Monday, 2 May 2016

Why I am Breaking Up with my Subaru

Author: Francesca Fuoco

I do not enjoy putting gas in my car. In fact, every time I gas my Subaru, I tell myself I should buy an electric car. I watch the dollar count go up for every liter I am pumping into the gas tank and I get discouraged about the amount of money I am spending just to fuel my transportation. The cost of the barrel has now decreased to $43, the same price as in the early 2000’s when we were paying under 80 cents per liter. Today we are being overly overpriced per liter of consumption. Every time I put gas, I can't help wonder what my alternatives are to putting gas in my car – to avoid spending money to get to work so I can make more money and to avoid filling up my tank in the winter and freezing for those few minutes. I already have a train and metro pass for when I need to go into the city. I live in the rural areas of the Laurentians, so maybe buying a horse? Biking the 20 km to get to work? I told myself I needed a realistic solution to stop using gas. Buying an electric car is my best bet. When I started to explore my options I was discouraged because hybrid cars still run on gas and the Tesla’s Roadster and Model S are way over my budget. However, in 2014, when Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk made the announcement about designing an affordable Tesla, I knew that was the car I wanted. The prestigious name Tesla plus the word affordable sold me before I even knew what the car looked like. By still owning a car, I still have the freedom and autonomy to travel places and as a bonus, I would have the satisfaction of not contributing to the increasingly dangerous carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere from driving a combustion engine car. It is the idea of owning this fully electric, yet the quality vehicle that keeps me going with my Subaru until this fantasy Tesla hits the mainstream market next year.

It seems I was not the only one sold on the idea of an affordable electric car. Only a few weeks after Tesla’s Model 3 unveiling on March 31st, 2016, the Model 3 has now received more than 325 000 reservations, where 115 000 of those pre-orders were before the car was even unveiled! At 1000 USD per reservation deposit, this implies, 325 million USD only from the reservation deposits which projects to roughly 12 billion USD in future sales. Let’s put that into perspective. The height of a stack of 12 000 000 000 one dollar bills measures 1311 km, extending into the Earth’s troposphere, the furthest layer of the atmosphere before reaching outer space. That is a lot of money going towards the advancement of sustainable transport.

From the consumer’s perspective, using a combustion engine car increases our carbon footprint significantly. As such, driving a car that produces no carbon emissions is definitely a step in the right direction in reducing our carbon footprint. Electric car critiques will comment that driving a fully electronic car appears as a sustainable solution to reducing carbon emissions but what about when you consider the emissions resulting from the car’s production process and energy source to charge the battery? Yes, if the manufacturing plant and battery charger are sourced by the burning of coal or other fossil fuels, then the electric car is not very “green”. The Model 3 has a planned production rate of 500,000 cars per year and so Tesla alone will require today’s entire worldwide production of lithium ion batteries. As such, the Tesla Gigafactory was created to supply enough batteries to support the projected Tesla sales. Equipped with solar panels, the plan is that the Gigafactory will produce no carbon emissions. Tesla really thought of everything to combat the critiques! Furthermore, Elon Musk said a powerful statement during the unveiling of the Model 3 which I think we need to consider when considering the environment impact of an electric car: “It is really important to accelerate the World’s transition to sustainable transport. This is really important for the future of the World.” (March 31, 2016). Transitioning to sustainable transport is a process, it cannot be done overnight. Electric cars are not perfect and there are many ways in which they can be critiqued. Cutting our carbon emissions in transport is a large step forward if we consider that 31% of the US carbon emissions are due to the burning of fossil fuels for transportation. We need to consider if the benefits outweigh the risks – that is what scientific and technological advancement is all about.

Moving towards sustainable transport is only one pillar in the sustainability spectrum. The release of Tesla’s Roadster resulted in a ripple effect across the automobile industry. Other car companies started to release electric vehicles, like Nissan’s Leaf. Today, hundreds of thousands of people are lining up to buy the Model 3 – or rather, are buying a place in line to buy the car eventually in 2017. This sends a message about how people in our society are ready for a change in how we live our lives. Consider this scenario for a moment: You are ready to buy a new car and have a $40 000 budget. Do you buy a car that you need to pay additional thousands of dollars per year to fuel with gas and requires yearly maintenance? Or do you buy a car that you can plug into a wall overnight and don’t have to worry about oil changes?

The movement towards electric cars has started and I am sold on the idea. I cannot help but wonder what will happen to all the gas stations in our cities when we become oil-free... Maybe they will become charging stations?

If you would like to know more about oil-free ideas, here is a video by Shai Agassi.

Also, did I mention electric cars are silent?


Price per liter of gas:

Price of barrel of crude oil:

Tesla Model 3 unveiling video:

Gigafactory information:

CO2 emissions data:

Francesca Fuoco is a 4th year undergraduate student in the Faculty of Education at McGill University. She is currently studying with the goal of teaching Science at the High School level. Francesca is interested in promoting the development of scientific literacy skills among her students by engaging them in learning activities which aim to study how Science affects our society and vice-versa.

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