David Sandalow, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for policy and international affairs, said in a Huffington Post article about electric vehicles on Tuesday that “It’s strange that we are utterly dependent on [gasoline] for mobility.”
But in a market-based economy, it’s not “strange” that petroleum-based products remain the transportation fuel of choice; it’s a century of real-world economics. The fact is that petroleum-based fuels like gasoline are the most affordable choice for transportation, compared to any alternative.
And the reality is that there’s a faster, more economic way to reduce our fuel consumption: making conventional vehicles more fuel efficient. Technologies exist for our gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles that, when combined, could improve a vehicle’s miles per gallon by about 35 percent (see graphic below). History has proven the power of incremental efficiency improvements; consider, for instance, that today’s vehicles emit 95 percent fewer emissions than a car from 1970. We are working with automakers to develop new engine technologies and approaches based on increased efficiencies that will likely deliver emission reductions on greater scale than alternatives like electric vehicles, particularly over the next decade.
I don’t say all this because I am opposed to electric vehicles, despite what some people may think. In fact, ExxonMobil has developed polymers for a new generation of battery separator films for lithium-ion batteries that could help improve the safety and reliability of hybrid and electric vehicles.
What I’m really taking exception to is the Administration’s plan to forgo market-driven policies in favor of subsidizing uneconomic technologies. Right now, government data shows that the battery alone costs about $33,000 for an electric vehicle with a 100-mile range. But as the article indicates, stimulus funding and tax breaks – such as the Administration’s $2.4 billion in government grant programs to develop next-generation batteries – could potentially reduce the cost of electric vehicle batteries to $10,000, which is still more than some cars cost.
That’s $2.4 billion of American taxpayers’ money spent on cars that they don’t get to drive – unless they’re willing to spend thousands more for one of their own. Actually, it’s for the batteries of cars that you’ll never get to drive – don’t forget that tires, wheels and doors cost extra. And it’s also worth noting that these taxpayer-funded subsidies are in addition to the billions that have been spent on the unsuccessful effort to make corn ethanol commercially viable.
Research and development into electric cars and other alternatives is a good thing – we need to look at all options to make our transportation fleet more efficient over the long term– but the approach being employed right now by the Administration to do that just doesn’t make any sense.
There’s a lot more to this electric vehicle discussion than meets the eye. You’ve heard my thoughts – let’s hear yours.
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