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Proponents of EVs and PHEVs are Worried

February 17, 2012

Last week, Media Matters for America (MMA) published a 6,667-word article, replete with charts and graphs, defending EVs and PHEVs.

The article was framed with the headline, Myths And Facts About Electric Cars. The topics, i.e., myths, covered were:

  • Denying That EVs Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions
  • Downplaying EV Sales
  • Misleading About EV Distance Range
  • Distorting Volt Safety
  • Feigning Concern About Battery Disposal
  • Spinning Consumer Tax Credits
  • Fear mongering About The Electric Grid
  • Overstating Subsidies For Volt

It seems that backers of EVs and PHEVs are worried about the future of EVs and PHEVs.

Without touching on all these subjects, here are a few highlights that caught my attention.

Using CO2 emissions as the lead item is interesting.

Is this really the main reason for developing EVs and PHEVs? If so, it demonstrates once again how the fear of global warming is distorting energy policy.

The group’s claim that EVs and PHEVs emit less CO2 than Internal Combustion vehicles is true … but irrelevant, since these vehicles can’t cut CO2 emissions enough to meet the demands of the UN for cutting our CO2 emissions 80% by 2050.

In Carbon Folly, I show that if 75% of all vehicles in 2050 were PHEVs, CO2 emissions would be cut to 959 million metric tons (MMT) … however, they would have to be cut to 191 MMT to meet the required 80% reduction. Therefore, EVs and PHEVs are irrelevant when it comes to global warming.

Since EVs and PHEVs use electricity from the grid to recharge batteries, the only way they could possibly cut CO2 emissions 80% is to cut the use of coal and natural gas for generating electricity by 80% … and this is impossible without tripling the number of nuclear plants.

The second item was interesting in that it included a chart of Volt sales in 2011 that suddenly peaked at around 1450 units in December.

While this is interesting, it fails to reflect the hype the Volt received before its introduction.

The hype said there would be 60,000 Volts sold in 2012. Now GM says it will be 45,000. With only 603 sold in January it will require a miraculous reversal of fortune to achieve the new target.

The Nissan Leaf didn’t fare much better, with sales of only 676 Leafs in January.

Then there is the issue of subsidies.

The purported reason for subsidizing EVs and PHEVs are to, (1) cut CO2 emissions, and (2) reduce our dependence on foreign oil, specifically from the Mideast and Venezuela.

We’ve already described why it’s impossible to cut CO2 emissions 80% by 2050.

With respect to cutting imports from Venezuela and Mideast countries, there is enough oil in North America to cover all our needs for decades, so that reason is also bogus.

The MMA article also said that the cost of batteries can be offset by savings on gasoline usage. The article refers to a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) that indicates it will take 15 to 19 years to break even without subsidies and 3 to 5 years with subsidies.

Even assuming the 3 to 5 years is accurate; does this infer that these vehicles will have to be subsidized forever?

But, according to the article, the cost of batteries will come down so that subsidies won’t be needed. The BCG said, “Some 25 percent of current battery costs – primarily the cost of raw materials and standard, commoditized parts – are likely to remain relatively independent of production volumes and to change over time.”

Therefore, the remaining $7,500 of the battery’s total $10,000 cost must come down as the result of experience … also known as the learning curve.

If the total battery cost is to be cut in half, which still results in a $5,000 premium for the car, the $7,500 portion of the cost, which benefits from the learning curve, has to be cut by $5,000 to reach a cost of $2,500.

This requires a remarkably high learning curve of over 15% (every time production doubles) and an annual production of over 400,000 units. Achieving an annual production of 400,000 Volts by 2020 seems ambitious.

It would appear that the Volt won’t be economically justifiable for years to come, if ever, given that ICE vehicles are rapidly increasing their gas mileage.

While time will tell whether EVs and PHEVs will ever become a significant part of our vehicle fleet, the proponents appear very worried.

 

Notes:

  • See www.carbonfolly.com for more information.
  • From its website: “Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”

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