Getting a Charge out of Infomercials

Article excerpt

There can only be two reasons why you're now reading this magazine. Either you picked it up by accident, and are still looking for the ads for leather fashion accessories, or you're anxiously waiting for the latest news on the electric car. I can't help you with your lifestyle choices, but I can tell you we're still a long way from dropping a couple of D cells into the family sedan for a trip across the country.

The problem is not that researchers can't come up with stunning developments in the filed of electric automobiles. In fact, researchers regularly come up with stunning developments, not all of which involve accidentally wiring the ignition to the driver's seat. The real difficulty is that no matter how good any electric car looks on paper, it fails in real-world, practical tests.

For example, let's say your garden-variety researcher develops an electric car that, on paper, travels 1200 km on a single charge, achieves speeds in excess of 140 km/h, and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds. Since this is intended to be a production vehicle, the car is equipped with all of the standard features consumers have come to expect.

The first road test of the vehicle begins well. The test driver gets in, turns on the stereo system, fires up the Global Positioning System navigation console, waits for the climate-control system to kick in, does a quick test of the power windows, checks that the headlights have come on automatically, starts up the in-car Internet access subsystem to begin a download of video games to the back-seat player, and flips on the accident-avoidance radar, the radar detector, and the traffic bulletin receiver. At this point the test driver invariably makes a stupid mistake like opening the glove compartment, causing the glove compartment light to come on, and the battery pack to go up in flames, all of which goes to show that there's an awful lot of energy being wasted on pointless accessories like glove compartment lights. …