Tuesday, April 28, 2009

FT: EV subsidies a waste

Yesterday's Financial Times had a great companion piece to the idiocy in today Post. The UK announced a £5000 incentive for EV beginning in 2011. After recognizing that the intent of such a subsidy is to "encourage early adopters of the technology, helping electric car manufacturers achieve economies of scale," author Richard Pike suggests a reason to oppose it is that "it would cost more than £150bn to subsidize Britain’s entire car fleet," a proposal no one has made.

Read it here.

WashPost: Volt Caused GM's woes

Charles Lane is a member of the editorial page staff of the Washington Post. Here are some gems from his screed against the Volt, and electric cars in general, in today's paper:
"GM wouldn't be in quite so deep a hole if it had not sunk a billion dollars, and much of its corporate reputation, into a not-very-realistic plug-in electric hybrid vehicle known as the Chevrolet Volt."
"Unless and until gas prices shoot up, you'd be crazy to buy one of these much-ballyhooed vehicles..."

"To be sure, the green-leaning Obama administration has not ruled out allowing a restructured GM to continue pouring (federal) money into the Volt. But I hope it won't. The Volt and other electric vehicles could gobble up more subsidies than ethanol."

"Indeed, to the extent that we use more electric cars, we reduce the demand for petroleum, which drives down the price of petroleum, which makes electric cars less competitive with gas-burning ones."
Essentially he saying that even the success of the electric car ensures its failure. Wow.

Read the entire (hit) piece here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chu on higher gas prices

From an exchange about gas prices between Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Florida Republican Cliff Stearns during a House hearing on the proposed climate bill:
Stearns to Chu: Last September you made a statement that somehow we have to boost the price of gasoline to the levels of Europe, which at the time exceeded $8 per gallon. As Secretary of Energy would you speak for or against any measures to raise the price of gasoline?

Chu: The Secretary of Energy, especially now in today's economic climate, would be completely unwise to want to increase the price of gasoline. We're looking forward to reducing the cost of transportation in the American family. This is done by encouraging more fuel efficient cars. This is done by developing alternative forms of fuel like biofuels that can lead to a separate source, an independent source of transportation fuel.

Stearns: You can't honestly believe that you want the American people to pay for gasoline at the prices the level in Europe.

Chu: No we don't.

Stearns: Your statement that gas prices ought to rise to the level of Europe, doesn't that sound a little bit silly, in retrospect, for you to say that?

Chu: Yes.

[Source: SF Streetsblog]

Friday, April 24, 2009

Goodbye GM, Hello Tianjin-Qingyuan Electric Vehicle Company?

I write a monthly column for the Electric Auto Association newsletter, Current EVents. Here's my April column.

As March came to a close, the Obama administration found GM and Chrysler’s restructuring plans “not viable.” GM CEO Rick Waggoner was pushed out and the company got sixty days to get its act together. Chrysler was told to consummate with Fiat quickly or else. At the same time, the value to the economy and environment of a major push for plug-in cars as part of the recovery hasn’t sunk in at the top. Obama should take extraordinary steps to empower the electric upstarts to prove their mettle. A billion dollars of loans and grants directly supporting Tesla, Th!nk, Fisker and Aptera, for example, would get cars on the road and allow the plug-in project the chance to more quickly advance to economic viability without the legacy burdens carried by the majors. And these days a billion dollars is barely a rounding error in the money going to prop up the American auto industry.

While the American government is deep in the morass of Detroit’s legacy, the Chinese leadership may have turned to face the future. As reported in the NY Times, “Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.” BYD already has a plug-in hybrid for sale in small numbers in China, and has Warren Buffet-infused plans to market PHEVs and EVs in the US within a few years. Tianjin-Qingyan Electric is poised to offer an all-electric car in China before the end of the year for less than $30,000, before any incentives. Given the much lower production costs in China, the first Chinese company to pass American certification could place an EV on the market in the US that would cost a consumer under $20,000 (after incentives.) That would be a game changer.

Can I charge my new EV here?

At the moment only Tesla is putting cars on the road, at the rate of about 20 per week. But other cars, including the MINI E, will be out and about soon, and stimulus money abounds, so the question of public EV infrastructure is much discussed. The EAA is taking the lead, along with Plug In America, to get it done right. A major error of the ZEV mandate period, no single connector standard, will be overcome once the SAE Standards Committee finally approves the new protocols. That process has been too slow, already resulting in new cars with differing connectors on the road.

A new opportunity and complication has appeared with startup companies appearing that wish to offer competing subscription-based public charging networks. The EAA and Plug In America are working closely with these companies to ensure adherence to some basic principles: universal access, interoperability and maintaining needed legacy infrastructure. In the future, any plug-in car must be able to charge at any public charger.

New public charging infrastructure, however, won’t bring us electric cars. And while I can testify that it is useful to have public access chargers, people with RAV4 EVs in places like Long Island, Hawaii, and Nova Scotia have gotten along fine without. The effort to get cars to market must remain our focus. Stop in at a car dealer today and let them know: No Plug? No Deal!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Honda Kills CNG Home FuelMaker

Honda has pulled the plug on its wholly owned subsidiary Fuelmaker, which made the device for home CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicle refueling, calling a loan, and throwing Fuelmaker into receivership.
All Fuelmaker employees were abruptly fired without severance or warning, and given just a few hours to gather up their belongings and leave the premises. All Fuelmaker operations were suspended without notice to dealers, clients or suppliers. All assets were immediately placed on the auction block for liquidation.
Huh? Wasn't Honda the big promoter of CNG? The only car company offering one in the US, the CNG Civic? Wasn't the home fueling device meant to blaze the path to a home hydrogen fueling device?

Edwin Black does the reporting on the machinations around FuelMaker's bankruptcy last week. Read about it here.