” 6 hours North of me and I’m darn sure I won’t be making that trip in an all electric vehicle in the foreseeable future. Gas stops are bad enough but imagine adding in four or five fast charging stops at 15 to 20 minutes apiece. I sure as heck don’t want to be standing around at 30 below in the self serve line either.

    Maybe the future will be riding on, in my case, Ontario Northland or Greyhound instead and just renting one of these vehicles when I reach my destination. I wonder how they do in the cold?


    1. Marcus,

      Nissan claims a life of ten years for the batteries, which is what I based my calculations on. Based on my previous experiences dealing with Nissan Engineering, I’ll take their word for it over yours.

      As to emissions – single source (i.e. giant power plant) is easier to clean up than 50,000 cars. I’m from the industry, and this has already been thoroughly covered by the Society of Automotive Engineers. While I’m not an SAE member, I have friends who are, and who let me read SAE technical papers as they get them. Of course that source has to be cleaned up. In Ontario it has been. Really Canada should annex the United States, that’s probably the only way that American coal fueled generating stations would ever get cleaned up.

      Let me get this straight – your neighbor buys a vehicle that doesn’t use gasoline, and you think they should pay gasoline taxes? Wonderful concept – BP, Shell, Exxon et al will love you. Road taxes? They are part of house taxes, and get paid whether you drive an electric or not. As to purchase subsidies, the government will save that much in reduced health care costs, reduced pollution, etc. As to your old minivan, I assume you plan to replace it at some point, I know that I do.

      As to the long trip – 160 kilometers is the range now, for this particular vehicle. Go buy a Chevy Volt (and yes, there is a minivan version planned), with the range extender engine you wouldn’t have any problem. And it’s range should be good enough for your daily commute.

      Oh, and electrics do fine in the cold. Nissan and GM were both well aware of the problem, and the cars are designed to handle it.


  2. I’ve been around long enough to see plenty of automotive hype turn into failure, the companies are desperate once again.

    Yes Nissan expects the battery to have 70 to 80% of its capacity at ten years. We will see how long the batteries really last in this application I could be wrong, so could they.

    As for the cold weather, lithium-ion cells are one of the better performers at lower temperatures and operation will keep them warm, but it does take its toll if they get cold. Still light years better than the previous generation NiMH electric cars from Honda and GM that would grind to a complete halt.

    Ontario’s coal fired generators are cleaner than they were granted, but they shouldn’t be considered clean and the resource is another non-renewable. Weren’t they on the political death list at one point?

    Your municipal property taxes do pay a portion of local roads, but the majority of the funding for roads comes out of the Federal and Provincial coffers. The same coffers that are fueled partially by petroleum takes and related sales taxes. If those funds are no longer available, there is a void to fill, doesn’t it make sense to recover the costs for the roads from the road users?

    The range extender engine, to get distances out of the current technology. An IC/electric hybrid, probably the most sensible solution in the short term. Although at longer distances the engine once again has to be of sufficient size to do all the work whether directly coupled to the drive train or operating a generator, battery and motor setup.

    Time will tell, but I’m not buying it yet, maybe we can revisit this in 10 years. 🙂

    That said, the Tesla sure looks like fun. 🙂


    1. Marcus,

      About thirty years ago I was involved in the rebuild of the most amazing heavy forklift I’d ever seen. It was capable of lifting 22,000 pounds, could turn in it’s own length, and was powered by a tiny forty horsepower engine, the same engine of which was the standard engine in 4,000 pound lifting capacity forklifts of the same era (the machine was built in 1962). The trick was that it wasn’t coupled to the wheels, but to a DC generator, which powered a DC Motor. Electric motors produce a lot more torque than gasoline motors, and that forklift moved – it was incredibly fast and agile. It was also incredibly expensive, which is why that power train system, which was known as the ‘Continental Ready Power System’ wasn’t used more commonly.

      So I’m quite familiar with the technology. I’ve also had a lot of experience with straight electric forklifts. Did you know that a gasoline forklift with a 50 horsepower gasoline motor, would have a 7 horsepower electric motor?

      The big problem with electric cars has always been energy storage. Lithium Ion batteries appear to be a good solution. Of course only real world experience will prove their capabilities, but based on my reading of SAE papers, I’d be quite willing to take a chance on them, where I wouldn’t have been willing to take a chance on the NIMH batteries (at least not in Canada – if I lived in California it would be different).

      Ontario Hydro currently has four working coal fired generating stations. Here’s a good paper on Coal-Fired Electricity Generation in Ontario which was commissioned by the Government of Ontario in 2001, which is still topical.

      From a cost/benefit standpoint it’s less expensive to clean up a coal fired generating station than it is to clean up 50,000 cars. Of course if the utility is privately owned, like in the United States, it will fight like crazy to avoid having to spend money. What they are saying by doing this is that profits are more important than their customers and neighbors.

      As to road taxes, that’s not a big deal. So a few things have to be re-arranged. That’s what government is supposed to do, and if it doesn’t do it, vote the bastards out.


      1. Thanks for the link to to the paper on coal fired generation I will do more reading when I get a chance, I’m currently following the CRTC’s ADSL-CO proceedings, which are overloading my head.

        Yes, the torque curves of an electric motor vs. a gasoline motor are quite different, most electric motors produce max. torque at stall. An electric vehicle with an on/off switch rather than a speed controller can be quite the tire fryer. 🙂

        Check out Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s work on the Lohner-Porsche from around the turn of the last century for some earlier concepts that just needed better batteries. What’s old is new again.

        A diesel or gasoline/electric set-up has inherent transmission losses greater than more direct geared transmission form, but as you point out the torque delivery can be an advantage. Another potential advantage in some applications is that the IC engine can be run in a constant speed range and tuned for increased efficiency. That said eventually it comes down to Watts being Watts and work being work no matter what the source of power.


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