Maine Voices: The future of transportation looks electric

A number of years ago, entrepreneur and author Tony Seba posted a talk on the internet. He begins by showing a photo of Fifth Avenue in New York City on Easter Sunday in 1900. Wagons are everywhere, all with horses in harness.

Tony poses a question: “Can you find the automobile?” Indeed, one “horseless carriage” can be found. Tony then puts up a new photo. It’s Easter again, but 13 years have passed and it’s just about as crowded. “Can you find the horse?” he asks.

Yes, but only one. In the space of 13 years, horse-drawn carriages had all nearly been replaced by cars with some kind of engine.

Chris Beeuwkes and his Tesla Model 3, at his home in Mercer. Photo courtesy of Chris Beeuwkes

Tony calls this sudden change in taste a “disruption.” Another example of a disruption was the shift to digital cameras. Even if you still have a Kodak camera stored away somewhere you’d be hard pressed to find film for it. Tony predicts that about 10 years from now, gas-powered cars will be as rare as horse-drawn carriages in 1913.

Just about everybody will drive quiet, exhaust-free electric vehicles. In other words, another disruption. I got interested in getting such a car in 2015.

I had put solar panels on my barn roof and actually made more electricity than I could use; the surplus became a gift to Central Maine Power. What to do? I bought a Chevy Volt.

This car could go over 50 miles on battery alone, but it also had a gas engine that seamlessly took over when the battery was depleted. I charged it whenever the car was in the driveway, and as nearly all my trips were fewer than 50 miles, I bought very little gasoline. No complaints: It was a spirited little car, and great fun to drive.

Years passed and my dear daughter in Vermont needed a car. Could Daddy possibly help? It didn’t take much persuasion; I was looking for a reason to take a big step forward and go all electric.

So my daughter took over the Volt and I took out a sizable loan for a Tesla Model 3 in December 2018. At that time the waiting list was long for the basic version of this car, but if you wanted an upscale version you skipped the wait. I considered the 300-mile version, but why so expensive?

Well, the long-range version is offered only with all-wheel-drive. Gulp! But four-wheel drive makes sense for Maine’s snowy roads.

I wasn’t giving up now, and I took possession in early January 2019. If the Volt was spirited, the Tesla Model 3 acceleration knocks your socks off. This car has a large touchpad for controlling and displaying just about every function from the radio to the speedometer.

It takes some getting used to and I’m not sold on every feature, but one gave us a laugh. Once in Skowhegan we stopped for lunch, and its being a very warm day, I set the air conditioning mode to “Dog” before leaving the car. Lunch over, returning to the car we saw people looking into our car and laughing.

They moved on and we had to see what amused them. Our touchscreen displayed a happy dog with the message in large type: “Don’t worry, it’s 70* in here and my owner will be right back.” Little maintenance is a great feature of electric vehicles.

EVs have a fraction of the moving parts of conventional cars. There’s no oil or spark plugs to change nor muffler to rust out. The brakes last far longer because when you touch the brake, the energy of forward motion recharges the battery rather than wearing out brake pads.

As with the former Volt, I charge at home and can wake up to a full charge. And on those occasions where recharging is needed along trips over 250 miles, we enjoy the 15- to 30-minute charging break to stretch our legs. It’s never been a big problem.

While an exhaust-free electric vehicle may not be your next car, do go for a test drive. And while you’re at it, consider covering that south-facing roof with solar panels.


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