credit: gm.volt.com

credit: gm.volt.com

Remember, gentle readers, those heady first years of the Age of Obama, when gas prices were destined to rise to European levels, and everyone would soon be driving electric cars, which pretty much meant Chevy Volts? What happened to those optimistic days? We just don’t hear much about the electric vehicle revolution anymore, do we? The New York Times laments:   

More than seven years ago, President Obama called for one million electric cars to be on the road by this year, and the vehicles have gained a large fan club. Environmentalists promote them as a smart way to cut dangerous emissions. Owners love their pep and the gas money they save. Apple and Google have jumped into the race to build next-generation battery-powered cars.

So why are only about 330,000 electric vehicles on the road? One answer lies in an unexpected and powerful camp of skeptics: car dealers. They are showing little enthusiasm for putting consumers into electric cars. [skip]

In a speech this year, the former chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, a trade group, said that tougher fuel-economy regulations could mean pushing cars on consumers that were about as enticing as broccoli, when they really wanted ‘low-calorie doughnuts’ like fuel-efficient gas cars. The former chairman, Forrest McConnell, cited a survey finding that 14 percent of buyers cited fuel efficiency as the most important factor in buying a car.

‘That was a nice way of saying 86 percent of them didn’t think so,’ he said.

Imagine that. Consumers wanting economical, fuel efficient, useful cars that don’t cost too much for too little flexibility. Who knew? Who could possibly have predicted that in the miserable Obama economy?

Others disagree that consumers think of zero emissions cars as broccoli. ‘That would be interesting if it was true,’ said Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the Air Resources Board, a California agency that Gov. Jerry Brown has charged with developing policies to spur electric car sales.

Really? It’s not true? Consumers really want to spend too much money on unreliable, unproven technology that doesn’t meet their needs?

Ms. Nichols said she believed that consumers wanted these cars and that they had been dissuaded in part by unenthusiastic dealers and ‘horror story’ sales experiences.

Oh, but of course! Ms. Nichols must be one of the elite that knows better than we do what we desire and need!

California has 150,000 electric cars, but that figure needs to grow tenfold in the next decade, she said, or the state will not be able to meet its environmental goals. Without the cars, ‘simply put, we can’t make it,’ she added.

But is that all? Is it just those darned flyover country Americans that stubbornly refuse to go along with what the elite know is best?

Industry insiders and those who follow the business closely say that dealers may also be worrying about their bottom lines. They assert that electric vehicles do not offer dealers the profits that gas-powered cars do. They take more time to sell because of the explaining required, which hurts overall sales and commissions. Electric vehicles also may require less maintenance, undermining the biggest source of dealer profits: their service departments.

Imagine that. People in for-profit businesses worried about their bottom lines, actually expecting to make–you know–profit. How unsophisticated. How un-nuanced. Oh, and EV’s don’t require less maintenance, they require different maintenance, and much of that is very much more expensive than that required for gas powered vehicles. In the following paragraphs, the NYT inadvertently allows reality to intrude:

Dealers’ caution, whatever their reasons, has created a ‘reality check to the idealism,’ said Eric Cahill, who recently completed a dissertation on electric car sales for the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. Retailers are a ‘bottleneck,’ his research shows. They may hold the key to growing the niche, but dealers ‘may have very good reasons for steering a potential buyer away from an E.V.

The vehicles are not for everyone. They typically go only 80 miles or so before they need to be recharged. While many people charge them at home, public charging stations remain limited, particularly outside California. Air conditioning and heat drain the battery quickly, so weather can affect performance.

Let’s make that about 25-40 miles per charge. This is a fascinating little anecdote about a woman who bought a used Volt from a dealer that didn’t stock new Volts:

I was ready to pull the trigger, and they were trying to muscle me into a Chevy Sonic,’ said Ms. Dell, an account administrator for U.P.S. ‘The thing I was baffled at was that the Volt was a lot more expensive.

Really? Ms. Dell hasn’t been paying attention the last seven years, has she?

She asked to see the manager, prevailed, and paid the higher price for the car she wanted. ‘It was crazy,’ she added.

Chevrolet Volt Battery Credit: Chevrolet

Chevrolet Volt Battery
Credit: Chevrolet

UPS might want to wonder about the abilities of an account administrator who doesn’t understand that a car that cost twice as much or more than a Sonic when new might, used, still cost more than a new Sonic. After all, a Volt’s battery pack alone costs from $8000 to $10,000 dollars.

Consider this Washington Post Editorial from Charles Lane: 

Rather, the limiting factor is, was and will be for years the value proposition: Given the cost of advanced batteries, which has not come down as swiftly as EV boosters assumed, most EVs are still very expensive. Gas savings, however, can’t offset the higher purchase price, even when you factor in the $7,500 federal tax credit EV buyers get.

Unless and until that’s solved, the raison d’etre of electric cars, and of federal policies to favor them — making a significant dent in carbon emissions — will be null and void.

Golly. So it’s not just those annoyingly stubborn consumers and the recalcitrant dealers? Still, greenies are undeterred:

Given poor EV sales, supporters have fallen back to a more defensible line: The knowledge we’re accumulating while taking today’s EV baby steps will pay off in future technological leaps and bounds, which will finally lead to a mass-market EV that outcompetes and replaces gas-powered cars.

This is, indeed, the most respectable case for subsidizing EVs, but, for environmentalists, a strangely patient one.

But why should environmentalists worry? It’s not their money:

In September 2012, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the U.S. government was on course to subsidize EV production and sales to the tune of $7.5 billion through 2019.

Hey, it’s free money, and it’s only billions. In the Age of Obama, that’s pocket change! And oh yes–there is one other little niggling potential problem with EVs, I mean beyond the fact that their batteries pack so much electrical energy they require special tools and handling instructions for mechanics and first responders lest they be reduced to crispy critters. They can also spontaneously catch fire and explode, as the good folks at Powerline report:

A former Tesla...

A former Tesla…

On New Year’s Day, a Tesla owner in Norway plugged in his Tesla Model S at a SuperCharger station near Kristiansand in the Aust-Agden region and went off to do some shopping while his battery recharged. A few minutes later, his car burst into flames and was destroyed. The duty officer at the campus police office of Jon Kvitnes College told Norway’s VG News, ‘We received notification at 2.29 pm that a car was on fire near a cafe on Brokelandsheia. We came out with the fire brigade and police, but it turned out that this car was burned out when the emergency services arrived at the scene.’ Fortunately, there was no one in the car at the time and there were no injuries.

According to Leif Hansen, who lives in Norway, the following statement was made to the local news media by Anders Torbjørnsen, a member of the fire brigade operations center at the college. ‘It is not possible to extinguish EV fires with water, so the fire department closed the area around the powerful SuperCharger and used a special foam to control the flames. The world-renowned electric car has batteries made of lithium, a metal that is highly flammable, and that makes firefighting difficult

‘Electric vehicle fires are fairly new for us at Agder. It is quite rare for an electric car to burn, but once it catches fire, lithium batteries make it more challenging. After a while the fire brigade brought the flames under control but the car was completely damaged.

Full Disclaimer in the hope of heading off outraged and obscene responses from EV owners and enthusiasts:

As I have maintained since my first article on EVs, if you desire an EV and have the money for one, by all means, buy it. Buy one for every day of the week and change them like underwear if that pleases you, and I wish you good fortune and happiness with your choices–in cars and undies. That’s one of the great things about America.  The fact that most of us wear clean undies is pretty great if you think about it.

However, don’t think to use your preference and your ability to afford an EV as a bludgeon with which to beat everyone else into submission and acceptance of your choices and preferences. The problem with EVs is, and will continue to be, they cost far too much and they don’t have the range and flexibility necessary for most Americans. Greenies and bureaucrats surely see EVs, and forcing people to buy them, as an essential part of their power base, but reality continues to intrude. The laws of physics continue to remain a frustrating barrier.

I also do not suggest that your EV is inevitably going to burst into flames in your driveway or garage. That remains relatively rare. However, it is possible, and something the rational person thinking of buying an EV might want to consider.

Perhaps the most significant indicator remains Mr. Obama himself, who, lo those many years ago, promised to buy a Chevy Volt when he left office. I wouldn’t be holding my breath on that one. Buying a Volt, I mean. He’ll probably leave office. Probably.

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