I decided to write a letter to David Ridenour of the National Center of Public Policy Research regarding his article published in The Detroit News titled "Electric cars are running on empty promises."
Dear Mr. Ridenour:
I appreciate your very biased opinion of the electric vehicle market for the simple fact that it inspired me to make a post on my blog after a long hiatus (www.detroitpolicy.com) Unlike you, I don't get the benefit of quality mass transit system like you have in D.C. nor do I have the benefit of spending my time thinking of ways to get more money from conservative donors so I can further the economic agenda of a very narrow strata of our society. Hmm, come to think of it, when you try and push the agenda of gas powered cars over that of electric cars, you are of course exercising free speech but you are trying to protect the market of the oil industry. Such protectionism seams counter to the "free market" values your think tank tries to promote.
But I'm not writing to tell you I see through the politics and hypocracy in your piece because that's too easy. As an owner of electric-gas Chevy Volt, I thought I would react to your piece with a few of my own opinions.
First, you are right that current electric powered vehicles are not very big (with the exception of some Tesla vehicles), so perhaps they are not the best vehicles to pack up a family of 4 and spend a week on the road. I happen to like the hatchback on my Volt because I can fit more in my trunk space than I could with my previous sedan, but I'll recognize your point here. I doubt that in the early days of gas cars - where I think there was one or two seats - that those cars were ideal for the nuclear family you outline in your piece. Yet, for someone who uses his Volt to drive to work and back alone and the occasional trip to the gym, the size doesn't mean much to me.
Second, you are right when you pointed out that when purchased outright, even with the government tax credit, my Volt is much more expensive than a gas car of similar size. I also understand that our automakers here in Detroit take quite a hit on these vehicles. I happen to lease my vehicle, and will end up investing $10 - 12k total over the life of the 3 year lease with gas and charging included. I'll cover why my car does make a lot of economic sense later, but I'll acknowledge your point that these cars do cost more money.
Thirdly, I will also acknowledge that my Volt only has an electric range of around 40 miles, that it does take 4 hours on a 240v charger to charge fully, and that the government's investment of $7.5 billion over 10 years seems like a lot of money to the average American family.
So here's what you missed in your piece and I apologize if this sounds too anecdotal compared to the cropped facts you chose to put in your piece.
1. My Volt is fun to drive. Last I heard, this is a characteristic that car buyers also look for in addition to utility. It hauls off the line. I can even trick it to charge my battery which is pretty cool too. I have a friend who has driven Cameros and Corvettes and he loves his Volt. The interface in the car is pretty awesome as well, even on the base version.
2. I've owned my Volt for almost 6 months, I've put 5k miles on it, and I've used under 20 gallons of gas. Since I put premium gas in, and the gas in Michigan can be almost $4 per gallon, I've spent about $80 on gas so far. During that 6 months, I've spent about $22 per month charging it from home (I've used free chargers in public places too - still haven't found a place giving out free gas). So, I've spent around $200 to power my vehicle for about 5k miles. A car that gets 35 miles per gallon (which is a generous MPG) would have spent around $500 to fuel their car at $3.50 per gallon. While this amount over the life of the vehicle may not make up for the premium I pay for it, my everyday out of pocket costs are pretty good. My Volt tells me that, over the life of the vehicle, I'm getting 222 MPG. Pretty nice.
3. Can you please post how much the government subsidizes the oil industry on an annual basis? Oh wait, I know your answer. They deserve that money because they pay so much tax on that $10 billion in quarterly profit. I won't go into the military costs around protecting our supply of oil. It's probably only a few bucks, right? The foreign policy issues associated with oil dependence are bigger issue - let's just say I don't think your piece really furthers the agenda of energy independence. Instead, if I were to read into your piece and your politics, I would say you are pretty liberal when it comes to spending money to protect America's dependence on oil.
4. My friendly [conservative-run, profit-minded] utility company paid for a $2,500 charger installation which charges my car in 4 hours and which provides permanent economic value to my home. That move made a lot of economic sense for me.
Bottom line: Electric cars may not make sense to everyone, but they did for me, and while I too was a skeptic, I have to say, I love my Chevy Volt and I will probably own an electric car for the rest of my life. When I can afford to power the car off energy produced in my own home, I'll be even more energy independent.
And to be fair, we do have a gas powered family car that we can take on road trips and hold our nuclear family when that larger family comes to fruition.
So, here's what I invite you to do Mr. Ridenour.
1. Go drive a Chevy Volt, not just a test drive, but rent one for a
month or something. Put it in sport mode and have some fun. Maybe
you'll find an electric charging station where you can charge up for
free. Then come back and diss the car as a free market consumer rather
than a conservative, big oil-funded think tank president.
2. Write a piece that compares the government subsidies for electric vehicles vs. oil and gas subsidies.
3. Consider the average driver as something different than the nuclear family you describe and consider their needs. Consider that an electric car may not be the best all around vehicle for driving a family of 4 a few hundred miles to grandma's house, but it may be just the answer for someone who uses it to drive to work and back, or to supplement another vehicle.
Proud owner of Chevy Volt