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Captain Hybrid

California Should Mandate the Purchase of EVs

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Alexander Wolfe
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Tough love...
Alexander Wolfe   7/14/2011 12:12:59 PM
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This is a bold stand, Chuck, and I have to say it's out-of-box thinking to look at the mandate from the user side, instead of the manufacturers'. To make this something which has even a prayer of going beyond the discussion phase, though, Calif. is going to have to pony up and get the charging infrastructure built out. That's starting to happen, but very slooowly...

Rob Spiegel
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Forcing you to buy an EV
Rob Spiegel   7/14/2011 12:18:08 PM
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I can understand cafe standards, but mandating that a specific portion of cars sold in California be EVs seems an overreach unless it comes with a powerful incentive. This law goes against human nature, asking people to act outside of their own best interest.

A certain percentage of people will buy an EV because then can afford it and they are not concerned about the cost/benefit deficit. But the percentage of people willing to overlook the cost/benefit problem with EVs cannot be predicted -- except that it will be low. Gas would have to skyrocket to end that deficit. The Saudi folks won't let that happen.

So it seems state incentives that can erase the cost/benefit deficit may be the only way to make this work. Right now, California can't afford that.

Jennifer Campbell
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Absurd and logical
Jennifer Campbell   7/14/2011 12:18:26 PM
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I completely agree with your assessment, Chuck - absurd and logical. On the one hand, I can understand that the California government wants to clean up the air quality in that state. And they should take major steps to do so. Fine - call on the automakers to clean up their acts/autos. But to mandate every car-owning resident buy an EV? That's a little far-fetched, don't you think? Am I mistaken when I say you yourself have written that EVs are so pricey most Americans can't afford them or simply won't shell out the cash for them? Let's discuss!

Lauren Muskett
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EVs
Lauren Muskett   7/14/2011 12:24:08 PM
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I could see how the car manufacturers are worried about making a pre-determined amount of a product that could potentially not sell. As for putting the requirement on residents, I do not think it is fair. You cannot "force" people to buy the EV, instead the state could offer more of an incentive to purchase the vehicle, an incentive so good you just can't say no!

Charles Murray
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Dire circumstances
Charles Murray   7/14/2011 12:34:56 PM
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You're correct, Jenn. I have written -- repeatedly -- that electric cars are too costly for the average person. Apparently, though, the circumstances are dire now. If I'm to believe what CARB says, Californians can't live this way anymore. So what good does it do the state to force automakers to build cars that consumers buy in such low numbers? Does it help clean the air? If the circumstances are so urgent, then they should enact an appropriate regulation, instead of going through the charade of leaning on the automakers.    

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: Dire circumstances
Jennifer Campbell   7/14/2011 12:50:48 PM
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Regulations are definitely needed. What, if any, incentives is the government willing to extend to residents forced to buy an EV? Has the discussion gotten that far? If this radical plan moves forward, I would hope government officials would vote to place a limit on how much automakers could charge for these cars. Then again, this is America - how far is too far when it comes to what the government can/should mandate?

Charles Murray
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Re: Dire circumstances
Charles Murray   7/14/2011 12:57:51 PM
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No, Jenn, the discussion has not gone that far. Californians would cast out and smite any politician who suggested it, so details are pretty scarce at this point.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Dire circumstances
Beth Stackpole   7/14/2011 1:28:26 PM
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In this highly-charged political climate, at a time when more people are calling for hands-off government, it would seem that no one would touch the idea of mandating the consumer purchase of EV, even in a liberal state like California. I agree with those advocating for consumer incentives. Whether it's in the form of rebates, tax breaks, whatever ... But the incentives have to really go far towards defraying the cost otherwise, people are people, as Rob says, and few will buy something they don't think is of value or a good deal just because it's good for the environment or the overall populace.

prasadb1
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Iron
Re: Dire circumstances
prasadb1   7/14/2011 7:36:36 PM
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One of the advantage of incentives or rebates is that gives those who are less likely to buy an opportunity to try something they would not have done otherwise.  Buying an EV is however, no such small matter due to price tag. In order for this to work for real, vehicle quality, performance, driving range for a full tank of gas, and battery-life have to be better amongst others than what it is. Auto manufacturers are working very diligently on those issues; I was told. May be it will happen sooner than later and could eliminate the need for of such government incentives. I am waiting... Is this possible?

Charles Murray
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Re: Dire circumstances
Charles Murray   7/15/2011 11:36:20 AM
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To prasadb1: In answer to your question, "Is this possible?" I would say, yes, it's all possible. It's just a question of when. Vehicle quality and performance are already here. Racing enthusiasts have been drag racing with electric cars for years and have turned in some astounding quarter-mile times (under 11 seconds, I believe). If you sit in today's Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt, you'll see the quality is already there, too. The big problems, though, are range and cost. Range is a function of energy density. The energy density of gasoline is about 12,000 Wh/kg. Nissan's lithium-ion battery in the Leaf is 140 Wh/kg. Also, cost of today's lithium-ion batteries is generally assumed to go from $500 to $1,000/kWh. That means a big 40-kWh battery alone will run between $20,000 and $40,000. Production volume will drive the costs down, but probably not enough. So new chemistries will be needed, which could take many years.

David McCollum
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Too Orwellian for me
David McCollum   7/15/2011 3:40:48 PM
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The concept of forcing people to buy an electric car is a little too Orwellian for me. First, the suggestion that every other vehicle be electric, then people who like Fords will have to buy Chevys or Chryslers the next time. Then we'll be told what color it has to be and whether we can have blackwalls, whitewalls, or raised white letters. This whold concept is wrong. As soon as the electric car is practical and serviceable, they will sell well. Until then, we're stuck with the present technology.

What happened to the hydrogen car? No places to fill it up, and the fear that terrorists would make bombs from the stuff. What about natural gas? Some metropolitan areas and businesses run their fleets from it but it isn't practical for the masses because there are, again, few places to fill up. Maybe we'll see the Stanley return. My granddad had one and it burned coal or wood. Seems he had it retrofitted for natural gas or maybe propane because he didn't like the smoke.  What about mass transit? The bigger cities have it but out here in the sticks, we haven't seen a bus in decades.

Personally, I'd love an electric vehicle. Locally, it would solve a lot of problems. The 100-mile range is what kills the idea. Let's see. . . 24 miles to my girl friend's house, 24 back. . . that's 48. Drive to town, then to a movie or the mall. . .if I miscalculated the charge, well. . . back to the old joke about running out of gas on a country road. If the electric vehicle were practical, we'd all buy them. The trouble is that they just don't do the job that most of us need.

David McCollum
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Mouser Poll
David McCollum   7/15/2011 4:52:56 PM
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It was interesting to note the Mouser poll about purchasing electric vehicles on the right sidebar of some of these pages. Relying on my memory, it was (rounded) 22% NO, 20% YES, and the biggest group was NOT NOW BUT MAYBE LATER at 34%. The remaining 24% would still consider it. This translates to an 80% acceptance rate, which tells me that as soon as the technology makes them affordable to buy and cost efficient to maintain, most of us will be driving them. Of course, this poll could be skewed because most of us are technical people and it isn't a representative cross-section of the general population.

I know I'm a dinosaur, but I'd still like to see electric passenger trains. Jets are fast but crossing the country in a Pullman is an experience to remember. If we could get the railroad infrasructure to work out a deal where they ran routes that let people load up their cars for excursions or worked with the rental companies to create vacation packages. . .I see a great market there.

 

Dave Palmer
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Re: Too Orwellian for me
Dave Palmer   7/15/2011 5:28:55 PM
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David, I think the intention of the article was to be satirical - I don't think this is being proposed seriously. I absolutely agree with your point that there are many other options for reducing emissions and the focus on electric vehicles to the exclusion of other possibilities is is probably counterproductive. It would be extremely helpful if someone would lay out all of the options for reducing emissions in transportation in terms of cost and environmental impact. (Perhaps using the tools described in this article).  Maybe if there were such a study, we would see lawmakers' priorities change in the direction of some of the things you mention.

With regard to hydrogen, it may the most abundant element in the universe, but gaseous hydrogen is extremely rare on the earth. Most of it is in the form of water or hydrocarbons. Separating the hydrogen from these compounds requires energy input, and, by the second law of thermodynamics, the energy you get out will always be less than the energy you put in. If you are getting the energy from fossil fuels, then you haven't really reduced emissions, you've just shifted them, and maybe even increased them. If you are getting the energy from a renewable source, good - but then couldn't you use it to charge a battery and get more bang for your buck?

When I was an undergraduate, I briefly worked on a hydrogen vehicle project.  When I asked my professor these questions, his response was basically to tell me to shut up.  I requested reassignment to a different project.  I'm skeptical that hydrogen for transportation will ever really make much sense.  Fortunately, the government seems to be catching on, since hydrogen vehicle research is no longer the funding magnet it used to be.

Which brings me to my last point - so many of our decisions about transportation and energy are driven by politics rather than science or engineering.  California's electric vehicle mandate is far from the worst example.  Corn ethanol never made any sense, except as a giveaway to farmers and agribusiness.  And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stopped high speed rail in its tracks (so to speak) in order to prove his anti-Obama credentials.

Hopefully, someday politicians will start taking these things seriously instead of playing games.  After all, whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or something else, we all have to live on the same planet and breathe the same air (as much as we might sometimes wish we didn't have to).

David McCollum
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Gold
Re: Too Orwellian for me
David McCollum   7/15/2011 7:03:21 PM
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Well, what I miss in satire I make up in dry humor. I thought about the satirical value of the piece, but having watched some of the other things I have seen mandated by our government, I wasn't really sure. Your point, though, so many of our decisions about transportation and energy are driven by politics rather than science or engineering, not only in the crosshairs, it is one of the most frightening concepts I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it isn't limited to just those fields. I fear I spent too many years working product liability and it has made me cynical.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: Dire circumstances
Jennifer Campbell   7/14/2011 1:30:49 PM
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Thanks Chuck - keep us posted! I'd be interested to see how far this actually gets before the idea fizzles out or California residents start rioting.

Dave Palmer
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A modest proposal
Dave Palmer   7/14/2011 1:37:31 PM
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Ok, this is an entertaining satire, but seriously... given that electric vehicles are mainly intended for personal inter-urban transit, isn't there already a solution to this problem which is much greener and much more cost effective? I'm talking about public transportation.  Trains, light rail, buses, etc.  When I lived in Chicago, I never owned a car.

And, to be fair to California, the reason why the impetus is placed on automakers is precisely because of the price issue.  There is not much that customers can do to bring down the price of EVs (other than, perversely, buy less of them).  Automakers, on the other hand, have the engineering resources to hopefully figure out how to make these things more cheaply.  The point of the mandate is to give them a financial incentive to do so - figure out how to make EVs cheap enough that 5.5% of people can afford them, or else pay a penalty.

I think the California mandate is heavy-handed and clumsy, but I don't think it's as worth of ridicule as some people seem to think.  Companies always whine and complain about regulations of any kind (they're like teenagers that way), but in many cases regulations actually help to push innovation.  For example, CAFE standards probably played a major role in development of advanced high strength steels.

Charles Murray
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Re: A modest proposal
Charles Murray   7/14/2011 2:06:03 PM
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Oddly enough, automakers believe they can get to the 56.2-mpg requirement that's being discussed by the Obama Administration. But California's idea to fine them $5,000 for every car they don't sell...that's as heavy-handed as it gets. Yes, California believes they can push automakers into reducing the cost of electric car batteries, but they believed the same thing ten years ago and it didn't work out well then, either.

Gumby
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Iron
California Losing Its Marbles...
Gumby   7/14/2011 1:58:36 PM
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I am a Californian and very proud of California about its leadership in clean air , etc..  As of lately, I am starting to feel that priorities is getting out of order... I can ask quesstions like why we are still allowing firewood , charcoal, agricutural crop waste burnings,  ranch burnings. etc..   You have to drive out in the great Valley of California and watch huge plumes of smoke rising out of crop waste burnings by farmers everywhere especially during the autumn days .  Or if you drive up in the hills, you will drive by ranchers burning up overgrown bushes and shrubs ..   Also for those millons of chimneys and stove pipes sticking out of our rooftops , you ought to start wondering why there is still no pollution controls for those chimneys..   I keep hearing nonsensical arguments among enviormentalists that firewood is harmless to the global climate issues based on non sequestered carbon content found in firewood as opposite to coal.. C'mon, give me a break...   Enviormentalists are not health specialists and they are way too quick to forget that health costs are spiraling out of controls because of air pollution stemming from excessive firewood and charcoal usage.. Enviromentalists measure particulates in the air without stopping to think about where those paritculates can come from... I am very certain that most of them comes from firewood, charcoal, farm crop waste burning, ranch clearings, etc. with very little from autombiiles and trucks as they already have pollution control systems built in...  Please, do not lose your marbles ..

Dave Palmer
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Re: California Losing Its Marbles...
Dave Palmer   7/14/2011 2:16:50 PM
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Gumby, burning of garbage is a serious problem.  Just visit El Salvador or any other third-world country where most people burn their household trash.  There are serious problems with asthma and other respiratory disorders due to airborne particulates.  Those who don't burn their garbage throw it in the river, which isn't much better. (I'm talking about the town where my wife lives - things may be better in San Salvador).  The public health benefits of regular garbage pick-up would be huge.

Gumby
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Iron
Re: California Losing Its Marbles...
Gumby   7/14/2011 4:44:52 PM
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yeah,  Americans used to do that until around 1950's..  We continue to use incernators because it is far hotter than open air burnings so that most of the toxins are destroyed before it can go up in the air.   maybe farmers and ranchers should use incernators instead of doing it out in the open with rakes and whatnots.. They are a miserable lot!

 

Gumby
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Iron
Re: California Losing Its Marbles...
Gumby   7/14/2011 4:49:27 PM
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Enviromentalists generally do not have adequate appreciation about the dynamics of carbon sequestration ...  I mean,  with 8 billon dudes waliking around on Earth,  "burn" is supposed to be a very , very dirty word by now ranking along with those street obscentities we routinely use daily..  Burn is supposed to be banished long ago..  I dont care if firewood is going around and around every 5 years or so while coal is stuck down there for eons.. What we burn right now every minute is what really counts not what is still down in the ground..  we are burning way too much!  Now , I repeat with my urge that all of us start to love aluminium and use far more of it .. Aluminium is a real wonder metal that can really save our bacon for centuries to come!

 

walter wolf
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Iron
Nat gas?
walter wolf   7/14/2011 3:24:25 PM
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Why are we thinking that electic or hybrid vehicles are the the only alternative to the gasoline engine?

It's my understanding that nat gas fueled vehicles are far less polluting than gasoline counterparts and are being used for regional trucking, refuse collection, taxis and other public transportation yet the government continues to subsidize the practice of transforming corn into fuel. 

We are essentially burning food while we have an enormous nat gas reserve that is being ignored by Washington.

Gumby
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Iron
Re: Nat gas?
Gumby   7/14/2011 4:42:49 PM
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We have vast amounts of oil, natural gas and certain hydrocarbons but most of them are locked in tight formations like shale, rock, etc..  As matter of fact, many oil prospectors or natural gas ones as well are resorting to a dreadful technology known as "fracking"  .. Fracking involves a variety of techniques that is used to crack up the deep crust to free up hydrocarbons for gathering .  Second thoughts are getting widespread about the merits of fracking technologies.. 

SoCalPE
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Gold
Clearing the Air...
SoCalPE   7/14/2011 6:20:20 PM
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As a resident of Cal-ee-fornee-ya (oh, that was so much more fun to say when Schwarzenegger was Governor), specifically in the often translucent air of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles county, I am all for more EV's or Hybrids.  I am fortunate to live in the foothills that surround this valley so I don't feel the full brunt of the air pollution that increases over the course of the day.  I can see it build from morning to night - a light haze in the morning, a yellow fog at day's end.  Instead of cramming legislation down automakers or citizens throats the state government should spend some money on truly educating people about why these lifestyle changes are necessary and front more buy-this-EV rebates.  The Engineering community understands but I don't believe the average car driver does (average work commute in southern California is about 45 minutes, but can frequently be much longer).

diskguy
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Silver
Yes - And I'm glad I got a LEAF
diskguy   8/18/2011 1:40:54 PM
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There is so much FUD about EV which makes me think there could be big money behind much of the 'information'.  As for $5K margin for not supplying a level of battery powered vehicles, I think this money could be used to encourage early adopters by passing along the money as a cash rebate on the EV purchased. This has the effect of rasing the price of ICE and lowering the price of EVs.

I have wanted an affordable EV since the mid 1970's and am pleased and fortunate to finally be able to purchase one. After driving a LEAF for 3 months, I look forward to getting in the car and driving again. I just wish it was designed and made in the US and the electricity came from LMFBRs. Technical progress is slow while political progress hasn't been discovered.

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