On the Confederate Yankee site, I wrote a recurring Thursday column titled “Quick Takes” wherein I wrote Instapundit-like posts on a wide variety of interesting things, but in longer than Instapundit-like style. It was a quick and easy way to add to the Volt narrative without a full-blown post. To tell the full story, I’m adding them in here.
APPEARING IN QUICK TAKES, 02-16-11:
ITEM: Despite still owing the American people megabucks, General Motors is planning to pay some $189 million in profit-sharing to 48,000 hourly workers. This amounts to about $4000 each, which is far more than the then-record 1999 payout of $1,775 each at the height of the pickup and SUV boom, and this was paid out of GM’s profits, not the taxpayer’s pockets. Add some $200 million for salaried workers, most of which make more than $100,000 per year, for a total of nearly $400 million dollars–of taxpayer money. We still own 61% of GM, folks. So the new American mantra should be, work very little, drive your company into the ground, suck up to Marxist politicians, and you’ll be able to screw the public and benefit. It’s the new American way! Hope ! Change! Winning the future through screwing the present! Buy a Chevy Volt! We’ll even give you $7500 to do it! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!
APPEARING IN QUICK TAKES, 02-24-11:
ITEM: Is this revolting enough for you? Reports are coming in around the nation that Chevrolet dealers are charging over $65,000 for the Chevy Volt, which is available in very limited numbers in only a handful of states. The MSRP is $41,000. GM spokesmen have professed GM’s complete lack of ability to do anything about the price gouging. Well, that’s what happens when you build a people’s car. I mean after the $7500 government tax subsidy for which we are all paying, the Volt now costs only $57,500! Could the government subsidized electric story story get any better? Any more egalitarian? Power to the people, right on!
APPEARING IN QUICK TAKES, 03-03-11:
When you are looking at purely dollars and cents, it [the Volt] doesn’t really make a lot of sense. The Volt isn’t particularly efficient as an electric vehicle and it’s not particularly good as a gas vehicle either in terms of fuel economy.
The article also notes one of the most predictable, but under-reported EV failings: Dramatically decreased battery power and range in the cold.
But wait; there’s more! Popular Science (here) reports one of the more gnarly unintended consequences of the Chevy Volt: Its battery pack produces heat when charging, which attracts rats, which chew wiring, which costs at least $600.00 to replace, which, as an act of God (Rats?) is not covered under warranty. Micky Mouse was not available for comment.
And finally, from autobloggreen (here), comes the news that Chevy sold only 281 Volts in January, and the Nissan Leaf, only 67. If the Volt retains that brisk sales pace, it’s on track to sell 3372 vehicle in a year. For a vehicle that, even with a $41,000 MSRP, is likely losing significant money for Chevy, this is nothing less than a disaster. Of course, the question is how any company can afford to manufacture a product that not only loses money-and likely lots of it–before it rolls off the factory floor, but also has abysmal sales volume. The answer is that no sane company can possibly afford such foolishness, not, that is, unless it can expect government bailouts or is being directed by the whims of greenie zealots rather than responsible businessmen. Onward socialist workers! Onward to winning the brave, all-electric future!
03-05-11: The EV Saga Charges On
As regular readers know, I’ve been following the dubious fortunes of the Chevy Volt, and by extension, the other electric vehicles already on the market or in the design and production pipelines. In a recent “Quick Takes” [posted above], I noted several interesting trends and unexpected consequences, including very low sales volume, Consumer Reports panning the very existence of the Volt, and the fondness of rats for warm Volt battery packs and tasty, expensive wiring. Yum.
For an additional bit of interesting information from the Pacific NW, visit Rob at PACNW Righty, who is doing a fine job operating behind opposition lines, so to speak, as he outlines some of the EV silliness in that neck of the woods (here).
Now, from “The Truth About Cars” (here) comes the news that Ford CEO William Ford, speaking at a recent Wall Street Journal Economics Conference in Santa Barbara, CA, is less than, well, charged up (sorry; couldn’t resist), about the viability of electric vehicles:
Prior to the Model T, a third of all vehicles in this country were electric…this isn’t a new technology. The reason it died away was the ubiquity of charging. Today, we have the same issue.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Ford:
…has no certainty that an electric grid will be developed that is capable of supporting droves of electric vehicles on the roads.
In my several forays into the often magical realm of contemporary electric cars, I’ve been accused of hating technology, being somehow racist (!?) toward EVs, and even of wanting to give away the store to the Japanese, as one commenter felt that America should not surrender what he apparently saw as a burgeoning EV market to the Japanese. I’m inclined to think that the Japanese, in honor of the Kamikazes of the past, are welcome to it.
There are a number of problems regarding EVs, but I’ll summarize the current state of affairs by speaking to only a few of the most daunting, each by itself sufficient to render the entire enterprise an exercise in futility:
(1) The technology has not caught up to reality.
(2) There is essentially no infrastructure and no reasonable possibility of building it in the foreseeable future.
(3) There is insufficient demand.
THE TECHNOLOGY HAS NOT CAUGHT UP TO REALITY: Current technology cannot produce batteries of sufficient power, capacity, light weight, small size and low manufacturing cost. The Volt’s battery, for example, weighs hundreds of pounds and is very large. With a full charge, its range is only approximately 40 miles, and the early experience of very few owners reveals it’s as low as 25 miles, particularly in cold weather, but more on that later. Replacement costs are, at best, uncertain. Spinning furiously, Chevy has claimed that the batteries will last at least ten years–or so–and would cost no more than $8000 dollars to replace (this is one of several spins), but of course, there is no real world, practical experience upon which to draw, so it’s not unreasonable to expect a shorter lifespan and higher replacement cost.
A serious related issue is charging time. With 110V house current, Volts take from 8-12 hours to fully recharge. With an optional 220V “fast” charger, the recharge time is, according to Chevy, reduced to 4-5 hours. Did anyone mention that the “fast” charger costs $2000, not including installation?
[Current information—circa December, 2011–also indicates that completely upgrading the wiring of a given home may be required, and the charger draws so many amps it may not be possible to charge a Volt and run a vacuum cleaner or similar appliance at the same time.]
Chevy addresses range and charging issues by also installing a gasoline engine, but this is nothing less than a tacit admission of the severe limitations of the technology, the concept, and the vehicle itself. Remember that Chevy at first tried to suggest that the wheels would never be directly driven by burning fossil fuels. Only recently has Chevy admitted that when the battery reserve drops to a certain level, the gasoline engine will, in fact, directly drive the vehicle, making it a ridiculously expensive, overly complex pseudo hybrid which pretends to be something new. Oh yes, and the gasoline engine accepts only premium fuel.
Another limiting factor, particularly anywhere in the world exposed to winter weather, is just that: Cold. Cold rapidly diminishes battery power and capacity, slowing charge times, and weakening the battery. Early experience indicates that Volts are limited to a 25 mile range or less on battery power in even moderate winter weather. Trying to address this fundamental issue by using heated garages or additional heaters to keep batteries warm is self defeating–if the point is saving energy and environmental purity–and yet another admission of the fundamental flaws in technology and concept. If one must use accessory heaters to make it possible to use the electric capabilities of the Volt, what more proof of the lack of viability of the concept is required?
One method of increasing range is by substantially lightening the vehicle, but again, current technology would require greatly reducing the size and utility of such vehicles to the point of making them impractical for most of the public, as well as stunningly unsafe for their occupants in collisions, and the size and weight of the Volt’s battery makes the Volt inescapably far heavier than its competitors. In short, absent breakthroughs in battery technology that no one can foresee, the technology just isn’t there to allow EVs to successfully compete with conventional vehicles.
THERE IS ESSENTIALLY NO INFRASTRUCTURE AND NO REASONABLE POSSIBILITY OF BUILDING IT IN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE: Even for the well-heeled willing and able to install a home fast charger, the problem of charging away from home remains daunting indeed. Few employers or businesses will be anxious to provide free electricity, particularly at 220V rates, to owners of EVs. For true EVs, this is a serious matter. Even if a business or employer did provide outlets for EVs, charge time remains a significant issue. Few owners will be willing to abide 4-12 hours for a charge when a 5-10 minute stop at a gas station is the alternative. Yes, the Volt runs on gas too, but that is, again, a tacit admission of the problem, not a real solution to it.
Other than good will, there is no economic incentive to install charging stations, which themselves cost many thousands of dollars. Lacking that incentive, there is no realistic possibility of building the kind of massive, far-flung infrastructure necessary to make EVs a viable choice for most Americans, unless, that is, government takes a hand, but more about that later.
Even if one makes the unwarranted assumption that EVs will at some point be, say, 10% of the vehicles on the road, from where will the extra electricity necessary to charge those vehicles at all hours of the day and night come? Our power grid is already aging and strained, and in some states, brownouts, even brief blackouts, are becoming more and more common.
[Circa December, 2011, the Obama EPA is attempting to implement rules that would severely damage the American coal industry and require the immediate decommissioning of such a large number of coal-fired power plants, that substantial portions of the nation would experience blackouts of sufficient frequency and duration as to cause untold citizen deaths.]
Rather than supporting the building of new power plants of every type, the Obama Administration has all but prohibited them, and should any enterprising capitalist attempt to go ahead anyway, there are legions of greenie groups willing and able to stop such projects with years of lawsuits.
THERE IS INSUFFICIENT DEMAND: And considering the realities I’ve briefly outlined here, why should this be surprising to anyone? The auto business is not difficult to understand. Manufacturers are willing to spend the several years and hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to bring an entirely new design to market because they can have a reasonable expectation of not only recouping their design and development costs, but of making a reasonable profit through a sufficient volume of sales. While Chevy isn’t publicizing this kind of information, there is reason to believe that in this instance, market reality has been suspended for the Volt.
It is highly likely–and please, GM, correct me if I’m wrong–that the Volt costs more to manufacture than can be offset by the price GM charges dealers for the vehicle [is anyone surprised to learn that GM has not corrected me or released profit figures for the Volt?]. The Volt is, after all, a Honda Civic-sized car with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $41,000, a wheelbarrow full of dollars that could purchase two Honda Civics. Unfortunately, dealers are charging as much as $65,000 for the vehicle, and some people–as can be expected–are actually paying it. Of course, if one can afford to pay $65,000 for a vehicle with no practical advantage over vehicles costing a fraction as much, an additional $2000+ for a fast charger isn’t likely to be much of a burden.
As it is, GM is on track to sell less than 4000 Volts in its initial model year. GM and the Federal Government recognize that without a $7500 tax incentive, virtually no Volts would be sold, and even with it, the sales volume is plainly awful. GM must be losing substantial money–likely many thousands–on each and every Volt.
Why aren’t people flocking to the car of the future here today? As Consumer Reports is discovering, it’s a mediocre EV, but makes up for that failing by being a mediocre gasoline powered vehicle as well. Conventional vehicles and existing hybrids are far more flexible, and in many circumstances, as fuel efficient or even more fuel efficient than the Volt, and those vehicles cost tens of thousands of dollars less. Even if the hopelessly optimistic projections for Volt energy efficiency ever came to fruition–and that’s unlikely–it would take a decade–likely more–to break even on the purchase price of the vehicle, even considering the tax credit. Most people don’t keep a vehicle for a decade, and on the used car market, a Volt would certainly be even less attractive than on the new car market, particularly for those of modest economic means who primarily populate that market. After all, who would buy a Volt if its battery pack would need to be replaced in a year or two at a cost that exceeds what they paid for the entire car?
Ultimately, the Volt is a political creation, from a company rescued–sort of–from bankruptcy by a 61% infusion of taxpayer money. What rational businessman would sink untold millions into a product that few want, that would cost far too much to manufacture and sell, and which has no real advantages over much cheaper, arguably superior–products? The Volt is the product of environmentalist wishes and intentions, wishes and intentions that conflict with reality. But as with high-speed rail, another mega-buck boondoggle the public neither wants nor needs, Mr. Obama intends to spend mega millions installing charging stations in several amenable locations such as the Berkeley of the South, Austin, TX.
Absent multiple technological and fiscal miracles, the Volt will be nothing more than the plaything of the wealthy who can afford a toy car while still maintaining a fleet of conventionally powered vehicles for every day reality. Certainly, some will pay the ridiculously high entry price for the environmentally sensitive cachet an EV will provide in certain circles, but their numbers aren’t sufficiently large to turn a profit for GM, even if GM wasn’t losing money on every Volt before it left the assembly line. How long will taxpayers subsidize such owners?
It is cold comfort that the money lost will be, due to low demand, relatively low, but in our current budget crunch, why should any taxpayer funds be spent to maintain the wages and benefits of unions? After all, unless a product is actually making a profit, it is the taxpayers, not private businesses making rational economic decisions, that are paying GM’s autoworker’s wages and benefits.
It hardly requires a Nostradamus to predict that when Mr. Obama leaves office, the Volt will be quietly withdrawn from GM’s product lineup. That’s when the fun begins as the EPA spools up to deal with the disposal of the toxic elements in the Volt’s battery packs. Oh, I didn’t mention that EVs contain many toxic chemicals and their batteries can fry—as in kill in particularly nasty and unsightly ways–unwary first responders and mechanics unless they use special equipment and procedures? And I didn’t mention that Lithium Ion batteries can actually spontaneously combust and/or explode? Now that I think of it, GM hasn’t been publicizing this either. I wonder why?
But wait a minute! Isn’t GE’s CEO Jeffrey Imelt now a part of the Obama administration as the head of Mr. Obama’s panel on job creation? And isn’t GE the primary, hopenchangey domestic manufacturer of EV charging stations? Surely there couldn’t be any collusion, any conflict of interest? Yes, there is, and don’t call me Shirley.
But wait another minute! Aren’t Mr. Obama himself, and others in his Administration, such as Energy Secretary Steven Chu, anxious to see energy prices “necessarily skyrocket” as Mr. Obama said, in order to better force Americans to abandon modern conveniences such as automobiles and to force them to accept such concepts as EVs and public transportation? Indeed they are.
But wait yet another minute! Why isn’t Ford anxious to jump on the EV bandwagon? Oh, that’s right: Unlike Gm and Chrysler, Ford is a privately owned company and can’t spend unlimited taxpayer dollars on unprofitable ventures. You know, if you think about it, that almost makes sense.