Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Did Government Kill the Electric Car?

I saw Who Killed the Electric Car? last night. It has been getting good reviews and I concur. It is well done. The blame is not one group; the blame can be spread around and is. The movie starts out by laying out the history of the EVs including how they were taken off the road. Then it goes back and asks the title question and goes suspect by suspect.

They are the consumers, the battery technology, the automakers, the oil industry, the Federal Government, CARB and hydrogen fuel cell technology. The guilt was on all save the technology. We have the ability to build electric cars that have a range of 100+ miles. The average driver drives 30 miles a day. You can charge while you park your car at work. You charge when you get home. The technology would greatly reduce greenhouse gases and the smog polluting our urban centers. It is not totally zero emissions as the natural gas, coal and diesel burned to produce the electricity does give off such gases. The power plants though produce less pollution to generate the electricity than the best internal combustion engines (ICE), especially using natural gas. As solar, wind and nuclear become more in the mix the advantage towards electricity becomes even better. CA already has some of the "cleanest" power supply in the US and half the air pollution comes from cars with ICE so any switch to electric cars would have had a big pollution savings.

The demand was not great for the EV when they first came out. GM in the EV put a battery in that had a limited range. That was fixed to the better batteries after a couple of years. Part of the problem with demand of course was that the marketing was next to zero and what was there made the cars seem very different from most other cars. Not only that it was a pain to get a car. You could not buy but only lease the vehicles. You had to fill out extra paperwork to get one (why you deserved one, because there were more people who wanted one than there cars available). Why did GM and other car companies spend so much money and not market it? They wanted to show they could do it and then say the marketplace did not want them.

A major problem though was demand was higher than expected which leads to why the electric car was really killed. Auto makers make a lot of profit not by selling the cars themselves but from the replacement parts most of them for the ICE. With electric cars that profit stream is out the window. Not only that if you market EVs correctly what you are saying is look at this car that can do everything your regular car does but without the pollution and lower operating costs (less on fuel and repairs). They would be making the rest of their cars (most of their sales) look bad. In the short term since factories were designed to make cars with ICE, there were cheaper to make with higher profit margins. Why would a company want to kill their profit makers?

Of course they wouldn't, they would have to be pushed which was CARBs job. The California Air Resources Board was supposed to force automakers to have 10% of their sales in California to be of the zero emissions variety by 2003. The car companies fought it tooth and nail. Eventually suing CARB. CARB gave up on electric vehicles. What did they push? Hydrogen fuel cell technology which is 15 to 30 years away from being commercially available. Why did they push that? The head of CARB at the time was Dr. Alan Lloyd who was set to become head of the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Conflict anyone? Hydrogen of course has to be made (usually using electricity) and then transported which also is an energy intensive step. Not to mention the infrastructure to do it needs to be built. It is a commodity that can be sold by oil companies down the line and the fact the technology is not available yet to masses means oil companies still have a country full of cars that need oil to run. The auto makers have partnered with the oil companies to create an alternative to the ICE and the oil that they need to burn that won't be available for years and will still allow them to make a profit.

Of course they have the ear of those in government. Bush's administration is full of former board members of various energy/oil/auto companies and their lobbying groups that pushed to keep demand low for the EVs. Under Bush, the Federal government joined the lawsuit by the auto makers against the California zero emissions standards. Bush also is pushing fuel cell technology over the electric cars. Clinton/Gore were not much better. The Clinton administration struck a deal with auto makers to make hybrids instead of electric vehicles, treating them at a press conference like those were a dream of the future. Can we say AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH Mr. Gore?

And what became of all of those electric cars? The ones that people had actually been driving around in? Running errands with? Going to work with? The ones people had to fill out special applications in order to get? Since they were all leased, GM and the other auto makers took them back when the leases were up. The drivers could not renew nor were they allowed to buy them back. Yes, the auto makers so much wanted the electric cars to disappear that they did not accept money for them. Those electric cars for the most part were crushed and smashed in the junkyard. A car museum got one but GM stripped it so it couldn't run.

So basically profit motive of a few killed the electric car. Those companies that killed it ironically are now getting their collective butts kicked by the Japanese auto makers who are making hybrids that are advancing technology including ones that can be plugged in as oil prices go sky high, reducing the demand for SUVs.


E-Kenzie said...

The Electric Car is not dead yet.
Here at Zap were pushing full steam ahead on designs for new and fully gas free vehicles. to get a charge of information visit www.zapworld.com

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed at the sheer stupidity of some who have swallowed the total fiction in the movie. The EV-1 was not a viable alternative to the gasoline car, anymore than Zap will be. At $43,000, and a 25 kWhr niMH battery pack that cost over $20,0000 and lasted around 5 years, and a paltry driving range in which 35 mile destinations were often out of reach, the idea that it took scheming to kill the EV-1 is about as braindead a theory as has ever been pushed onto a naiive and gullible public. Those who concur in the movie's claims are every bit as hopelessly out of touch. This reviewer, for exampple thinks for some reason that when GM canceled its EV-1 program, this somehow hurt it in competing with the Japanese with hybrids. It, in fact, had nothing to do with the matter : Toyota and Honda both cancelled their electric car programs as well, a fact that those
who saw the movie and think they learned something about modern EV programs totally miss. The movie is a big lie : never could GM finds more than 800 (stupid)
souls to lease their fleet of 1100 EV-1s. GM stripped the cars sent to the museums because there was proprietory engineered parts (regenerative brakes, for example) that it didn't want to fall into the hands of its competitors as
a freebie. And those "millions" that GM was offered for the EV-1 fleet wasn't even $15,000 per car, not enough to even pay for the battery packs. And the car could have electrocuted its owners, something that GM would have been blamed for if it had let a bunch of amateur mechanics try to maintain their EV-1s. All of the parts suppliers for the EV-1 had stopped producing spare parts years before, and one other small probelm existed : the EV-1 could not be legally sold - it had not met the federal safety regs and could only be leased and put on the street after making a deal with the Feds - the EV-1 was never
legally anything other than an "experimental vehcle," GM wasn't allowed to sell the cars even if they had wanted to.