For most of us, the most important attribute in a car we're thinking of purchasing is reliability. And that's a quality which is in short supply in the realm of Electric Vehicles. A few recent stories will help illustrate this point.
- First up is the E.V. in Scotland that decided to go rogue. In a report titled “I Was Kidnapped by My Runaway Electric Car,” driver Brian Morrison of Glasgow described an incident which occurred one Sunday evening as he was driving down the A803 highway, heading toward Kirkintilloch. All of a sudden, the car's brakes ceased responding. "I realized something was wrong when I was coming up to a roundabout and went to slow down but it didn't do it," he said. "Then I heard a loud grinding noise that sounded like brake pads, but because it was such a new car I knew it couldn't be a problem with them.”
He managed to get through the roundabout, and then faced a long stretch of straight roadway. He assumed that the car would slow down and stop if he kept his foot off of the accelerator. But that did not happen. Fearing for his life, Mr. Morrison considered jumping out of the car, but he has mobility issues, and he worried that even at 30 mph -- the speed the E.V. was stuck on -- he would be seriously injured.
And 100 percent totaled.
Instead he called emergency services, which sent the police to help. They also put engineers on the phone, who were surprised to learn that it wasn't even a self-driving car. They had no idea what to do. Once the police cars arrived, one pulled in front of the car, another behind, with a third next to him. He tossed his keys into the car alongside, but the E.V. didn't stop. Eventually the police decided to attempt a controlled crash into the back of one of their vehicles. That did the trick, though they kept the cop car in place, for fear that the E.V. would start up again. When the investigator arrived, several hours later, “he plugged in the car to do a diagnostic check, and there was pages of faults,” Morrison said. This may be the first time this has happened with an electric car in Scotland. But it’s hard to imagine it will be the last.
- Meanwhile, in Canada, the CBC reports on a family whose vacation was ruined by a balky, brand new electric Ford F-150 Lightning with an extended range battery. Dalbir Bala of La Salle, Manitoba had planned a trip to Chicago with his family which included three separate stops at fast charging stations.
The first charge went fine, but the second stop, however, in Albertville, Minnesota, was a disaster. The fast charger there brought up a faulty connection message. Bala called the help line but there was no answer. He then redirected to a nearby charging station in Elk River, Minn., but the charger there wouldn’t work either. Bala was left in a difficult spot. His battery had only about 15 kilometers of juice left, and there were no charging stations in that range. Eventually he decided on the only possible course: Ditch the Lightning. He called a tow truck to bring it to a nearby Ford dealership, while the family rented a Toyota 4Runner -- gas powered, of course -- to complete their trip to Chicago. The CBC story reports that other cars were able to use the charging stations at issue with no problem that day. So it was apparently the car, not the station, that was at fault. Again, a reliability issue. No one has a hard time putting gas in a car. These days Bala is only using the truck for commuting to work. “To have a more than $100,000 car to just drive in the city… that was not expected,” Bala said.
- But there are worse things than a bad trip. The Washington Post has a comprehensive article about a car crash that took the life of Jeremy Banner, in Delray Beach, Florida, when he used autopilot on his Tesla on a sparsely trafficked road just around dawn on March 1, 2019. Banner was speeding down the empty highway at 70 mph. His hands were no longer detected on the steering wheel. “Seconds later, the Tesla plowed into a semi-truck, shearing off its roof as it slid under the truck’s trailer. Banner was killed on impact.”
Banner’s family has sued Tesla over the autopilot crash, one of at least ten active suits pertaining to autopilot. Some of them are expected to go to court in the next year. Says the Post: “Together, these cases could determine whether the driver is solely responsible when things go wrong in a vehicle guided by autopilot — or whether the software should also bear some of the blame.” This is significant for Tesla, which has ever more driver assistance technology in its cars, more than any other car maker. If Tesla prevails, that will continue. If not, it will face financial and legal consequences, and the shift to driverless cars will slow down measurably.
Another idea who's time will never come.
The Post did an analysis of federal data which found that cars guided by autopilot have been involved in more than 700 crashes, at least 19 of which have been fatal, since it became a feature in 2014. Plaintiffs contend that they were misled into believing that cars on autopilot are “safer than a human-operated vehicle.” Banner’s lawyers argue that the technology failed when it didn’t brake at the oncoming truck or issue a warning about it. Litigation remains ongoing, and the outcome of this case for Banner's family remains unclear. But whatever the result, their husband and father is dead. And all of these incidents are evidence that we're getting way out over our skis on this new, still-evolving technology. Tesla should go back to the drawing board, and the rest of us would do well to stick with the tried and true gas-and-diesel cars which have served us so well before. until something better and more reliable comes along. If it ever does.