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Top Gear
Top Gear

Top Gear is by far the best television show about cars ever aired. They can be quite opinionated and occasionally wrong, but they do their best from their perspective. Today’s episode 12×07 unfortunately, in my opinion, they got it wrong. While they loved the performance and looks of the Tesla roadster they made it clear they believe fuel cell powered electric vehicles (FCEV) are superior to battery electric vehicles (BEV).

My Gripes…

1. They implied the fuel for recharging battery electric vehicles is from “dirty” power generation and that the alternative is a small wind powered recharger that would take 600hours to charge it.

They neglected to mention that any hydrogen produced would be powered by the same “dirty” power generation that any electric vehicle would be recharged by. They also neglected to mention that in doing so would require more power and would be less efficient. Meaning more pollution with hydrogen than battery electric.

2. They also implied that owners would be charging their vehicles with a “normal 13 amp” outlet which would take 16 hours (or 600 with the silly windmill).

They neglected to mention the Tesla is designed to be recharged with a much higher output connection included with the vehicle that charges it in 3.5 hours. That’s a massive difference and likely a dealbreaker for many people if they didn’t know the truth. Also, battery technology is improving at an incredible rate at the moment. There are already batteries from several manufacturers that will be able to be recharged in under 15 minutes.

3. They also complained about the price and went on to explain how hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles would NOT cost more than a “normal car” and “possibly less”.

Now with the US exchange rate as it is, the Tesla is overpriced, but the overall implication is that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be cheaper than battery electric vehicles. As far as I know there is no evidence that shows this will happen. Hydrogen fuel cells are still a pipe dream and battery electric vehicles while expensive now are at least available now and very likely could be cheaper than hydrogen fuel cells when they first arrive 5-10 years from now.

4. The most minor gripe was with the range. They mentioned they only got 55 miles on their track vs. the 200mile rated range.

That’s an unrealistic expectation. The Bugatti Veyron holds 26.4 US Gallons and at its rated 14MPG it will go 371 miles. But at top speed it will run out in 12 minutes or 50 miles. But is this fair to say it only goes 50 miles? Obviously, I chose an extreme example but I also believe driving around the Top Gear test track is also an extreme example.

So why do I like BEV more than FCEV? It’s the EFFICIENCY stupid!

Power generation -> Liquid Hydrogen -> Electric Motor = 17%*
Power generation -> Gas Hydrogen -> Electric Motor = 22%*
Power generation -> Battery -> Electric Motor = 66%*
Power generation -> Capacitor -> Electric Motor =79%**

*From a report FROM the European Fuel Cell Forum.
** Assuming 20% better for not losing anything in the batteries.

Even assuming those numbers are a little biased towards BEVs, no matter how you look at it BEVs are at least twice as efficient at a minimum. They both require a power source so you can’t argue about the source of power. But BEVs requires half the power! So that’s twice as good in my opinion.

Tesla Motors
Tesla Motors

I also don’t like to argue about distribution because both of them require infrastructure upgrades, but in my personal opinion it’s much easier to add high-powered (<15mins) charging stations at existing refilling stations and medium powered (several hours) outlets at homes. Remember you won’t often need a full charge at refilling station. Most of the time if you run low in electric vehicle you probably only need a quick under five-minute charge to get you where you need to go. Normal charging will happen at home. In the rare circumstance of long range driving, you’ll probably actually appreciate a 15 minute recharge every few hundred miles just to stretch your legs out.

The other thing which is great about a 5-15 minute recharge is the economic benefits to the stations. Remember most refilling stations don’t make substantial profits from selling fuel. They make their profits from selling ancillary items such as cigarettes and snacks. If you’re there 5-15 minutes you’re going to buy more on average.

The two points they legitimately make are that
1. Batteries are too expensive at the moment.
2. The batteries in the Tesla make it weigh too much.

I believe both of these problems will be solved with evolutionary (not revolutionary) improvements in battery chemistry. I can only hope someone from Top Gear actually reads this and might be swayed in the right direction…

Wired chimes in…
Jalopnik Comments…
Tree Hugger weighs in…

P.S. Before anyone thinks I don’t get Top Gear, I do. It really is one of my favorite programs. They are hardly fair to ANYONE and for an Electric & American *gasp* car they really did give it a positive (for Top Gear) review. But, for some reason or another, I just wish they would have added in a few counter points and then when they oversold the Hydrogen thing…well…that was the final straw!

One response to “Top Gear misses the point…”

  1. AlloyGT says:

    Brilliant! Thanks for the rebuttal to Top Gear. I just saw the show and was not too happy with their take on the Tesla. That was a really good point about the Veyron.

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