Road trip to fantasy land: Why does Obama keep pumping money into electric cars?

March 8, 2012 12:01 am

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President Barack Obama boasted at a United Auto Workers conference last week that General Motors was back in business, producing cutting-edge vehicles like the plug-in electric Chevrolet Volt. He even promised to buy one when his time in office ends "five years from now."

Whoops! Just three days later, GM announced that it would suspend Volt production for five weeks this spring, idling 1,300 workers at a Hamtramck, Mich., factory.

Alas, Mr. Obama's endorsements notwithstanding, there's not much of a market for this little bitty car, at least not at the price of almost $32,000 -- after a $7,500 federal tax rebate.

GM fell 2,300 units short of its sales target (10,000) for 2011. It is not on pace to hit 2012's goal of 45,000 units.

So much for Mr. Obama's goal of 1 million all-electrics and plug-ins on the road by 2015.

A123 Systems, a maker of electric-car batteries that has received $374 million in state and federal loans, announced 125 layoffs last fall. The cause: problems at its main customer, Fisker Automotive, which builds expensive plug-in electric cars. Fisker got a half-billion in loans from the Energy Department, though the money was recently frozen because of the company's failure to meet production targets.

These events confirm the wasteful folly of allocating capital according to the dictates of politicians, such as when Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., declared in November 2008: "A business model based on gas -- a gas-guzzling past -- is unacceptable. We need a business model based on cars of the future, and we already know what that future is: the plug-in hybrid electric car."

The electric vehicle flop also illuminates a point about science -- or the politics of science.

Democrats and liberals are fond of calling their conservative and Republican adversaries "anti-science." To the extent that the right espouses "creation science," or disputes established facts about environmental degradation, it's an appropriate label.

But progressives' fascination with electric cars and other alternative-energy schemes reflects their own refusal to face the practical limitations of alternative energy -- limitations that themselves reflect stubborn scientific facts.

Stubborn Scientific Fact No. 1: Petroleum packs a lot of energy per unit of volume. (Each liter contains 34 megajoules.) Consequently, gasoline makes a cheap, portable and convenient motor fuel.


First Published 2012-03-07 23:40:51

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