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Electric cars are running on empty promises

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By David A. Ridenour
Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

If government actually could mandate innovation, we could all fill up our cars with garden hoses. But even Washington can't turn water into automotive fuel and that's why federal subsidies premised upon technological breakthroughs — such as those for electric cars — are a waste of money.

What we drive says a lot about us. What an electric car says about its owners is that they either don't have children or have no reasonable hope of ever having any.

Electric cars simply don't provide families with the right combination of price, size and range for their needs.

Children are very expensive, with the average cost of raising a child the first 18 years now over $240,000. Add college tuition to that and the cost of each child can easily exceed $340,000.

At the same time, the higher one's income — and the more likely one can afford higher-cost electric cars — the less likely one is to have children. The bottom fifth of wage-earners are nearly 50 percent more likely to have children than the top fifth.

Electric cars don't deliver the value families need. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the lifetime cost of an electric hybrid car is $12,000 more than a conventional vehicle, so subsidies have to be at least 60 percent higher than the current maximum federal subsidy of $7,500 to overcome the cost disparity.

But no amount of federal action can resolve other problems.

• These cars are too small, as space is sacrificed for technological needs and to minimize vehicle weight to extend the range.

• The typical all-electric car has an under-100-mile range between charges.

• Charges can take hours and leave one vulnerable to the increasingly unreliable power grid.

Electric-gas hybrid cars are a better alternative, but are more expensive and less spacious.

Range is a huge issue for families. As the automotive evaluation firm J.D. Power and Associates notes, electric cars are best for “drivers with predictable, unwavering daily driving requirements.”

Kids' schedules are many things, but reliable isn't one of them. As anyone who has children can attest, kids have unscheduled band, choir, soccer, football and dance practices. They occasionally get sick and need to be taken home. They even, from time to time, get detention and must stay late.

The $7.5 billion we'll spend over 10 years promoting electric cars will accomplish only one thing: propping up a niche product.

J.D. Power says electric car owners “most often cite environmental friendliness as the most important benefit” of such cars. But even here, electric vehicles fail.

A Journal of Industrial Ecology report found that manufacturing electric vehicles produces over double the carbon dioxide emissions of building conventional automobiles. Furthermore, electric vehicles are charged with electricity generated from conventional fossil fuels and require batteries containing toxic chemicals. Environmental benefits are marginal at best.

It was 116 years ago that the first commercially available electric car went on the market. Electric cars have been running on empty promises ever since. When it comes to federal subsidies, it's time to pull the plug.

David A. Ridenour is president of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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