EV mandates giving Californians déjà vu all over again
Twenty years ago, I had my first op-ed published in a major newspaper, the Los Angeles Times. The title was “Pull the Plug on the Electric Car Mandate.” In that column, I pointed out that battery-powered (non-hybrid) electric vehicles were not ready for wide-scale adoption for a variety of reasons, including their high cost and their inferior characteristics compared to regular internal combustion vehicles of the day. I also observed that there was a distinct possibility of aggravating environmental problems rather than easing them, as the EVs of the day used lead-acid batteries and could increase ambient air lead concentrations, still a significant issue at the time. I argued that “parking pricing, roadway pricing and mass-transit privatization are the lowest-cost and most equitable solutions to the air pollution problems we face today.”
Sadly enough, I am writing essentially that same op-ed today.
Back in 1990, the California Air Resources Board had mandated that 2 percent of the state vehicle fleet go electric by 1998, climbing to 10 percent by 2003. By 1995, it was obvious the government would never meet those targets (and indeed, GM only manufactured a little over 1,000 of its EV1s, the only mass market battery electric available).
What do I have against electric cars that motivates me to write negative articles about them for 20 years? Not a thing. If a person wants to buy a luxury car, without subsidies from the less well-off, without subsidized charging stations and without government grants, loans or mandates, more power to them!
The problem is, that’s not usually what happens. Instead, lavish subsidies from state and federal governments enable a tiny cadre of wealthy, eco-warriors like Leonardo DiCaprio to ostentatiously drive his Tesla to the Academy Awards at the expense of less-fortunate taxpayers. They allow Tesla Motors to exist not by selling cars at a profit, but by claiming Zero Emission Vehicle credits and selling them to other car companies that pass the cost onto regular car buyers.
So on this 20-year anniversary of my first major op-ed, I’ll celebrate by repeating the obvious: First, government bureaucrats cannot pick winning technologies. They lack knowledge of consumer preferences, as well as knowledge of the specific desires of time and place that only markets can discover. Second, the technology to produce an all-electric vehicle that rivals the performance and price of regular internal combustion engines did not exist in 1995, nor in 2005, and it still doesn’t exist in 2015. Third, it is just as unfair now, in 2015, to rob poor Peter to subsidize rich Leo’s purchase of a wealthy guy’s toy.
Ten percent EV mandates and million-car EV mandates are just as silly now as they have been for 20 years. It’s time, again, to pull the plug on EV mandates, subsidies and fleet acquisition targets. Let them compete in the luxury market as other luxury car makers must.