No Wonder So Many People Are Still Trying to Kill the Electric Car

Screen capture. Mill workers don't like the idea of a suit that lasts forever/ The man in the White Suit

So much of the economy changes if cars last twice as long and hardly need service.

In the classic 1951 Ealing comedy, The Man in the White Suit, Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) develops a thread that is woven into a fabric that never wears out and never gets dirty.

The mill owners are appalled; what will happen to their business if clothing lasts forever and nobody ever needs to replace them? The unions and the workers were outraged; what would happen to their jobs? Even Stratton's landlady complains, “Why can’t you scientists leave things alone? What about my bit of washing, when there’s no washing to do?”

I thought of the Man in the White Suit when I read an article in Quartz about how Electric cars are changing the cost of driving. Michael Coren describes the experience of Tesloop, a shuttle service in California that only drives Teslas.

“When we first started our company, we predicted the drive train would practically last forever,” Tesloop founder Haydn Sonnad told Quartz. “That’s proven to be relatively true.” He notes that every car except one, a vehicle taken out of service after a collision with a drunk driver, is still running. “The cars have never died of old age,” he added.

It turns out that the cars last five times as long and cost a fraction to maintain. The cars spend less time in the garage, don't need oil changes and other services. They are "blazing far past the 100,000-mile mark after which most fleets sell off cars to keep down the total maintenance costs."

Silly things are big expenses, like those fancy retractable door handles at $1500 a pop. The battery capacity of one car, at 330,000 miles, has dropped 23 percent. But 330K is way more than most cars ever drive, and Sonnad of Tesloop notes that Tesla has figured a lot of these problems out.

”The early design iterations are still a liability,” he said. “But they all are remedied by the Model 3.” Sonnad is now switching his fleet to Tesla’s latest vehicle and expects the Model 3 to not only bring down maintenance costs, but ultimately halve ownership costs compared to the pricier Model S or X.
Teslas in Dorset

Teslas in Dorset, Ontario/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

A friend of mine who lives hundreds of kilometres north of the nearest Tesla dealership recently bought a Model 3 (the one on the left), and I asked him what he was going to do about service. He responded, "What service?" He told me that the car is monitored online, that there was mobile service, and that he wasn't worried.

Management and labor agree on one thing: get rid of this suit

Management and labor agree on one thing: get rid of this suit/Screen capture

This is where The Man in the White Suit comes in. It's no wonder that Chevy dealers hate selling Bolts; they make most of their money on service. It's no wonder that the auto industry is frantic. It's no wonder that the fossil fuel industry is pivoting to plastic. It's no wonder that the US president is rolling back fuel economy standards. It's no wonder that Ontario's Doug Ford ripped out charging stations at the highway stops. There are millions of people out there invested in the fossil fuel economy who are thinking like Stratton's landlady, worrying about their washing income.

I keep saying that electric cars are not the answer, but perhaps I have been asking the wrong question. Even my argument about the upfront carbon emissions from making them is weakened if they last twice as long. Unlike the white suit, electric cars are not going away.