Friday, July 21, 2023

Electric vehicles are ready, but am I?

 Electric vehicles are coming and no doubt all of us will be driving and riding them. 

The cars and motorcycles will be ready. But will we be ready for them? 

Here's where I am going with this: Mrs. Compton, the lady down the street, drove us kids to school in her 1953 Nash Rambler. From the passenger seat I watched as she, seemingly effortlessly, guided the gearshift lever around in its ball and socket joint to keep the car moving. 

Since there was no labelled shift quadrant, I could not figure out how she knew where to find the gears! 

The beauty of the three-on-the-tree gearshift was that Mrs. Compton knew that second gear, for instance, was all the way up and forward, and third gear was down from there. 

She didn't have to look at the gearshift to know how to move it, and she could have gotten into any car on the block and driven it, since they all worked identically. 

Woman drives a manual shift Nash Rambler.
Mrs. Compton didn't need to take her eyes off the road to shift.

Last time my wife and I traveled our rental car was a brand new Toyota Prius hybrid, a new one (it looks better than the old ones, to my eye; more sleek, less geeky). 

Ever drive one? It's interesting. Obviously very well made, and solid as a brick. Very small trunk, but that is to be expected. We put three adult women in the back seat for one ride, and they did not complain.

I realize the Prius is a hybrid, not a true electric car. But the Prius has always been deliberately different, determined, for the sake of efficiency, to make no effort to cater to our familiarity with cars of the past.

Hybrid or not, it is meant to be a taste of electric things to come.

The super-sleek shape means the whole front end from the wipers forward is out of view of the driver. The back window slopes so sharply that, with the enormous headrests in the back seat, vision out the back is peephole style.

I actually wished there was some way to keep the back-up camera on so I could see what was coming up behind me. Changing lanes was a matter of the sensors alerting me to traffic alongside. The rearview mirrors seem enormous (from a larger model?) but couldn't compensate for the blind spots. I was very uncomfortable with this.

What really got me, though, were the controls. Embarrassingly, I could not figure out how to get the vehicle to move forward. Somehow it happened, and I drove to my first destination. Finally, needing to leave the car, I could not figure out how to get it into Park!

My wife ultimately did figure this out for me (along with how to get into Reverse) but it was not intuitive and always required me to take my eyes off the road to mess with the "gearshift." The tiny shift lever obviously had no mechanical connection to anything that would shift gears. It was just a switch and made no effort to disguise it.

The gearshift offered a setting labelled "B."

For battery? No, the Internet explained that B is for increasing engine braking, as I suppose you might use going down a long, steep slope. The added engine braking is not regenerative; it doesn't boost the battery as you might expect from a hybrid.

The oddest thing was the device a driver uses most often: the steering wheel.

Yes, it will steer the car, but only in a remote, effortless way, as if driving is a video game and the windshield a screen. No feedback of effort from the wheel, not even a faux resistance.

Everything about controlling the Prius required use of my eyes.

A moving human, whether it be on foot, or in a car, on a motorcycle, bicycle or boat, expects the seat of the pants to help tell what's going on. The human adjusts effort in response and expects to learn from the response what the effort is accomplishing. The Prius is totally isolating.

I'm sure people get used to this, and some probably love it. So high tech.

Yeah. Great. But here's the thing: the rear door. You don't open it by pulling a handle. You reach behind a panel to where the handle would be and, with luck, find the small electric switch that in fact opens the rear door. This could have been done with a handle. Most car doors open with a handle.

But NO. Everything has to be electric, isolating, tricky, different.

Yes, I did walk away from the still running Prius once, having put it in Park, but leaving it silently "on." Luckily I realized my mistake when I tried to lock the doors and they wouldn't lock.

Young people used to getting used to a new phone every time the old one goes out of date will quickly adapt to electric vehicles, I suppose.

As for me, I couldn't even reset the clock for Daylight Savings Time. Our Prius remained convinced during our visit that it was an hour earlier than it actually was.

Funny. Shouldn't it have known without me having to tell it?

P.S. Toyota is said to be experimenting with an electric car that will feature a manual gearbox and clutch, make appropriate engine noises, and even "stall" if driven poorly.


  1. I think e-cars will be be a passing craze. Overall, from production to finish they are no "greener" than i/c cars. Especially those hugely expensive and polluting to manufacture lithium batteries.

    Other, better ways will be found and are already being investigated. Hydrogen fuel instead of petrol. Synthetic fuels - Porsche has committed millions of dollars into their research and are already manufacturing it.

    I could never embrace electric motorcycles. Think of your Enfield with its steady beat and long range (compared with a battery bike).

    1. MikeSwanson7/25/2023

      Agree, I doubt that people even want electric vehicles. And when a diesel bullet gets 130 mpg or more...but its apparently not about that for whatever reason.


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