American Elephants

Tesla Set Up a PR Test of EV Technology And Needed a Tow. by The Elephant's Child

Tesla-Model-S-03-626x382 2012

Holman Jenkins has a great column in the Wall Street Journal this morning. I loved the subhead: “Oh for the day when electric-car enthusiasts didn’t expect the rest of us to subsidize their hobby.” Exactly.

Somebody once asked the late, great British motorcycle journalist Kevin Ash about the electric motorcycles then arriving on the market. After noting that most electricity comes from coal, casting doubt on any eco-benefit, he dug in: “The silly small range and long recharge times make them impractical. . . . An entirely new method of storing electricity is needed to transform practicality, and it must be invented (and then refined in labs) first. Developing electric road vehicles using existing technology is a waste and a deception.”

The latest reason for interest in the EV problem was a PR attempt by Tesla over a road trip from Washington to Boston attempted by a Times reporter in one of the company’s electric cars. Spectacular failure. It ran out of juice.  Tesla said that on such an extended trip, priorities A through F should be attending to the battery, rather than keeping up with traffic or enjoying the ride. The New York Times thought the point of the Tesla-designed exercise was to show that the Tesla S can be a worry-free substitute for a gas-powered car on a long trip. No, it can’t.

Green-car advocates said Tesla was crazy to set up such a PR stunt in the first place. If an average driver needs so much hand-holding from the automaker, it’s the wrong car for the trip. And of course the elephant in the room is that the federal government is subsidizing immature technologies that don’t meet the expectations of the marketplace.

The Ash rule applies not just to electric cars, but to wind farms, solar power and other renewable energy projects, all of which may have potential, all of which would be better served if government limited itself to funding basic research until a technology emerges that the marketplace can support on its merits.

Consider the spectacle Germany has been making of itself in this regard. German politicians decided it would be nice if 35% of the country’s electricity came from renewables by 2020. German politicians, after Fukushima, decided it would be nice to phase out the country’s nuclear plants. German politicians decided factories should be protected from any increase in electricity prices. In their home districts, politicians thought “factory” should be extended to cover any large and influential employer.

Now the green future has arrived and German voters are in revolt over rising power prices. “Fuel poverty” has become a buzz term as thousands have been shut off for nonpayment of bills. Politicians have begun trying to claw back subsidies from companies that say the subsidies are the only reason they’re in business. A scandal seems to emerge weekly over some big-name company illicitly benefiting from subsidized electricity rates.

Is Germany the role model for the Obama administration? One hopes that the news will catch up with them before the U.S. economy duplicates the German tragedy. Remember all the ‘driving into a ditch’ metaphors Obama used to use? Looks like we can turn them back on him. It’s a good-looking car, but as always with beauty, it’s what’s under the skin that counts.


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