In response to my recent piece on electric vehicles, a few readers sent me John Peterson’s position on the subject. Thanks, but I’m already quite familiar with it. John’s a brilliant, honest, and levelheaded guy; in fact, I plan to visit him in Switzerland when I’m in Europe next spring. Having said this, I disagree with him here.
For starters, the concept that EVs are overhyped and destined to failure because “Cheap Beats Cool” does not ring true of the auto market generally. Since the dawn of the automobile, and certainly since World War II, cars may be about sex, or about the wish to appear affluent, but they certainly aren’t about getting around as inexpensively as possible; “cheap” really isn’t the motivating force here.
If John lived in the U.S., he’d see what we all do here: Porsches, Mercedes and BMWs pulling into the parking lots of law offices and movie studios. He’d see Chevy selling Corvettes to young people, and Cadillac selling the Escalade to people who feel the need to drive something the size of a studio apartment. But what happens when “green” becomes “cool?” It’s anybody’s guess, but mine is that the OEMs won’t be able to build EVs fast enough.
Another few items to consider here:
1) It’s true we won’t have $800/barrel oil – or even $300/barrel oil — but keep in mind that we actually have found and extracted most of the easiest to reach crude in the Earth’s crust. Barring a deep and enduring global recession, we will have to deal with the additional costs, both financial and ecological, of getting fuels from unconventional sources.
2) There are scenarios in which “We The People” force the oil companies to pay for some of the externalities of what they’re doing: creating lung disease, supporting terrorism, causing long-term environmental damage, prosecuting never-ending wars, and pushing the U.S. ever closer to bankruptcy. Even John would admit that it’s at least conceivable that we as a country could start to question the validity of borrowing an incremental billion dollars a day and sending that wealth offshore to empower our enemies. If any of the above happen at a significant level, you’ll have EVs so fast you won’t know what hit you.
3) Lithium-ion is only one set of battery chemistries; I’m betting that zinc-air represents a far superior solution.
4) There are 25 million multi-car families in the U.S. alone, where one car essentially never exceeds the 100-mile range of a Nissan LEAF. Charging infrastructure, though it will evolve over time, is not the huge gating factor it’s sometimes misunderstood to be.
In any case, I have tons of respect for John, but I’m betting he’s wrong here.