Can the government force feed us electric cars?

Can the government force feed us electric cars?

Despite the government’s thumb on the scale with its rebates of $2,500 to $7,000 to buyers of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, sales of  those vehicles hasn’t exactly gone through the roof. In fact, Honda sold only 83 of its all-electric Fit this year, and sales of GM’s Volt are still struggling despite a $5,000 cut in its base price. Meanwhile, the U.S. is on track to spend $7.5 billion on the rebates by 2019 with no effect on gas use or emissions, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office . I’m sure taxpayers are simply delighted to have money taken from their paychecks and given to those who buy these government blessed cars.

The situation should get even more interesting (or depressing) when 2025 gets closer. That’s when 15% of the cars any auto company sells in California and nine other states must be all-electric. But even though Californians buy more electric and hybrid vehicles than any other state, the total sales of those cars and trucks don’t make up anywhere close to 15% of overall sales. So what will those states do if the car-buying public doesn’t go along with their well-meaning plans? Can they force us to buy cars we don’t want?

A lot can happen in the 12 years until the deadline, and deadlines have been known to be extended or ignored (ala Obamacare). We might all be driving natural-gas powered cars by then, or riding high-speed rail. Or maybe California and its followers will get lucky and battery technology will make one or two quantum leaps ahead, fusion technology or thorium reactors will finally make electricity too cheap to meter, and electric cars and trucks and motorcycles will be selling like hotcakes. Another possibility, equally unlikely, is that car companies quit selling cars in states with crazy mandates.

Here’s another look at the topic.

Discuss this Blog Entry 19

Anonymous (not verified)
on Sep 20, 2013

Government always has its thumb on the scale so the real question is which scale? Internal combustion automobiles have enjoyed a century of various government subsidies so perhaps it's now time to redirect some of that largess to technologies that are less environmentally damaging.

Even with its big thumb, the government is not going to force widespread adoption of electric cars that are not quite ready to compete head to head with their IC counterparts. But it can "bend the curve" and accelerate the maturing of the technology. And that's a good thing as we all know that internal combustion is a dead end road.

Tedd (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

To paraphrase: "We've always screwed things up in the past, so there's no reason to stop now." Not a very inspiring message!

Randolph Garrison (not verified)
on Sep 20, 2013

Our automobile companies can either quit fighting the american peoples needs or they can sell the south korean electric cars with their name plate on them again! But no bail out this time!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Sep 24, 2013

I just couldn't agree more or say it any better brother.

on Sep 20, 2013

There is one thing that makes electric cars fun: instant torque. The batteries aren't there yet, but having the wheels powered by an electric motor or motors can be a lot of fun. I look forward to the day that electric cars are common place whether powered by batteries or fuel cells.

GeneG USA (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

Fully electric cars will fall flat on their faces when the owners have rolled up enough mileage to wear out the batteries and have to buy replacements. When they fold the cost of the replacement set into their costs it will dawn on them that they are paying about 25 cents per mile driven. Moreover many people will not have a convenient means to recharge batteries. I won't comment on fuel cell sources of electric power. So far fuel cells have not proven to be particularly efficient and they need fuel. With respect to fun I don't drive for fun but to get someplace. I doubt electric cars will become common.

Ted (not verified)
on Sep 23, 2013

Government can force the issue but at the end of the day people don't have the money to support this type of life style and an environment of fixing and repair much older vehicles rather than spending cash you don't have to purchase them will occur. Then your customer base will fall thus leading to lower quantities for production which will increase manufacturing costs. Rural America will not be able to go down the road of electric vehicles because of limit of use or range.
If business would create a collaboration of stopping business in California – it would place the cards in the producer’s hands and begin the process of changing unachievable and expensive Government mandates especially state specific ones.
Finally ~ I have a 50 mile commute one way, No matter how I crunch the numbers the core costs of hybrid and or electric vehicles will not be cost effective until gas is over $5/gal. This will draw the economy to a standstill should it be artificially elevated to such a level.
Let the market drive….

Anonymous (not verified)
on Nov 13, 2013

Like it matters? Your electric bill will just go up accordingly, and then you will have the governemtn clammering to tax your electric bill even more because of lost gas tax revenue. Doe anyboy really think that electric cars are the answer to anything? They dont, have the reliability we all need. The government IS ALWAYS the problem. Are you not aware that there are car parts manufactured here in america that can get anywhere from 40 to 50 MPG, but they aren't ALLOWED to be sold here in America? Why? Because the government TELLs the car makers how they are going to build the cars! It is NOT the car makers fault, that they aren't making more efficient cars! YES, The government IS ALWAYS the problem!!!

on Sep 23, 2013

Maybe instead of blindly accepting the premise that fat government thumbs are helpful to anyone other than the special interests it deems worthy, and realize that they are mainly another form of taxation or penalty to the rest of us, how about we start forcing government to stick more closely to its constitutionally condoned roles in our economy and livelihoods.

professional skeptic (not verified)
on Sep 25, 2013

This is the same question that the auto industries have been dealing with for years. Whether it makes sense or not, Yes, the government can force feed us electric cars. There are some interesting questions that come up pretty quickly, though.

Can the government more than double the capacity of our grid to deal with the power requirements of an all-electric fleet? No. The estimates I see show our grid capacity at just under 4 TW and an all electric transportation system would use another 5 TW. The electric industry may or may not be willing to risk the money to double the distribution system on the government's word.

Can the government supply all of the raw materials the EVs will need? No. The industries supplying the auto manufacturers have built up over the last century. EVs need a different distribution of materials--do those suppliers have the capacity to support an all-EV change? If they do, how stable would the system be? A look at the rare-earth boom and bust over the last few years doesn't bode well.

Can the government make us drive EVs without trashing the economy? Extremely doubtful. Have a look at the bio fuels (black liquor) tax credit fiasco.
The government tried to move industries toward using alternative fuels with a tax credit. The paper industry, which already used wood pulp byproducts (black liquor) to power a lot of their processes, ADDED diesel fuel to the wood pulp so that it qualified as a bio fuel. As a result, the paper companies made more money off the tax credit than they did on the paper.

Joe Bonasses (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

Ha ha, as long as the electricity is generated using natural gas, from hundreds of miles away, transmitted over lossy, inefficient transmission lines......burning the natural gas directly in the combustion chamber is just not effcient enough......

Bob Simcoe (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

I have owned a Chevy Volt for over a year and a half now and it is the most fun car I have ever had the pleasure to drive. All electric cars at the moment work only for a limited number of people, but combinations of power plants like the Volt are remarkably efficient and fun to drive. My "gas milage" over the time I have owned the car is over 125mpg. With solar electric panels on my home the cost to drive on electricity is less than 3 cents/mile. If the government can encourage a change of behavior by moving subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable sources we will all have a better country and less turmoil in the world. There are many subsidies, mostly hidden, in the fossil fuel economy. Unfortunately we very rarely have much insight into the full cost associated with how we live our lives.

Kirk (not verified)
on Oct 19, 2013

Your claim of costs per mile leaves out your investment and maintenance costs.
The statement "Your having fun" is valid and in fact might be the very thing that eventually will sell electric vehicles.
Stop promoting electric vehicles as an efficient use of energy/ money and start promoting it as a more fun way to drive and you might just have a product.
Reference: A 327 Corvette was not an efficient cheap way to get about so why were they able to sell them? They were "cool and fun".....Cool and fun trump efficient and cheap in marketing and sales. (Tesla is selling cars Honda is not...big shocker!)

glass99 (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

Americans need to stop driving gigantic mega SUV's. Your car is not your living room. Its embarrassing.

In a true market economy, you would have to pay for the cost of cleaning up the emissions from your tailpipe the same way a factory has to pay to dispose of damaging chemical waste.

Dave Briggs (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

Any time someone says " we all know" or "as everyone knows" or " the science I settled" then skepticism is warranted. If you have a case to make, make it with facts and data. If you want to be credible don't try to force an assumption on your audience.

gguess (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2013

The e-car thing is stupid anyway it is measured. The cars are considerably more expensive than alternatives. The envo impact is large due to the material required. The cost of the vehicle is a reflection of the envo damage. Electricity generation is by coal working at about 20% efficiency before losses due to the lines, batteries, chargers, etc. Gas cars also run about 20% efficient using a fuel that produces lower CO2 emissions.

Of course it is the rich that is enjoying the tax subsidies for the e-cars, at the expense of higher taxes on everyone else including the poor that can't afford any new car. Taxes and poor government are a cause of their lack of wealth as demonstrated by the widening of the rich to poor gap under the great and wonderful 0bama.

Add to that the inherent safety issues of the e-cars such as the lithium batteries are toxic when spilled. The accidental use of water to put out an e-car fire generates a dangerous and toxic cloud of gas. Of course the Chevy Volt self ignites just because it is having a bad hair day. How appropriate that the car called the Karma self-destructs as self-punishment for its polluting ways.

GS (not verified)
on Sep 27, 2013

I would gladly make my car purchase an all electric if it can shown that the TOTAL COST of purchase and operation over the 10 years my current car has provided me reliable service is the same plus 20% in inflation adjusted dollars. Problem is .... our CEO got a $100,000 Telsa (essentially paid for by stockholders) and it already is in for recall service Subsidies hide reality. I do not get subsidies, apparently only the rich bastards that could afford to pay themselves get them.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Sep 30, 2013

There is an underlying issue of governmental control that probably won't be addressed any time soon or until people start waking up to consider the ramifications of government growth. We can all agree that raising the CAFE standards is a good thing and we can agree that when the NTHSA raises the crashworthiness standards that is also a good thing but when the physics of the two standards collide what is the commuter left to do? It's back to horse and buggy days, baby!!!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 3, 2013

Electric's will simply have to compete, esthetically, economically , and functionally. If I have to fuel up every 75 or 100 miles, no good ; If I have to plan my trip to ensure "fuel" availability, no deal; If I have to pop for a new $4 kilobuck battery every 6 years, I'm out. When something breaks, what will the repair cost: unknown. There are more "unknowns" to be sure - and that is why most will wait till that history is more mature before they buy.

Please or Register to post comments.

What's A Skeptical Engineer?

A questioning, sometimes humorous look at technologies, engineering, and the world.


Stephen Mraz

Steve serves as Senior Editor of Machine Design.  He has 23 years of service and has a B.S. Biomedical Engineering from CWRU. Steve was a E-2C Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer in the U.S. Navy. He...
Blog Archive
Connect With Us

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×