I have to admit that I don't find it appealing to consider a future in which we'll all be driving electric cars.
I don't have anything against using electrically powered public transportation, and I do so regularly. But an electric car? Aren't they completely sterile, bereft of any emotion, just another appliance?
Anyone harboring such misconceptions needs to take a test drive in a Tesla Roadster.
The all-electric sports car, which based on the Lotus Elise, boasts acceleration on a par with a Ferrari. Tesla says its 225-kilowatt (302 hp) electric motor propels it from 0 to 100 kilometers an hour, or 62.5 mph, in 3.9 seconds.
On a company-sponsored test drive in Munich, the car offered the emotional, heart-pounding ride of a street racer. Unfortunately, the drive also illustrated the car's technical weaknesses.
Of the three test cars offered at the Tesla presentation, one did not start. Another, after a fairly short drive on the freeway, emitted smoke from the battery compartment in the rear, where 7,000 lithium ion batteries are bound together.
Although lithium ion batteries offer superior range and performance to nickel-metal hydride or lead-acid ones, they are complex, expensive and somewhat prone to fires.
When the Tesla functioned, it functioned well. But as the glitches demonstrated, it hardly seems suited to volume production at this time.
In the future, major technological advances in the automobile will continue to come from large auto companies and suppliers, and not from small high-tech firms in California.
Developing and building a car requires thousands of experts and huge investment. It's totally different from writing a new computer program or designing a mobile phone with a camera or an MP3 player.
Suppliers such as Robert Bosch, Continental and Johnson Controls-Saft are investing hundreds of millions of euros to develop electric-drive systems built around lithium ion batteries. Next year, Mercedes-Benz will begin selling a hybrid S class powered by Continental's battery pack.
This kind of vehicle will make up an interesting market niche in the next 20 years.
The electric car is just one of many building blocks in the future of the auto industry, but it is one with which you can have fun.
You may e-mail Guido Reinking at [email protected]