Electric highway: Is it the right bang for the buck?
Trying too hard to turn electric cars into something they are not?
Aside from costs, an undoubtedly huge issue, electric cars make much more sense than most consumers believe. Still, EVs require managed expectations. Today and well into the future, most electric cars are pure commuter cars.
Consequently, does the electric highway, set to stretch from Canada to Mexico along the West Coast’s Interstate 5 change that, at least in that neck of the woods?
I started thinking about this after reading about a study regarding the rail system in Great Britain. “The study showed that smaller and more incremental changes applied to a large proportion of the fleet would deliver significantly greater fuel saving benefits than more radical innovations applied to a smaller number of vehicles.”
Through 2020, electric cars are destined to be a very small percent of new car sales, and an extremely smaller percent of the overall fleet. Hence, it seems fair to ask if this niche segment is receiving too much attention today?
There is no question that battery research is essential, now. Might not electric highway money be better spent on this purpose? Or, like the train study, would it be better to focus on more mainstream hybridization?
Hybrids like the Toyota Camry hybrid and the Ford Fusion hybrid, for instance, prove that much better fuel economy is possible in cars that Americans already buy in huge numbers. Coupled with hybrid cars like the the Toyota Prius C, the technology to cost-effectively convert a huge chunk of US auto sales is almost within reach for mainstream buyers. Plus, if a battery breakthrough is achieved, these hybrids can be converted into plug-in hybrids — the type of plug-in that most studies suggest will be preferred by Americans for some time anyway.
I’d bet a $1,000 tax credit would go a long towards pushing consumers towards such hybrid vehicles. With the same plug-in tax credit money, you could put at least 7 times as many vehicles on the road compared to EVs, while also helping to develop more scale and better supply chains for such vehicles.
Of course, maybe today’s focus shouldn’t even be batteries, or at least not full hybrids. Instead, perhaps the mild hybridization of every pickup truck sold in America is the best focus right now. Instead of putting off light duty truck CAFE improvements for another decade, start right now.
Besides, isn’t range anxiety mostly a psychological issue, not a real one?
Certainly, the electric highway can help extend the viability of electric cars to some extent, but mainstream consumers are not going to be swayed into buying an electric because they can now stop every 80 miles, charge for half an hour — as long as their are no lines — and drive from San Diego to San Francisco. Mainstream consumers will want more, a lot more.
Thus, it seems to me the electric highway will only entice a very small number of new buyers to choose an electric car over another option.
Regardless, if we’re going to focus on charging infrastructure, wouldn’t it be more prudent to focus on the huge percent of American auto consumers that don’t have access to off-street parking? That’s a very serious problem. Since EVs make more sense in urban commuting than long range highway driving, wouldn’t solutions for this problem provide much more bang for the buck?
And considering today’s energy problems coupled with massive debt and a still struggling economy, shouldn’t the most bang for the buck and timeliness be key metrics for any government expenditures?