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EV come EV go

14 Feb 2024 | OP ED Watch

A crucial part of the solution to the supposed climate crisis is supposedly electric vehicles. And to help us all not succumb to our own vulgar selfish stupidity, governments in the industrialized world are, or until very recently were, determined to make it illegal for us to buy the reliable “ICE” (Internal Combustion Engine) kind instead, even if we could still afford gas. As Matthew Lynne argued in The Telegraph, “The West’s humiliating electric car climbdown has begun/ Ambitious plans for an electrification-led industrial revolution are in full-scale retreat”.

It's a broad phenomenon. The Economist’s “Britain correspondent” Vinjeru Mkandawire cautions that:

“Electric-vehicle sales have reached an inflection point. EVs took off at whirlwind speed thanks to early adopters and generous government handouts, but how quickly will they spread to the mass market? Progress is slow. An affordability squeeze, high electricity prices and lingering concerns about charging infrastructure are souring the mood. But the biggest problem is price.”

The Sun says more bluntly “Huge blow to EV car revolution as sales to Brits plummet – with electric cars just a quarter of new purchases”. The Wall Street Journal writes that “EV Sales Run Out of Juice in Europe as Germans Tighten Belts”. And in The Telegraph Lynne gets to the heart of the matter with his observation that:

“Rewind only a couple of years, and almost every president or prime minister was making electric vehicles the cornerstone of an industrial strategy. And yet, this week we have learned that Renault is abandoning plans to separately list its electric vehicle (EV) and software business, while Volvo is winding down its Polestar electric sports car subsidiary. In reality, amid an onslaught of Chinese competition, and falling sales, the West’s electric vehicle dream is quickly unravelling – and we need to relearn all the lessons in why grand, state-led industrial strategies never work.”

We do, so after falling for the next one we can relearn them again and put them on a familiar shelf. But let us not succumb to weary resignation. Let us instead survey the industrial horizon, again thanks to Lynne:

“Renault, despite the programme of state support, has this week scrapped the separate listing of its EV unit Ampere, which has [sic] been scheduled for the first half of the year. It was a ‘pragmatic decision’ according to the company’s chief executive Luca de Meo, arguing that falling sales for EVs across Europe meant the market was more challenging than forecast. Likewise, Volvo announced that it would stop funding its EV unit, Polestar, and might even offload its 48pc stake on other shareholders, including China’s Geely. Last September, Volkswagen said it was cutting production of two of its flagship EV models, while in November, Ford said it was scaling back its battery plant in Michigan.”

Over at The Atlantic, Jason Torchinsky condescends that “America Is Missing Out on the Best Electric Cars/ Whatever kind of EV you might want, chances are China has it.”

He also thinks things are just peachy in the United States:

“To shop for an electric car right now is to encounter an embarrassment of riches. In the United States, almost every major automaker has its own EV model, if not several. You can get a Chevy Bolt or Nissan Leaf for less than $30,000, or a Porsche Taycan Turbo S for nearly $200,000. You can get an electric pickup truck from Ford, Tesla, or Rivian; a midsize five-seater from Hyundai or Kia or Volkswagen; or even something unusual like the new Cybertruck. There’s a lot, and it’s all pretty exciting. But you know what EV you can’t easily buy in the U.S.? A Changli Freeman, which at $1,200 is one of the cheapest cars in the world.”

One is inclined to make sarcastic remarks reminiscent of an early classic Subaru ad (“Does it have a motor?” “What’s it made of, crepe paper?”) or ask if it comes in a cardboard box and can even go 30 mph. To which the answers are yes and no. Since he couldn’t travel to test-drive cars during the pandemic he:

“went to the website Alibaba, and bought a Changli. After I paid $2,000 for shipping and customs, the car arrived at my doorstep months later in a massive cardboard box. It barely looks like a car, and barely is one: It has a top speed of about 25 miles per hour and battery range of about 27 miles, according to my own tests. But it’s not a toy: It has a roof rack, a radio that plays MP3s, and even a backup camera. I use it for far more of my basic transportation needs than you’d guess was possible. The Changli is at the bottom of a deliriously varied electric-car market in China that should make Americans feel deeply jealous.”

He's just thrilled that BYD, which released its first and feeble electric car in 2009 now outsells Tesla. And forget skeptical looks at the Chinese economic house of cards or the disgraceful environmental footprint of its manufacturing including of EVs. Instead kiss the U.S. manufacturing base goodbye (and wonder why people support Donald Trump):

“Take the Changan Lumin, for example. It is a sleek four-seat hatchback complete with high-tech headlights that look a bit like a pair of friendly eyes staring back at you. It’ll go about 60 mph, just enough to make it highway capable, and costs about $7,500—new. That’s a new-car price. The Wuling Mini EV is a similar car that’s even cheaper, retailing for less than $5,000; for a little more than $12,000, the technology-packed Baojun KiWi EV comes with a feature that allows it to park itself.”

And of course central planning works:

“one of the biggest challenges that EVs face here is not the cars; it’s the chargers. In America, charging stations are still too hard to find, and they are too unreliable. China’s charging network is much more extensive than America’s, even in rural areas.”

Gee. Does it have anything to do with all their coal plants old and new? Unless of course they’re lying about the network. But no. Communist planners never lie about achievements.

Meanwhile the Financial Times cautions that “Europe over-reliant on Chinese EV batteries, warns South Korea’s SK On/ Chinese companies’ market share on the continent expected to rise to 50% in 2027”. And dictatorships never use economic leverage that we foolishly gave them for sinister purposes. Do they, Mr. Putin?

It’s also a warning sign that EVs depreciate far faster than gasoline cars. Almost as though buyers know something central planners don’t, of all things. (As a Globe & Mail columnist comments about the whole EV mania with remarkable restraint, “The problem with government mandates aimed at manipulating free markets is they are typically based in political expediency, not commercial reality.”)

At this point you’re probably recalling that markets, not government subsidies, accounted for the rapid spread of gas stations in the early days of the gas-powered car. EV enthusiasts are not. Instead Canary Media celebrates that “New guidance makes EV charging incentives widely available” before fretting “But developers are still awaiting clarity around another key aspect of the tax credit, without which project financials remain murky.”

In short, these things just don’t pay for themselves no matter how often we’re told alternative energy is now cheaper as well as (cough cough) more reliable than fossil fuels. When the Sunday Times alerts us that “Chinese brands will launch a price war and will capture a sixth of the UK electric car market by 2030, according to Auto Trader” it reminds us that the Chinese makers aren’t actually profitable either, they’re just propped up by an even more massive, fragile industrial scheme from Beijing than our leaders even dream of. Even so, our energy grids are already reeling from the substitution of wind and solar for oil, natural gas and even coal before we get anywhere near replacing all our gasoline cars with electrics and all our furnaces, stoves and so on.

Robinson Meyer at Heatmap Daily admits it’s been a “weird year” in the EV market, with buyer enthusiasm fading, profit margins uncertain and Ford and GM cutting back. Still, Hyundai and Kia seem to be doing well because they’re selling smaller cars, or SUVs and crossovers, or something that he calls “giving the consumer a lot of choices on a central theme”. He then suggests Ford and GM do whatever that phrase means.

Meanwhile one of Meyer’s colleagues admits “I, myself, do not own a car, much less an electric one,” then advises Elon Musk to ditch the Cybertruck (probably good advice) and “do the obvious thing and finally produce a budget EV that can compete with the Honda Civics of the world.” Which she might not buy but less sophisticated people probably might. Unless they notice that the batteries don’t react well to cold winters or something.

It's not to say the technology might not one day work. But not today. And it’s especially dangerous in that if your EV battery runs out fast in the bitter cold, you’re stranded unable to move or heat the vehicle.

Here it’s amusing, in a sour kind of way, to note a Blacklock’s Reporter story that:

“It is ‘too early to fully evaluate’ the reliability of electric cars in Canadian winters, says a Department of Natural Resources report. Six years and $76.1 million worth of study were inconclusive though analysts warned of potential ‘negative unintended outcomes’ from cabinet’s electric car mandate…. said the report Evaluation Of The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Demonstration Program. The department funded research into running winter charging stations in Yukon, electric buses in Brampton, Ont. and other projects.”

Obviously the Department, whose minister is a green transition zealot, desperately wanted a positive finding and absolutely did not want a negative one. When six years and $76.1 million only buys you um too early to tell you know what they really found, and won’t face. But we will, unless they too back down on their mandate.

Others have. Canada should too.

3 comments on “EV come EV go”

  1. There are car companies looking at hydrogen cars???
    Are we really going to develop 3 different "fueling" systems?
    We aren't coping making the second one?
    Only way out of this mess is for governments to stop all subsidies, charge the same taxes for all in correct proportions.
    Then let the car buyers decide. And the charging, hydrogen and oil supplies set up system that is profitable. Yes, oil has a hell of a start, but if the others make their vehicles desirable we will eventually have a winner, without taxpayer wasting money on fanciful politically inspired mistakes

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