Perhaps the biggest worry you hear about electric vehicles is "range anxiety." And yet, on the "vast majority" of days, people in the United States drive fewer than 50 miles, averaging around 30. Which is to say: For almost all commuters, it doesn't make much sense to buy a huge car with a range of 400 miles. And yet, we do. And that has major climate and energy impacts.
This consumer peccadillo has driven alternative transportation advocates bonkers for years. So, why do people buy 7-passenger SUVs with four-wheel drive in California when they usually carry a single passenger in 70 degree weather on a highway?
People buy cars for their peak (imagined) need. If you can imagine that one day you'll drive more than a handful of people to Lake Tahoe to go skiing, then (if you can afford it) you might choose a massive sport-utility vehicle.
Which is why, I think one piece of BMW's electric vehicle announcement today is so significant. When you buy the new BMW i3, you can bundle it with access to "a conventional auto like the full-sized X5 SUV for several weeks a year."
In other words, you can right-size your commuting vehicle without losing peak capacity.
As far as I'm concerned, bundling car ownership and access is one of the great possibilities in alternative transportation. And I hope the other car companies get in on it. The amount of steel and glass moving down the highways would go down. The energy required to send these behemoths would be reduced. And consumers would still get what they want, maybe even *more* of what they want.
One further thought: When we talk about electric vehicles, we tend to assume that the entire business model and system around them has to remain static. But why?
Any car company could cut a deal with Zipcar right now to bundle in car-sharing service along with the purchase of some other vehicle. Or they could use their existing service centers and build a brand-specific car-sharing service that would function like a "subscription" to BMW on top of your purchase. The recurring revenue could help offset some of the ups and downs of car sales, too, and couples nicely with service. You go in, pick up your SUV, and leave your electric vehicle for a tuneup.
The time has come for this idea to go mainstream. The future of the car could well be small, cheap-to-operate electric vehicles for the workaday commute and a sports car or SUV whenever you want one. Doesn't that sound great?
(And one last thing: if the electric vehicle doesn't have to solve all your transportation problems, it can be slightly less capable, and thereby cheaper. Which would be nice for those of us who drive 2003 Volkswagen Golfs.)
More From The Atlantic