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Weary Pilgrim – Current Cars

Electric cars: not only are they coming, but they were here first. The first automobiles were, in fact, electric. We got a little sidetracked into the whole internal combustion thing for about 130 years, but not to worry, they are back...with a vengeance.

Virtually all of the major car manufacturers are gearing up to offer competitive electric cars including the high end marqued. Porsche has the Mission E coming next year, Volvo is launching the Polestar line in 2019, and look for Mercedes, Lexus, and the like to not just offer fully electric vehicles, but to position them in the showrooms so that the consumer is actually drawn to them and salespeople are actually pushing them.

Up to now, only Tesla has had electric cars that were fashionable, fast, and offered serious competition to the higher-end luxury vehicles. General Motors’ Bolt looks like a football crossed with a torn pocket, and the Nissan’s Leaf is under-powered, generic, forgettable, and already overdue for replacement

But change is in the wind – and on the highways, and in your garage.

Why? First of all, range-anxiety, that concern we all had back during the Oil Embargo of 1973 ( yes, Matilda, there were cars even then ), when we sat in long lines at filling stations all over the USA, is about to go the way of the Hula Hoop. When your average range of an all-electric vehicle was anywhere from 30-60 miles, who would want to take a chance you would end up by the side of the road waiting for the tow truck? But by next year, most of the electric cars offered will have ranges that exceed 200 miles. Batteries are better, vehicles are lighter, and charging stations will be more readily available.

Imagine living in Pittsburgh in 1913, and owning a own Model T. A big thing happened that year in Pittsburgh: you could go down to the first ever filling station and buy gasoline. Before that, you had to import your own ethyl ( as it was known then ). So here we have come full-circle, back to providing our own fuel in our home for trips away--as long as it’s not more than a couple of hundred miles, in which case, you need to find public charging stations.

There are apps like Charge Point and Plug Share to show you where you can charge your car. They will even indicate if those parking spaces are available. But don’t ask them about Marblehead – because we ain’t got none. Well, actually there’s one hidden behind the Marblehead Lights Inn, but nobody knows about that but you and me.

Salem has several, Lynn has a few, basically everybody has them but us. Why do we care, you ask? Well, for one thing, anybody who owns a Tesla and is thinking about grabbing a lunch on the north shore, will look at their app and decide on pretty much anywhere but here. And as these vehicles grow in number and road-share, this problem will only expand. We could take pride in being a bit backward, I suppose, but if you go down this path, Marblehead could end up offering only schooner cruises and meals cooked over campfires.

A related problem coming down the pike is the lack of electric transmission lines that can handle increasing traffic, such as home charging of electric cars. The vast majority of electric car owners will never drive anywhere near their range on any given day, which means they will be charged up at home during the late night at rates that are off-peak.

I have long been in awe of Marblehead electric company, if only because we never, I mean never, lose power so presumably somebody there is looking ahead and thinking about this. I promise you the folks at National grid are, because once again, this whole thing is only going in one direction – towards electric cars and away from fossil-fuel propulsion.

How fast will this change occur? Well, for openers, if your next car isn’t electric, the one after it probably will be. The Tesla 3, which promises to be a $35,000 - $45,000 car with all the bells and whistles of the bigger, badder $90,000 Tesla S, is slowly ramping up production and it will be challenged in the next year by similar offerings from most if not all the competing major car manufacturers.

Why do you want a new car? Well, you can start them with your iPhone, or in the case of the Tesla 3, just warm them up before you get in. In the next year or two, most will offer you adaptive cruise control, which means they will follow the car in front of you, slowing down and speeding up as needed, and many of them will steer inside your lane as well. They will stop you from love-tapping the car in front of you when your mind drifts off (oh yes it does, you and I both know it does) and warn you when you drift out of the lane.

You know what this means over time? Fewer accidents, fewer injuries, and less wasted time talking to the nice folks at your insurance agency. These features aren’t limited to electric cars, they are or will be available across the boards, but they are indicative of the trend toward autonomously driven cars, and the vast majority of those being tested by Google and (reportedly) Apple are electrically powered. Why? Because this is going one direction -- forward. I vote we hop on board.


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