Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

03 September 2010

Wall Street Journal Buys Into Electric Cars


In a review by a reporter who actually drove one, the Wall Street Journal today acknowledged the reality, value and attraction of electric cars. Coming after years of persistently nagging and ignorant nay-saying by our nation’s leading business journal, the article was, well, electrifying.

The change of attitude was so dramatic that readers will want to read the article, rather than my mere commentary. So I’ll be brief.

Suffice it to say that the reporter acknowledged the two chief benefits that I (1 and 2) and many others have been touting for several years: (1) the convenience of “filling ’er up” with an electric cord in your own garage while you sleep, and (2) the advantage of oil independence for every mile you drive on electricity, since virtually none of our nation’s electricity comes from oil.

What the reporter didn’t say―but should have―was that the marginal cost per mile of electricity beats the cost of gas handily even now. That advantage will only increase as demand for oil increases and its price rises.

Another important point the reporter missed is pollution. Electric cars emit no pollution at all. If enough city people drive them, the city will start to smell sweet. In fact, if they get their electricity from coal, they city will smell sweeter than the country, where most coal power plants are located.

The reporter had nice things to say about the quiet and smooth ride of the car reviewed―a Nissan Leaf―although not its style. He even noted that used, post-warranty Leaf batteries will retain enough power cycling ability to store power from wind and solar farms and reduce their intermittency.

True to the Journal’s sceptical form, the reporter confessed complete ignorance as to who, if anyone, would buy the car, and whether Nissan-Renault would take a financial bath for having had the temerity to produce it. But unlike virtually all his predecessors at the Journal, he didn’t predict, based on zero evidence, that no one would buy it.

Of course all the folks like me will, because we’ve been waiting impatiently for a production EV since well before GM sent the EV1 to the crusher. I have no doubt that there are millions of us, who know something about engineering, crave elegant engineering solutions, and lament the American auto industry’s awful half-century stagnation.

We will buy the Leaf―or its more versatile cousin, the gas-and-electric serial hybrid Chevy Volt―for the same reason that few today buy wind-up watches. For short-haul people-moving, lithium batteries have made the internal combustion engine obsolete. The industry just doesn’t know that yet. But it will.

Both the Leaf and the Volt are only two or three months away from showrooms. So let the fun begin! I can’t wait to see what the same reporter says in five years, when electric cars and their fast-charging infrastructure are a leading global industry. I only hope we Americans have a significant share of it.

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