Digression: Electric El Camino

When I conceived of a blog about El Camino Real, I knew I would be tempted from time to time to stray from the road. I could write about El Camino Hospital, which is nowhere near El Camino Real. Or El Camino College. Or any number of El Camino High Schools. I am determined to resist the temptation, but I will give myself permission when something really good comes along.

And this is it.

Wired Magazine’s Autopia blog has brought to our attention the all-electric El Camino. No, it’s not a solar roadway. Wisconsin engineer Tom Leitschuh has converted a 1981 Chevrolet El Camino into an electric vehicle (EV), replacing the gas tank and engine with $18,000 worth of lithium-ferrite phosphate batteries and a DC motor. You remember the El Camino, the polarizing mullet of crucks: half-car, half-truck.

Electro Camino Electro Camino

We like to think of electric vehicles as futuristic marvels, a glimpse of things to come. So there’s something undeniably appealing about this piece of kitschy retro tech, especially in this post-cash-for-clunkers era.

Ironically the same day I read about this El Camino, I had attended a talk by Ian Wright of Wrightspeed Inc. His company is making some exciting advances in EVs, dramatically illustrated by their X1 prototype which can fly from 0-60 in 3 seconds, smoking many a street-legal gas-guzzler. But the take-away point he made in his talk was that beyond hobbyists like Leitschuh, economically there’s no mass market for electric family vehicles, i.e. Camrys or equivalents. EVs cost too much; it’s cheaper to buy a reasonably-efficient gas-powered car and keep putting gas in it, at least until gas reaches $10/gallon, which he says is the break-even point. What does make sense is replacing vehicles that have low gas mileage but drive a lot of miles, like delivery trucks and race cars. Those are at his break-even point today, with gas at just $3/gallon.

Wright also addressed the challenge of range-extending infrastructure, ways to ensure that you won’t be stranded because you can’t find a place to plug in your EV’s drained battery. An audience member brought up the idea of induction charging roadways, as demonstrated in Korea. Now things get really interesting. Imagine a stretch of road, say…oh I don’t know…600 miles long, covered with solar panels busy all day converting warm California sunlight into electricity which wirelessly powers the electric cars zipping back and forth on it. What could we call a road like that? Well what do you know. Just when I thought I was out…El Camino pulls me back in.

[Source: Autopia]

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