Magazine

EVs Take Another Hit!

Just My Opinion

John Van Horn

There’s another article out about electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries. Wait!!! All of you who are ready to pillory me for destroying polar bears and killing baby seals, take a deep breath. Saving the planet is about good stewardship, not wasting money.


Here are the money quotes from the Oct. 8 FoxNews.com report:


“Electric car batteries do not perform much better than they did 100 years ago,” he [Paul Chesser, an Associate Fellow with the National Legal and Policy Center] said. “Research has not conquered the battery storage issue, and therefore, the electric transportation ‘stimulus’ did not boost the ‘technology of the future,’ but instead a century-old technology as far as performance and capability go.”


Chesser added that the LG Chem [hybrid battery] plant’s problems show that the unpopularity of electric cars, despite heavy taxpayer subsidies, has had more widespread negative effects than most realize.


“Billions of dollars were put into Volt research, and Ford received $5.9 billion in stimulus loans to retrofit plants to produce [electric vehicles],” he said. “The battery companies like LG Chem that were supposed to service them have no customers to speak of. Their existence was solely based on access to taxpayer money.


“Had it been private investors rather than government bureaucrats making the decision,” Chesser said, “there either would have been a reality check about the industry, or only those who made individual decisions to invest would have lost their money, not taxpayers.”


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Please understand that I don’t oppose charging stations or EVs. I just oppose subsidies for them. If the free market works, then it works. If you want to make a business decision to install charging stations, for goodness sake, do so. If you want to make a stainability decision to install such infrastructure, please do so. But take a long as well as a short term view.


The marketplace will make the decisions. People are not rubes. They know inherently what is in their best interests, and they know that EVs today don’t make economic sense to them.  EV’s appear to be an oddity, something that folks who pine for that sort of thing buy, like model trains and airplanes.


Why should we, the parking industry, be discussing this topic? We are being asked to invest substantial dollars in infrastructure to support EVs. Is this a good investment? Is it truly sustainability, or is it simply supporting a dream?


To those who back investing billions of taxpayer dollars in this product, I ask the following questions:


First, deal with the argument that with hybrids such as the Prius and Volt, why are charging stations needed at all?  It seems that if one purchases one of these vehicles, you can cover any “range anxiety” with the gas engine.  The 50 to 60 mpg meets social responsibility, and all is right with the world.


Also, how do you deal with people who plug in their EVs and go to work, and leave them plugged in.  Who moves them when finished?  An e-valet is required in most places, and who pays for that person? It’s probably not reasonable to install enough charging stations so everyone can get one at any time. I have had owners complain that if they put in a charging station or two, and when people show up and they are in use, they get a bad reputation, rather than a good one.


It has been computed that to supply an e-valet where there is no valet in New York City, the costs would be in the neighborhood of $125K per year. (Less in some places, more in others — includes salary, benefits, taxes, and a big bump in insurance costs.)  So, assuming a population of 25 or so in each garage, each EV would have to pay around $20 per charge to cover the valet and electricity costs.


If that’s the case, and an EV needs to charge every day or so, the economy of purchasing such a vehicle comes into question.  Once again, it seems a hybrid makes more sense.  You are being responsible, and it’s not costing you an arm and a leg.


Is this technology – not the charging technology, but the battery technology in the vehicles – really here?  The latest numbers on the Nissan Leaf – a true EV, are that it will sell well below its projections.  The FoxNews.com article quoted above is more proof that even plug-in hybrids such as the Volt aren’t selling enough to support the supply lines.


Strawmen are often put forward — e.g., cellphones were big and clunky and expensive at first, and now look, there is one in every pocket — but they are just that, strawmen. In this case, comparing ubiquitous cellphones to electric vehicles.


Cellphones grew from a technology that had been increasing in reach and decreasing in size and cost almost exponentially every two years (Moore’s Law). The microchips that drive cellphones have huge capacities and are virtually free.  The phones are in every hand and have become a necessity of life. New models come out every year that are smaller, faster, cheaper and have more features.  They are virtually a consumer item.  They are not government subsidized.


Electric vehicles are almost the opposite. They are based on a technology that hasn’t changed much in 100 years:  battery technology (see the report quoted above).


No matter how “fun” they are to drive, no matter how sexy the onboard electronics, no matter how much the government subsidizes their manufacturers, EVs still rely on expensive, messy to build, environmentally horrible batteries.  


(I could get snarky and say that because the messy part of battery manufacture is done in China, why should we care, but I won’t. Environmentalist extremists can be very NIMBY.)


And although billions of government money is being spent in research, not much progress is being made.  Doubling the capacity of batteries, from 40 to 80 miles, altering the laws of physics so they can be charged in five minutes and work as well at 20 degrees as they do at 80, probably won’t make a lot of difference.


It’s up to the market and the market isn’t playing. When it costs GM nearly $90K  per car for the Volt to make it off the assembly line, and it still sells at a loss at $40K, this is not a mass market item. The Chevy Cruz, which is essentially a gas-powered Volt, sells at less than half the price, gets 42 mpg, and is a market leader.


There are many ways to make big strides in cleaning up our planet, and many of the things that sustainability organizations are doing with garage design, lighting and other efforts seem to me to be reasonable.  It’s just that the EV does not.  Hybrids make some sense, and therefore remove the requirement for garage charging stations.


Driving a $100K BMW or a $50K fully loaded Volt and finding out how fun it is to be in one is great, but it will go nowhere in solving the problems we are trying solve. Great PR and well-meaning organizations don’t hack it. Innovation, such as fracking, which brings clean burning natural gas, does.


Private innovation, flying in the face of government regulation, discovered and brought to market more natural gas than has been found in history, and in the process will, if allowed, do more to reduce gas emissions today than all the EVs that are being given away at loss-leader prices. (Have you seen the new leases that are being offered?)


What would happen if automotive companies were to invest billions in liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered vehicles and set up infrastructure for that? My guess is that if you asked nice Costco and Walmart to put a LNG fueling station at each of its stores, that infrastructure would happen overnight.


I don’t know how the cost for LNG compares to 89 octane gasoline, but I believe they are comparable.  Vehicles run much cleaner, and not very much is required to convert gas-powered vehicles to LNG.  Mileage is high, maintenance is low.


The government is trying to pick winners and losers, but as someone said the other day, it seems to be picking only losers.


The free market is messy.  But it is self-cleansing; failures go away, successes stay. Unfortunately, the government, any government, doesn’t work that way.


I invite your comments and I will print them in the first available issue. Just drop me an email.


John Van Horn is Editor of Parking Today. Contact him at


jvh@parkingtoday.com.

Article Abstract from November, 2012




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