The Chevy Volt fell short of its first year sales targets, prompting a great number of I-told-you-sos from the electric car skeptics -- especially after GM shut down production for five weeks.
Meanwhile, at least two companies that had planned to build electric vehicles have recently suffered major set-backs and one of those companies -- Bright Automotive -- sharply criticized Obama's Energy Department for playing Lucy-vs-Charlie Brown by changing and re-changing the terms of subsidy loans.
The headlines include: "Electric cars seem to be falling out of favor after Volt's slow sales", "Americans not 'juiced' about electric cars" , "Electric Car Loans Dry Up Ahead of Election on Solyndra", and my personal favorite "Electric Cars and the Liberal Refusal to Accept Science"
Interesting to see the critics jump on first year numbers as some sort of proof of complete failure. Even if GM hit its first year goals, the numbers would still have shown that the "mass market" is not yet ready to flock to electric cars in large numbers.
The facts remain that electric cars cost more than the gasoline-powered versions of the same models. That was true the day the first Volt went on sale. First-year sales of hybrid vehicles weren't impressive either -- yet through 2011, car makers have sold more than 4.5 million hybrid vehicles (cumulative) worldwide. Virtually every car company offers at least one hybrid, from econoboxes to SUVs.
If the market for electric cars really is so terrible, why is it that nine new models have been announced to debut in the U.S. in 2012? These include an electric Ford Focus, the Tesla Model S, the SmartForTwo, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Honda Fit, a plug-in Prius, a Fisker Karma, a Toyota RAV-4, a Ford C-MAX wagon. (Even more models are popping up in Europe and Asia).
Oh by the way, the low sales stats might have something to do with the Leaf and Volt not actually being available nationwide in 2011. Both companies will be expanding those markets rapidly in 2012.
Meanwhile, numerous cities have been announcing a wide variety of expanded public recharging stations. Thousands of charging stations have been installed at publicparking places, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls. Tens of thousands more will be installed within a year or two. And that's in addition to home-based charging.
Meanwhile, the scientists keep on reporting new advances in battery tech to extend range, speed the re-charging process and drive down costs. While the general public -- which has been ignoring years of development -- gets its head wrapped around the idea of overnight recharging and batteries that can barely last 100 miles, science already has advanced beyond these first-generation limitations.
Here's just one recent story about Envia Systems creating a battery with a 300-mile range -- at less cost than existing batteries that get a third the range. That's as good as a full tank of gas for most regular cars.
Meanwhile, Nissan has produced a rapid-recharging station that can provide an 80-percent charge in 20 minutes.
Wise consumers are letting a lot of this early development stuff shake out before buying. In this post-recession world, cost consciousness matters.
Right now, higher-cost electric cars do face stiff competition from lower-cost gas-sipping cars that claim "up to" 40 mpg. That "up to" matters a lot. We have one of those cars -- the Hyundai Veloster. It gets that number if you do a lot of highway driving, but not in stop-n-go city traffic.
Right now, at $4 gas and less, it takes a long time to demonstrate any savings from buying a Volt or a Leaf. But how do those numbers change at $5 gas? A 25 percent increase in gasoline prices will change the market. So will having a wider variety of vehicles to choose from. So will improved battery and recharging tech.
So maybe it's a good thing that some companies are dropping out of the electric vehicle race. Players that got in it only for the subsidy probably shouldn't be in the game. I'm not a fan of government subsidies to for-profit businesses. So even though I like electric cars, I'm no fan of all the tax break gimmicks, loan give-aways and other junk the Dems and the Greens so eagerly use to promote their agendas.
I prefer to see the electric car receive no more -- and no less -- subsidy than gas-powered cars get. But regardless of the subsidy games, I think economic realities and consumer demand for lower pollution will make the electric car the long-term winner.