Monday, October 28, 2013

Electric Vehicle Myths 1: This Time For Sure!

Eight states have just announced a plan to mandate the sale of a certain amount of electric vehicles by the automobile industry. Most stories (Wald of the Times an exception) about this plan ignored the fact that it duplicated a plan announced in 1990, which called for electric vehicles to comprise 10% of auto sales by 2003. Governor William Weld of Massachusetts went further, predicting that this would make the Commonwealth the center of a soon to be global electric vehicle industry. The company he touted, Solectrica, subsequently sold to Azure Dynamics, now in bankruptcy.
There are a number of reasons why this policy is a bad idea, but first and foremost is the fact that proponents seem to be ignoring the reasons why it failed the last time around. Most of the discussion involves what could best be described as “happy talk,” something closer to the Mouseketeers describing their hopes and dreams rather than serious quantitative analysis.
Governor Brown of California said, “This is not just an agreement, but a serious and profoundly important commitment.” Perhaps he was in a monastery during the last attempt at a near-identical policy, or maybe he thinks the states weren’t serious that time. Certainly, the assertions being made now don’t seem to address the core problems electric vehicles have, instead providing aphorisms that don’t really stand up to even a moderate examination.These include the insistence that zero emission vehicles are the ultimate goal of climate change policy, that mandating technology will move it forward, that battery technology progress should resemble that of electronics, that consumers are indifferent to the shortcomings of electric vehicles, that electric vehicles are US made and provide jobs, that government support for a technology promotes its adoption, and, finally, that this is the best way to reduce carbon emissions. None of these stand up to serious scrutiny.
Most of the proponents of such mandates would quickly deride the Tea Party Republicans for causing a government shutdown, which previously proved damaging to the Republican Party, reminding us of the adage that “insanity is repeating behavior while expecting a different outcome”. Yet this is precisely what we are facing now, accompanied by great optimism from those in favor of the policy.In a series of blogs I will describe the arguments and obstacles in some detail (more than a single blog, less than a book) to explain why the electric vehicle is not ready for mass consumption., and will represent a plea that the US government not use taxpayer money to subsidize the purchase of expensive toys by rich boys.