The electric car mistake
By Charles Lane
Published: Saturday, February 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Updated: Saturday, February 16, 2013
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 this month 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 percent.
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 percent right and Broder is 100 percent 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 favor 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.
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You can be sure that the majority of American drivers will not embrace the electric car until you can get 300-400 miles from a charge and can recharge it in 10 min. like refueling a car with an internal combustion engine only. The technology is not advanced enough to make it attractive.
Submitted by: Kyle on Sunday, February 17, 2013
Utter nonsense: When you take a long trip you plan. You don't set out to travel hundreds of miles without filling the car up with gas. Broder's carelessness was pathetic. Not only did the data prove Broder a mistake, but CNN did a test drive replicating the route and wound up with 96 miles to spare as well. It is pretty clear from how quickly Charles pounced on the opportunity to trash the technology and continued to defend his position even before more information came in...He has been waiting for an opportunity to slam the new technology and he still could not get it right. What disturbs me: How many little syndicated Tribunes like this one picked up Charles' OpEd here and publish them a week later without the slightest interest in what was going on with the driver logs from Broder's trip or the subsequent CNN test drive. A lot of media just wanted any excuse to slam the technology...and still failed laughably at accomplishing that. Meanwhile, the same publications continue ignoring the elephant in the room, climate change. But that elephant's stinky waft permeates in, around, through, every line, every letter you write. Ignore that elephant at your own risk. That elephant make you look increasingly rediculous: Climate change is a reality. We threaten our children's ability to produce food; and we will shift from those filthier technologies whether you like it or not. The brilliant Tesla Model S is just one more proof of the inevitable. The car is a ground-breaking vanguard of revolution, a game- changer, Motor Trends 2013 Car of The Year. Nothing has changed any of that. Tesla owners continue to love their cars. The Tesla Model S continues to slam a BMW M5s on a flat 1/4 mile sprint (for fun); and the Tesla Model S continues to enjoy more and more completely free superchargers (for life) powered by nothing but pure sunlight. From this day forward, anyone who can afford and M5 and doesn't by a Tesla Model S? ...Is just a gluttonous pig if their new car is for daily travel. The cool people are driving S's and the Model S's cleaning everybody else's clocks at the traffic light or drag strip. People who buy $50k to $100k cars when they can afford this masterpiece of engineering exhibit the worst kind of conspicuous consumption: They prove they don't give a rat's rump about the future of life on this planet. From now on these people where a badge that says "I don't care a whit for anyone but myself." The rash of nonsense like this OpEd is analogous to a football lineman (Broder) rushing the line before the snap and pounding on a quarterback...and then a nuttier rash of OpEds like this one spend the next seconds piling on top of the illegal tackle...late. Preposterous nonsense. The quarterback still got up, he's still got game, and you look so foolish you lost 20 yards in the bargain. What a shame. Too bad these efforts were all so weak. Seems rather deliberate. Seems like an agenda.