A couple of weeks ago the BBC ran a story titled “Climate change: Electric trucks ‘can compete with diesel ones.’” My (admittedly knee-jerk) reaction was that it was obviously a load of nonsense. (The argument is that (counter-intuitively) by shrinking the size of the battery you improve the truck. That reduces the range but supposedly makes the truck more cost effective.) Anyway I reined myself in and thought: “Jit, you can’t just reject the idea out of hand, you have to read the paper the story is based on with an open mind.” So I went to the journal “Joule” but couldn’t access the paper. Then I went to Google Scholar but couldn’t even find the paper. Instead I stumbled across an article called Electric Vehicles and Psychology by Fabio Viola*, lately published in the journal Sustainability. So I began to read that instead. What follows is a brief review.

1. Introduction

Car owners, Viola says, fret about the reduced range of an EV over a good old-fashioned diesel. What psychological tricks can be used to speed up the adoption of EVs? The plan to ban engines had

“…already put the comics industry in crisis, which has not yet found a single onomatopoeia for the noise of the cars. “Brooomm,” “Drooow,” “Vroom,” and “Roammm” are the standard noises, but now we will have to find something more significant than “Zzzz!”. The matter is serious. To solve the problem, the iconic German manufacturer of Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) performance machines asked for the help of one of the greatest modern composers of movie soundtracks, Hans Florian Zimmer, to create a sound of electric cars worthy of the ICE sisters.”

Yes, that Hans Zimmer^. But there was more. The weedy sound of a Porsche EV could be enhanced by artificially-generated grunt.

“The same philosophy [generating artificial noise for an EV] has been adopted by Porsche in its Taycan luxury electric sports car. The buyer can, in fact, decide to add the Electric Sport Sound to his car, an optional item with a cost of EUR 500, which adds a real soundtrack, both inside and outside the car.”

By soundtrack I don’t think he means REO Speedwagon. An alert is required under EU law, but car makers don’t want people to notice that their car merely exists. They want people to notice that their car is Rarrrghh.

“If the reader is looking for simple answers, the author does not recommend reading the subsequent sections, as few paradoxes are solved.”

Naturally I read on.

2. Finding Early Adopters

Where new tech is concerned you can either be an Innovator, an Early Adopter, in the Early Majority, in the Late Majority, or you can be a Laggard. I’m in the last group, which has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the EV shop:

“The descriptor says it all! Typically, they prefer traditional ICE and will adopt new EVs when there are no alternatives. Laggards are convinced of machinations and have their own ideas on everything, often supported by pseudoscientific reasoning.”

Well, we’ll see. The important people are apparently the second lot, the Early Adopters, the opinion formers, the YouTubers, Instagrammers, etc. There is seemingly a “chasm” between the Early Adopters and the third group, the Early Majority, into which some innovations fall, never to be seen again (possibly the Sinclair C5 did not manage to power itself far enough upslope to even reach the precipice, and the Thingummywig must have crawled into a drain before the Instagrammers latched onto it, or before it latched onto them, face-hugger style). Anyway we need the shiny Early Adopters to cajole, encourage, and generally harass the rest of us into jumping on the EV bandwagon.

3. Chicken or egg paradox

This particular paradox is no paradox at all for anyone who has heard of evolution, because the ancestors of chickens were egg-layers. This particular version of the paradox is that folk are reluctant to get an EV until the charging infrastructure is in place. But no company in their right mind would invest in infrastructure when there are no EVs to charge. Paradox!

According to Viola, the “hegemony of the present” dictates that we human car users want to drive, refuel, and carry on driving. It’s what we’re used to, but it is no good for the Anthropocene. If there was a fighting chance of that being possible for EVs, it could only be done with battery swapping. But that would make the battery less well protected, and we all know what might happen when an EV battery gets bashed (see later).

Viola then enthuses about the panaro, the basket that Italians used to lower down from their windows to receive deliveries of bread. The EV version of the panaro is a jungle of extension leads depending from the high windows of tower blocks down to the street below. Dangerous, but it encourages EV adoption, so it gets two thumbs up. I think the upshot here is that although most charging events will happen at home, the most important infrastructure is still the motorway chargers, so that we stop worrying about…

4. Range Anxiety

If you asked me what my principal objection to EVs was, it might be range anxiety. It might also be that I don’t have a driveway, or that an EV costs more than a normal car, except second hand, when it goes for so little that the only conclusion is that the battery must be shot.

“By range anxiety we mean the anxiety of not succeeding, not reaching the goal, an anxiety of performance.”

This particular anxiety cannot be cured by a rhombus-shaped blue pill. Because the battery is the weak point, we overlook all the good things about EVs. Like the Zimmer soundtrack fitted as standard. Here Viola goes into an interesting aside about the way cars with an internal combustion engine displaced EVs, horses, shanks’s pony, etc, in the early 20th century. Initially EVs were better than petrol cars owing to the lack of reliability of the latter. Then the petrol cars started coming off a moving production line, their power increased by an order of magnitude, they were cheaper… and EVs were just too damn gendered. Men, it seemed, wanted grunt. EVs were not only gentle, they were simple to operate, so they were popular with the ladies (I am paraphrasing the history as given here, don’t shoot the messenger).

“…the limited range of EVs cooled the desire to undertake journeys into the wilderness.”

Where once we crossed the desert on a horse with no name, now we sallied forth in a Model T. Ford, Edison, Firestone and Burroughs went on camping trips, calling themselves The Vagabonds**. Naturally this was done in a convoy of petrol cars, not equines or EVs.

At its simplest, range anxiety happens when we have further to go than the dashboard tells us we can go. This is not usually a problem in a car with an engine that can be refuelled in 4 minutes and when there are petrol stations every 30 miles or so. Naturally when recharging takes a long time, it is preferable to do it at home, or at your destination. This makes abundant sense to me. But there’s a more insidious version of range anxiety, something to do with algae apparently:

“…a phycological anxiety arises “the distance to be traveled is below to [sic] the vehicle’s range, but users irrationally are worried about the possibility to finish the charge””

My apologies to Dr Viola, especially since his English is a hundred times better than my Italian, which is limited to “Ciao, bella!” (probably redundant language these days, even in Italy) and a variety of cussing that I picked up from an actual Italian, but can’t repeat here.

There is though yet another form of range anxiety: rhetorical anxiety. Viola discusses at length Hirschman’s The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy as it applies to EV adoption. Intransigents, or conservatives, are opposed to innovation, but for irrational reasons. The first excuse we trot out for our knee-jerk opposition is the Perversity of the entire project: EVs are charged by fossil fuel anyway, so what is the point? Second, we cry Futility! Buying an EV won’t change the world, so why the hell should we bother? Third, EVs place us in Jeopardy. They are too expensive: we don’t want to burn money on an EV when we could be spending it on something particularly appealing to intransigents, bills for example. Jeopardy also comes into play with range anxiety, because we fear conking out in the middle of nowhere. All these objections seem perfectly rational to me.

But wait. There’s something we’ve forgotten. Most of our trips are actually quite short, so at least our fears re: conking out are groundless! Hm, yes, but if I want to drive to a city 200 miles away a few times a year, what am I going to do? Drive all that way, pull up in the hotel car park on my last electron, and find that the two chargers are both occupied?

Apparently we intransigents are naught but foxes, who declare that the out-of-reach grapes are unripe. That’s a reference to a fable I don’t quite grok. I mean, if the fox declared that some out of reach hens were unripe, or better overripe, a bit too stringy for his taste, I could see it. But how many foxes eat grapes, even if they’re ripe?

5. Things that go boom in the night (actually this section is called “My Cousin Told Me EVs Explode…”)

Here Viola argues that any crash that would cause an EV to auto-incinerate and cremate its occupants would be severe enough that the occupants would be dead anyway before they were burned to ash. So that’s all right then. EVs are a neat little self-extracting ACME funeral service machine if you crash them hard enough. They leave nothing unpleasant for the emergency services to clear up afterwards.

6. Viking Men Paradox

“(about Tesla) It’s a real housewives’ car. You can put all the groceries in the back, and your handbag between the seats in front. If you haven’t bought the stupid centre console, you can do that, at least. That’s what women wanted: a place to put their bag.”

I think that was a comment by a Viking Man. Men Want Big Truck. Women Want Handbag Place. Or something.

7. Autonomous Silver Vehicles

Crusties are going to be zooming around in robot EVs, statim. I mean the elderly are naturally going to gravitate towards these things, because they want to knit as they go, or they can’t see very well, or something, all very demeaning non-reasons which I reject out of hand.

8. Marriage or Cohabitation?

Don’t have an arranged marriage with your EV. Shack up with it first, and you will grow to love it. Then you can marry it. Try one and you will be pleasantly surprised.

9. Conclusions

“The advent of Tesla connected the male and female worlds: for enthusiastic males, the Tesla was a technological advancement akin to that from a Nintendo Entertainment System (1983) to a PlayStation 3 (2006), while for enthusiastic women, it was a refined place to put the handbag.”

Unfortunately for EV enthusiasts, finding psychological ploys, or even phycological ploys, to make people believe that EVs beat cars with an engine relies on a healthy dose of petitio principii. The assumption made is that EVs are better, and that resistance to them is therefore irrational. Well, I like to think of myself as rational, and I also like to think of myself as a very small part of the resistance. If I ever have an EV, it will be because the fuel duty/VED of petrol cars has become so punishing that they have been completely driven off the road. Or maybe dragged off the road. Or maybe left on the side of the road to rust into millions of sad little heaps. And as an intransigent, even if I can’t drive a petrol car any more, I might just walk instead, and sneer impotently in the direction of that BMW whizzing past with its Zimmer soundtrack blaring out.


* The paper

**A bit about the vagabonds

^ Perhaps in embarrassment, BMW have deleted the story about Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for their EVs, so you have to go to Archive.org to find it.

via Climate Scepticism


May 15, 2021