Friday, January 29, 2010

Fantastic Future Friday: Saving $260 Billion a year

There’s an old saying, “To a hammer every problem looks like a thumb.” Coming from the Energy Industry, I tend to look at every problem as a need to increase the amount of useful energy available by either making more or conserving what we are already using. In this series I’ve talked a lot about saving energy on everything but the sector that uses 40% of our oil, or 10 million barrels each day, passenger cars.

A quick disclaimer: Aptera Motors has not compensated me in any way, and they have NOT given me an Aptera 2e to review.

Most of the time passenger cars are used for one thing: Moving a 150 lb person and a cup of coffee from point A to point B. In order to do that they use anywhere from 2,000 lbs to 6,000 lbs of metal and spend 50% of their energy fighting wind resistance. So the vast majority of the energy spent in moving a 150 lb person is used for things unrelated to that purpose.

The amount of extra weight needed to move a person and their coffee in any manner besides walking can never be reduced to zero, but it can be greatly reduced from the 6,000 lb of a large SUV. The almost extreme example is the Aptera 2e, which I don’t have.

The Aptera 2e is less than 900 lbs or 15% of a large SUV and is more aerodynamic than a bicycle. With its plug-in hybrid motor it gets around 300-mpg and looks cool as hell. It also comes with two cup holders. A great way for them to advertise would be for them to give me one to drive around.

If everyone switched to the Aptera 2e the US could save 90% of what it spends on foreign oil to power passenger cars. I know I’d like to keep that money in my pocket rather than send it to terrorists. So if Aptera gave me a 2e, I would be helping to fight terrorism.

The problem with getting the Aptera, and others like it, to take over American highways isn’t technological but it’s a problem that comes from my other former industry, Insurance.

Property and Casualty Insurance is rated by the amount of risk of the Insurance Company takes in having to payout. If you drive a 6,000 lbs SUV your liability insurance is raised because you will inflict greater damage to the other person in an accident. If you drive a Nissan Sentra weighing 3,000 lbs, your Personal Injury insurance is raised as you have a greater chance of being seriously injured in an accident.

The reason is simple Physics.
The 7,000 lb Ford Excursion
If two cars weighing the exact same amount hit each other while both are traveling at 30 mph, it is the same as one car hitting a wall at 30 mph. The total deceleration is 30 mph over the distance that the cars front end collapses.

If a SUV that weighs 6,000 lbs hits me in my little Nissan Sentra that weighs 3,000 lbs while we are both traveling at 30 mph, my poor little Sentra will lose all its momentum (30 mph) and be pushed back at 15 mph giving it a total backward acceleration of 45 mph. For the SUV it will go from 30 mph to 15 mph. The greater the difference in the weights of the vehicles the worse the damage to the smaller car. That’s why 18 wheelers need to carry a million dollars in insurance, if they hit a passenger car at any speed they will kill the people. So if it happens the family gets a million dollar check.

Currently, even though SUV have the potential to do greater damage to a passenger car they aren’t required to carry any more insurance than the lighter cars. This fact scares the hell out of me because as an insurance agent I’ve talked to a lot of SUV drivers that only carry the state minimums.

When the Aptera hits the road this weight difference is even worse, if a 6,000 lb SUV hits a 900 lb Aptera, both doing 30 mph, the SUV will slow down by 4.5 mph and the Aptera will be sent backwards at 25.5 mph. So the Aptera has to withstand the same force as hitting a wall at 55.5 mph.

Because the SUV driver doesn’t carry the same insurance that an 18-wheeler has to carry the Aptera drivers family will be handed a check, by the SUV drivers insurance company, for the state minimum, $25,000 in my state, and be told sorry about your loss.

Oddly enough if the Aptera is hit by an 18-wheeler it will be nearly unharmed as the big truck will drive right over it, and it is designed to withstand that.

Right now our Insurance Laws reward people who put others at risk by driving SUVs. If laws were rewritten so that the greater the weight of the vehicle the more insurance they had to carry this would help overcome this unfairness. If the minimum liability was $25,000 with an additional $10,000 for every 1,000 lbs over the first 2,000 it would compensate for this unequal risk.

If you somehow got killed by an Aptera in your car, your family would get $25,000 dollars from the insurance company and who knows how much from the media wanting to interview the family as they try to figure out how the hell that happened.

If my little Sentra killed someone they’d get $35,000. But in the most likely scenario if a monster SUV kills someone the family would get $65,000.

With people having to pay more in order put people at risk and send money to terrorists, they would stop and think before purchasing those death machines.

In the meantime I would gladly increase my underinsured amount if Aptera would give me a 2e.

If the Insurance Laws would be changed so that the cars that have a greater chance of killing someone in an accident had to carry more liability, super efficient cars like the Aptera could take over the highways, and if Aptera would give me a 2e I would save tons of gas money, This would lead to a fantastic future, especially for me.

In case I didn’t make this point clear in this article, I WANT AN APTERA 2e.


The Vegetable Assassin said...

Cars that have a greater chance of inflicting damage to other persons, equipment etc., and also guzzle gas like there's no tomorrow, need to be paying up the wazoo for insurance. Certainly, they stand less risk of damage in a collision than a smaller car, therefore less payout for insurance maybe, but other than that, they have no good points. I'd say approximately 75% of people who drive an SUV, do not REQUIRE an SUV for everyday life. Who the hell needs an SUV in the city, for example? No one. You'd save a lot of money driving something lighter or smaller or Hybrid. I think major cities should close their roads during peak hours to large personal vehicles if they're not fully occupied.

Stephanie B said...

What I really want is a family friendly hybrid. I have three kids, two in car seats. I can't fit them all in a normal sedan and the single seat hybrid is only great for single commuters. I could use the 2e for back/forth to work (which I use a tiny sedan to do now), but, when the whole family goes somewhere, I have no real choice but the minivan. I think there'd be a lot more interest in if someone would come up with a decent hybrid minivan or some aerodynamic variation.

Here's a question, though. Why can't we design ALL cars like this?

Bill said...

One solution is to change the traffic laws. All vehicles over 2000 lbs must never never ever leave the right lane. They can never pass another vehicle.

Project Savior said...

Aptera has a 5 seater sedan in development, no word on when it will come out, or the cost.
As to why we can't design all cars like this, the stock answer has been that it will add $3,000 to the cost of the car. But if you save 10 mpg that's 1,500 gallons a year times $2.50 per gallon that's $3,750 in the first year. The cost argument doesn't add up. If you add the real cost of insurance to the larger cars it really doesn't add up.

Stephanie B said...

That's my own thinking.

JL said...

Gosh, I wish I knew you wanted an Aptera, I had an extra one and just threw it away. It was taking too much room up in my pockets :)