Policy: Environment & Energy

Examiner Editorial: Consumers still not charged up about electric vehicles

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Transportation,Editorial,Environment,President,Energy Department,Climate Change,Analysis,Energy and Environment

Americans love their cars. A German named Benz invented the automobile but it was an American named Ford who put the world on wheels at the outset of the 20th century. It is difficult to name all of the positive developments that ensued, but surely among the most important were putting good jobs, elevating schools and enriching cultural opportunities within reach of millions of people who otherwise would have been trapped in the same isolated rural lives of their forebears.

In the automotive era, government has often played a controversial role in the growth and regulation of the industry and its product. Regardless whether different approaches might have yielded even more positive outcomes, there is no doubt that two landmarks of government regulation have produced great good. Mandated pollution controls have cleared the air in America's cities to a remarkable degree, and mandated safety equipment like seat belts and air bags have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Then there is the electric vehicle mandate. President Obama came to the White House in 2009 determined to see at least a million EVs on American roads by 2015. To that end, he persuaded Congress to adopt a host of programs designed to hasten the mass-market penetration of the EV, including a $7,500 tax credit for buyers of approved versions such as the Chevrolet Volt. Obama's was only the most powerful of many politically correct worthies in the mainstream media, academia and non-profit worlds who have long pressed the cause of EVs on the American consumer.

Despite the years of blandishments, however, consumers remain remarkably uninterested in EVs. According to the PC crowd, the reason is Americans are addicted to big, powerful gas-guzzlers, unlike Europeans who long ago recognized the virtues of compact vehicles that burn less gas and take up less space. Whatever the explanation might be, the bottom line is American consumers simply aren't much interested in trading their gas-powered cars for vehicles with limited range and that require recharging at least on a nightly basis and frequently more often.

During a year in which auto sales have been among the few bright spots in the no-growth Obama economy, EV buyers barely make a blip. The Volt's share of the market in July, for example, was a miniscule 0.8 percent, according to Inside EVs. Foreign automakers aren't doing any better, with Nissan's Leaf registering a mere 0.6 percent of its market segment. To put the percentages into raw numbers, consumer bought more than 200,000 compacts in July, but only 1,788 of them opted for a Volt.

The root problem that EV advocates have never been able to overcome is the technology's inherent limitations: Batteries that have to be recharged but still provide less range than gas-powered vehicles, and high initial costs that cannot be recouped over a reasonable ownership period. The result is EVs remain mainly PC badges for elites. It's time politicians, bureaucrats and activists get the message - Americans don't want EVs.

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