Politics

The Shocking Truth about Electric Cars

| by Reason Foundation

By Ronald Bailey

Over the weekend, The Washington Post editorial staff member Charles Lane did a brutal take down of the inflated hopes behind the Obama administration's push for electric vehicles. President Barack Obama is

using billions of tax dollars to bribe manufacturers and drivers into putting a million plug-in hybrids on America's roads by 2015. Plug-in hybrids can have their large capacity batteries charged through connections to electrical outlets and essentially function as electric vehicles with an internal combustion engine as backup. They also cost about $10,000 more than comparably equipped gasoline-powered vehicles. Lane begins by noting: 

...the Volt's launch coincided with publication of a 72-page report by J.D. Power and Associates that confirmed, in devastating detail, what many other experts have found: Electric cars still cost too much, even with substantial federal subsidies for both manufacturers and consumers, to attract more than a handful of wealthy buyers - and this will be true for at least another decade.

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What little gasoline savings the vehicles achieve could be had through cheaper alternative means. And electrics don't reliably reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since, as often as not, the electricity to charge their batteries will come from coal-fired plants.

The Obama Energy Department has suggested that, with the help of federal money, manufacturers can ramp up mass production and bring the price of electric-car battery packs down 70 percent by 2014 - thus rendering the cars more affordable.

But J.D. Power is skeptical. "Declines of any real significance are not anticipated during the next 5 years," the report notes, adding that "the disposal of depleted battery packs presents yet another environmental challenge."

Lane further observes that study after study shows that plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles will have almost no impact on the administration's stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, he cites a recent National Academy of Sciences study which found:

"Subsidies in the tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. . .will be needed if plug-ins are to achieve rapid penetration of the U.S. automotive market. Even with these efforts, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are not expected to significantly impact oil consumption or carbon emissions before 2030."

Lane blisteringly (and correctly) concludes:

Yet, like a rural voter clinging to his guns, the Obama administration brushes aside the experts because - well, who knows why? Perhaps subsidizing electric cars helps a Democratic administration make corporate welfare and tax breaks for the wealthy seem progressive. It's possible President Obama feels bound by his grandiose campaign promise to put a million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

Or maybe Republicans aren't the only ones susceptible to ideological obstinacy and magical thinking after all.

Whole remarkable The Post op/ed here.

See also my recent report, Revving Up Electric Cars with Government Cash, about my visit to a lithium ion car battery factory last in September.