This is the second part of an update I began on April 17, 2013, which examines the state of the art, or more accurately the state of decomposition of the electric vehicle movement and its related green subsidiaries.  I continue with two recent pieces from a media outlet reflexively friendly to EV and green issues.

Even Charles Lane of the Washington Post, a newspaper routinely in the back pocket of the Obama Administration, was also less than enthusiastic about the wonders of EVs.  His article, which is worth a look, recounts the debacles I’ve already outlined and gets the lesson from this disaster almost right:

There’s simply no denying that the administration’s electric-vehicle project was a mistake.

But it’s worth asking precisely what kind of mistake (beyond eminently foreseeable and terribly expensive). As Bruce Springsteen once sang: ‘Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?’

I accept the president’s good intentions. He didn’t set out to rip off the public. Nor was the electric-car dream a Democrats-only delusion. Several Republican pols shared it, too.

Rather, the debacle is a case study in unchecked righteousness. The administration assumed the worthiness and urgency of its goals. Americans should want electric cars, and therefore they would, apparently.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he of the Nobel Prize in physics, epitomized the regnant blend of sanctimony and technocratic hubris. He once told journalist Michael Grunwald that photosynthesis is ‘too damn inefficient,’ and that DOE might help correct that particular error of evolution.

The department has recently backed away from the million-car target, in favor of reducing battery costs to $300 per kilowatt hour by 2015 (from $650 today). Even this seems dubious, given the APS symposium’s view that ‘only incremental improvements can be expected’ in lithium-ion batteries.

Sorry Mr. Lane, I don’t accept the President’s good intentions.  When it takes little more than common sense to understand the free market and the limits of unproven technology, throwing billions (isn’t it odd that “billion” no longer sounds like a lot of money?) in taxpayer money down the EV rathole is, in fact, ripping off the public.  And while some few Republicans behaved like idiots by jumping on this particularly creaky bandwagon, the EV and related environmental squandering of resources and money is undeniably a project of Democrats who pursue such foolishness with religious fervor.  That a few gullible Republicans were involved does not excuse anything or make that exalted grade of stupidity somehow more noble.

The Post’s Editorial Board was also less than optimistic about the Chevy Volt, everyman’s EV.  The title of its story–GM’s Vaunted Volt Is On The Road To Nowhere Fast–is particularly apt:

AS A CANDIDATE for president in 2008, Barack Obama set a goal of getting 1 million all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015. In February 2011, the Obama administration’s Energy Department issued an analysis purporting to show that, with the help of subsidies and tax credits, ‘the goal is achievable.’ This was a paltry claim in the first place, since 1 million cars amount to less than 1 percent of the total U.S. fleet. Yet it is increasingly clear that, despite the commitment of many millions of taxpayer dollars, the United States will not hit Mr. Obama’s target by 2015. A recent CBS News analysis suggested that we’ll be lucky to get a third of the way there.

The Energy Department study assumed that General Motors would produce 120,000 plug-in hybrid Volts in 2012. GM never came close to that and recently suspended Volt production at its Hamtramck, Mich., plant, scene of a presidential photo-op. So far, GM has sold a little more than 21,000 Volts, even with the help of a $7,500 tax credit, recent dealer discounting and U.S. government purchases. When you factor in the $1.2 billion cost of developing the Volt, GM loses tens of thousands of dollars on each model.

The Post’s final paragraph is the automotive equivalent of being told by your mother:  “You’re stupid, ugly too, and you were adopted”:

No matter how you slice it, the American taxpayer has gotten precious little for the administration’s investment in battery-powered vehicles, in terms of permanent jobs or lower carbon dioxide emissions. There is no market, or not much of one, for vehicles that are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar-sized gas-powered alternatives — but do not save enough fuel to compensate. The basic theory of the Obama push for electric vehicles — if you build them, customers will come — was a myth. And an expensive one, at that.

Environmentalist and critic of environmentalist global warming hysteria, Bjorn Lomborg, has written a fitting coda for this two part series.   It too is worth your time.  Lomborg explains, in more of a scientific way, why EVs don’t even measure up when it comes to reducing pollution:

While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.

So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally. And that turns out to be a challenge. Consider the Nissan Leaf. It has only a 73-mile range per charge. Drivers attempting long road trips, as in one BBC test drive, have reported that recharging takes so long that the average speed is close to six miles per hour—a bit faster than your average jogger.

To make matters worse, the batteries in electric cars fade with time, just as they do in a cellphone. Nissan estimates that after five years, the less effective batteries in a typical Leaf bring the range down to 55 miles. As the MIT Technology Review cautioned last year: ‘Don’t Drive Your Nissan Leaf Too Much.’

If a typical electric car is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the car will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles. Similarly, if the energy used to recharge the electric car comes mostly from coal-fired power plants, it will be responsible for the emission of almost 15 ounces of carbon-dioxide for every one of the 50,000 miles it is driven—three ounces more than a similar gas-powered car.

Hmm.  If Lomborg’s right, it would seem that one really can’t trust the Federal Government about…well…just about anything…

The National Legal and Policy Center recently posted a piece on the media’s growing skepticism.  Even Reuters is getting into the act:

The evidence that the Obama Administration’s EV subsidization has been a costly fiasco (particularly regarding the Chevy Volt hoax) continues to mount. While I’m certain that green extremists and General Motors’ supporters will claim that the criticism is limited to right-wing parties with ties to the evil oil industry, a simple review of the facts reveals that some very credible and unbiased sources are admitting that, despite the billions of taxpayer dollars spent, plug-in EVs are not the solution for America’s environmental and energy needs.

From the Reuters’ piece:

Experts are certain to point out red flags. Indeed, a growing number of engineers now say the lithium-ion battery revolution has stalled, undercut by high costs, technical complexity and safety concerns.

‘Smart people have been working on this for 10 years already and no one is close to a new kind of battery,’ said Fred Schlachter, a lithium-ion battery expert and retired physicist from the U.S.-funded Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Many experts now believe it will take at least another decade for lithium-ion technology to be ready for widespread adoption in transportation. Others, including Toyota Motor Corp, believe the solution lies beyond lithium-ion.

Interviews with two dozen battery executives, experts and researchers, including the founder of Securaplane, which made Boeing’s battery charger, reveal an industry in which some are having second thoughts about using lithium-ion, and are instead looking to enhance previous technologies or to leap ahead.

Beyond lithium-ion?  What, pray tell, would that be? Cold Fusion?  Mini particle accelerators?  Dark energy?  And what do those actually working in the auto industry think about this?

Toyota spokesman John Hanson chimes in that, ‘We don’t think that lithium-ion batteries are going to help us get to a point where we can dramatically increase volume and really call it a mass market; we’re going to have a more significant breakthrough and probably go into some other area of battery chemistry.’ This sentiment by Toyota has been expressed before, as I previously reported. Toyota Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, the ‘father of the Prius,’ has been quoted as saying, ‘Because of its shortcomings – driving range, cost and recharging time – the electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most conventional cars; we need something entirely new.

Safety is also a significant issue, as Boeing recently discovered, and as General Motors has known from the beginning:

“n addition to the efficiency limitations, we have an even more troubling question as to the safety of the Volt’s technology. GM keeps a team of Hazmat specialists on call to respond to any Onstar notifications of accidents involving a Volt. Firefighters, unless properly trained, must stay away from the complex, volatile power source which has more than 600 seals and cooling components to keep it safe. In fact, according to Josh Payne who worked on the first Volt battery and is now senior engineering manager at Energy Power Systems, ‘That’s 600 seals that all have to stay for the entirety of its life otherwise you have catastrophic failures.’ That does not sound too reassuring!

Lest the NLPC be accused of shilling for Republicans, consider its conclusion:

The worst part of this mostly-untold story is the taxpayer money that continues to be wasted on the green pipe dream. The American people were lied to about the potential for the Chevy Volt, as well as for the technology behind it. Billions of dollars were spent on grants and failed loans for production of plug-in EVs, lithium-ion batteries and charging stations. Wealthy purchasers of $40,000 Chevy Volts and $100,000 Teslas receive federal tax credits for $7,500 each. Subsidized battery makers like A123 Systems are bankrupt and government-supported, green automaker Fisker is not far from it. How are middle-class or poor Americans benefiting from any of this?

The evidence that taxpayer money is blatantly wasted on a misguided green agenda continues to build, yet few in the media or in Washington question the waste. The guilt lies with both Democrats and Republicans, neither of which seem to want to take a logical approach to our country’s fiscal and energy needs. And you can be sure that politicians will continue to receive lobbying money from those cronies that are being enriched while taxpayers foot the bill for Obama’s green energy scam.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Those interested in my past writings on electric vehicles and related topics can peruse the SMM Electric Vehicle archive.   An article I original posted on July 18, 2011 has been particularly popular–and controversial, so much so I was compelled to revise and update it on January 4, 2012.

As I’ve often written, EVs are not entirely useless.  For a very small and well off portion of the public, they may be useful for short range commuting, but few can use them as their only, even their primary, vehicle.  Even so, I do not object to their mere existence, and as I’ve equally often written, if you can afford one and it meets your needs, by all means, buy one.  Heck, buy one for each day of the week and change them like underwear!

The primary problems remain:

(1) The very existence of many of these vehicles, particularly the Chevy Volt, is attributable to governmental interference in the free market.  Government in general, and the Obama Administration in particular, have proved to be utterly inept in such involvement.  Government should never be involved in picking winners in the free market, particularly when it is capable of picking only losers.

(2) As an unwilling co-owner of “green” companies that are nothing more than money pits, I have a right and obligation to object to how my money is being squandered.

(3) EV technology is not ready for prime time.  The range of a Chevy Volt is about the same as that of EVs built in the early 1900’s, at the dawn of American automotive technology.  There is no credible evidence that the laws of physics will be overcome in any way that will make battery technology safe and flexible enough to make EVs commercially viable in the foreseeable future.

(4) As our nation becomes more socialist, we run headlong into a brick wall identified by Margaret Thatcher when she observed that the trouble with socialism is you always run out of other people’s money.  No amount of money will overcome the technological barriers to widespread EV use, and as we are now learning, we don’t have an unlimited supply of money, we never did.

(5) EVs are not economically competitive.  Despite potentially lower operating costs, the huge difference in initial purchase price and manufacturing costs will, absent amazing breakthroughs in technology, always render them uncompetitive.

(6) The infrastructure necessary to support even the small EV proportion of the overall vehicle fleet Mr. Obama hyped simply does not exist and will not exist.  There is no economic incentive for it, and there are insufficient governmental funds.  Mr. Obama wants to spend them elsewhere–if he can get them/

(7) Green initiatives, including EVs, particularly under the Obama Administration, are social engineering, not an honest attempt to make life better for most Americans.  In addition, the science on such matters is not “settled.”  The best evidence suggests strongly that Anthropomorphic Global Warming and the untold billions being spent to “combat” it constitute one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.

When even the Obama Administration is being forced to face facts, it’s clear the billions already lost were thrown away on a boondoggle doomed from the start.  Sadly, until the Obama administration passes into history and is replaced by responsible people, billions more will be lost.

That’s what happens when human nature, the limitations of technology, and the free market are ignored.