American Elephants

Fads, Fashions, Folly and Foolishness. by The Elephant's Child

Yesterday we received a publication from the City, telling what the City Manager is doing, what the City Council has accomplished, and such things as honoring volunteers and fines for unlicensed pets — that sort of thing.

The initial  paragraph said that “The City Council in June contemplated a jolt of mass-produced electric cars expected late this year and what the city can do now to encourage and prepare for the trend.  Staff offered an overview of efforts to encourage the fledgling electric car industry; and recommendations on land-use code changes to allow charging stations in non-residential areas.

One way for the city to encourage electric vehicles is for the city to purchase them for its own vehicle fleet.  The city already owns 48 hybrid vehicles and one plug-in electric utility truck.  Using federal grants, the city expects to purchase 82 more hybrids and plug-ins this year and in 2011.

Land-use code changes: A 2009 state law requires cities such as ours that border regional freeways and meet a population threshold to amend their development regulations “to encourage the transition to electric vehicle use and to expedite the establishment of a convenient, cost-effective, electric vehicle infrastructure.”

This is government-speak, of course, but there are hints of the regulations and pressure that are descending on the city to support the electric car folly.  Alex Molinaroli, president of Johnson Controls Power Solutions division which makes batteries for cars said the company isn’t expecting all-electric cars to take off.  Their research found that the pool of U.S. customers who travel many miles a year, but on short trips — is very small, about 3% of drivers.  Johnson controls is betting that its batteries will find homes in hybrid models which use a gas engine as well as batteries.

In the 1990s Honda tried to market an electric car in California, the EV Plus, which went about 80 miles on a charge.  After selling just 300 of them, Honda pulled the plug.   Mr. Bienenfeld headed the effort.  He is not convinced that the coming crop will do better.  “There are life-defining moments when you find out you can’t go pick up your kid who is sick because you don’t have enough charge in your car, and the next day people come back to the dealership and hand over their keys.”

Most of the car companies are rushing to produce EVs. California is requiring that the top six auto makers by sales in California offer a zero-emission model in 2012 or face potentially huge finesAnd the federal government is demanding huge increases in CAFE standards.

So the whole thing is about a bunch of bureaucrats who know nothing about cars, the engineering involved or the time lag involved, demanding that car companies instantly produce the cars that are favored by the administration.  Government grants and subsidies may or may not continue to be available.  The globe will continue to warm and cool, unaffected by however many electric cars are on the road.  The electricity to charge up these electric vehicles will come from carbon-belching coal-fired power plants.

There is no rationale for subsidies for electric cars and electric batteries because they can’t survive on their own merits.  If these cars really had something to offer, they wouldn’t need all these grants and subsidies, but they don’t.

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