Ask Nathan: Where Are the Affordable EVs, Is Synthetic Gas For Real and Can Chevy (beat) Ford Maverick?

Toyota bz Small Crossover concept image: Toyota

In this week’s Ask Nathan:

  • Where’s the affordable EVs we were promised?
  • Will synthetic gas save internal combustion engines?
  • Can Chevy build a better Ford Maverick?

The first question comes from a fan who is sick of waiting for affordable EVs.

Here I thought that Toyota would lead the way for affordable EVs – but not yet. (Image: Toyota)

Q: (Via: Twitter@NathanAdlen)Where the hell are the affordable EVs everyone is promising!!??

I love the perfect life for EVs. Nathan I swear that if you look at my lifestyle, you would say “yes, that dude is perfect for an affordable EV”

But where the hell are the affordable EVs? Even Elon promised an EV for the working class like me. I guess, for a jugular ripping billionaire who can do what he wants, working class people are millionaires. Man, even a used Model 3 is way too expensive for me. And don’t try to sell me on the tax credits! It allows you to claim UP TO $7,500 in credit against the federal income taxes you owe. It’s not a guarantee of money returned to your wallet.

I drive about 150 miles a week to my job and to my hobby spot, an RC airport in the San Fernando Valley. Very little driving for a Californian I bet you’re thinking. I fly RC planes, so I need a hatchback. I bought a used 2018 Chevrolet Bolt, and part of that reason was because of a review you posted on your experience driving it in L.A. And I got to say I love the car so much.

Image: Chevrolet

So now I am thinking about buying a new affordable EV, but my options are poor. I mean I bought the Bolt for about $15,000 and that was because it had some damaged body panels. Because of it being a used car, I have no real warranty and the recalls have been a pain in the neck.

I know a tiny bit about engineering and one of the things that should be obvious is that EVs are pretty simple. They should be able to build an alternative that is cheap to build and cheap to run. I know batteries are expensive, if you look overseas there are a mountain of very inexpensive EVs that are everywhere. Why can’t we replicate that?

I saw this story on a Chinese car that has a 250 mile range, high tech, even bigger than my Bolt, and it sells for the equivalent of about $10,000. They have much cheaper ones, this one is just one of he best. I bet it would be acceptable for American safety standards. Even if I have to spend a few thousand on overseas tax, why can’t I drive this!?

  • C.Paper
Image: Leap Motor

A: I know, waiting for affordable EVs to show up is a pain.

I think the car you’re referring to is the Leap Motor T03, which is a slick little people mover. Leap Motor is fairly new on the EV car scene, but they have already proven to be remarkably popular. They build a larger EV SUV and a funky EV sports coupe. The numbers and reviews seem to confirm that they are a serious contender. What blows my mind is the tech, like semi autonomy, park assist and over-air updates that are part of such an inexpensive machine.

After your email, I thought that I would look around to see if there was anything coming that would be in the same league as the T03. In the United States, the least expensive EV is the Mini SE, and then the low range Nissan Leaf. That will run you between $23 – $27,000 before options. Effectively, that’s more than twice the price over the vehicle you mentioned.

Image: Leap Motor

It’s a bit of a racket right now. EV’s are aimed at the upper class, leaving the folks who truly need it – behind. Not only are automakers selling these things at high prices (many “affordable” new EVs average about $48,000), they are almost impossible to find. On top of that, charge stations in urban settings are woefully behind.

Look, it’s a pain to charge your car if you live in an apartment. At least set up chargers at gas stations, and on more streets. On top of that, workplaces and schools should provide more charging to encourage EV acceptance.

I’m with you on your displeasure. Based on what I’ve seen overseas, it’s more than possible to build a quality electric vehicle for the masses. Unfortunately, profit is king.

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The next question comes from a viewer who wants to know if synthetic gasoline can save internal combustion cars.

Q: I was wondering if you knew anything about synthetic gasoline.

I heard that it can burn totally clean and make gas cars even more efficient. Do you know anything about this?

  • Unnamed PA at Swedish Medical Center

A: Billions have been invested by Porsche, BMW, McLaren and others into a variety of different types of synthetic fuels.

Honestly, my knowledge of synthetic fuels is cursory, at best. What I basically know is that the new “cleaner” versions of synthetic fuel is based on biomass, CO2 and natural gas. A great deal of heat is applied, and – what eventually is formulated – can be refined into a variety of fuels.

I am attaching a much better explanation from a 2021 issue of Car and Driver regarding Porsche’s efforts.

… Porsche’s goal is to produce a fuel by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity generated by a wind turbine. The hydrogen would then be combined with atmospheric carbon dioxide to create synthetic methanol, from which synthetic gasoline, diesel, and kerosene can be refined. Sounds clean, right? Just water and wind.

Well maybe, if that’s how it’s actually made, but historically, synthetic fuels have come from our old friend coal. The technology dates back to the 1920s, when German chemists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch developed a method to make liquid fuel by superheating coal. The Fischer-Tropsch process powered Germany through World War II and has been used for decades in countries with minimal oil reserves and large coal reserves, such as South Africa.

Today’s spin on synfuels is that not only coal but also natural gas, biomass from crop waste, or CO2 itself—as in the Porsche plant—can be heated at temperatures exceeding 1800 degrees until it forms carbon-monoxide mol­ecules. They’re joined to hydrogen mol­ecules in the same long hydro­carbon chains that make up the petroleum-derived fuel we know and, with some reservations, love.

Porsche is candid about the limitations of synthetic fuels. In announcing the plant, Porsche CEO Oliver Blume said: “Our goal is and remains electric mobility. This is the future. It must be emphasized that we do not see the use of e-fuels as an alternative, but as an addition to the all-electric drive.”

Car and Driver
porsche plant

Do I think it’s worth pursuing? Absolutely. Especially if these and other automakers see merit in the expense. Still, I have to wonder if the mixture of emission improvements offsets the impact of making these fuels in the first place. We’ll see in the near future!

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The last question comes from a fan who wants to see Chevrolet build a better Ford Maverick.

Q: Nate. Was Chevrolet caught sleeping when Ford introduced the Maverick?

How could Ford build such a runaway hit without anyone else other than Hyundai taking note? They just ignored the huge audience Ford who gets the crowd cheering. I’m not a Ford fan but I have to give them props for coming out with such a slam dunk! Why can’t Chevy build a better Maverick?


A: I do agree that Ford took many by surprise.

The idea to build something so utilitarian, efficient and inexpensive without a single proper competitor out there to challenge you was a bold statement. Sure, Hyundai built the Santa Cruz, but that’s a very different (and more premium) vehicle. In essence, the Ford Maverick created its own segment. Now, I am referring to the front-wheel drive (FWD) hybrid, as it is a remarkable bargain.

Chevrolet/GM already has the tech and the products that could be combined to build something competitive, but don’t hold your breath. GM isn’t as interested in hybrids as they are with full electric vehicles. That is to say, we would have a better chance seeing an all-electric (somewhat affordable?) pickup spun off the Chevrolet Silverado EV.

I have yet to see a legitimate (direct) challenger to the Ford Maverick hybrid from any automaker selling in the United States. Hopefully, someone will step up and keep things competitive.

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