Self-ascribed virtue does not equal market demand.
Liberal WaPo editorial writer: Obama’s electric car gambit is quite the disaster, isn’t it?
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If you want to read a liberal editorial page that is shamelessly partisan and will shill for Democrats no matter how dishonest it has to be to do it, that would be the New York Times. But if you want to read liberals who have enough intellectual honesty to admit when their side has has clearly bungled its way into a major fail, I highly recommend the Washington Post. You will never confuse them with right-wingers, but unlike the Times, the Post isn’t afraid to say so when an article of liberal faith is proven to be wrong.
So it is that Post editorial writer Charles Lane lays out the truth about Obama’s electric-car boondoggle, which is proving itself more and more every day as a disaster:
President Obama repeatedly declared that, with enough federal aid, we can put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. His administration has invested about $5 billion in grants, guaranteed loans — including $465 million for Tesla — and tax incentives to buyers.
Yet Americans bought just 71,000 plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles in the past two years, according to GreenCarReports.com. That’s about a third as many as the Energy Department forecast in a 2011 report that attempted to explain why Obama’s goal was not preposterous.
Federal billions cannot overcome the fact that electric vehicles and plug-in electric hybrids meet few, if any, of real consumers’ needs. Compared with gas-powered cars, they deliver inferior performance at much higher cost. As an American Physical Society symposium on battery research concluded last June: “Despite their many potential advantages, all-electric vehicles will not replace the standard American family car in the foreseeable future.”
If you don’t believe the scientists, listen to Takeshi Uchiyamada, the “father” of the Toyota Prius: “Because of its shortcomings — driving range, cost and recharging time — the electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most conventional cars.”
Even Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, whose commitment to the all-electric Leaf helped his firm get a $1.4 billion U.S. loan guarantee, has reduced his boosterism in the face of disappointing sales.
Nor do electric cars promise much in the way of greenhouse-gas reduction, as long as they rely on a power grid that is still mostly fired by fossil fuels.
This was all very predictable to anyone who understood markets. People are not going to demand a product just because government subsidizes its production. And they’re not going to buy the product in mass quantities because politicians are convinced of its virtue. Even if electric cars really did offer major environmental benefits - which they apparently do not - people still aren’t going to buy the product at any price (let alone an artificially high one) if it doesn’t meet their needs.
This is a mistake politicians make over and over again. Their hubris tells them that everything would be better if everyone did a certain thing, and that everyone will do that certain thing if only the right amount of government money is put in the right place and used in the right way. Then they are stunned when it doesn’t work out that way, because in the end people do what they want to do, not what a politician thinks they should do.
And the failure of the electric car gambit has been worse than useless. It has come with real costs. General Motors spent millions retooling a plant in Hamtramck, Michigan so it could add a shift and hire a boatload of workers who were supposed to produce 60,000 Chevy Volts a year. When sales fell woefully short of that pace, they had to lay people off and idle the plant. And why would GM think it could sell 60,000 Volts a year, when it has never even sold 20,000 Volts in a year before? Part of it is the isolation of auto executives in the Detroit bubble, who understand little about the mind of the consumer, but listen to each other and to industry insiders like J.D. Power & Associates.
But part of it is political pressure. The federal government desperately wants to sell electric cars, and sold GM’s worthiness for a bailout to the public in large part on the notion that the Volt would be GM’s ticket to a prosperous future. Now that facts are proving this to be the fantasy it always was, politicians are doing what they so often do - doubling down on the delusion in the hope that reality will somehow change to suit their hubris-fueled hopes. So far, as is usually the case, reality is not cooperating.
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