Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Two Clean Supercars?

Wednesday is going to be car day on the blog, and it’s time for a confession. I am a car guy, which does not sit well with concern for climate change but that’s the way it is. About 6 times a year I get into a vintage MGB race car and race other enthusiasts around a road course, burning up maybe 15 gallons of high octane fuel. What’s more, my daily driver is a Mazda RX7 which I bought new 16 years ago and which gets about 17mpg.

My excuse is that I do very few miles, and if I sold it the new owner would probably do more. Also, at least I have not incurred the emissions associated with the manufacture of a new car in those 16 years. I never expect to sell the RX7, or the 1969 Jaguar XKE with which it shares a garage, but I am on the waiting list for a new Tesla electric car to be delivered in 2009.

I was going to save this until a later blog, but last week was a milestone for Tesla when they “delivered” their first production car, to their own Chairman. This may not sound much, but it demonstrates that Tesla has met all regulatory requirements for the importation and sale of the Tesla Roadster as a fully certified production car. (The Tesla is built by Lotus in England on a modified Elise platform.) Tesla also issued a press release to say that series production would start March 17th. See

The Tesla may not strictly be a super car, being rather light on top speed, but both its price ($98,000) and its acceleration (0 to 60 in less than 4 seconds) put it at least close. Autoweek ran a road test last week, and generally liked it. One small complaint was the lack of toe-in, done to reduce rolling resistance, which made it wander over uneven payment. Another slight disappointment was the range. The company claims 267 under ideal conditions, while the EPA says 221. In hard driving, and starting with the gauge showing a 95% charge, Autoweek got only 93 miles before the gauge showed 7% and the car automatically switched to “get you home” mode. This latter restricts power and moved the gauge up to 21%. (Not quite sure of the logic of this; if the batteries are 7% charged, that is surely true however much power one is drawing. It might be better to show estimated miles remaining in current driving style.) Like all electric cars, it really needs better battery technology but this is coming. I just hope it can be retrofitted.

Tesla have sold all their 2008 production, and I shall be waiting to see the reaction from early owners. If it does not pan out I might be in the market for the diesel version of the Audi R8, due for release in 2009. While the gasoline version is available now, the Audi R8 V-12 TDI is currently just a concept. The show car’s 6 liter turbocharged V12 produces 500 bhp and no less than 738 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel it to 62mph in 4.2 seconds and on to a 186mph top speed. This is definitely supercar territory, yet Audi claims 23 mpg. (This may not seem exactly green, but compare for example the Lamborghini Gallardo, built on the same platform as the R8, at 11 city, 17 highway.)

The production Audi R8 TDI is expected to use the 4.2 liter V8 diesel from the Q7 SUV (where produces 561 lb-ft, available from 1800 rpm) and to return about 27mpg. (The gasoline R8 is EPA rated at 13 city, 20 highway.) Getting my mileage up from 17 to 27 will save over 2 gallons per 100 miles, the same as if I replaced a 24 mpg mid-size car with a 50 mpg hybrid. (See my post on January 31st.)And I still promise not to do too many miles; I will after all need to try to preserve its resale value.

Yes, I know these cars are expensive but if one of these cars lasts me 16 years like the Mazda has it will probably be my last. I hope to post on more mundane electric car news next Wednesday.


FixedXorBroken said...

How much energy does it take to produce a tesla car? I doubt that the car is very climate neutral.

I think if your hobby is so GHG intensive that you shouldn't rationalize it, you should just get a new hobby.

Tony Welsh said...

Thanks for the comment. I don't think any car is going to be carbon neutral in manufacture. Also, the use of electricity is of little benefit unless the electricity comes from a clean source. Mine does, for what that's worth. One thing that is certain is that if we are going to have cars at all we need a new fuel, probably hydrogen or electricity, AND a clean source of energy to make that fuel. First generation electric vehicles are probably best seen as a demonstration project on the way to something really worthwhile. Right now, diesel is probably the best practical bet. (See my post planned for next Wednesday.) What do you suggest?

Not really sure that my hobby is that GHG intensive, compared say to filling up an SUV every week or with eating meat (see my post planned for next Saturday), but I take your point. What do you suggest as new hobby? At 63, I feel a bit old to take up anything new and probably won't be fit to race much longer anyway.

Trinifar said...

Hi Tony,

At 63 you are too young to be playing the "can't teach an old dog new tricks" card! Save that one for when you are 93. ;-)

My pet peeve is the fetishism surrounding "high-performance" cars. It stimulates every American male (and not a few females) to lust after that 0 to 60 in 4 seconds feeling, a quick rush and the consequences to the environment be damned. Few make the connection that you do when you say, "I don't think any car is going to be carbon neutral in manufacture. Also, the use of electricity is of little benefit unless the electricity comes from a clean source."

Even assuming that a "high-performance" electric car is being powered by clean, green electricity, that electricity is still a scarce resource. The choice becomes using it to power a hobby like yours or, for instance, a factory to produce windmills and public transportation like light rail.

But, given your background (not dissimilar to my own), you're obviously aware of such things. Ever the radical egalitarian, I think those who have benefitted from the American ecomony, which is to say from the vast and rapid use of fossil fuels over the last century, are naturally obligated to live lightly on the planet. Compared to most successful businessmen, it appears you do and are to be commended for that. I'd be very happy to see more people make that kind of transition. Still, there's a big gap between the weathly and the less so on their impact on the environment. Does wealth entitle one to more CO2 emissions?

So while we probably disagree at the margins, I'm glad you take the time to write this blog.

Tony Welsh said...

Thanks. The question of whether wealth entitles one to a bigger carbon footprint is an interesting one which maybe I will post about later. On the face of it, emitting GHG is just like any other resource, say wine or caviar. If wealth cannot buy anything, what use is it? And what would happen to our capitalist system? I don't know the answers; all I am saying is that the question really transcends the GHG issue.

Perhaps I should say that I am not that wealthy. I worked hard for 40 years and had more than my share of luck, so am quite comfortable. But I don't see a lot that I want to buy -- still have my 16-year-old car because I like it, still live in the same house, etc. Getting more into philanthropy and will probably give most of it away either before I die or in my will.

FixedXorBroken said...

I don't really think I can suggest a hobby. There is quite a lot to choose from. Maybe you could take up vegetarian cookery...

Tony Welsh said...

Or I could write a blog!