One major obstacle on the road to widespread acceptance of electric cars is reliability. Electric cars are still relatively new ground, and anybody who has ever gotten a cellphone wet or left a laptop in a car during a hot summer day (guilty on both counts) knows that electronics are very sensitive to the elements. Apparently, they are also sensitive to potholes.
One of the “lucky” few who were given an Electric Mini to test out—the founder of GM-Volt.com found out just how sensitive when the Mini came to a dead stop in a construction zone after hitting one such pothole.
It should be noted that these are prototype cars, not production ready models, so some kind of failure was pretty much anticipated. When Lyle over at GM-Volt.com hit a pothole though, the power electronics unit failed (for the second time), popping his car into neutral and preventing any kind of motorized motion.
He made it the first 5,000 miles of his car’s life without any major issues, but having the power electronics unit fail is a pretty big deal, and underscores the importance of extended and rigorous testing of electric cars. It’s important to get it right the first time; an initial failure can doom a product for the rest of its existence.
This is especially crucial in extreme climates like the hot and dry Southwest or the damp Northwest. Although lithium-ion batteries have done a great deal to improve extreme temperature performance, electric cars and hybrids are still affected in cold climates where their battery life is shortened and MPG ratings are lessened. There is a greater drain on the electronics due to having the heat on, road resistance from snow and slush etc. Who likes to drive in a cold car? The same could be said for air conditioning; it may not directly impact miles per gallon, but draining all that electricity will surely shorten your overall range.
If electric cars don’t deliver as promised, or worse, leave their owners stranded in an extreme climate on a consistent basis, it could provoke a very negative response from early adopters.
Electric cars also need to take care of a lot more sensitive equipment than current conventional automobiles. Yes, it is true, cars are more computerized now than ever, but the basic premise of internal combustion remains unchanged. You pretty much have to pour water down the intake of a combustion engine to ruin it. How will an electric car react to a prolonged rainy season? Will leaving your ride in the hot sun for six hours fry the delicate electronics?
These are all questions that need answering sooner rather than later. But this is why they have prototypes and testing, after all. I just know if my car ever crapped out after hitting a pothole, I’d be a lot less gracious than Lyle! Oh, and if you’re asking “What does this have to do with the Volt?”—Lyle contacted a GM rep about what kind of testing they are doing on the Volt. The short answer; a lot. From climbing mountains to extended driving, GM is putting the Volt through the wringer. So make sure you check out his post at GM-Volt.