A Rough Road Ahead For Electric Cars

by | Jan 1, 2020 |

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Governments across the world have been promoting electric vehicles (EV) for years now. Of course, one of the primary drivers is the impossible quest to ‘stop climate change.’ For example, at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco (which was contested in a counter-conference by The Heartland Institute, see here), an alliance of 26 city, business and regional or state leaders, representing a total of 122 million people worldwide, called for automobile manufacturers to quicken the pace of electric vehicle rollout.
The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an independent non-profit organization, asserts on its Web site: 

They [EVs] can produce no emissions at the vehicle tailpipe and much lower life-cycle (“well to wheel”) emissions. Accordingly, businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations are turning to electric vehicles to dramatically lower oil use, reduce carbon pollution [sic], eliminate local air pollution, and spur economic development. Long-term planning scenarios indicate that the global vehicle fleet will have to be almost entirely made up of electric vehicles, powered mostly by renewable sources, by 2050 if the world is to avoid worst-case global climate-change scenarios.

But even ‘progressive’ media are starting to question this rosy picture. For example, in their December 19, 2019 article, , the left leaning Canada Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) pointed out:

Most of the electricity generated by North American grids has some greenhouse gas emissions connected to it. So even if a car isn’t belching carbon, it doesn’t mean it’s perfectly clean.

CBC then presented the following graph: 

The public does not recognize that virtually all EVs are really coal or natural gas-powered vehicles. Where do they think the electricity with which they charge and recharge their cars come from?  

Implying that EV from wind power produces no greenhouse gases (GHG, see above graph) is deceptive since one must build (from mined and manufactured materials), transport, erect, maintain, and eventually dispose of Industrial Wind Turbines (IWTs) and this produces a large amount of GHG (especially when made in China as their primary power source is coal).

CBC are informed enough to understand that there is another huge source of GHG often ignored by EV boosters: the battery. They cite Jennifer Dunn at Northwestern University’s Center for Engineering Sustainability and Resilience:

The material that helps power the battery is produced from a number of different metals, things like nickel and cobalt and lithium.

The Canada Broadcasting Corporation continue:

Mining and processing the minerals, plus the battery manufacturing process, involve substantial emissions of carbon.

Lithium mining, needed to build the lithium ion batteries at the heart of today’s EVs, has also been connected to other kinds of environmental harm. There have been mass fish kills related to lithium mining in Tibet, for example. The freshwater supply is being consumed by mines in South America’s lithium-rich region. Even in North America, where mining regulations are strict, harsh chemicals are used to extract the valuable metal.

And all the operations are energy intensive, sometimes running on diesel generators and relying on carbon-emitting heavy machinery.

In fact, a 2018 International Council on Clean Transportation report pointed out that:

Most lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles in Europe in 2016 were produced in Japan and South Korea, where approximately 25 percent to 40 percent of electricity generation is from coal.

EVs have other serious problems the CBC did not mention, however: financial and operational.
Tesla’s $95,000 upscale EV vehicles get featured almost weekly in the Wall Street Journal as their finances, good and bad, rotate their favor with the investors who keep the stock as elevated as bitcoin in recent years with no underpinning of real value based on price/earnings ratio. Wolf Richter, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur, calculated that if the company ever earned a billion dollars with an average stock market P/E ratio of 12, the company’s stock should sell for $65, yet it regularly hovers around $400 having made no profit. Its highly touted $35,000 car for the masses never materialized, remaining in a price range of more than $10,000 over an equivalent gasoline powered vehicle. General Motors has given it a run for its money with a similar more expensive mid-sized vehicle.
For years the EVs warranted a $7,500 tax credit for the first 200,000 manufactured by each company, then the credit is halved for the next 200,000, halved again for the next 200,000, and then disappears. Both GM and Tesla are near the no-credit position, and Nissan, Ford and Toyota are approaching it. They have been screaming for the credit to be started over, and in fact doubled to qualify for the next 400,000 vehicles. Tesla first said they did not need the credit anymore, then back-tracked on that boast.
However, as reported in GM, Tesla head for new year without electric vehicle tax credits (Detroit News, December 25, 2019):

General Motors Co. and Tesla are about to become the first automakers that will have to sell EVs without the benefit of a $7,500 federal tax credit. Last week, Congress failed to include legislation in a spending bill that would have tripled the 200,000 cap on the number of EVs per manufacturer that qualify for tax credits. The legislation would have allowed GM, Tesla and any other automaker hitting that ceiling to offer a slightly lower tax credit of $7,000 for another 400,000 plug-in cars.

Now GM and Tesla, which pioneered the development of electric cars while other automakers sat on the sidelines, will enter 2020 at a disadvantage. Competitors such as Ford Motor Co., which has the battery-powered Mustang Mach-E SUV coming in late 2020, will effectively have a $7,500 discount over comparable GM and Tesla vehicles.

Anticipating the impending tax credit phase out, Tesla said in its third-quarter filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, “In the long run, we do not expect a meaningful impact to our sales in the U.S., as we believe that each of our vehicle models offers a compelling proposition even without incentives.”
It remains to be seen if that is realistic. Afterall, when Hong Kong dropped its EV subsidy, Tesla sales plummeted. 
But there are more problems with EVs, many more. Up until now, the EV tax credit was granted on an honor system with no required affidavits to prove the credit was actually earned. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) recently reported that of 239,422 EV tax credits claimed between 2014 and 2018, it identified 16,510 as potentially erroneous. Some are outright frauds; others are to second owners who do not qualify or those leasing vehicles who also do not qualify. Worse yet a Congressional Research Service study showed that 80% of all EV tax credits go to households with incomes exceeding $100,000. Truly a wealth redistribution in the wrong direction that liberals should not like.
As time goes by more owners will also come to understand the problems in charging and recharging EVs in very cold weather. Generators, transformers, power lines and motors consisting of metals are most efficient in cold weather. For example, copper has half the resistance at minus 65 degrees C as it does at 100 C. However, all batteries use electrolytes which are liquids such as acids, bases and salts that conduct electricity by the movement of ions which perform to the opposite of metals as to rapid or slow movement. A typical electrolyte conducts a fourth as much at minus 5 degrees C as it does at 55 C. Little by little EVs in normal to cold climates will experience this problem.
It is time for the market to determine which vehicles the public will choose when not being nudged by state and federal programs. Robert Bradley CEO of the Institute  for Energy Research said in an article appearing in The Heartland Institute’s Environment and Climate News: 

“Among the programs benefitting the relatively wealthy are state rebates, reduced registration fees, car pool lane access and other programs that apply in 44 states, as well as Federal R & D monies for ‘sustainable transportation’, averaging $700 million a year”.

It is long overdue time that extremely flawed electric cars stop drinking at the government trough.

Yet Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has pledged that if the Democrats win the 2020 presidential election, the Senate will pass a law requiring that every car in America be electric by 2040.

Hopefully that pledge will cost votes among thoughtful people, but who can say other than it will be a very damaging economic policy for our nation.

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Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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Michael Fried
Michael Fried
2 years ago

The article is certainly slanted against EV’s.. Cherry picking facts to support your stance is a weak argument against the adoption of EV’s. The energy cost for manufacturing Internal Combustion Engines are far more expensive than the cost of Manufacturing battery especially when based over the useful life span of each. Although the electricity is produced by carbon emission methods the actual energy costs of EV’s per mile are less carbon footprints than ICE’s. The issue with cold weather is also an area where you cherry pick the facts. My Prius would lose 10 MPG’s 20% in the winter over the summer mpg’s. I believe if you truly analyzed the full production cost, energy usage, and life span use of the ICE against EV you will find the EV is a far better environmental choice.

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