5, 1998 Design News
The wrong way
Paul E. Teague Chief Editor
There's a right way and a wrong way to do everything.
Public officials at the state and federal levels have
chosen the wrong way in much of their legislation to
reduce emissions from cars. Specifically, mandates that
force automakers to develop electric cars before battery
technology is up to the challenge are dead wrong, and
Developing the batteries for electric cars requires
technology breakthroughs. That's a task for engineering,
not legislation. You can't legislate new technology.
Yet, as Charles J. Murray's cover story for this issue
shows, that's exactly what state and federal governments
have done. The result: false hopes for the public and
heavy financial losses for the automotive industry.
It's not that legislation can't help. Of course it
helps, by setting a vision and encouraging innovation.
But, when legislators establish unreasonable timetables--and
then threaten fines if the timetables aren't met--they
go too far.
That's exactly what happened with electric-car batteries.
And the worst thing is, some government officials knew
they were wrong when they did it. Or should have known.
Case in point: California hired consultants from Charles
River Associates and DRI/McGraw Hill to study the economic
consequences of adopting mandates for zero-emission
vehicles (ZEVs) and other alternative-fuel cars. Among
their conclusions: "Imposing mandates and subsidies
to promote the purchase of electric vehicles and alternate-fuel
vehicles, in addition to California vehicle and fuel
standards, will hurt the economy of California, reduce
tax revenues, and cause losses in California jobs."
What's more, the report said, "there is virtually
no reduction in average hydrocarbon emissions...and
only a small reduction in (nitrous oxide) emissions...."
California (followed by New York and Massachusetts)
mandated ZEVs anyway, threatening heavy fines on automakers
who couldn't comply during 1998. That's arrogance. That's
ignorance. And the fact that they recently postponed
the effective date to 2003 doesn't make it any better.
The legislation is wrong. Now, who is going to fine