An Earthly Idea: All I want for Christmas is electric AWD |

An Earthly Idea: All I want for Christmas is electric AWD

Dear Subaru Santa,

I would really love an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle with four-wheel drive and reasonably high clearance. I strongly believe that conversion from “infernal-combustion” to electric cars would be one of the best things possible for the U.S. environment and economy and even for world peace. The low clearance and two-wheel drive of current electric cars, however, are a problem where I live. My mountain resort community sees frequent heavy snow in the winter. Many of us also routinely drive up dirt roads to trailheads.

It wouldn’t have to be large. Even though it’s actually pretty small, I hate that my old Forester looks like an SUV. (I blame the popularization of gas-guzzling SUVs — together with lower mile-per-gallon standards for them — for a huge setback in vehicle efficiency over the past 30 years.) But it is more than big enough for dogs and sporting goods, and I can confidently drive it on snowy or dirt roads.

I’d love the price to be low, but could pay a little more for a large battery pack, as I would expect to recoup the cost with operating savings. When I did the calculation a few years back, electric car “fuel” costs were about 3 cents per mile, compared with 13 cents for gasoline-engine vehicles.

That 75-plus percent excess cost for gasoline reflects the notorious inefficiency of the “infernal-combustion” engine — about 70 percent energy loss compared with 10-15 percent for an electric motor.

Thus, even with the inefficiency, greenhouse gas emission and toxic pollution of today’s electrical generating system, more efficient electric cars are far better for the environment on all those counts.

I promise to be a good boy and recharge the car at night, when the utilities have lots of excess capacity. This will make the electrical generating system more efficient and might even encourage building wind turbines in places with stronger nighttime winds. (You’re welcome to add a few of those to my wish list.)

In the future, widespread use of electric vehicles, together with two-way, car-battery-electric-grid connections, might even further improve grid efficiency by using car battery storage to provide added reliability and short-term peaking power.

Tell your elves that the market for a four-wheel-drive electric vehicle would be far larger than just eco-freaks like me. Both Subarus and Priuses are very popular throughout Colorado. A vehicle satisfying both those markets should do extremely well.

Even far from the mountains, the market is there. I couldn’t quite sell my sister in Chicago on an electric car, even though she strongly wanted a fuel-efficient vehicle. She was worried about getting stuck in the snow, and ended up going with a regular Subaru.

I don’t want to be greedy, but if the chief Santa wants any stocking-stuffer ideas, here are two ideal items for our hiking and skiing stockings: 1) a new district ranger who actually likes trees rather than worries about them falling on someone, and 2) backbones for our elected officials, so that they’ll value protecting our wonderful forests more than sacrificing them to say that they did something — however unrelated — to respond to surveys that say people worry about fires.

I’ll leave out lots of granola bars and milk.

Howard Brown lives near Silverthorne. While he has extensive environmental policy analysis experience at the federal, state and local levels, he attributes his expertise to observing and asking questions while enjoying Summit County’s beauty.

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