Unfortunately, the concept of a high federal tax on fuel will put us in a situation like the UK, where a very high fuel tax supports the busses and trains. There is an inherent flaw in forcing some to pay the way for others.
The first thing that our federal government should do is declare that if fuel economy is so important to California, there should not be air conditioning in any vehicles sold in that state, because automotive air conditioning does cut mileage quite a bit. And the fact is that fuel burned that does not contribute towards driving the car is excess pollution.
The second step would indeed be to get rid of the CAFE, and simply demand a truthful description of the fuel consumption for each car sold. Let the market decide. If folks desire a 60MPG car they should be able to buy it, likewise if they wish to purchase a hybrid or plug-in electric vehicle. The manufacturers duty would be to provide the information so that the buyers could decide. If drivers are willing to pay the very high fuel taxes, then the state would have enough money for all the governments programs. Once again, the market would decide.
The problem is that most government bodies are run by individuals who seem to not be affected by the laws they pass and the policies that they create. It also appears that most of them are not engineers, and that many of our lawmakers don't really have a good grasp of many of the laws of physics. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any simple way to change that situation.
2. Eliminate CAFE [CAFE means cars travel further per gallon, so people drive farther using more foreign oil and messing up the balance of trade.]
3. Invoke a federal gasoline and diesel tax of 50% of the selling price. [So, if a gas station sells gasoline for $8/gallon, then $4 goes to Uncle Sam.]
By following these simple 3 rules, California will have their ZEV targets within 5 years. And we will have a more balanced federal budget and a better balance of trade, since people will be driving around on domestically produced electricity and CNG, instead of sending $$ to Saudi Arabia. And the government will no longer be micromanaging the auto industry.
Good points, Dave. And I believe the cafe standards address this. But making people buy a certain type of car -- an EV -- becomes problematic. How does that burden get shared equitably? It's a thorny issue since it asks some consumers to pay a carbon premium while others can pass. Cafe standards matched with cap and trade might work better than asking consumers to buy something they don't want.
Rob, I think the point is that there are "costs" to fossil fuel use which aren't reflected in the price of crude or the price of gas at the pump. The environmental costs are carried by the planet as a whole, so neither the consumer nor the producer ever sees them directly. The free market doesn't work very well in dealing with costs like this which are widely distributed - i.e. where the cost-benefit goes beyond the buyer and the seller. In my opinion, this is where government intervention is justified.
The point of the California plan is to tip the economic scale so that automakers invest in making an affordable EV sooner rather than later. What happens to air quality in California if we wait around for the price of crude to go up? As I've said, I think there are better ways of doing this, but I don't think California is so far off base as some people seem to think.
I agree, Beth, that this is an engineering problem. But it's a problem set against a specific metric -- the cost of fossil fuels. If the cost of fossil fuels comes down -- as the Saudis want -- the engineering problem rises. This will eventually take care of itself. The prize for creating a high-performance, inexpensive EV is high. And eventually fossil fuels will increase sufficiently to make an EV affordable. But that is likely years away.
Isn't the real challenge here an engineering one, where innovative designers push EV designs and manufacturing processes down to the point where they are cost-competitive with traditional vehicles given the rising prices for fossil fuel. I agree mandating car companies to hit specified EV sales targets seems to really miss the mark since you can't force consumers to buy something that doesn't live up to their standards and requirements.
You raise a good debate Alex and Rob. In reading so many articles over the year about EVs, I still can't see how automakers will ever profit off these cars. They mean well, but the debate over cost of the car vs. cost of gas could mean that the cars just sit on the lot - until they become clearance items.
It looks like the fly in the ointment here is getting up to the number of cars sold, a metric they have less control over than the MPG figures. The rub is the cost per vehicle on the zero emissions cars. Either the cost of oil has to go way up (making electric vehicles a savings versus gas) or the cost of the cars has to come down. Otherwise car makers will have to depend on hundreds of thousands of altruistic car buyers who are willing to pay a premium to drive a low-performance - but clean -- vehicle.
I can understand automakers' consternation at being required to sell a certain percentage of electric vehicles. After all, their success in meeting this goal will ultimately be determined by consumers, not by the automakers themselves. If people are simply not willing to buy these vehicles, the automakers will not be able to meet these goals, no matter what.
On the other hand, survey data indicates that the percentage of people who would potentially be interested in buying an electric vehicle exceeds the 5.5% required. The question then becomes price. The penalties for not meeting the goal are intended to incentivize the automakers to figure out how to sell the vahicles at a price people can afford.
Ultimately, I think that increasing corporate average fuel economy standards makes more sense than mandating that a certain percentage of electric vehicles be sold. A clear statement of the problem would help to clarify this: is the real problem the percentage of electric vehicles on the road, or the amount of fossil fuel being consumed? In other words, are electric vehicles an end in themselves, or a means to an end?
By the way, if the problem is fossil fuel consumption, couldn't California achieve more by improving its public transportation? I grew up in Chicago, and never owned a car until I was 26 years old and moved out-of-state. It simply wasn't necessary, since I could get anywhere I wanted to go on public transportation. From what I hear, it's very difficult to get around most California cities on public transportation.
I often wonder if California is a pacesetter, and a catalyst for better (tougher) standards, because they're always tougher (and often significantly) than the Federal standards. Or, if on the other hand, they're a fly in the ointment, and they mess things up (slow overally progress down) because they force industry to offer a bifurcated response.
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