Acton Institute Powerblog

Government-Coerced Electric Car Demand

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Electric-Car-BatteriesWhen progressive elites discover that the average free-thinking American does not live according to their sanctified vision for our lives, they will resort to using the power of government to coerce the rest of us into doing what they want. For example, currently there is virtually no market for electric cars because not many consumers want them. However, this fact means nothing to elite progressive in government. The elites have decided that we should be driving electric vehicles regardless of what consumers want. So eight states are now collaborating to use various government measures to “encourage” the use of these vehicles that few people are interested in owning.

The New York Times reports that California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont, which represent more than a quarter of the national car market, said they would:

seek to develop charging stations that all took the same form of payment, simplify rules for installing chargers and set building codes and other regulations to require the stations at workplaces, multifamily residences and at other places.

They said they would also promote hydrogen fueling stations, presuming that fuel-cell cars become more widely available. And they said they would promote “time of use” electric rates that would allow charging at off-peak prices, and expand incentives like high-occupancy lane access and reduced tolls and preferential parking. The states also said they would buy electric cars for their own fleets, and in some cases encourage their municipalities to do the same.

Among the measures proposed are arbitrary privileges including reduced tolls, lower utility rates, preferential municipal parking, and carpool lane permission for electric vehicles. The proposal would also require property owners to install chargers. The article notes that these additional measures will not “cost governments much” but no one seems to be aware that such initiatives cost businesses and consumers. A progressive is likely not to care about the additional costs that arbitrary regulations pass on to the rest of us. Deborah L. Markowitz, the secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, said the government actions were an attempt “to move the market beyond early adopters.” In other words, it is government’s role to act in the marketplace to get consumers to do things that the elites have decided we all need to do.

Building codes and regulations, not consumer demand, are supposed to encourage America to arrive at the goal President Obama set in 2011 saying, “With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.” The one glaring problem with this vision, again, is that the American people are not interested. Electric vehicles comprise only 1.23 percent of car sales and, thanks to government pressure (especially those bailed out by Congress), automakers have produced more vehicles than consumers want, so automakers are now slashing prices. According to the Times article, General Motors is likely to cut the price of the Volt by $5,000 moving forward.

I wonder if progressives have ever considered that the best way to drive demand for electric vehicles is by a culture where individuals arrive at their own virtuous conclusions, rather than by the tyranny of building codes and regulations that create waves of negative externalities for years to come.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.


  • Tony Belding

    I agree that the subsidies are folly, but I have to argue with the assertion that there is “no demand” for electric cars. I think Tesla have demonstrated strong demand for an electric car when it’s done right. Likewise, the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, despite their shortcomings, are selling better than the first generation of hybrids did at a similar point in time after they were introduced, and most owners seem entirely happy with them. (It should be noted that the Chevy Volt is not a pure “electric car” as such, but is rather more of a hybrid.)

    Tesla was founded, and the Chevy Volt green-lighted for production, during a time when there were no subsidies for electric cars. Our government, in its infinite wisdom, had anointed hydrogen fuel cells as the technology of the future. Meanwhile, both Tesla and GM made their decisions on a business case. (Some other companies, such as Honda, are still doggedly pursuing fuel cell vehicles.)

    In the case of Tesla, they accepted a DOE loan — and then paid it back early, even though doing so incurred a penalty. They found some nasty strings attached to that loan and decided they could run their business better without the DOE looking over their shoulder.

    What about Fisker? What about Project Better Place? What about Aptera? The road is littered with stalled out and broken down EV businesses. But that’s normal. It would be instructive to look at the computer industry around 1982 and see how many PC makers from that year were destined to still be in the PC business ten years later. A new-and-growing market attracts many businesses, but few will have staying power.

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  • drivin98

    Electric vehicles are not a left/right issue. There are plenty of conservatives who drive electrics or plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt.
    There are also lots of liberals who don’t actually want to see government spend money on a lot of these infrastructure projects, especially hydrogen-related. But even the level two EV charger money is not necessarily well-spent. Of course, I’m not going to argue there isn’t a place for government in the conversation, just, though, it should stick to the regulatory side of things and, perhaps, basic research.

  • martyduren

    The difference between what the gov’ts desire to enforce and what Tesla desires to create is daylight and dark. By the time the 3rd gen Teslas arrive in 2017 they won’t be able to produce them fast enough to meet demand. Throw in solar powered recharging stations, private agreements for recharging stations at hotels, and the ability to drive anywhere and everywhere in America on the normal grid or supercharge stations (built and maintained by Tesla) and you’ll see demand increase substantially.

    Also look for government regulations to impede the progress just like some states have shown in the dealership debate.

  • jay kay

    As a fraction of total vehicle sales (new and used) to private owners,
    sales of jet packs are zero when rounded to the nearest whole
    number. This doesn’t mean there’s no demand.
    Electric cars are reasonable and in our grasp, however.
    Don’t act like current sales are the royal road to figuring out demand.

  • jay kay

    Anyone remember that time the gov’t helped kill the electric car?

  • Jafv

    And just where does everybody think this electricity comes from? It has to be produced. And how is it produced? By using the very fuels that the Obama administration decries: coal, oil and natural gas. The only difference between gasoline powered engines and electric vehicles is that it is much more efficient to produce gasoline from oil than it is to produce electricity. Apparently, we all think that all we need is a power outlet and voila! Electric current magically appears. Nonsense.