Electric Cars: Doubling Down On Dumb

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling, always looking to bring you cleantech reading which presents all sides of the discussion, is proud to repost this article courtesy of American Enterprise Institute. Author credit goes to AEI’s Kenneth Green.

Once again, the regulators in California have decided to lead the nation in terms of vehicle emission standards, proposing to require that 15.4 percent of all vehicles sold by 2025 must be electric cars, plug-in hybrid cars, or (currently non-existent) fuel cell cars.

In case you’re wondering why this all sounds familiar, it’s because California is re-running the same delusional program that it ran in 1990 (Yes, 22 years ago) when “Specifically, the Air Resources Board (ARB) required that at least 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent of new car sales be zero-emitting by 1998, 2001 and 2003 respectively.”

Mitsubishi i

image copyright EarthTechling

And how did the past exercise in planner’s conceit work out? As one of the first studies I directed in the think-tank world pointed out (1995), “EVs [electric vehicles] will be expensive, yet short on what consumers prize most: range and power…. Massive subsidies and/or cost-shifts would be required that would have depressive effects on the California economy (including higher energy costs statewide). Taxpayers and/or utility ratepayers would also have to pay for new refueling infrastructure. In addition, it is not clear that EV maintenance costs will be below that of conventional autos. If consumers avoid EVs for any of these reasons, and keep their old cars longer, air quality gains will be lost.”

Or, as I wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed in 1995, “Our state’s pollution control authority has to stop thinking of itself as some kind of homespun Japanese MITI that can pick and promote winners in the automotive marketplace. It isn’t, and it can’t. Conspiracy theories aside, the simple fact is that if Detroit’s big three could make a profitable electric vehicle that consumers wanted to buy, they’d be making it at the behest of their own stockholders.”

At the time, battery-car rent-seekers were putting out the same propaganda that they are today: that electric cars will produce jobs, and that mandates can “force” technology to evolve exactly as planners want it to. Responding to my op-ed, Malcolm Currie, former CEO of Hughes Aircraft Company, which created the EV-1 technologies (and where, amusingly enough, I did my doctoral internship while he was CEO), argued “In addition to encouraging the development of new technologies, the mandate has also stimulated enormous entrepreneurial activity and private investment in California, which will have a significant impact on our economy and jobs in the years ahead…out of a total potential of some 400,000 new jobs in California that will be created in advanced transportation by the year 2010, Project California anticipates that as many as 70,000 of these can be in EV-related industrial clusters, as a result of building on the large anchor market in our state.” We know how that worked out: currently, 98% of advanced battery production is in Asia.

Starting in 1996, the Zero-Emission Vehicle mandate was watered down, and General Motor’s first attempt at electric car rent-seeking died when they discontinued the EV-1 in 2003 for lack of sales, recalled the whole lot and junked them. But before that happened,California taxpayers subsidized the well-off eco-conscious people who leased the EV-1 for both vehicles and charging stations. (And those people had to have incomes over $100K, and own a second, conventional vehicle to qualify for the lease. They were the 1%).

But, surely you would say, things must have changed in 22 years, right? Surely developments in technology have made these vehicles competitive in performance and pricing! Alas, no.

The GM Volt sells for a non-competitive $40,000, and is barely selling despite federal tax subsidies up to $7,500, and some state subsidies that further sweeten the pot. Plug-in hybrid technology is more expensive to manufacture, more expensive to repair, more expensive to insure, and, after 22 years, they still have overheating and fire problems.

As Robert Bryce points out in his book Power Hungry, electric cars are the “Next Big Thing. And they always will be.” Bryce observes that EV-boosters have been flogging electric cars since 1911, when the New York Times declared that “the electric car “has long been recognized as the ideal solution” because it “is cleaner and quieter” and “much more economical.”

And fuel-cell vehicles? In 2007, Ballard Power Systems, a leader in fuel cell research terminated its vehicle-fuel-cell research, and sold the program off to Daimler AG and Ford.

It is long past time (about 100 years past) that planners drop the fatal conceit that they can plan the automobile market, predict technologies, predict consumer preferences, and pick winning and losing technologies in the marketplace. Of course, then they’d have to find a real job.

  • Guest

    The American Enterprise Institute, doubling down on the denial of anthropogenic global warming. How much did you get paid to write this piece of trash?

    • http://www.earthtechling.com/ earthtechling

      We actually got paid nothing to run this. We believe in the right to let a variety of voices be heard on cleantech topics, allowing for open and honest discussion on the views presented.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612833125 Alex Hindley

    Well this was a completely worthless article. The whole thing is pretty misleading and atu00a0theu00a0very least isu00a0unnecessarilyu00a0cynical and completely dismissive of the fact that there are other reasons why electric cars are important.

    • http://www.earthtechling.com/ earthtechling

      Thank you for your comments on this article.

    • Fhmsuh

      Completely you have got to be kidding if you cat see that government policy was wrong 22 years ago and are wrong again you are so blind we need meaningful energy policy not our dictator and chief taxing oil companies and vetoing pipelines Just remember that all that great electricity comes from dirty coal This gov will never force people to buy junk they do not want this is just history repeating it’s self how sad. Reasons not to buy these cars 1 too expensine 2 they catch fire 3 unreliable 4 the batteries do not biodegrade 5 tax payer money needed to sell them 6 have you heard of bricking this is what happens when you don’t keep your batteries charged Tesla cost $40.000 7 no charging infustructure 8 it will no longer be cheap to charge your at 1100 pm when everyone else is doing it WOW GIVE ME ANOTHER REASON TO BUY ONE NO THANKS

  • Electrify Me

    nnnYouu2019re clearlynnot an idiot. But why would you post an argument is completely devoid of anynbalance or discussion of the true issues at stake. And why donu2019t you offer anclear direction for a solution?nnnnThe cost ofngiving huge sums of money to other countries for oil is bankrupting the US.nnnnThe cost ofnmitigating pollution is something we must address, one way or another.nnnnIf it takesnsocial engineering & laws to do it, then we must at some point get started.nWe simply cannot wait another 20 years.nnnnI wouldndrive a pure-electric anything to get to work (15 miles) daily if it wereneasier to access, which it will be in mass production. I wish I had more timento compose the rest of counterpoints to your (all too easy to formulate) badnideas & theoryu2019s.nnnnShame on younfor posting such trash, itu2019s a one sided piece of drivel and counter productive.nnn

    • individual vs collective

      Electrify me… where have you been?? It exists. It’s called a Nissan Leaf. Shame on you for ramming social engineering down our throats as a reason to go electric and you don’t even practice it yourself. You probably think that government spending more money is the way of getting out of debt too. 2-2=0   2-2 does not equal 5 simply because it’s cool. What is it with people trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip? Government spending, evolution, climate change, electric cars… all have something in common…  they are all dead horses that elitists try to ram down our throats as 2-2=5 in hopes of “Socially Engineering” us to think that it all makes sense and works when all the evidence around us tell otherwise. And the only way to get around that evidence is to tell anyone that rationally opposes these views be scorned or ridiculed and bury any evidence from society…. pretty scarey stuff if you ask me. Sounds a lot like the roman catholics when they would only allow the Bible in Latin, and would tell the people how they should be and act. And anyone that opposed were burned at the stake…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3X2VHOEBYDX5IU2FESWOSRQ5YY Lee

    Worthless headline and doubly dumb article. No spine, no convincing argument, no new angles or insights. u00a0What a complete waste of a reader and journalist’s time.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3X2VHOEBYDX5IU2FESWOSRQ5YY Lee

    Ahh, of course the article is written by the completely biased American Enterprise Institute. Maybe some of their inbred family members in Oklahoma would believe such ridiculous nonsense. The reptilian greed of the oil industry is never quenched!

  • Richardclivingston

    I have news for you. No one yet, and I mean NO ONE has ever placed the simplest solution to this whole automotive mess on the table. Weight limits for passenger and commercial vehicles. Our government if they really wanted to get results in the following areas such as fuel mileage, emissions reduction, crash safety, better range for both gas and electrics and savings in road repair costs could get it within five years by simply mandating the following rule.u00a0 Passenger cars 4 seats or less) can weigh no more than 1200 lbs without fluids or payload.u00a0 Same for vans, minivans and pickups.u00a0 Commercial trucks, graduated by size would go like this perhaps… 5 ton truck weighs no more than 5000 lbs (again, without fluids or payload). 10 ton truck, no more than 10,000 pounds. The same, without fluids or payload). And so on up the food chain.u00a0 It is not that large an engineering challenge at all. We’d use less foreign steel and more American made aluminum. (Which needs a lot of electricity to make and so to take pressure off the power generating folks could be smelted during off peak hours to balance the loads. Another problem solved, we’d open up a whole new range of jobs in the mass production of carbon fiber and products of that ilk. As millions of lightweight vehicles would require vast amounts of such materials, this would drive the costs down immensely and so make America a net exporter of inexpensive lightweight materials to the rest of the world. Aviation manufacturing here would benefit as would the space industry! It’d be like the 1950’s all over again…we’d have real factory jobs producing our own durable goods once more!nOur main problem is that our cars are not efficient and never will be because efficient isn’t sexy. Americans have to be weaned off cars as sex objects, horsepower as reflection of manliness and all that rot. Lightweight vehicles need not be ugly, but their looks will come as a byproduct of the challenges inherent of meeting the weight goals and maintaining the required performance, which is what engineers dream of getting the chance to really do!

  • Richardclivingston

    I have news for you. No one yet, and I mean NO ONE has ever placed the simplest solution to this whole automotive mess on the table. Weight limits for passenger and commercial vehicles. Our government if they really wanted to get results in the following areas such as fuel mileage, emissions reduction, crash safety, better range for both gas and electrics and savings in road repair costs could get it within five years by simply mandating the following rule.u00a0 Passenger cars 4 seats or less) can weigh no more than 1200 lbs without fluids or payload.u00a0 Same for vans, minivans and pickups.u00a0 Commercial trucks, graduated by size would go like this perhaps… 5 ton truck weighs no more than 5000 lbs (again, without fluids or payload). 10 ton truck, no more than 10,000 pounds. The same, without fluids or payload). And so on up the food chain.u00a0 It is not that large an engineering challenge at all. We’d use less foreign steel and more American made aluminum. (Which needs a lot of electricity to make and so to take pressure off the power generating folks could be smelted during off peak hours to balance the loads. Another problem solved, we’d open up a whole new range of jobs in the mass production of carbon fiber and products of that ilk. As millions of lightweight vehicles would require vast amounts of such materials, this would drive the costs down immensely and so make America a net exporter of inexpensive lightweight materials to the rest of the world. Aviation manufacturing here would benefit as would the space industry! It’d be like the 1950’s all over again…we’d have real factory jobs producing our own durable goods once more!nOur main problem is that our cars are not efficient and never will be because efficient isn’t sexy. Americans have to be weaned off cars as sex objects, horsepower as reflection of manliness and all that rot. Lightweight vehicles need not be ugly, but their looks will come as a byproduct of the challenges inherent of meeting the weight goals and maintaining the required performance, which is what engineers dream of getting the chance to really do!

    • chena

      yeah….YOU and your wife/kids drive one of the new, lighter, slower, less protected vehicles for the first 10-15 years while everybody else is still driving the OLDER, heavier, better protected/safer existing vehicles….

  • Guest

    We are still two generations of battery technology from a feasible internal combustion engine replacement and even then, it will be a compromise as pumping hundreds or thousands of amps to quick charge those batteries will remain a dangerous and non-trivial problem both at the practical and power grid levels. Passion does not intelligence confer… yes, we need to address environmental concerns but you should stop occupying and start studying as it will take a LOT of brain power and investment in basic research to yield solutions.

    • Guy

      You are obviously an expert, so lets check your math…. “Thousands of Amps”, lets say 3000 x 480 Volts = 1440 kW of Power. Wow!!!! That’s more that means in  minute I could charge enough to go 350 miles. I’ll take it.

  • Tford

    Richardclivingston: You’re just another voice wanting to legislate technology.  Build them entirely from Auminum?  We don’t haver the Bauxite, refining capability or electricity for that – and what will you burn for all that electricity?  Build them from Carbon Fiber – you can be the first one on your block to buy a $250,000 carbon fiber econobox – with no crush space for crash saffety.  More likely Government Motors will make them out of cardboard – I invite you to haul your family in that!

  • guest

    excellent article; lists facts, not feelings nor “green hysteria” so cherished by the
    left-bank dreamers