- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2000

It's hard to get a charge out of electric vehicles government mandates notwithstanding. This point was brought home via the just-announced recall by General Motors of its EV1 electric 2-seater. Apparently, there's a potentially hazardous glitch in the recharging system that could lead to overheating. This could start a fire, or ruin other components.
But there is no replacement for the defective part and rather than invest yet more research and development capital in a vehicle that no one but the government really wants and which makes the Vega of the 1970s or infamous Oldsmobile diesel of the early 1980s look like feats of inspired engineering GM is rightly pulling the plug. The EV1s won't be "fixed" they'll be scrapped. And their owners offered leases on conventional, gas-powered cars or, if they're really brave a lease on the "next generation" EV1. This one, like all electric cars before it, is said to be "improved" and all that.
GM has already thrown $400 million at the EV1 yet has found at most a few hundred people willing to park the $35,000 (with subsidies) subcompact in their garage. It might have something to do with the EV1's gimpy range of less than 100 miles under ideal conditions or perhaps it's the hours-long recharge time required at each "fill-up." Consumers sure are fussy. But it's hard to blame them, really, when you stop and reflect that even the cheesiest econo-car is superior in every way to the $35,000 EV1. A 10-year-old, $2,000 Toyota Tercel can get you where you need to go more efficiently than GM's technological tour-de-force. Even a Yugo can go more than 100 miles before it conks out.
Despite the fanfare and media adulation that accompanied GM's announcement of the EV1 in the early 1990s, the car has fizzled just as all previous attempts at building a viable electric car have fizzled. No one has come up with a battery that can equal the simple elegance of the energy contained in a gallon of unleaded regular. In a modern compact such as Honda Civic, that gallon can take a family of four 35-40 miles for under two dollars in air conditioned comfort (don't turn on the AC in an electric car; it cuts down on the range). Three gallons of gas in the tank will power the average compact more than 120 miles surpassing the range of the very best "state-of-the-art" electric cars. And unlike a dead electric car battery pack, it takes mere minutes to refuel a gasoline powered car.
Even if OPEC really turns the screws, and gasoline goes up to $2.50 per gallon, a conventional car is still the better vehicle at least from an economic point of view. And certainly from a functional point of view. What about the environment? Well, the plain fact is that the electric car is not necessarily better, even on this score. For one thing, modern gasoline-burning cars are incredibly clean, thanks to advances in engine management and emissions controls. Ninety-eight percent of their combustion byproducts are harmless carbon dioxide and water vapor. So the "zero emissions" electric car has, at best, a 2-percent or so advantage. But even that may be illusory given that the electricity used to power an electric vehicle has to come from somewhere. And in the United States, it comes, for the most part, from coal and oil-fired utility plants. Does it really matter, in the grand scheme of things, if the fossil fuels are burned in the car (as in a conventional, gas-fueled vehicle), or in a power plant making the electricity to power an electric car?
Suffice it to say that electric cars are not an especially bright idea. They've been around since the early 1900s and today's "modern" electrics aren't much-improved over their counterparts of 100 years ago. Gasoline beat them then and it's beaten them again, today. Engineering realities are sometimes like that. Only today, they're harder to accept because of the smog of politics and political correctness that choke out information. It was Washington through its "clean air" mandates that started the whole fandango. Absent coercive pressures applied to the automakers, electric vehicles would have been consigned to the history books, where they belong.
If media mavens had done their job and reported the true facts about electric cars and about the great strides made by the automakers in honing conventional cars and trucks to a state of near perfection GM and the other automakers could have saved themselves a few hundred million.
But what the heck. It's only money.

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