on the Electric Edsel
a surprise the Chevy Volt electric car isnt selling.
of these $41,000 economy cars have found buyers so far
most of them probably in the Hollywood hills, where it is
trendy for the rich to show green (Leonardo DiCaprio owns a $100k
Tesla electric roadster).
But out in
the real world, the idea of a $41k economy car doesnt
parse. Yes, the Volt is a brilliant piece of engineering. But thats
neither here nor there if it costs more to operate than a standard
economy car, which is ultimately the only criteria that matters
as far as the marketplace viability of electric cars.
This is so
obvious that youd think it might have also occurred to the
people running GM. It probably did but the reason it doesnt
matter to them is that the Volt (like the Tesla) is a taxpayer-funded
money machine for GM. Even if they never sell enough cars to make
an honest profit, theres already been a huge profit
to GM in the form of massive federal subsidies and of course, the
massive bailout of GM itself back in 2008.
throw money at the electric car boondoggle? After all, its
not GMs money.
And that is
the nut of this tragedy. And it is a tragedy, because we
should be developing (or at least looking into) alternative means
of transport. The idea is not bad. The problem is
the distortions created by government meddling by corporatist-statist
polices that throw enormous resources at projects that make no sense.
You know, like
a $41,000 economy car that costs as much to buy as a
fully loaded BMW 3-Series but which cant match the day-to-day
performance of a $15,000 Toyota Corolla.
It is 1890
and horse travel is becoming problematic. The horses poo all over
the place, making a disgusting mess in crowded urban areas
and theyre just not practical for speedy, efficient travel
in a rapidly industrializing nation. Did the government start throwing
billions (well, millions in those days) at politically connected
big businesses to develop an alternative?
of course, is no.
about the problem and tinkered. The internal combustion engine (gas
and diesel) was invented and perfected. It became reliable
and soon, affordable. Henry Ford and others like him came
along. Cars replaced horses. And a key fact impractical
cars such as the early steam-powered and electric cars were
dropped in favor of practical cars like the Model T, which put the
country (not just the elites) behind the wheel.
There was no
federal subsidization of steam or electric cars, so when it became
clear these kinds of cars could not compete in the market with internal
combustion-powered cars, they were abandoned. For the most part,
people stopped trying to make them because revelation
very few customers were interested in buying them.
If we had a
free market today, the Volt would never have been built because
its obvious to anyone with half a brain that no potential
buyer concerned about the cost of transportation (note, not gas
per se) is going to be the least bit interested in laying out $41,000
to buy a vehicle that will take years perhaps decades
of driving to become cost-competitive with any standard-issue gas
powered economy car.
have a billion-dollar electric car boondoggle. And not only wont
they (GM and Tesla) take the hint and quit, theyll keep at
it demanding more tax dollars, more subsidies, more
rebates to encourage sales of these otherwise unsalable
all the money that has been sucked out of the private sector is
no longer available to let a latter-day tinkerer a latter-day
Henry Ford develop an electric (or other alternative) car
that might actually make sense. One that people might actually buy
because it is more efficient, more cost-effective, than a current
And not only
to Everests of federal (EPA, DOT) red tape it is almost impossible
for anyone other than a major automaker that
is, a corporate cartel to lawfully build and sell a car of
any kind at all. There is a reason why we only have a relative handful
of car brands all of them massive combines because
only massive combines have the economic resources to do things like
destroy 100 brand-new cars in crash tests to prove to Uncle that
they comply with the ukase Uncle has set forth. Oh, and also to
get huge handouts from the government to prop up inefficient business
models and let them build pie-in-the-sky engineering demonstrators
without any real consideration of their practical or economic viability.
government got out of the motors business I have no
doubt wed not only have 70 MPG conventional cars that cost
less than $10,0000 wed also in short order have commercially
viable electric cars as well as cars powered by sources we havent
even heard of yet. There are countless ingenious backyard inventors
out there. There is probably almost nothing they could not achieve,
given the opportunity and if they were allowed to proceed.
But the octupus
of government stands in the way, richly rewarding the impossible
and the incompetent while strangling anything that
might actually work in its crib.
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
Best of Eric Peters