Tag: Electric car

Let Them Drive Electric

I’m not overly fond of the Tesla automobile. It’s publicly-supported rich man’s toy that hasn’t made huge technological strides but likes to pretend it has. And I’m dubious that it will ever be anything other than a curiosity. The last decade has seen big leaps in fuel efficiency in our automobile fleet. Part of this is because people are demanding and buying more efficient cars. A little bit of it is hybrids. And much more of it just good engineering:

When many people think of fuel economy, they think hybrids or electric cars. But that’s only part of the story. The chart above shows various efficiency technologies that have become more prevalent since 2008.

As it turns out, improvements to the existing combustion engine has been a huge source of innovation over the last five years. There’s gasoline direct injection, which is a more efficient technique for delivering fuel to the engine. Or there’s cylinder deactivation to save fuel. These get less attention than electric cars, but they’re key advances.

I was recently in Montana and my in-laws had an SUV that got as good mileage as my old Ford sedan. Direct injection, a continuously variable transmission, variable valve timing — all of these combined to make it a reasonable vehicle.

But despite my distaste for the Tesla, this is ridiculous. Tesla is being banned in many states from selling cars directly to the consumer.

This week, the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association filed a petition with the state’s Department of Revenue in an attempt to bar further sales of Tesla sedans. Such battles have erupted in numerous states, from Missouri to New Jersey. In the latest issue of Regulation, University of Michigan Law professor Daniel Crane argues that dealer distribution restrictions are based on faulty ideas of consumer protection. Traditional dealers claim that competition among a brand’s dealers prevents the manufacturer from “gouging” consumers and extracting monopoly profits. Crane argues that standard economic theory demonstrates that these claims are nonsense. Firms with market power will be able to claim monopoly profits, regardless of whether middlemen, such as dealerships, are involved.

Moreover, by restricting competition among business models for auto sales, laws such as those in Georgia stifle competition among automakers. When companies such as Tesla seek to lower costs through innovative business designs, they face costly regulatory hurdles and legal challenges such as the sales ban in Georgia. These laws protect existing dealers and hurt consumers.

This is about more than Tesla, which is filling a niche market at best. Indeed, that’s a big reason they want to sell direct instead of through dealers. What this is about is other companies, companies that have not been born yet but could potentially compete with the big automakers. Imagine if, instead of having a handful of huge automakers, you had a hundred Teslas out there, all upending the market in their own way. Won’t someone please think of the unions?

Similar laws protected wine distributors in various states until the Supreme Court struck it down for violating the interstate commerce powers of the federal government. Of course, several states — including my own — have refused to comply with the ruling in the nine years since that decision hoping they can rope in enough Congressmen to re-institute the shipping restrictions. In light of SCOTUS’s precedent, I can’t see that the auto dealer cartels can possibly be legal. But I don’t expect anything to be done.

Everything You Know About Alternative Energy is Wrong

A trio of articles published in the last week blow the doors off everything the media has been telling us about alternative energy. The first two are from Bjorn Lomborg, the economist who accepts that global warming is real but rails against top-down economy-crushing solutions (his “Cool It!” documentary is worth a look).

First, the electric car: the salvation to our energy and climate woes. How is that doing? Certainly it must be … oh:

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.”

For an electric car to have net environmental benefit, you would have to drive it for 90,000 miles between battery changes and get all your electricity from carbon-free sources. Even then, you’ve only cut 24% off the emission of a similar gas-powered car. Frankly, I think engineering more efficient gasoline engines would be a more practical way of cutting emissions. And we’re subsidizing this crap to the tune of thousands of dollars per car.

Well, you say, maybe the electric car isn’t as huge a thing as we thought it would be. But we have to subsidize green tech and put cap-in-trade in place. Look how well it’s working in Europe!

Yeah, about that:

Yesterday, we saw how Great Britain’s much-hyped carbon reductions have simply been exported to China.

The same holds true for the much of the developed world 1990-2008. We see how the US has increased its territorial (domestic) CO2 emissions, but Europe has reduced its emissions, as has the Former Soviet Union (rest of Annex B). The reductions in the FSU are mainly from the collapse in 1991. But the much vaulted EU reduction is exactly the same as the increased CO2 emissions import just from China. Overall, the EU emissions have increased, not as the national accounts seem to indicate, decreased.

This matters because when nations claim to be able to cut CO2, it often simply means that they have exported the CO2 emissions to somewhere else, leaving them feeling better, but obviously with no real environmental benefit.

Actually the evil, capitalist United States is seeing CO2 emissions fall in real terms as we switch from coal power to gas power. And economically, the greenhouse emissions per dollar of GDP has fallen dramatically owing to improvements in the technology of household appliances, computers and lighting — stuff companies are investing in anyway.

So, subsidized tech isn’t saving the planet. But hey! At least it will stimulate the economy. After all, if we don’t go all-in, we’ll stay behind the Chinese in … oh:

So China must hold a massively large trade surplus in clean energy with America, right? Quite the opposite, finds a striking report titled “Advantage America” released on March 6th. The two countries traded about $6.5 billion in solar, wind and smart-grid technology and services in 2011—and America sold $1.63 billion more of such kit to China than it imported from there. The analysis was done by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), an industry publisher, and funded the Pew Charitable Trusts, a charity.

So let’s summarize. Continuing to pressure Americans to use alternative energy and subsidize alternative energy is not cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The European model on which these policies are based is only shifting greenhouse gas emissions. And they really can’t be justified economically as some “green energy boom” because we are already exporting the clean energy technology that is actually useful.

So why do we need to do this? Oh, yeah. Wealthy donors need to have their businesses propped up. And here I was thinking it was about the science.

Drive Angry

I always thought the electric car would create new and exciting jobs. I just didn’t think that the jobs it would be create would be in the fire-fighting and home rebuilding industries:

An electric vehicle manufacturer that received a $529 million loan from the Energy Department is recalling 239 vehicles.

The Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Thursday that the company, Fisker Automotive, will recall its Karma vehicles made between July 1, 2011, and Nov. 3, 2011, because of a faulty electric battery component that could cause a fire.

Oh yeah, about those jobs:

The administration has come under fire for issuing the loan after ABC News reported in October that Fisker is making its vehicles in Finland because it could not find a contractor in America to manufacture them.

But the Energy Department has countered that the loan was intended to help Fisker develop the vehicles, which the company did in the United States.

Look, electric vehicles are new technology. We’ve had over a century to develop gas-powered cars to the point where the most dangerous part is the sack of meat behind the wheel. So it’s not surprising that electric cars have problems, although the spectacular nature of the problems is a bit shocking. And maybe Fisker will recover and become the next century’s Ford.

But did we need to loan half a billion dollars for this? They couldn’t find some private lender like Warren Buffet (now ridiculously called the fifth most admired man in America because 2% of Americans said so)? The government should not be financing speculative technology; especially not at the cost of basic fundamental research.

Pull the plug on this whole program, guys.

The Earth Metal Problem

Freakonomics has a great post up that should give the environmentalist weenies fits:

Electric cars are all the rage today, but some of the smartest people I know believe that moving towards electric vehicles is a terrible idea. Looking casually as an outsider at the unappealing economics of electric vehicles (the need for a new and immensely expensive infrastructure, cars that cost much more than either traditional gas engines or hybrids, limited ranges and long recharging times), I find it hard to understand why the Obama administration is pushing electric cars.

One argument I’ve heard is “national security,” the idea being that electric vehicles would make the United States less dependent on imported oil. Be careful what you wish for, however, because if electric cars become a mainstay, we may be trading one dependence for another that is even more troubling. Ninety-five percent of the world’s output of rare-earth metals today comes from one country: China. By some estimates, demand will outstrip supply within five years. At least with oil we know there are fifty years of oil reserves readily available. Moreover, oil is produced all over the world, limiting the monopoly power of any one country.

To be fair, elements like dysprosium and praseodymium — how geeky is it that I can spell those correctly from memory? — are not economically viable to dig up unless you have a steady supply of slave cheap labor, which China has. As demand for these metals surges, the price will go up and domestic mining will become more feasible. Of course, our government is currently subsidizing electric cars and therefore distorting the market. And China’s embargo on Japan has already caused a mad scramble for metals.

What this story really demonstrates the stunning lack of thought that goes into so-called green industries. Rare earth metals are a pretty significant thing to be thinking about when it comes to electric cars. We can’t just wish them out of the ground through the power of positive liberal thinking. At some point, we’re going to have to start mining them — with all the pollution that entails. What will the greens do then?