Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Electric Dream Car

I have, over the last nine months, challenged the fundamentals of the electric car on one specific issue, its viability in a world of inexpensive gasoline. And now there is one more issue to deal with, the unquestionable silliness of Washington to force feed the car (esp. the American version) down the throats of the American consumer. Patrick Michaels points out, in a Forbes article about the Chevy Volt, its debut is nothing more than a sham and if you and I were to proceed the way GM has, I suggest that we would be sharing a hall with Bernie Madoff.

And yes, gasoline is still inexpensive. Germans pay about $5.60 for a gallon (last month), but a good chunk of it above $4.00 is taxes. They seem to survive.

I have no sympathy for a product that does not meet the needs and expectations of the marketplace. Every year thousands of products, inventions, toys and all sorts of things are designed, manufactured, marketed and then offered to the public. Most fail.

The alleys of the marketing world are littered with great ideas, the Edsel, New Coke, Microsoft’s Zune, Microsoft WebTV, Apple’s Newton, the DeLoren, Sony Betamax, the USFL, Charlie Sheen, and the list goes on.

The Volt, and other such pretentious products, will have to meet the measure of the consumer, and no matter how it’s presented. If it doesn’t, it will and deserves to, fail. Pumping the marketplace with subsidies, tax credits, tax refunds, and free chargers will not prop up a disaster. Sure its price is high, $41,000 sticker (just try and find one at that price), which is $17,500 over the price of a Ford Focus-SFE(40 mpg), that will get you essentially 175,000 free miles for the difference, even with $4.00 gas. And the Volt STILL uses gasoline to push you down the highway. Maybe it should be renamed the Chevy Gas.

My problem is with the use of public funds to support, what is essentially, a United States government owned company (U.S., not the non-capitalized us). There are so many other uses to waste money on, why the rabid focus on just this?

I firmly believe there is an all-electric American car in the urban future, but it has to compete with all the other competitive transportation products, both electric and hybrid, out there and soon coming down your street. The Tesla looks interesting, the Fisker Karma is dramatic, the Nissan Leaf is tailpipeless, and soon there will be others. But even these will get the tax savings – at least for a while. Remember the hybrid’s use of HOV lanes in California, what gov gives – gov takes.

But the future is a little dusty right now. Will there be the power generation needed to help fill the batteries of these little beasties? What is the future of nuclear power? How will these personal transportation devices compete for juice with the giant sucking sound of high-speed rail in the future? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. I’m just getting a little tired of paying for someone else’s toys.

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