Electric Cars: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come

A 2011 Chevy Volt electric car charges at the 2011 St. Louis Auto Show on Jan. 29.

Editor’s note: This is part 1 in a two-part series on the dangers of going green.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I have little doubt that the road President Barack Obama envisions is built around renewable energy; the only vehicles that traverse it are electric. It is the world of science fiction. America’s problem is that this world will hasten our downfall.

Case in point is Solyndra Inc.’s slide into bankruptcy earlier this month. The Fremont, Calif., solar-panel maker was magically awarded a $535 million Federal loan guarantee in September 2009. It is all part of the President’s dream to remake America green. It began with a loan from the Energy Department from funds derived from the 2009 Obama stimulus package.

Bad news for the White House and Obama Democrats came on Sept. 6 when the company filed for bankruptcy protection. Two days later, the FBI raided the company’s offices.

There was more bad news last week. Solyndra said it needs more than the initially expected four weeks to find a buyer to take over its idled solar panel-making operations.

Solyndra said it had a plan to try to find a buyer by early October, a company that could restart its recently shuttered factory and rehire some of its 1,000 staff. Maybe Solyndra can find some magic beans. It could grow something green that would stretch to the sky, something both the environmentalists and the Obama Administration need.

Recently, an opinion piece of the WNYC website summed up the failure of Solyndra:

That the government invested in a non-viable company because it wanted a “Green” photo-op and that this investment was part of a sweetheart deal to reward an Obama donor is disgusting but typical. The fact is, when the government pours money into a business or a program or an initiative, no one cares too much whether it succeeds or fails.

After all, are any of the people who made the decision to fund Solyndra going to see a pay cut to their own paycheck? Of course not. That remains the number one argument as to why the government should not have the power to use OUR money to fund their pet projects.

It’s also the most reasonable argument for why private businesses always do better than public ones. For example, Fed Ex and UPS have to balance their budgets, make cuts when necessary and care about meeting their bottom line. The US Postal Service? Less.

At least the U.S. Postal Service uses proven technology. The Obama Adminstration wants to reinvent the world with things that, frankly, don’t work — at least not yet. Solar panels are just one failed scheme. Another is the Adminstration’s support for the electric car.

A Lemon That Runs On Electricity

If you listen closely enough to Obama, you might think the Electric Age has just begun when in fact it dates back more than a century. The President has announced his goal of having 1 million electric cars on American roads by 2015. His Administration has even allocated $2.4 billion in “stimulus” money to subsidize production of them, along with the batteries and other components that they use.

Earlier this month, Forbes contributor Louis Woodhill weighed in on what he thought of Obama’s seed money for the electric car:

Unfortunately, electric cars are about to do a barrier crash into economic reality, and all the airbags in the world won’t be able to save them.  The taxpayers’ $2.4 billion is destined to join Obama’s $535 million investment in solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra at the bottom of the crony-capitalism “stimulus” rat hole.

Woodhill was specific in his criticism of Obama’s plan, especially when it comes to mass-produced battery electric vehicles. He points to Nissan, which is engineering state-of-the-art lithium batteries into its new car, the Leaf. “It costs more than twice as much ($35,430 vs. $17,250) as a comparable Nissan Versa,” Woodhill wrote.  And before you rush to save the Earth and sacrifice your pocketbook, keep this in mind: The battery-powered car provides far less convenience and performance than the car that burns gasoline.

The Leaf has terrible acceleration and has only 25 percent the range of a comparable gasoline car.

Given the cost of using batteries for the Leaf versus an economy car you can fill at $4 per gallon with gasoline, you would have to drive your new electric car 164,000 miles just to recover the additional purchase cost.

Factor in interest on your money, and you would have to drive your electric car almost 200,000 miles before you break even. It’s too bad about not being able to merge on to the freeway because of the car’s terrible performance. And it is impossible to drive a Leaf more than 60 miles per day.

That the electric car is a poor substitute for a gasoline car is nothing new. In 1896 Thomas Edison panned the electric car: “Electric cars must keep near to power stations. The storage battery is too heavy.”

More than a century later and with new lithium technology, the fortunes of the electric car still have not changed. In 2009, when speaking of the Chevrolet Volt (a big name among enthusiasts), the president of Audi America, Johan de Nysschen said: “There are not enough idiots who will buy it.”

With the exception of Forbes, the popular press has never given up on trying to find idiots to buy the electric car.

In Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, author Robert Bryce wrote:

  • 1911: The New York Times declares that the electric car “has long been recognized as the ideal solution” because it “is cleaner and quieter” and “much more economical.”
  • 1915: The Washington Post writes that “prices on electric cars will continue to drop until they are within reach of the average family.”
  • 1959: The New York Times reports that the “Old electric may be the car of tomorrow.” The story said that electric cars were making a comeback because “gasoline is expensive today, principally because it is so heavily taxed, while electricity is far cheaper” than it was back in the 1920s.
  • 1967: The Los Angeles Times says that American Motors Corporation is on the verge of producing an electric car, the Amitron, to be powered by lithium batteries capable of holding 330 watt-hours per kilogram. (That’s more than two times as much as the energy density of modern lithium-ion batteries.) Backers of the Amitron said, “We don’t see a major obstacle in technology. It’s just a matter of time.”
  • 1979: The Washington Post reports that General Motors has found ”a breakthrough in batteries” that “now makes electric cars commercially practical.” The new zinc-nickel oxide batteries will provide the “100-mile range that General Motors executives believe is necessary to successfully sell electric vehicles to the public.”
  • 1980: In an opinion piece, The Washington Post avers that “practical electric cars can be built in the near future.” By 2000, the average family would own cars, predicted the Post, “tailored for the purpose for which they are most often used.” It went on to say that “in this new kind of car fleet, the electric vehicle could pay (sic) a big role—especially as delivery trucks and two-passenger urban commuter cars. With an aggressive production effort, they might save 1 million barrels of oil a day by the turn of the century.”

The sacrifice is all worth it, argues Obama, if only to get the nation off of its addiction to Middle East oil. There’s just one hiccup. While America is hooked on Arab oil and all the problems that come with that, green technology depends on rare earth elements. And the nation holding the bulwark of those materials — perhaps as much as 90 percent — is China.

That means that America is trading away its energy dependence on one region of the world to a single Communist country, China, a nation that has grand ambitions for the 21st century. It is China’s monopoly on these elements that is the real threat America faces if we choose to go green.

Next week, in part 2 of this report, I will tell you about China’s dominant control of critical rare earth elements that the United States could soon depend on.

Until then… yours in good times and bad,

–John Myers
Editor, Myers Energy & Gold Report

Personal Liberty

John Myers

is editor of Myers’ Energy and Gold Report. The son of C.V. Myers, the original publisher of Oilweek Magazine, John has worked with two of the world’s largest investment publishers, Phillips and Agora. He was the original editor for Outstanding Investments and has more than 20 years experience as an investment writer. John is a graduate of the University of Calgary. He has worked for Prudential Securities in Spokane, Wash., as a registered investment advisor. His office location in Calgary, Alberta, is just minutes away from the headquarters of some of the biggest players in today’s energy markets. This gives him personal access to everyone from oil CEOs to roughnecks, where he learns secrets from oil insiders he passes on to his subscribers. Plus, during his years in Spokane he cultivated a network of relationships with mining insiders in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

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