California gasoline crisis shows Desirability of Hybrid, Electric Cars

The Big Oil lobby is always talking about how unreliable wind and solar energy are. They say the wind doesn’t blow all the time, and the sun doesn’t shine at night. But actually, there are ways, such as hydropumps, to store renewable energy for use later. And increasingly sophisticated computer programs are getting good at being able to feed more wind energy into the grid when that source is strong, and switching to other sources when there is a lull.

But petroleum is also unreliable. We’ve seen many gasoline crises, including the significant one in the late 1970s. World demand remains high and supply is tight, keeping prices historically high. The Iran crisis percolates along, and were it to worsen, gasoline prices could go sky-high (yes, I mean sky-high compared to $5 a gallon).

A perfect storm of a refinery fire and temporary refinery closures has caused a gasoline shortage in California and driven up prices in some markets to as much as $5 a gallon (the average is a new high of over $4.61.) Many Costco gasoline stations have had to close for lack of supply.

This crisis will pass as the refineries come back on line, though whether gasoline will become consistently cheaper in the future is open to question (any primary commodity has big up and down swings in price, but petroleum has had an upward secular trend because of high Asian demand for some time).

Californian, LA Times journalist Dan Turner, who started out skeptical that the Nissan Leaf could be a solution to this crisis, was convinced by critiques to rewrite his article to conclude, that if you factor in the Federal tax break for buying an electric or hybrid car, it is in fact worth it. Note that the price of a Chevy Volt has also just been substantially dropped. People with Leafs in California may not be able to make long commutes, but they haven’t even noticed the gasoline crisis. And, as California’s solar and wind inputs into electricity generation rise, electric vehicles will be increasingly low-carbon.

13 Responses

  1. Electric cars are awesome! I managed to build my own (well actually it was my dad) and it’s great. I save so much money it’s unbelievable. This site – link to tells you how to do it.

    • Very good, but not for long-distance driving. In the 1-minute video, Tom Hanks says that he did 30,000mi with a vehicle from Toyota, though says it takes a whole night to charge up the batteries enough to get 100 to possibly 125mi of driving. That’s sufficient for very local commutes, but what about someone who drives around 500mi every weekend? A friend does that to look after his elderly parents. And that’s only for the driving to and back from this little city in Quebec, Canada. He works in Ottawa, Ontario. (Being single, a fact that’s surely never going to change, and being the sole child of his immediate family, he’s very dedicated to helping his parents. There’s great loyalty in that family, I’ll say.)

      Fuel, regular grade, cost over $1.40 per litre in Quebec just a few weeks ago and that’s around $5.00 per US gallon; for regular grade. I don’t know what fuel efficiency his Camry has, but it’s still costing him a lot every weekend, so he could benefit from an electric vehicle, if any can be driven 250 to 325mi or so with a single recharging of the batteries; or if any can be recharged in just a few minutes. (My wireless residential telephone takes 16hrs for a full recharge.)

      I’m not sure, but don’t think that an electric vehicle is presently an option for him due to the distances that he drives every week. There used to be other options, though not for fuel-injected vehicles; or, I believe not anyway.

      A cousin who studied in car and diesel mechanics told me and an aunt back around 1977 that the instructor had taught the students how to make a simple modification to a carburetored vehicle and this permitted getting 60-65mpg (Imperial gallon, I believe, since this was in Canada) even with a car like the Ford Baracuda, which otherwise was a serious guzzler of fuel. Even with Imperial rather than US gallon measures, that car provided maybe 15mpg, and that was highway driving. So the slight modification my cousin and others learned, very secretly, provided a 4-fold increase in fuel efficiency.

      It was illegal to teach this. School administrations forbade the teaching of this little “trick” and if an instructor was caught doing this, then the person risked being promptly fired. But, some instructors knew it was a safe modification and just told students to be quiet about this. Then these brave instructors taught how to make this slight modification. A project leader I worked for during the early 1990s had three friends who had also studied in mechanics in Ontario (my cousin studied in Quebec) and their instructor taught their class how to make this or a similarly effective modification. A local guy who’s around 60 today invented a method during the 1960s and Ford apparently adopted this, applied it to I believe it was the 1968 Baracuda, and recalled these cars over the following months, 6 to 12, claiming that the modification could cause explosions. I asked my cousin about this in August 2004 when my mother held a reunion of relatives. He didn’t want to talk about this and turned very red “in the face” when I mentioned this, but I gently pressed and also reassured him that there would be no problems, so he relaxed enough to answer a few questions. Guy was terrified, but I managed to get him to relax and asked him if there was any danger with the modification to the carburetored system. He said no, so I asked what the problem could be. He said that the vehicle would lose a little speed going up hills, so I asked how much speed would be lost and questioningly suggested 5 to 10mph. He said yes and I said that that’s no big deal. He smiled, and that was the end of this particular conversation. I had all the information that I wanted to know at this point. After all, new and recent cars were no longer carburetored, and it didn’t “dawn on me” at the time that maybe something similar could be done for fuel-injected engines.

      He sure turned red when I first began asking him, in 2004, if he had really told me and my aunt in 1977 about this. He was very red. And his expression was like of being terrified. It clearly wasn’t embarrassment. It was fear. He was like petrified about this topic.

      The three mechanic friends of the project leader I worked with in Ottawa didn’t blast out about this, but they didn’t seem very worried about me going to their garage. There was no one else there, though. Maybe they would’ve been more fearful if there had been other people present.

      Wade Frazier,, has an essay in which he refers to and considerably describes a method a friend of his had developed for seriously increasing fuel efficiency. It apparently was different, in part anyway, from what my cousin and the project leader’s three friends had learned from their instructors, but it seems that it would provide very high fuel efficiency. If not mistaken, then I think Frazier’s article/essay described higher efficiency than what my cousin learned, though 60-65mpg isn’t something to balk at, either. Frazier adds or added that his friend, who had patented his invention idea I think in the 1970s wouldn’t talk about this; again, due to fear. So Frazier took it upon himself to provide an interesting description. It’s not complete, but it’s definitely enough to rouse a reader’s interest.

      It seems that people who know of these “tricks” fear repercussions from the corporate world, say. The local guy here, if he’s still alive, and who invented a method that Ford temporarily adopted, won’t talk about this with anyone, except for very close friends. I know two of them and they told me about this around 2002 or so. I blasted off when they did, for 60-65mpg is very good, whereas US cars in the 1960s, et cetera, often guzzled 15mpg on the highway. You were luck if you got 20mpg on the highway, back then. So I became very angry about what was being done to consumers. One or both of these two guys must’ve told the inventor guy about my reactions, for I went to visit one day with one of the two others and the inventor guy blew up upon seeing me; and we had never had any prior encounter. They must’ve told him about me and that I’m a very quetioning sort of individual. If he had allowed me into his apartment, then one thing is certain and it’s that I would’ve questioned him about his invention.

      As Frazier said in his essay, people who know these things usually fear speaking about it; like fearing for their lives sort of fear. They can mention it to close friends, but “run like the devil” if anyone else asks them about this. Get to know some good mechanics well and enough that they trust you as a friend. Then ask about this. Probably not all instructors have taught this “science”, but some certainly have. If you’re not very good friends, however, then don’t expect a mechanic to say what he knows was “forbidden knowledge”. When instructors were threatened if they dared to teach this, then we have a world of secrecy and the “forbidden knowledge” is prohibited in teaching. I recall of such law in Quebec, but didn’t know about the mechanical modification to a carburetored vehicle until my then close cousin told me and an aunt about this. He began by telling us that it was prohibited to teach this and that his class or course instructor had told the students to be quiet about this, or else he’d risk losing his job. And the teacher of the 3 mechanics the project leader was friends with were also told the same thing by their instructor; and they learned in Ontario, a different province, so it seems that this prohibition was probably nationwide in Canada. Quebec and Ontario, at that time, had about half of all of the Canadian population.

      It shouldn’t be very difficult to do with a carburetored vehicle. At least one of the methods only requires heating up the fuel shortly before it enters the carburetor, turning the liquid gasoline into a more gasious state. Some caution is required, for you don’t want to apply too much heat; but, as the liquid fuel becomes more gaseous, it becomes more explosive/combustible. As it increases in combustibility once it has entered the piston chamber, the little explosions/combustions become increasingly effective and efficient. So less fuel is required to work the engine. It’s the basic idea for the method that the local inventor developed. I don’t know what my cousin and the three other mechanics graduates learned, but the local inventor guy heated the fuel line a little before the fuel would enter the carburetor. It made the gasoline more gaseous as it entered the carburetor and this greatly boosted effficiency. Without knowing the precise details, though, ome experimentation would be required. I don’t know to what temperature to heat up the fuel and we surely wouldn’t want to overheat it.

      Maybe it could also work for fuel-injection engines, but I can’t say whether it would, or not. I’m not a mechanic, and am not a chemist or expert in mechanical physics. However, there must be a way to make fuel-injected engines more fuel efficient than they presently are; I think.

      Funny. Auto-manufacturers advertise fuel-injected and hybrid cars that can give as much as 50mpg, but take an old carburetored vehicle, make some relatively simple modiciations, and get 60-65mpg. And you don’t need to take a whole night to recharge batteries. Hilarious.

      Something is wrong with this “picture”.

      • There is no such thing as a “Ford Barracuda,” and you might go check some places like on the genesis and tenacity of this particular urban legend.

  2. We have a Nissan Leaf, powered off of our home solar panel array. Being that the majority of car trips are in-city, it is our main vehicle without any sacrifice in how we go about our days. We have no electric bill and spend nothing on gasoline for the Leaf,which is a pleasure to drive.

  3. We also have a home solar powered Nissan Leaf. I noticed last week that I wasn’t keeping track of gasoline prices like I used to. We love our Leaf. I’m really glad to not be burning gasoline for transport any longer.

  4. For environmental/health reasons, I moved to a major downtown city and within a year, sold my car. I just wasn’t using it and couldn’t justify parking/insurance/maintenance costs (fuel costs were minimal because I didn’t drive it much). Bought an electric-assist bicycle and live in a place where my walkscore is 98 out of 100. I grew up in the country; having to drive 5+ miles just to get gas or groceries. Now everything I need I can walk, bike or bus to. Love this lifestyle!

  5. I can now report that Tesla Motors has reached a production rate of 100 cars per week, compared to maybe 30 cars a week in early August. Owner Elon Musk has claimed that he can break even at 160 (8000 per year). However, deliveries are trailing behind production, as the company tries to get cars shipped all over the country without a traditional dealer network. He might get two or three thousand shipped by New Year’s, and start repaying his Federal loans next year. The company is prioritizing production of the most expensive variants of the Model S, up to $100,000 per car, so production of the first 10,000 cars on the waiting list represents nearly a billion-dollar gross, hard for investors to ignore, and if he can catch up to that waiting list then a lot of people who are sitting on the fence will place orders.

    However, the cheaper, short-range versions of the S have still never been tested by outsiders. We don’t know what their actual range will be. After that comes the challenge of building an SUV and a smaller sedan that most of us could imagine buying.

  6. & in most of US the wind blows well at night and needs a market. a real bummer that cities aren’t switching to electric fleets and electric docking yards, at a time when the need and cost of investment is in our favor

    p.s. note buffett moves on wind and rail.
    electric freight is a big $ proposition

  7. Suddenly electic cars return, years after they were abandoned by the State, federal and other leaders. Get the DVD “Who killed the electric Car” ans see and hear the familiar names.

  8. For those of us living in apartments, or who lack a parking place near an electrical outlet, electric cars and plug-in hybrids remain unusable. (Infrastructure change will happen at some point, but it’ll take some time.)

    However, I’m getting 54+ MPG in my hybrid car, and live within walking distance of a light rail station. I’m not much affected by the spike in gas prices, either.

    The Wall Street Journal articles showing negative cost/benefit analyses for purchasing hybrids are looking increasingly silly.

  9. It should be noted that the wind tends to blow more consistently at night when electric cars are being charged for use the next day. Wind power and electric cars are very compatible.

    I get around by bicycle and therefore don’t need to own an electric car. My wife drives a Prius, a hybrid which we have contemplated upgrading to a plug in. I’ve even considered replacing it with a Nissan Leaf, and then renting a gasoline powered car when traveling out of town.

    I keep waiting for better battery warranties though. My laptop experiences have caused concern about the long term reliability of lithium ion batteries.


  10. Of course, we all jump right past the part where some iggorant savage asks, “Why do people all have to have cars and drive around in the first place? Wasn’t that a big part of what got us into the mess we are in? Standard Oil, destruction of the Red Car trolley, fracking for “energy independence,” worrying about planetary farts on an Arctic-hydrate scale, Slurbia and “real estate bubbles,” all that crap? And now the Chinese and Indians want to get in on the whole ‘freedom of the open road thing, with all that implies? I mean, really…”

    And most folks, the ones not struck dumb by the apparent lunacy, say “Without my AudiChevyVolvoLada, I have no identity, and NO WAY TO GET TO THE MALL!” Judge Doom had the important, profitable, short-term, unsustainable insight: link to (starting on page 2) 307 million people of all ages, wealth/poverty, degrees of ability/disability, and 254 million vehicles, not quite to parity yet. Is that the best we can do?

    Yeah, electric cars don’t require any energy, have no downsides and are the way to see the USA in your Chevrolet… link to

  11. Everything that the critics are saying about Tesla and the Volt today, they were saying about the Prius ten years ago. They’re only selling a few, they lose money on every sale – it’s exactly the same script.

    And look at Toyota’s hybrid production today.

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