Ed Driscoll

The Electric Road Car Acid Test

At the American Enterprise blog, Steve Hayward has a few inconvenient truths about electric cars:

Electric cars have been touted as the ultimate means to “get off oil” for about forever now, but even assuming we can crack the severe technological problems of insufficient battery power and impractical charging time, few people ever seem to ask the question of how the additional electricity to match the current energy content of liquid fuels is going to be generated (wind and solar won’t cut it). Now comes a study from Argonne National Laboratory and China’s Tsinghua University that concludes widespread use of electric cars in China would increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. (Full study here.) The same might not be true to the same extent in the United States, but the tradeoff is unlikely to be as bright green as everyone thinks/hopes.

It may not matter anyway. Although a few electric cars (Nissan’s Leaf, Chevy’s Volt) may make some headway for affluent consumers who only drive short distances, the promise of electric cars on a mass scale is still mostly that—promise. Not so’s the media would know. Robert Bryce’s new book, Power Hungry, includes a nice roundup of media enthusiasm for electric cars going back a long way. Here’s the Los Angeles Times, May 19: “The electric automobile will quickly and easily take precedence over all other” types of motor vehicles. That appeared May 19 of . . . 1901. Or try the New York Times, which said in 1911 that the electric car “has long been recognized as the ideal solution” because it “is cleaner and quieter” and “much more economical.” Or this, from the Los Angeles Times again, this time in 1967: The Times quotes an executive from American Motors (didn’t some guy named Romney run that?) saying the company was on the verge of producing an electric car called the Amitron, powered by lithium batteries capable of holding 33 watt-hours per kilogram (that’s twice as much as today’s lithium-ion batteries, by the way). Said the executive: “We don’t see a major obstacle in technology. It’s just a matter of time.” Did we miss the rollout of the Amitron, or did they decide the Pacer was just a better idea?

1901? Well now we know the answer to this question: clearly Big Oil had already sunk their Valvoline-soaked hooks into President McKinley…

(Via Tom Blumer at Newsbusters, who has some thoughts and additional examples of his own. For my video interview last year with Steve Hayward on his splendid Age of Reagan books, click here.)