Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 02/12/2013 2:54 PM | Comments: 0
The Obama administration’s electric-car fantasy finally may have died on the road between Newark, Del., and Milford, Conn.
The New York Times’ John M. Broder reported Friday that the Tesla Model S electric car he was test-driving repeatedly ran out of juice, partly because cold weather reduces the battery’s range by about 10 per cent.
Broder’s trip turned into a nightmare, including a stretch with the conked-out car riding the back of a flatbed truck.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk fired back on Monday, tweeting that Broder’s report is a "fake" and that "vehicle logs" show he "didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour."
The Times is standing by its story. My take is that even if Musk is 100 per cent right and Broder is 100 per cent wrong — which I doubt — Musk loses.
Who wants a $101,000 car that might die just because you feel like taking "a long detour"?
President Obama repeatedly declared that, with enough federal aid, we can put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. His administration has invested about $5 billion in grants, guaranteed loans — including $465 million for Tesla — and tax incentives to buyers.
Yet Americans bought just 71,000 plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles in the past two years, according to GreenCarReports.com. That’s about a third as many as the Energy Department forecast in a 2011 report that attempted to explain why Obama’s goal was not preposterous.
Federal billions cannot overcome the fact that electric vehicles and plug-in electric hybrids meet few, if any, of real consumers’ needs. Compared with gas-powered cars, they deliver inferior performance at much higher cost. As an American Physical Society symposium on battery research concluded last June: "Despite their many potential advantages, all-electric vehicles will not replace the standard American family car in the foreseeable future."
If you don’t believe the scientists, listen to Takeshi Uchiyamada, the "father" of the Toyota Prius: "Because of its shortcomings — driving range, cost and recharging time — the electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most conventional cars."
Even Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, whose commitment to the all-electric Leaf helped his firm get a $1.4 billion U.S. loan guarantee, has reduced his boosterism in the face of disappointing sales.
Nor do electric cars promise much in the way of greenhouse-gas reduction, as long as they rely on a power grid that is still mostly fired by fossil fuels.
As for Vice-President Joe Biden’s 2009 forecast of "billions and billions and billions of dollars in good, new jobs," the electric car factory at which he made that statement sits idle. Ditto the taxpayer-backed Michigan factory of battery maker LG Chem. Two Energy Department-funded lithium-ion battery makers have gone bankrupt.
There’s simply no denying that the administration’s electric-vehicle project was a mistake.
But it’s worth asking precisely what kind of mistake (beyond eminently foreseeable and terribly expensive). As Bruce Springsteen once sang: "Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?"
I accept the president’s good intentions. He didn’t set out to rip off the public. Nor was the electric-car dream a Democrats-only delusion. Several Republican pols shared it, too.
Rather, the debacle is a case study in unchecked righteousness. The administration assumed the worthiness and urgency of its goals. Americans should want electric cars, and therefore they would, apparently.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he of the Nobel Prize in physics, epitomized the regnant blend of sanctimony and technocratic hubris. He once told journalist Michael Grunwald that photosynthesis is "too damn inefficient," and that DOE might help correct that particular error of evolution.
The department has recently backed away from the million-car target, in favour of reducing battery costs to $300 per kilowatt hour by 2015 (from $650 today). Even this seems dubious, given the APS symposium’s view that "only incremental improvements can be expected" in lithium-ion batteries.
Chu is on his way out but still dreaming. "For the engineers in the room or those who follow this, you might be saying to yourself, ‘What are they smoking?’ " he remarked at the Washington Auto Show. "We’re not smoking anything. They are ambitious goals but they are achievable goals."
I might add that Chu does not own a car.
Charles Lane is a member of The Washington Post’s editorial board.
—The Washington Post
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
NATO credibility hurt in response to MH17 downing
Politicians of all stripes stifling interprovincial free trade
Joke's on those who thought referendum law had teeth
Facts were hazy in ’80s downing of Iranian jet
International anti-corruption court needed
Conspiracy theories abound in Russia
Assumptions about foreign intervention dangerous
Hostages to conflict, political blindness
New flood realities demand long-term solutions
Simple outrage won’t end Gaza conflict
Privacy views key to German hurt over U.S. spying
Missteps prove Putin is no master strategist
Repurpose pay phones for truly public Wi-Fi
American intelligence lacks smarts
False comparisons don't serve health-care analysis
Cynical Egypt unlikely to mediate Israel conflict
Proposal to split up California stupid, self-serving
Time for West to stand up against Russian president
Council ripe for third-party rule?
PST court challenge was risky political ruse
Cut the bull on animal treatment rationalizations
Fear drives young Central American migrants
Difficult to get true picture of crash site
Time for open discussion of nanoparticles in our food
Gun deaths overtaking vehicle deaths south of border
Hope in short supply around Lake Manitoba
Downing of jet makes Ukraine conflict uglier, unavoidable
Impossible to argue away collateral damage
Tsilhqot'in ruling raises questions in Atlantic Canada
One-child policy casts long shadow
Carbon tax fight politically costly down under
Big oil gambles on high prices, lack of regulation
Merchants of death facing hard times
Prospects for independence
Tightly controlled Morocco turmoil-free, for now
Israel, Hamas: perversely codependent
Clinton book-tour missteps could point to weaknesses