Obama administration getting strangely less specific about their electric-vehicle goals

posted at 5:21 pm on February 4, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

The day before he announced that he will be departing his post at the Department of Energy last week, Secretary Chu was talking a big game about the Obama administration’s ongoing plans for electric vehicles — but was somewhat less specific than usual about the administration’s once wildly ambitious and now apparently erstwhile goals, via Bloomberg:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said it “remains to be seen in the future” whether about $16 billion in available U.S. government loans to develop alternative- technology vehicles will be disbursed.

Providing money for electric-vehicle development was a component of President Barack Obama’s goal of having 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015, a number well above current forecasts.

The goal is “ambitious, but we’ll see what happens,” Chu said after touring displays at the Washington Auto Show…

Chu said he wants to bring the cost of buying a plug-in five-passenger vehicle down to $20,000 to $25,000. Reducing the weight of electric cars will be part of the way to reduce costs, he said.

Why the “erstwhile”? Because, despite the Obama administration’s most sincere wishes and taxpayer funding-intensive efforts to the contrary, the world market simply isn’t ready to accept electric vehicles and the ostensible benefits they offer as reason enough to put up with the impracticalities and costs, reports Reuters:

Recent moves by Japan’s two largest automakers suggest that the electric car, after more than 100 years of development and several brief revivals, still is not ready for prime time – and may never be.

In the meantime, the attention of automotive executives in Asia, Europe and North America is beginning to swing toward an unusual but promising new alternate power source: hydrogen.

The reality is that consumers continue to show little interest in electric vehicles, or EVs, which dominated U.S. streets in the first decade of the 20th century before being displaced by gasoline-powered cars. …

The public’s lack of appetite for battery-powered cars persuaded the Obama administration last week to back away from its aggressive goal to put 1 million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015. …

“Because of its shortcomings — driving range, cost and recharging time — the electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most conventional cars,” said Uchiyamada. “We need something entirely new.”

Obvious lesson? You cannot force a particularly technology to succeed in the free market and fit in with our national infrastructure, simply because you have the “disposable” taxpayer dollars available to make such “investments” — and it is unwise to try. Not only do you encourage wasteful rent-seeking and subsidy-chasing, but you discourage real price efficiency and divert capital and resources away from less politically favored technologies with legitimate potential. …But I won’t hold my breath that this means they’re actually ready to give up on the relentless subsidies — not even a little bit.


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Unexpectedly!

Sasha List on February 4, 2013 at 5:26 PM

Electric vehicles are great. It’s the batteries that suck.

If you are to “Invest” in something, invest in battery research. Otherwise let the market do it’s thing.

ZenDraken on February 4, 2013 at 5:27 PM

EV aren’t efficient because of the weight cost of lugging around a battery than can last for 40 miles or whatever. Most of the time you drive much shorter distances, but you’re still carrying that huge battery.

Hybrids, on the other hand, which have much smaller batteries, might still be feasible.

Discussion of this here.

Nessuno on February 4, 2013 at 5:33 PM

Voting “present” again….

UltimateBob on February 4, 2013 at 5:40 PM

Chu said he wants to bring the cost of buying a plug-in five-passenger vehicle down to $20,000 to $25,000. Reducing the weight of electric cars will be part of the way to reduce costs, he said.

Making that with a practical range can never be done with existing technology. If you need to give taxpayer money away, at least put it into high-level battery tech research – NOT existing battery technology!

Marcola on February 4, 2013 at 5:46 PM

In the meantime, the attention of automotive executives in Asia, Europe and North America is beginning to swing toward an unusual but promising new alternate power source: hydrogen.

Hydrogen? Really?? It takes a substantial amount of energy to make hydrogen, it’s not something that can just be tapped into. And like ethanol (in fact much worse than ethanol), it takes a lot more energy to make it than you will ever get out of it. Boondoggle, big time.

iurockhead on February 4, 2013 at 5:46 PM

EV aren’t efficient because of the weight cost of lugging around a battery than can last for 40 miles or whatever. Most of the time you drive much shorter distances, but you’re still carrying that huge battery.

Hybrids, on the other hand, which have much smaller batteries, might still be feasible.

Nessuno on February 4, 2013 at 5:33 PM

Perhaps – but I won’t buy either one.
With regard to the pure electric – I have a 52 mile round trip commute per day, some in heavy traffic and some across a lot of fairly empty prairie, and we have a lot of bad weather that requires use of headlights, windshield wipers, windshield washers, heater/defroster, and a radio to hear traffic and weather reports. All of those extras suck off battery power, which cuts the driving range.
I’ll be clinging bitterly to my gas powered 4 wheel drive until I can’t drive anymore.

dentarthurdent on February 4, 2013 at 5:49 PM

Obama is of-the-moment. Coherence and continuity are not factors.

Liam on February 4, 2013 at 5:49 PM

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said it “remains to be seen in the future” whether about $16 billion in available U.S. government loans to develop alternative- technology vehicles will be disbursed.

OHHH, GEEE, $16B just SITTING around, taking up SPACE, going to WASTE…

I’m sure that won’t be a problem for long! And we probably won’t even hear about it again…

Marcola on February 4, 2013 at 5:51 PM

Reducing the weight of electric cars will be part of the way to reduce costs, he said.

So Chu will be happy with all the DEATHS that will occur in those lighter cars?

As for hydrogen powered cars…..didn’t Bush 43 ENCOURAGE that, only to be poo-pooed by Democrats?

GarandFan on February 4, 2013 at 5:53 PM

fires, weight, risk of electrocution in a wreck, lack of reliability, very expensive, huge rare earth suck, extremely toxic if damaged…I don’t see a problem

DanMan on February 4, 2013 at 5:54 PM

Of course they’re playing it down. All of our money has been doled out to his cronies at this point and he won re-election. Time for another Hawaiian vaycay.

Mr. Arrogant on February 4, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said it “remains to be seen in the future” whether about $16 billion in available U.S. government loans to develop alternative- technology vehicles will be disbursed.

Hey, on second thought, let’s buy some more guns and hollow point bullets for DHS instead.

Chu said he wants to bring the cost of buying a plug-in five-passenger vehicle down…

Affordable transportation? How quaint. Vehicle costs have nothing to do with it, except that high personal transportation costs limit mobility and “nudge” people into living in cities, a noble goal a la Agenda 21.

petefrt on February 4, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Hydrogen? Really?? It takes a substantial amount of energy to make hydrogen, it’s not something that can just be tapped into. And like ethanol (in fact much worse than ethanol), it takes a lot more energy to make it than you will ever get out of it. Boondoggle, big time.

iurockhead on February 4, 2013 at 5:46 PM

Don’t worry, we don’t need to understand fundamental science any more. The power of government will overcome all thermodynamic limitations!

ZenDraken on February 4, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Mmmmm….and we have a flying (but grounded) testbed for large-scale batteries that go Pooof! on occasion in Boeing’s 787.

Latest – “solution” is BETTER VENTING OF FUMES outside of the aircraft!!

fred5678 on February 4, 2013 at 6:41 PM

Did the font size change or something?

BobMbx on February 4, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Don’t worry, we don’t need to understand fundamental science any more. The power of government will overcome all thermodynamic limitations!

ZenDraken on February 4, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Maybe they’ll just repeal the laws of physics along with the 2nd Amendment – get all those troublesome control limiting laws out of the way at once….

dentarthurdent on February 4, 2013 at 6:50 PM

Ah, Chu

ss396 on February 4, 2013 at 6:56 PM

Hmmmmm…..anything wrong with the batteries on other aircraft platforms?

If not, why not just use them?

I’m a system safety engineer by day, and this smells really bad. Whats missing is any reports of battery failures during design and testing. One is left to consider that everything worked just fine until the airplanes went into production.

A few possibilities:

1) The battery system sucked all along, and this info was hidden from Boeing.

2) The battery system sucked all along, and the manufacturer and Boeing hid the data from the FAA.

3)The battery test program was not rigorous enough and/or did not include flight testing. I’d throw in a big dose of a lack endurance testing too. That would put the fault in everyones column…manufacturer, Boeing, and the FAA.

4) Any testing conducted prior to production wasn’t done with flight-representative equipment, most likely the charger. These components may have been tested separately, but not as a system under flight conditions.

5) The design and testing are satisfactory. The problem may lie in the production process.

6) Sabotage in the design. Follow the money to see who benefits by a design flaw in the 787. It ain’t Boeing.

BobMbx on February 4, 2013 at 6:56 PM

Hydrogen? Really?? It takes a substantial amount of energy to make hydrogen, it’s not something that can just be tapped into. And like ethanol (in fact much worse than ethanol), it takes a lot more energy to make it than you will ever get out of it. Boondoggle, big time.

iurockhead on February 4, 2013 at 5:46 PM

Don’t worry, we don’t need to understand fundamental science any more. The power of government will overcome all thermodynamic limitations!

ZenDraken on February 4, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Well, there is that problem with the two of you being, well, wrong. Hydrogen is the most plentiful element on earth (well actually in the entire Universe) and getting it into a free state is neither particularly difficult nor profoundly expensive.

The concept has been proven and documented rather extensively. Shell Oil has been working to bring Hydrogen included fueling station to California for about the last 10 or 15 years, and there are currently 38 such stations online here.

BMW, Ford and Mazda all have hydrogen internal combustion engine vehicle (HICEV) that could go into production today, if the fuel delivery issue were resolved.

SWalker on February 4, 2013 at 7:26 PM

No details, no benchmarks to measure their failures against.

rayra on February 4, 2013 at 7:36 PM

Because simply encouraging the importation of 50+ mpg diesel midsize cars doesn’t require speechifying, multimillion dollar research grants, administration of new programs, or reliably enrich the new class of politically-connected investors:
 
http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2007-honda-accord-i-ctdi-diesel-short-take-road-test

rogerb on February 4, 2013 at 7:41 PM

Hydrogen could be a great fuel – BUT – there is one really huge factor that proponents forget about. It’s energy inefficient and far too expensive to create it by cracking water, but there is one very plentiful feedstock – Natural Gas. It isn’t too expensive to break down Nat Gas into Hydrogen and carbon.

But since this is the only feasible source, Hydrogen is then just another way of delivering a fossil fuel. It’s nothing new, just a bit of a new way to do the same old same old.

And of course, if you’re basically just burning nat gas, why not skip the extra step and just use Nat Gas directly in your autos?

Tom Servo on February 4, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Obama administration getting strangely less specific about their electric-vehicle goals

…what?…What!…there is no BUNNY!

KOOLAID2 on February 4, 2013 at 8:25 PM

Did the font size change or something?

BobMbx on February 4, 2013 at 6:42 PM

LOL! Thank you. I thought I was hallucinating again.

I like this one much better, at least on Firefox.

petefrt on February 4, 2013 at 8:50 PM

SWalker on February 4, 2013 at 7:26 PM

SW, it’s not necessarily the dollar expense that’s at issue, it’s the energy expense that matters.

Hydrogen is not an energy source, it’s a means of storing energy. Hydrogen really likes to be bonded to oxygen or carbon. You have to expend considerable energy to separate it from whatever compound you’re using as a feedstock, such as water, natural gas, or oil. It will take more energy to do that than you will get back from burning the Hydrogen. So for energy efficiency, why not just burn the hydrocarbon feedstock?

Additionally, gaseous hydrogen has a very low energy density. You have to have an enormous H2 tank in order to get a decent range for your hydrogen-powered car. Or you can burn hydrocarbon fuel, which is a very dense energy storage mechanism.

Here’s a great source on energy fundamentals, and incidentally, why hydrogen is not practical as a large-scale transportation fuel.

ZenDraken on February 5, 2013 at 12:01 AM

Hydrogen could be a great fuel – BUT – there is one really huge factor that proponents forget about. It’s energy inefficient and far too expensive to create it by cracking water, but there is one very plentiful feedstock – Natural Gas. It isn’t too expensive to break down Nat Gas into Hydrogen and carbon.

But since this is the only feasible source, Hydrogen is then just another way of delivering a fossil fuel. It’s nothing new, just a bit of a new way to do the same old same old.

And of course, if you’re basically just burning nat gas, why not skip the extra step and just use Nat Gas directly in your autos?

Tom Servo on February 4, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Hey! Stop it with the logic, Tom! We’re saving the planet! /s

I do wonder if hydrogen could be efficient in some cases. Like using solar cells to crack passively collected water (or small windmill pumped water) and then using the resultant hydrogen to run backup generators…

ROCnPhilly on February 5, 2013 at 9:20 AM

The left has created a myth that alternatives are being suppressed by Evil Business Interests, and with it another that switching to them would be as easy as flipping a switch in Washington. Neither is true.

If there were money to be made in a power source that doesn’t pollute, other than schemes to gull government out of taxpayers’ money, private business would have been all over it long ago. People have been building electric cars since autos were first invented. We’ve had steam cars, electric cars, hydrogen cars, turbine cars, compressed air and spring driven cars (really!) and solar and wind powered cars, but they can’t offer the advantages of gasoline internal combustion at affordable costs. The costs of a new infrastructure are like having our vehicles confiscated and being forced to buy new, less reliable and safe ones within a few years. It just isn’t feasible.

I think that someday someone will find a new nanotech or new material that will work, and become the new Rockefeller or Henry Ford combined. But that day is not yet and no amount of lobbying or false promises can make it come faster than flying cars have been realized. When I was a kid, I had a book that predicted that we would now have nuclear powered airliners that would never have to land.

In the minds of Progressives there is nothing that government can’t make happen, if it just taxes and spends enough. Someone needs to reveal that this is as silly as expecting it to give us all perpetual motion machines, but waiting for the media to do its job is just as futile.

flataffect on February 5, 2013 at 11:59 AM