Taxpayer-Subsidized Electric Vehicles Disappoint Consumers (Except Jay Leno)

Jay Leno and VoltLast week NLPC reported about a Consumer Reports reviewer’s unpleasant experience driving the all-electric Nissan Leaf. Despite Liza Barth’s frequent range anxiety and endurance of freezing temperatures so as to avoid using the Leaf’s heater to preserve its power, she declined to give it a “thumbs down.” Instead, she seemed to chalk up the inconveniences (like “numb fingers and toes”) to her own inability to adapt to new technology, rather than calling the electric vehicle what it really is: a failure that is massively subsidized by taxpayers.

Last month another Leaf customer wrote about his experience, and as opposed to Barth’s presumed objective perspective, this driver went into his purchase with eagerness and enthusiasm. Now he calls his EV “my 2011 Nissan Solyndra.”

“I am ready to turn over a new Leaf – my own,” wrote Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

Eshman explains that he went into the experience with the idea of doing his patriotic duty, after he watched a CNN interview with a descendant of Saudi Arabian royalty who said his country wanted to lower oil prices, because they don’t want Americans to seek alternatives.

“A viable set of alternatives to oil would deprive oppressive Middle East regimes of their single most important source of power,” Eshman wrote in an earlier column in June, about his actual purchase of the Leaf. “It would shrink the wallets of those who fund terror and who spread the most extreme forms of Islam. It would deprive many of Israel’s enemies of their geopolitical influence. It would help save us from the doom of climate change.”

So Eshman swung into action, contacted Nissan, and “arranged delivery of my Leaf.” Take that, Saudi prince!

Now, four months later, he rues the investment he made to help divest Americans from their dependence on Middle East oil brokers. As is the case with others, Eshman has found that the 100-mile range promised by Nissan (even to this day) – as Consumer Reports’ Barth also discovered – is a fantasy. His three most recent measurements showed he traveled less than 60 miles on a full charge each time.

“My life now revolves around a near-constant calculation of how far I can drive before I’ll have to walk,” Eshman wrote last month. “The Nissan Leaf, I can report, is perfect if you don’t have enough anxiety in your life.” 

And just as Barth conveyed her own encounter with EV range anxiety, with extra road tolls and frozen feet, so also did Eshman tell about one representative experience:

My gauge said I had 82 miles available, and I decided that was enough to drop off my son at Camp Alonim in Simi Valley….

Alonim is 35 miles from our home. I drove below the speed limit on the freeway, windows down so I could keep the mileage-guzzling AC off. Nevertheless, by the time I arrived at camp, I had only 31 of the original 82 miles left. That’s been my experience day in and day out — the gauge reports a best-case scenario that lures me into magical thinking. I left Alonim and drove another 10 miles to Mission Hills. Reported miles: 82. Actual miles driven: 41. Now the gauge showed me having three miles to go.

Knowing that charging stations are as rare as monorails in L.A., I decided to pull off the freeway and drive very slowly to the closest Nissan dealership, where I could put in more juice. I called my office and told them I’d be late, as I had to charge enough to drive the next 20 miles. That would take two hours.

So not only does the Leaf require that drivers not adjust their climate settings so as to maximize range, but even with that, they should not trust their power gauges. Must be a pleasant ride during a Los Angeles summer, inhaling fellow travelers’ exhaust in 90-plus degree heat while at a standstill on I-405. And as to whether he thinks the Leaf is still economical, Eshman responded, “if you only drive 20 miles a day, is your gasoline bill high enough to justify the Leaf’s nonsubsidized cost?” In addition to the federal tax rebate of $7,500, Californians also receive from the state an addition $2,500 rebate (it was $5,000 until the money ran out) plus a $2,000 rebate for the installation of a charger in their home, plus insurance discounts and use of HOV lanes regardless of the number of passengers in the vehicle. 

Apparently the deception of the Leaf’s gauges is matched by Nissan’s dealers. Eshman discovered after signing the leasing papers that promises made about EV’s capabilities were a bit overstated. “The dealer told me AC uses 30 percent more power,” he wrote in June. “I’m seeing it’s more like 50.”

And then there are the chargers (slow, unless you have access to a 440-volt port), their availability (slim), and their cost ($6,000 for a 220-volt model, minus a couple thousand dollars from a taxpayer rebate). “The dealer proudly pointed out that my model comes with a 440-volt charging port,” Eshman explained. “‘Where can I find a 440 charger?’ I asked, all excited. ‘I think in Germany,’ he said.”

The defenders of EVs, particularly the Leaf, had strong words for Eshman in the comments that followed his piece:

·      “I’m sorry man, you must REALLY be driving it wrong.”

·      “The car is absolutely capable of 100 miles range if driven efficiently. I’d be happy to go for a ride with you and teach you these simple techniques.” (this was a salesman at a Nissan dealership)

·      “Like any alternative technology you must adapt to it, not the other way around.”

So while the strategy by Nissan and its dealers was to promote a vehicle as though under normal use would still get 100 miles, its California apologists – who all think taxpayers across the country should pay for their EV fetishes – pig-pile on dissatisfied owners for their “misuse” and wrongheaded expectations.

Perhaps the most disgusting aspect of the whole EV experience is that taxpayers are subsidizing cars and chargers ($2 billion and growing) for well-heeled, elitist buyers who can afford the Leaf or Volt without the help. After my last column for NLPC about the Leaf, a Los Angeles owner who works in the entertainment industry emailed: 

“Why oh why would anyone NOT charge every night? To do otherwise is simply silly and self-defeating. The Consumer Reports tester should be duly chastised for being so foolish and unaware.”

And “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno – a car enthusiast who has an enormous garage full of vehicles at his disposal – says since he received his Chevy Volt semi-hybrid nearly one year ago, he has not added gasoline once.

“It’s my daily driver,” he told the New York Times. “It really is. I commute in it to work every day. My commute, and all my other daily running around, totals less than 35 miles. 

“You get 40 miles free, as they say. Because of the way I drive it, it almost never kicks into gasoline mode.”

So congratulations to rich California liberals: You convinced Washington to make taxpayers cover the cost of your daily driving habits, none of which diminish Middle East oil imports, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or any other made-up societal problem you cite to justify this social engineering.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center.