How is changing a government mandate “killing” the electric car?

Lynne KIesling

Can someone please explain the logic of the argument in this Wired Autopia blog post to me?

EV advocates say the California Air Resources Board is trying to kill the electric car — again.

Under a proposal pending before the Air Resources Board, state regulators would slash — from 75,000 to as few as 27,500 — the number of zero-emission vehicles automakers must build between 2012 and 2017. Under the changes, the big automakers could put fewer than 2,500 nonpolluting cars on the road in the next four years. That’s only 300 more than Tesla Motors plans to produce in the next two.

Ummmm … first of all, the whole reference to killing the electric car “again” is a reference to the fact that the technology was not scalable and commercializable the last time California passed an electric car mandate. Wishing didn’t make it so then, and it still doesn’t, despite all of the arguments about government policy being “technology forcing”. High gasoline prices and increased environmental concerns at a distributed, decentralized level are much more effective at inducing resilient technological change than government mandates. Such mandates run much more of a risk of the unintended consequences of governments having the hubris to think that they can pick technology winners. They cannot. What if, for example, such mandates induce researchers to shift entirely into electric vehicles and out of plug-in-electric hybrids, and what if it turns out that the PHEV has a larger portfolio of benefits and is more consumer-friendly than the EV? Then the government has picked wrong, and we all bear the cost of the coercion.

Second, does it occur to any of these so-called EV supporters that with the electric car plans of Tesla and GM, such government policy is irrelevant? That last sentence of the quote — that Tesla itself will be producing almost as many as are named in California’s mandate — belies the argument that more government forcing is needed.

I think the carrot is there, the lures are all around, and the commercial electric vehicle (and plug-in hybrid) is in the near future. How can changing a government target in a wishing-it-to-happen piece of legislation reverse that? Ridiculous.


4 thoughts on “How is changing a government mandate “killing” the electric car?

  1. A bigger question is how does one kill what was never alive?
    I see that apparently California’s brightest are claiming that a battery-only electric is a “zero emissions car” (now where do you suppose california is going to get some of that zero emissions electricity?), while plug-ins are not. Hmmm. I know of several coming along plug-ins that have a greater electric driving range than many battery-only electrics. Only in California does this make sense, apparently. It must have something to do with their brain melting sun and global waming.

  2. “Under the changes, the big automakers could put fewer than 2,500 nonpolluting cars on the road in the next four years.”

    FEWER NONPOLLUTING CARS

    How hard is that to understand? It’s a HUGE step down. 😦

  3. Nancy – read it again. It doesn’t say “fewer nonpolluting cars”, it says “fewer than 2500 nonpolluting cars”. How many are on the road now? I’d guess ~0, so this is an increase. Your mistake is like someone who overhears “it’s less than a 3% salary increase over last year” and decides that they’re getting 3% of last year’s salary.

    Still, EVs get their electricity from somewhere. Usually a power plant. Most of those are running on coal, and 65% of the input energy goes is lost as heat before it gets to the “0” emission vehicle. It’s a convenient way of moving the problem out of California and into whatever state happens to contain or lie downwind of the power plant.

  4. Ummmm … first of all, the whole reference to killing the electric car “again” is a reference to the fact that the technology was not scalable and commercializable the last time California passed an electric car mandate. Wishing didn’t make it so then, and it still doesn’t, despite all of the arguments about government policy being “technology forcing”. High gasoline prices and increased environmental concerns at a distributed, decentralized level are much more effective at inducing resilient technological change than government mandates.

    Talk about historical blindness! While you rail against “technology forcing” for these sorts of cars, you ignore the “technology forcing” that has been happening since the early 20th century in the form of government-funded and government-favored roads. The automobile’s biggest complementary good – the roads – are America’s most egregious example of “technology forcing.” From the roads (which are rarely paid for in entirety by gas taxes, which in any case isn’t a market allocation) to zoning regulations (which limit density) to eminent domain rules, the government has been staking the “market” in favor of automobile transportation for decades. Complaining about “technology forcing” with regards to low-emissions autos is like closing the door after the horse is already out of the barn. While state, local, and federal spending in the hundreds of billions of dollars per annum is nothing new, it is surely a more egregious example of “technology forcing” than the comparatively small amounts of subsidies spent on zero-emissions vehicles.

Comments are closed.