Engineering ‘Electron Guzzlers’

Many EVs are the equivalent of gas-guzzling, overweight V8s of the past.

Guzzlers, 54 years apart: 1970 Chevelle SS454 (left) and 2024 GMC Hummer EV. (GM)

“We don’t want a gas guzzler,” my father asserted as we walked across the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer’s lot. It was early 1968; I was a car-nut school kid and he was a Mopar man on the hunt for a new station wagon. The average U.S. retail price of regular gasoline then was about $.30 per gallon. V8s reigned supreme. My ever-frugal dad wanted a big car for our family and so bought a 1968 Plymouth Fury III wagon – an enormous 18-ft-long (5.5-m) land yacht.

As an arch penny-pincher, however, Dad eschewed the four V8s offered in the Fury in favor of the base inline 6-cylinder. Its 145 hp (108 kW) and the car’s 4000-lb (1815-kg) curb weight conspired for an anemic power-to-weight ratio. No matter. There would be no gas guzzlers in our family’s garage. The 225-six Fury got 18 mpg on the highway, while a 440-V8 powered model might eke out 13 mpg. Dad also deleted air conditioning: “Another waste of gas!” he lectured.

Those memories returned when I saw ‘gas guzzler’ used in a recent news article about electric vehicles. In this case, the writer wasn’t referring to big V8s. Rather, the objects of her scolding were all IC engines, including the 1.8-L gasoline four-banger in her increasingly uncool (as she lamented) VW Golf.

Apparently, ‘gas guzzler’ now encompasses any vehicle that burns hydrocarbon fuels, no matter how efficient. Anything with an exhaust pipe. So, allow me to introduce a term to describe many of the current-generation EVs.

Let’s call them electron guzzlers.

It’s time to acknowledge that many incumbent EVs are as “electron-inefficient” as the thundering muscle cars were fuel-inefficient back in the day. EV engineers know how to configure electric-propulsion systems to deliver optimum miles per kilowatt-hour, or MPGe. Unfortunately, however, OEM product planners and marketers rule that max buzz is essential for making mass electrification attractive. They mistakenly chose 0-to-60 mph (0-to-97 km/h) acceleration as a key selling point. “We had to dispel the notion that electric cars perform like golf carts,” one marketing boss told me.

But range and other energy-gobbling features also are important. As a result, most current EVs are over-batteried, overweight and overpriced for the majority of customers and their use cases.

Electron guzzlers are by design lithium-intensive hogs. GMC’s Hummer EV, a notorious example, packs a 400-volt, 200-kWh, 617-amp-hour Ultium battery that weighs just shy of 3000 lb. (1360 kg), pushing the vehicle’s curb weight to more than 9000 lb. (4082 kg). The Hummer’s specs were driven in part by a silly 0-to-60 bogey: three seconds. Sure, it’s quicker than a golf cart. But wouldn’t a 6- or 7-second truck be just as marketable?

Further up the GVWR scale, Tesla’s Class-8 semitractor is the ultimate guzzler. Its battery is estimated to weigh 10,000-lb. (4536-kg). With the transportation sector already concerned about future battery-materials supply and cost, the prospect of millions of pounds of lithium-battery demand serving comparatively few heavy trucks is lopsided. And heavier vehicles mean more tire wear, already an issue in the airborne-particulates battle.

The escalating cost of both lithium batteries and EVs is finally bringing some rationality to product development. New approaches to electrical architectures and component design are helping to reduce battery size. Hydrogen fuel-cell developments, as noted in this month’s issue, are a real alternative for larger vehicles. And the 0-60 obsession may be fading.

The rising EV market doesn’t need electron guzzlers. Cost/price reduction and practicality now are the keys to capturing the majority of potential EV buyers. My late dad would be one of them – if he could option-delete the A/C.