Recent moves by Japan’s two largest automakers suggest that the electric car, after more than 100 years of development and several brief revivals, still is not ready for prime time – and may never be.
In the meantime, the attention of automotive executives in Asia, Europe and North America is beginning to swing toward an unusual but promising new alternate power source: hydrogen.
The reality is that consumers continue to show little interest in electric vehicles, or EVs, which dominated U.S. streets in the first decade of the 20th century before being displaced by gasoline-powered cars.
Despite the promise of “green” transportation – and despite billions of dollars in investment, most recently by Nissan Motor Co – EVs continue to be plagued by many of the problems that eventually scuttled electrics in the 1910s and more recently in the 1990s. Those include high cost, short driving range and lack of charging stations.
The public’s lack of appetite for battery-powered cars persuaded the Obama administration last week to back away from its aggressive goal to put 1 million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015.
But wait! There’s more!
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said it “remains to be seen in the future” whether about $16 billion in available U.S. government loans to develop alternative- technology vehicles will be disbursed.
Providing money for electric-vehicle development was a component of President Barack Obama’s goal of having 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015, a number well above current forecasts.
I know! Let’s pass a law requiring that there be 1 million transporter booths in the U.S. by 2016! That will make cars completely unnecessary! Woot!
Seriously, this should be a lesson on the limits of government power. We can call it the King Canute rule. For those of you familiar with the tale, King Canute ordered the tide to stay back but the tide didn’t obey.
History shows that money spent on research always pays off – eventually. But it doesn’t always pay off the way you expect. You simply cannot place the invention of new technology on a timetable.
But there is another issue here. “Green” technology isn’t all that green. The manufacturing of solar energy panels requires rare metals and uses some highly toxic processes. It uses a lot of energy too.
Electric cars are not cheap to make. The batteries are the hardest part and making them requires a lot of toxic substances. But once they are produced they have to be recharged. That requires electricity. If lots of people start driving electric cars, that will require lots of electricity. There is simply not enough “green” electricity out there to even meet the current demand.
Green advocates don’t like nuclear power. They don’t much care for hydroelectric, natural gas or coal-fired plants either. And none of the green methods of producing electricity is price competitive on a large scale.
The Vile Prog answer has (as usual) been more government. More government spending on research. More government loans for green industries. More government mandates. More government subsidies. More government taxes on successful technologies to make green technologies more attractive. More Solyndras.
But the tide keeps refusing to obey.
This is not to say there is no place for green technology. There is a niche for electric cars too. Pollution is a bad thing and we need to keep the environment hospitable to human life. We don’t want to waste resources either. But being smart doesn’t require more government.