The Only Way For Long-Term Electric Car Sales To Work Is To Do What The Communists Did

I saw an article recently documenting how Tesloop, a Southern California car shuttle service that only operates Teslas, has some of the highest-mileage Teslas in the world, with many having over 300,000 miles on the clock. The important part here, though, is that maintenance-wise, the cars are doing fantastic, way better than a combustion car with similar mileage. Mechanically, any electric car—not just Teslas—should be equally long-lived. That’s precisely why in order for electric carmakers to thrive, they need to do what the Communists did. Specifically, the Czech commies.

Even more specifically, they need to look at how Tatra, a Czech maker of trucks (today) and luxury cars for Communist party bigwigs (the past) dealt with their cars that had been in service for a long time: they took them back to the factory and rebuilt them.

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Here’s the thinking: electric car drivetrains are incredibly simple and robust, especially when compared to a similar combustion car’s drivetrain. An electric motor is pretty much just one spinning shaft inside some electromagnetic fields; an internal combustion engine is a fascinating and wildly complex symphony of cams and pushrods and valves and pistons and crankshafts and solenoids and flaps and all kinds of other wonderful things that all have to keep moving and working in exactly the right way. There’s just so much more to go wrong.

This means that, for the basic drivetrain of an EV, things should last a hell of a lot longer. With features like regenerative braking, even consumables like brake pads should last longer, too. Drivetrain-wise, the only real limiting factor is the battery, which does degrade over time, but even that isn’t quite as dramatic as once feared.

This is good news for car buyers, who should have operable cars for longer, but poses a tricky issue for carmakers, who want to sell you cars as often as possible. Nobody wants to have cars that are deliberately designed to fail after some amount of time (I mean, I’m sure some carmakers wouldn’t mind that, but it’s not a good or moral way to do business), so what’s the alternative?

The alternative is to do what Tatra used to do: give customers the option of paying to send their car back to the factory for a comprehensive refurbishment and update.

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There would be a demand for this because, unlike an EV’s drivetrain, the rest of an EV is no more durable than any other combustion car. Interior materials and mechanisms are still subject to the same wear and tear associated with long-term use. Bodies still get scratched and dinged, plastic gets brittle, paint fades, and tech in a car that once seemed cutting-edge will eventually become hilariously outdated.

And, of course, batteries lose capacity over time.

Even if the bones and muscles of a car are sound, at some point the car will feel tired, and the owners will crave something new. Normally, this would result in the old car being either sold or scrapped, and a whole new car purchased.

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But what if, just like caviar-gorged nomenklatura of the old Eastern Bloc, an owner could have their car taken back to the factory, where it’ll get a new battery, updated body panels to reflect the latest styling, or a styling change based on the owner’s choice, new seats, carpet, and other interior materials,new paint, and all-new electronics and software.

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Any other issues would be addressed at this time, but for the most part, the drivetrain components, suspension, and frame would remain the same.

The cost wouldn’t be cheap, but it would be significantly less than the cost of a whole new car, and there would be a lot less waste and environmental impact, especially since the factory itself could have real systems for repurposing or recycling the parts from the car.

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Sure, carmakers wouldn’t sell as many cars, but they would have whole new revenue streams, ones with a locked-in set of clientele that’s not going to jump ship to some other brand because they’ve already invested in the fundamental car platform.

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Perhaps during refits owners could opt for more dramatic body changes, like changing a sedan to a wagon or adding in sunroofs or, better yet, T-tops. Carmakers are already developing more and more modular platform designs, meaning that more options for the same basic platform could be available.

The biggest drawback I can see here is for car collectors, since there won’t really be older models around in this model (though you could always choose to not update your car) and the used car market would be deprived of this set of cars, too.

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And, of course, there would be limits; at some point a whole platform may no longer be viable, so there will be an end of the road. But, before that happens, a given car could end up with a usable life vastly longer than cars last today, possibly decades longer.

Beyond that, though, there’s a lot worth considering here: it’s more environmentally sound, makes economic sense for the owners, and keeps a viable revenue stream for the companies, even as their cars last longer. I mean, if it was good enough for Tatra, who are we to argue?

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)