It looks like General Motors is attempting to make up for the money it loses on every Chevy Volt in volume as August sales, spurred by recent price cuts, reached an all-time high of 3,351. The fact that the car has been on the market for about three years and initial much-hyped proclamations from GM would have put sales at 20,000 per month by now goes unrecognized by those that think 3,351 vehicles is a lot of cars to sell in a month. To put the sales in perspective, it took Toyota about 2 ½ days to sell that many Camrys with August sales coming in at 44,731. Fortunately for taxpayers, Volt sales are nowhere near those figures. The 3,351 Volt sales came at the expense of over $25 million dollars of federal subsidies.
The big three plug-in electric cars, Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla, led combined plug-in car sales estimated at 10,000 units for the month. The taxpayer bill climbs to $75 million as wealthy buyers of cars like the $80,000 Tesla get federal tax credits of $7,500 each. The cost to taxpayers climbs even higher when you take state tax credits into consideration. In addition, fuel taxes which pay for highway infrastructure only get paid by the less elite class of drivers of gas-powered cars who can not afford to buy electric cars. So much for everyone paying their fair share.
So what is the American taxpayer getting for their money? There are about 250 million vehicles on US roads which account for less than 50% of America’s oil consumption. Replacing 3,351 gas-powered vehicles with Volts will roughly decrease America’s oil consumption by .0007%. At the pace of 10,000 electric cars sold per month attained in August, we can theoretically reduce oil consumption by a full 1% in a bit over 40 years at the cost of over $36 billion in federal subsidies. Only American politicians and green extremists could possibly think that this is money efficiently spent.
To add insult to taxpayer injury, there have been studies which question just how green plug-in electric cars are. A recent Canadafreepress.com piece pointed to such previous studies that give contrarian opinions on the benefits to the environment from the subsidized electric vehicle madness. The report concluded:
Obama’s goal of a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 won’t be met. According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, auto manufacturers sold around 7,442 battery-powered and plug-in hybrid vehicles in July, which is less than 1 percent of total light duty vehicle sales for the month. Clearly, electric cars still have a long way to go. Further, it is not clear what the benefits are, other than the government providing subsidies for rich people who can afford an expensive second car. Studies have found electric cars to be no better for the environment than their petroleum counterparts. Further, though heavily subsidized, they are still more expensive to drive and have significantly less range than gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles.
The unintended consequences and risks from electric cars were also summarized by The Journal of Industrial Ecology which wrote, “EVs exhibit the potential for significant increases in human toxicity, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and metal depletion impacts, largely emanating from the vehicle supply chain. Results are sensitive to assumptions regarding electricity source, use phase energy consumption, vehicle lifetime, and battery replacement schedules.”
The University of Tennessee pointed to a Chinese study that did not have a green utopian view of a society powered by cars like the Chevy Volt. From that piece:
Electric cars have been heralded as environmentally friendly, but findings from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, researchers show that electric cars in China have an overall impact on pollution that could be more harmful to health than gasoline vehicles.
Chris Cherry, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, and graduate student Shuguang Ji, analyzed the emissions and environmental health impacts of five vehicle technologies in 34 major Chinese cities, focusing on dangerous fine particles. What Cherry and his team found defies conventional logic: electric cars cause much more overall harmful particulate matter pollution than gasoline cars.
“An implicit assumption has been that air quality and health impacts are lower for electric vehicles than for conventional vehicles,” Cherry said. “Our findings challenge that by comparing what is emitted by vehicle use to what people are actually exposed to. Prior studies have only examined environmental impacts by comparing emission factors or greenhouse gas emissions.”
Particulate matter includes acids, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. It is also generated through the combustion of fossil fuels.
I don’t believe that negative commentary on plug-in electric vehicles is a result of an evil oil conglomeration that pays for studies to dissuade the use of such alternatively powered vehicles. I’m also not sure of the benefits or consequences that will result from the forced and subsidized electrification of America’s auto fleet. What I do believe is that our government should stop trying to pick winners and losers by subsidizing unproven technologies in what should be free markets, particularly when they do so at the expense of taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars. Unbiased studies that are not funded by green extremists or oil companies should be carefully evaluated before more billions of dollars are dumped into a technology that has not been properly vetted to this point.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.