I tell my kids, if you’re going to apologize for something, never use the word “if.” I’m sorry if I offended you” is not an apology. Audi of America Prez Johann De Nysschen is not, by nature, a word-mincing machine. Only now he is, ish, via Audi’s Facebook page.
An online report today, subsequently picked up by various other forums, left an unflattering sense of my feelings toward electric vehicles and the people who support their development. Let me clearly state that, in my opinion, electric vehicles will be part of the future transportation of society – but only if we go about it the right way. In fact, Audi is working on electric vehicles. I do not specifically recall using the term “car for idiots” during my informal conversation with the writer. It was certainly not my intention to leave the impression that I’m opposed to electrical vehicles, and if I was unclear on either of those points then I need to eat crow.
What I do recall is the essence of my contention, namely that the feasibility of the Chevrolet Volt as a concept is questionable. And that policy decisions – and the industry’s reactions to those decisions – are leading us toward a technology that may sound tempting on the surface, but, as of now, also contains many deep and unsolved economic and technological compromises.
“Mass electrification” of the vehicles on American roads could lead to problems like a strained electric grid. Large-scale utilization of electric vehicles will require massive investment in new power stations that are much cleaner than the ones in use in the U.S. today. Otherwise, it could merely shift greenhouse gas emissions from the tailpipes of cars to the smokestacks of coal-burning utilities. That’s not just my opinion. The California Air Resource Board this past April concluded that electric vehicles presently are second only to hydrogen cars in greenhouse gas impact when measured on a well-to-wheel basis.
Returning to the Volt, my point was simply one of its economic feasibility today. The 50% or so price increase that the Volt represents over a similar gasoline car cannot be offset through the savings from reduced fuel consumption. The only way to offset the extreme premium for the Volt is through taxpayer-funded subsidies. So I question if that makes economic sense.
Does that mean the Volt and other electric vehicles are forever impractical? Of course not.
In recent broadcast interviews, discussions with journalists and meetings with policy makers I have asserted that the future of automotive transportation lies not in any one “silver bullet”, but in a range of technologies that meet different needs – all while lowering emissions and fuel consumption. That includes plug-in electric cars when technological and economic hurdles make them more practical. It includes hybrid vehicles. And it includes clean diesel along with substantially more efficient takes on today’s gasoline internal combustion engines.
Admittedly I am a passionate advocate for the role that clean diesel technology can play in easing this nation’s challenges. Cutting through misperceptions about clean diesel and other technologies can be frustrating. If you’d like to hear my thoughts on these issues, go to a video of my recent remarks at http://www.audiusanews.com. Meanwhile, know that we are working toward a more sustainable future.