By on March 4, 2011

When, in a former life, I wrote speeches for top execs at Volkswagen, I never made my guy admit failure. Bad for his career and my business. The secret phrase for full retreat was: “This is one of the many options we are looking at. We are in a changing world and must change with it.”

I must have a less circumspect colleague at Ford.

“Electric is a focus of investment,” Ford CEO William Ford said yesterday at The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics Conference in Santa Barbara. And then he dropped the bombshell:

“We still don’t know what the winning technology is going to be…We’re continuing to invest in hydrogen, we’re continuing to invest in biofuels.”

Ford bluntly reminded us that EVs had been tried before and failed:

“Prior to the Model T, a third of all vehicles in this country were electric… this isn’t a new technology. The reason it died away was the ubiquity of charging.  Today, we have the same issue.”

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Ford “has no certainty that an electric grid will be developed that is capable of supporting droves of electric vehicles on the roads.”

Here is a nugget which I would have never dared to put into a speech, and as my victims will attest, I never was shy:

“We’ve made a big bet on electric… but the pace at which that develops, I think anyone who can tell you that is lying.”

What is most significant is the choice of venue for these choice words. It was like preaching Satanism to a nun’s convent. According to a survey conducted at the ECO:nomics conference, half of the respondents said they planned to buy an electric car in the next decade. Most likely, they lied also.

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83 Comments on “Bill Ford Sounds EV Retreat...”


  • avatar
    mpresley

    Let us be clear, EV are not a market decision, but a political one.  Without political support (subsidies) there would be no market push for EV at all.   This situation is a fact, regardless of whatever one thinks of the worth of the subsidies.  What he is essentially saying is that he cannot count on the political will to continue these subsidies.  Again, for whatever reason (and there are a lot of possible reasons), if politicians lose interest in the EV subsidy, any preexisting capital investment in the technology will have been money thrown down the drain.  It is usually easier to predict market demand than political will.

    • 0 avatar
      Slocum

      Subsidies also won’t scale.  The feds can put $8K on the hood of electric vehicles only as long as those vehicles are a tiny fraction of the market.  Unless you think that economies of scale are going to reduce the cost of huge lithium ion battery packs quickly so that subsidies won’t be needed (which I don’t), you’re not going to be able to make money.  By the time the volumes get high enough to provide some ROI, the subsidies per vehicle are going to have to get much smaller, and profits are going to vanish.
      Personally, I want a simple, cheap, dumb mild hybrid with no batteries at all — just some capacitors to capture and release braking energy in stop-and-go city traffic.  Add engine start-stop tech and an excellent CD and there you go.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      racebeer

      Hmmmm … sounds a bit like the ethanol fiasco being repeated.  Subsidies and all.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Let us be clear, EV are not a market decision, but a political one.  Without political support (subsidies) there would be no market push for EV at all.

      So is petroleum: a lot of money is spent securing energy resources, only we’ve been doing for so long that we don’t see it anymore.

      EVs and hybrids are a good step towards making personal transport more sustainable.  The market is very good at short-term optimization, but not good at long-term sustainability, which is why we do things like this.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      psarhjinian: So is petroleum: a lot of money is spent securing energy resources, only we’ve been doing for so long that we don’t see it anymore.

      EVs and hybrids are a good step towards making personal transport more sustainable.  The market is very good at short-term optimization, but not good at long-term sustainability, which is why we do things like this.
       
      A)  the petroleum market is not subsidized in the way of EV market (or lack thereof).  There is actual market demand for crude in its various forms.  Also, petroleum, because of its demand, is actually a net money-maker for the government via taxes.  Unless you want to argue that maintenance of corrupt Arab regimes through foreign aid, and a costly military presence also adds to the equation.  Then the case may be a bit different.

      B)  whether EV are a good step is a moral decision, and a political one.  I will not argue this point, since I was simply speaking about market dynamics in relation to the article.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      the petroleum market is not subsidized in the way of EV market (or lack thereof).  There is actual market demand for crude in its various forms

      Isn’t it, though?  We provide development assistance for locating new resources, military and security aid to producers and favourable nations and tax benefits and R&D incentives.  And we do this at several orders of magnitude more than what we give EVs, and have been doing so for a century or more.

      Heck, we’ve fought wars in part for oil resources: it’s why we kicked Mossadegh out of Iran and set up the Shah (and look where that go us), it’s why Britain parted Kuwait from Iraq.  It’s a good part of why the Crimean war was fought.  There are lots of other examples.

      Don’t tell me we haven’t significantly socialized petroleum, or that there’s somehow a moral threshold that prevents us doing the same with EVs.  The only reason socializing externalities of petroleum is acceptable is because a) we’ve been doing it for so long it’s at the “can’t see the forest for the trees” and b) we’ve so much skin in the game we can’t stop now.

      I’m not advocating not doing it, mind you, but I think it’s highly hypocritical to pretend it doesn’t happen, or that EVs aren’t “worth it” while petroleum is.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      “Unless you want to argue that maintenance of corrupt Arab regimes through foreign aid, and a costly military presence also adds to the equation.”
       
      There are a lot of very expensive chess-pieces we’re financing and moving around the globe, not just the middle east, to keep our favorite fluid flowing.
       
      Investors are encouraged to diversify their portfolio, which essentially what the hydrogen, clean diesel, BEV, and hybrid efforts are all about.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      It is not a question of political will, it is a question of money. If our political classes admitted what is plain to all reasonably prudent men, that the Federal Government is bankrupt, the subsidies for electric cars and ethanol would be among the first things to go.
       
      Parties over kids. Clean this place up and go home. NOW

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      the Federal Government is bankrupt, the subsidies for electric cars and ethanol would be among the first things to go.

      The amount we spend to secure oil resources dwarfs what we spend on EVs.

      For that matter, talking about cutting EVs, or NIH/NSF grants, or curtailing benefits for employees, or anything on the YouCut list is kind of useless when the two big expenditures—a broken healthcare system and a defense budget (after “special appropriations”)—aren’t touched.  Those two (social security is mostly self-funding) are the reason the US is in financial issues, and until both parties deign to address them, it’s not going to get better.

      And it’s not an issue of “but it’s the little things that add up”.  The little things that make such great political theatre, even if you added them up, would barely make a dent in the problem.

      Current American fiscal policy—Democrat or Republican—amounts to deck-chair shuffling on the Titanic.

    • 0 avatar
      Slocum

      <i>”The amount we spend to secure oil resources dwarfs what we spend on EVs.”</i>
      Oh, nonsense.  European countries spend relatively little on defense and tax the hell out of gas (they sure as hell aren’t *subsidizing* it), they’re driving distances are shorter, and people there aren’t jumping to buy EVs either.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      Current American fiscal policy—Democrat or Republican—amounts to deck-chair shuffling on the Titanic.
       
      And we don’t even want to see that monetary policy iceberg floating to starboard.  Ummm…how many lifeboats did you say this ship of state has?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      I am not sure what your point is. Just because canceling one program won’t fix the whole problem, it is not an argument for continuing to spend the money. If you want to cancel other programs, that is fine by me. But, these subsidies are worthless and they need to be canceled STAT.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack99

      MPresley is right.
       
      Cut it any way you want. Any kind of venture that requires billions of dollars in investment WILL always require government investment in infrastructure AND certainty that political support for it won’t die out when some new administration enters the white house. Honda’s CEO some years ago was also quoted as stating that they wouldn’t invest in just one single medium of car energy.
       
      And yes, the ethanol subsidy is the worst possible decision that could’ve been made on so many levels. I won’t even start.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      <i>A)  the petroleum market is not subsidized in the way of EV market (or lack thereof).  There is actual market demand for crude in its various forms.  Also, petroleum, because of its demand, is actually a net money-maker for the government via taxes.  Unless you want to argue that maintenance of corrupt Arab regimes through foreign aid, and a costly military presence also adds to the equation.  Then the case may be a bit different.</i>

      It’s been argued that the US spends upwards of _half_ of the Defense department budget on “stabilizing” oil regimes and defending free access to world oil supplies for import.  I believe that’s a huge subsidy for the whole planet, paid for in fully by American taxpayers, and that we should recoup that money either by tariffs on imported oil or taxes on gasoline ($350-400B per year spent on defense would come to about $4/gal federal gasoline tax, so that’s how much we subsidy it).

    • 0 avatar
      prattworks

      psarhjinian, I have to agree with you.  Those who suggest that subsidies shouldn’t be used to pick winners and losers are turning a blind eye to our current and historic energy policy and foreign policy.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    Please don’t go the GM route and say we are no longer going to develop electric vehicles so we can focus on hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cell vehicles are electric, the only difference is the source of the electrons.
     
    Oh,and yesterday I heard an interview with Bill Ford in which he touted Fords Focus platform based electric vehicle programs because it would enable them to rapidly raise or lower EV production to meet the market.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      Fuel cell vehicles are electric, the only difference is the source of the electrons.

      This is a sweeping generalization that will not hold up to scrutiny.

      By your definition the typical internal combustion engine is also electric.  Valence electrons in hydrocarbons (gasoline) are moved to lower energy states (molecular orbitals) by oxidation with the difference in electronic binding energy converted to mechanical energy and thermal energy.

      It’s all about the number of electrons involved in the reaction and their binding states before and after.  The problem with batteries: few usable electrons per unit mass and a small energy difference between before and after the reaction.  The benefit of batteries: because of the small before/after energy difference the reaction is readily reversible, i.e. batteries can be readily recharged.  Chemical reactions are not readily reversible w/o a large entropy contribution.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave W

      Admittedly a generalization BUT In all of the fuel cell vehicle set ups with which I am familiar the object is to produce an electrical current to run an electric motor. There are a few that are burning H directly, but that is an internal combustion engines.
       
      There are fuel cells that produce useful amounts of heat in addition to current, but I’m not aware of any in a mobility application. Unless you are aware of a any even slightly outside the lab Fuel cell vehicles that could not also be run by batteries, or a long extension cord, I’ll stand by my generalization.
       
      How much further along would GM be with the Volt if they hadn’t said we need to throw all this out and start again from scratch when they shut down the EV1. Returning me back to their claims that they were stopping research on EVs to focus on FC technology. I give them credit for sneaking back toward the EV world with the Volt. Still waiting for the FC attempt.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      In a fuel cell the electricity is produced by oxidation of a fuel (hydrogen, methane, etc) carried on board the vehicle.  A fuel cell is a type of external combustion engine that produces electricity and waste heat.  An awkward way to do the same thing is by running an internal combustion engine to run a generator to make electricity.  (Sound familiar?)  A fuel cell gets around the inherent battery problems (see reply above) by using chemical energy via oxidation, thus it’s range is much greater than a storage battery type vehicle.  On the other hand it has the thermodynamic reversibility problems of an internal combustion engine but mitigated somewhat by the use of hydrogen (less entropy for a dinuclear (H2) system).
       
      Thermodynamically external combustion (rapid oxidation free of volume constraints) is a less efficient use of chemical energy than internal combustion (rapid oxidation under (partially) constrained volume).  This is why diesel engines (with their high compression ratio) are inherently more efficient than otto engines (with their lower compression ratio).  Hence, direction injection otto cycle engines which allow for greater compression without preignition are a route to greater efficiency.

      A steam engine is another type of external combustion engine that oxidizes fuel to produce steam under pressure and waste heat.  Steam engines are (broadly speaking) less efficient than internal combustion engines. ( You could run the boiler of a steam engine with electricity from a sufficiently long electrical cord. By your definition this would make it an electric vehicle, but not by my definition. We’ll have to agree to disagree.) Since the fuel cell is an external combustion engine its efficiency falls lower on the overall spectrum.
       
      Broadly speaking these debates can be settled by physics.  Clever engineering can help, but cannot defy the laws of thermodynamics.  By the first world war these issues had all been worked out.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave W

      I’m afraid I have not been clear in my comments.  I’m glad for more of the chemistry of fuel cells, which I am admittedly mostly in the dark about. I agree that Fuel cells, by taking advantage of the superior energy density and ease of replenishment offered by their fuel sources are a better fit to the needs of most drivers then the use of batteries.
       
      I agree with nearly all you are saying. I also think it isn’t germane to the discussion.

      GM contended that they had no need to work on electric vehicles because they were working on fuel cell vehicles.  However in FC vehicles (as we apparently agree as you offered no counter example), the fuel cell produces an electric current that is then routed through the electrical control circuits to run an electric motor to provide the motive power. Thus it is an electric vehicle that uses the superior characteristics of fuel cells to provide the same electric current that the batteries supply in a BEV.
       
      My generalization (that I still am willing to rethink if you can provide an example of a FCV that doesn’t rely on an electric motor to provide the motive power) is more about the fact that Bill Ford is willing to say that that FoMoCo is hedging its bets, until such time as the market shows it’s there, while GM decided to say, “Aren’t we great, we’re going to go for the moon shot, no need to work on the merely orbital aspects of the problem.”.
       
      Footnote:
      I disagree that I would call your steam example an EV as the motive power is provided by the expansion of the steam in a closed cylinder or turbine, not through the use of an electric motor. If the electrically produced steam was used to run a generator, that then ran a motor, I suppose I would call it a hybrid EV, as well as a ridiculously complex and inefficient way to turn electrons into movement.

      On the other hand, by your definition would a battery electric vehicle also be an external combustion engine? In most of the US, steam from burning oil, coal, or natural gas is what will probably be recharging your battery.
       

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      A fuel cell is a special type of battery but it is definitely a battery.
      Major different is that fuel can be added
       
       
      ps. a lot of battery types get their oxidant agent aka oxygen from the air

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      @Dave W  Yes we agree, only semantics trips us up.
       
      To recap: In one view a fuel cell vehicle is an electric vehicle since the wheels are driven by electric motors.  In an alternate view, since it generates power by combustion using fuel it carries on board, it is a chemical energy vehicle like any common internal combustion engine vehicle.  Agreed?
       
      On the other hand, by your definition would a battery electric vehicle also be an external combustion engine? In most of the US, steam from burning oil, coal, or natural gas is what will probably be recharging your battery.

      Correct. Most of the electricity in the world is produced by combustion.  Ultimately the storage battery driven vehicle is powered by external combustion and is hardly zero emission.  (The term ‘zero emission vehicle’ is slight-of-hand to me.)  Storage batteries are just a poor way to store and transport energy.  By the definition I gave above the only true electric vehicles would be solar powered.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian H

      The problem with fuel cells, duh, is the hydrogen.  You think distributing and storing electricity is hard?  Try hydrogen. Leaks through damn near anything, requires HUGE volume per unit mass, hot invisible dangerous flame, highly explosive, etc.
      It’s more compact to strip H off of CH4 (methane) than to distribute H2 directly, in any phase.
      As for electric storage, keep up, please.  There are advances with very low barriers to manufacturing upgrades from current plant and materials (nanotech and internal geometry etc. changes) which may result in 5-10X energy density improvements in the next 3-5 yrs.  One partial step along the way: planarenergy.com, now in production.  The “physics” has been stagnant for a long time, but a kind of punctuated equilibrium evolutionary surge is now under way.  Check out MIT and Stanford’s reports, e.g.
      And power is going to get dirt cheap on about the same timescale, I hope.  Check out LPPhysics.com for a very interesting contendah.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      @ Brian H

      http://world.std.com/~mica/cft.html

  • avatar
    hreardon

    Bertel –
    Another great nugget and a reminder why I come back to this site several times a day.

    +1 to the whole argument that EVs are only palatable so long as there is political will behind them.  History has demonstrated that when politicians set a broad goal and then let someone find the best solution (ie: get to the moon), we can do so successfully.  We’ve also seen that when politicians are the ones who pick the technology to get us to that goal (ethanol), we end up with horrible waste, obfuscation, outright fraud and lousy results.

    Politicians should stick to setting the broad goals and providing broad incentives. NASA, for example, has been charged with providing incentives for private manufacturers to develop lower cost vehicles for manned space flight and orbital activities. The result is that we now have several companies vying with different technologies to achieve that goal (Orbital Sciences, Space-X, etc.) and we’re not focusing on one specific technology.

    On the flip side, NASA’s doomed Constellation program was 100% politically derived and failed miserably. Congress is repeating this mistake by mandating NASA build a new heavy-lift rocket along with specific capabilities, technologies and of course, contracts in specific Congressional districts. This is what happens when you get an unholy alliance between industry and government. We should have listened to Dwight Eisenhower more carefully…

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      “History has demonstrated that when politicians set a broad goal and then let someone find the best solution (ie: get to the moon), we can do so successfully.”
       
      That “someone” who got us to the moon was the military and its suppliers. Today the ‘military’ is serious about diesel-electrics and locally-sourced bio-fuels, so I guess that’s progress….?

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Getting to the moon wasn’t a broad goal.
      It was getting us to the moon within 10 years and that could only been done by multi staged rockets and so they focused all their attention on multi staged rockets and now the same is happening with the so called private space access companies which all use a small variation on the same technology. Technology mostly developed by the Nazi’s, Nasa and the Russians.
       
      ps. Multi stage chemical rockets aren’t the only way to get to space cheaply but that is only technology the private sector can pillage from the state so that is the only form they can develop succesfully

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Believe it or not, but the best quote about guv-ment in business came from Ringo Starr, ” Anytime the government puts it’s hand into something, it tuns to crap.”

  • avatar
    VespaFitz

    GOOD FOR HIM. Right or wrong, I’ve got more respect for him now than at any time in the past. I’m so sick of politicians and business leaders hedging their bets and cloaking their true intentions in mushy, equivocating language. If you did that for your bosses at VW, you stunk at your job, and you bear some responsibility for the insufferable business-speak we experience every day.
    I also happen to think he’s 100 percent right. Today, we’ve got electric cars that can take you a hundred miles on an eight hour charge at highway speed. We had that a hundred years ago, too, only the speed of a given highway was a lot slower.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      No, he also showed his ability to handle the truth when he admitted years back HE was NOT able to handle the Ford crisis and went out and found somebody better than himself and got the F out of his way.
      That, to me, is the one true test of a great manager; one that knows his/her own weaknesses and surrounds him/herself with those that fill those voids.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Trailer Trash, I think that VespaFitz was saying Bertel was in the wrong here.
       
      Actually, it sounds like while at VW Bertel was doing exactly what he was being paid to do.  If you have ever worked for a German company (I have) you learn very quickly that the protruding nail gets pounded down very hard and fast.  German management does not tolerate iconoclasts at all, and if you want to keep your job you do what you are told to do.  If you want to rise into management you learn to anticipate what you are going to be told to do, and do it before you are asked.

    • 0 avatar
      VespaFitz

      Trailer Trash, we’re on the same page. Bill Ford = good guy.

      Toad, whether or not it’s what’s expected of you, this Bertel Schmitt fellow seems to think that whomever was writing Bill Ford’s speech was somehow in the wrong. “I never made my guy admit failure. Bad for his career and my business.”

      Raise your hand if you’d rather hear an honest opinion or what’s good for Bertel Schmitt’s business.

      Thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The only way Bertel was wrong is in his failure to realize that Bill Ford represents the Ford Family which controls Ford Motor Company. Bill’s the last guy to worry about his career at Ford. He’s in such rarified air that he probably doesn’t employ anybody like a Bertel, and writes his own material. Lt. Dan G. Motors and Sergio Chrysler-Fiat simply aren’t in the same class.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      VespaFitz

      I am sorry if it sounded as if I was disagreeing with you.
      I wasn’t.
      Not at all.
      In fact I was not only agreeing with you but was trying to add what I thought was his best quality.
      That’s all, it just sounded wrong because I wrote it wrong.

      I should have said..No, there is MORE that makes him  good…etc.
      Thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian H

      TeslaMotors Roadster, 200+ mi. at highway speed, more in city traffic.
      Tesla Model S (next yr.) 230-300 mi. at highway speed, more in city traffic.
      Accel that blows the doors off cars costing twice as much.
       
      Keep up.

  • avatar
    SVT48

    The unspoken (at least in the mainstream media) ugly truth about the entire litany of  “green” tech being forced upon us is that much of it doesn’t make economic sense without government subsidies.  Electric vehicles, E-85 fuel, wind power, solar, etc., require such long paybacks that no business would invest in them without the subsidies or tax credits.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t be attempting to improve efficiency, reduce emissions, etc., but as ‘hreardon’ said above, set broad goals and let the technology chips fall where they may.   I’m typing this here on a gray, rainy day in the Midwest where local politicians grouse that the local electric utility isn’t enthusiastic enough about developing solar power with one breath and complain about the electric rates with the next.  Business can’t trust the politicians so they have to make decisions based on good economic sense.

  • avatar

    I like the way Bill Ford talks, straightforward with knowledge. he has vision and expresses himself well. all good things for a Chairman to exhibit.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    A great presentation by Bill Ford, I have increasing respect for the gentleman. He is correct in that there are a lot of competing technologies and no clear evidence of what the winning one will be.
    Electric vehicles will remain niche vehicles until the technology is developed to give them a driving range similar to conventional IC vehicles, they can be recharged more quickly than at present and the infrastructure exists to support them.  I see sort of a chicken and egg conundrum-government subsidies will be required but there is yet no evidence of any one dominant technology emerging to take the place of the ICE.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    I think that this was the perfect venue for the speech.  Ford isn’t only betting on EV’s to be the future, but several other ways to propel vehicles means you can keep coming back to Ford for your other future vehicles.  But, people are lying about buying an EV in the next 10 years unless significant technology changes the industry on price, range, charging times, and charging locations.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Good to see someone in the Ford family grew a pair and told it like it is, and not in a rhetorically safe venue either. Of course he’s going to be labeled as anit-EV and anti-Green though that is not what he’s saying or even implying.  The push for more EV’s is as much ‘image politics’ as it is anything else. He’s saying that Ford would indeed continue to consider an EV program if the technology progresses to the point that they would be competetive with internal combustion engined vehicles.  Infrastructure to support EV use on more than a marginal scale is little more than vaporware at this point. The same people (both within the government and without) who are pushing the EV as a viable alternative have no intention of increasing the number of power plants to butress the grid. As disastrously high as gas prices are in some segments of the US-such as California, and the effect those high prices are having on local economies, can you imagine what it would be like to add EV recharging to the grid in summer months where AC usage peaks and the threat of brown-outs is real? 
    “The reason it died away was the ubiquity of charging.  Today, we have the same issue.”  Well said Mr. Ford. Perahps this will known as ‘the EV elephant in the room’ speech.

  • avatar
    Autojunkie

    If it was not for the political incentives and ECO-hype surrounding full-electrics, they would never reach production. They would make no economic business sense what-so-ever. If the auto industry can’t offer manual transmission sedans or Diesel Jeep Wranglers, then full electrics would fall in that same catagory. The government subsidies are what keep them afloat.

    While in cerrtain climates, and for certain customers, full-electrics make sense. Unfortunately a true sales figure, after the hype has died down, will show that they are just not as popular with customers as we are told, but we will still be force-fed the idealistic fallacy of electric cars saving the world in years to come. Government-backed research dollars compiled onto government-backed retail incentives will not make full-eelctric vehicles any more viable than they are now.

    Would I drive one every day? Sure. If I lived in a warmer climate (try warming your car up in 0 degree Detroit at 5:00 AM), didn’t have to pay a huge premium over a gas-powered car, and didn’t have to worry about range-anxiety (no real public transportation around Detorit at all).

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The recent, dismal, sales figures for both the Leaf and the Volt tell the story . . .  And, apparently, even Consumer Reports says the Volt “doesn’t make sense.”  So, good for Mr. Ford.  He, unlike Jeffrey Immelt of GE, is apparently not willing to build his company based on the existence of government subsidies.

    Regarding “psar’s” comment about markets not being good at other than short term predictions: there’s a reason for that.  Markets are honest; and an honest person admits that, long-term, the future is unknowable.  Of course, for millenia, people have made a lot of money selling the idea that they know what the future is.  Today, we call them “experts.”  In times past, they were called “soothsayers.”

    If we acecpt as true the coal industry’s claim that more than 50% of the electricity in the U.S. is generated from burning coal, then 50% of the EVs and PEVs are coal-powered.  They certainly are in this area (metro Washington, DC).  So, on a US-national basis, I don’t see even the environmental case for EVs or PEVs.  Likewise, the case for “energy independence” — briefly articulated by psar — is a mirage.  Petroleum, coal, natural gas, and even uranium, exist in a global market.  So, even in Canada, which is “energy independent,” Canadian consumers are subject to the same price swings in the price of petroleum that affects consumers in the US, which is not “energy independent.”

    Sure, if at some future time, the burning of coal can be replaced by a cleaner source of fuel for electricity generation, then dealing with the limitations of EVs might make sense.  But, right now, it does not make sense to me — and, BTW, in terms of cost comparisons between electricity and petroleum fuels, I have yet to see anyone account for the fact that EV users are avoiding the very substantial taxes bundled into the retail price of motor fuel, which happen to pay for building and maintaining the roads that everyone is driving on.  The failure to levy an equivalent mileage-based road tax on EV users is another form of EV subsidy, albeit hidden, along with the direct subsidies to EV manufacturers and buyers.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Regarding “psar’s” comment about markets not being good at other than short term predictions: there’s a reason for that.  Markets are honest; and an honest person admits that, long-term, the future is unknowable.  Of course, for millenia, people have made a lot of money selling the idea that they know what the future is.  Today, we call them “experts.”  In times past, they were called “soothsayers.”

      And in the past we called people who worked a free market to it’s maximum potential “robber barons”.  There was a reason for that, too.

      The market isn’t honest, it’s reactionary, and as much as people don’t like to admit it, it needs to be compensated for.  This used to be more obvious when people didn’t live in large groups, like multi-million-person cities and nation states, and the consequences of not hedging against the market were at the same time more severe and more localized.  It’s one thing if you live in a five-family hamlet and one family doesn’t stock enough food to survive the winter and/or situates the midden too close to the well; it’s quite another when you fail to plan for things like that in a major city or nation-state.  You get food riots and lots of sick people.

      You give the market little taps in the right direction.  Debating the nature of those nips and tucks is fine, but pretending that you don’t need them at all is about as naive as the guys who thought fully planned economies could cope with short-term fluctuations.

      It’s plainly obvious that the current model is not sustainable and that the market—and especially most of the major automotive OEMs—left to their own, won’t do a damn thing until we suffer a nasty enough shock.   Personally, I’d rather they spend a little money now to develop the technology and get it out there, rather than wait until our backs are against the wall.

    • 0 avatar

      I would amend what you say to say that from the point of view of geopolitics, cars that run partially or completely on electricity from the utility make sense all over. And from the point of view of global warming, and pollution, they make sense anywhere coal is not the predominant source of power. Of course with caveats about cold weather performance and lifecycle cost.

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      “Sure, if at some future time, the burning of coal can be replaced by a cleaner source of fuel for electricity generation, then dealing with the limitations of EVs might make sense.”  The limitations of the EV are that the range and overall performance are a fraction of their ICE competition, and the time it takes to re-charge an EV is huge compared to filling a tank with fuel.  Burning coal to make electrcity in my opinion isn’t the issue with EV’s but that you won’t find anyone on the Green side or their political fellow travelers willing to build a new power plant of any kind. There is a cleaner alternative to coal, its called nuclear power, and no one is going to go near that are they?  There is another cleaner alternative-wind power but enviornmentals have objections to them too. Even better is hydro-electric, and who among the environmentals is going to say ‘hey lets dam up a big river so we can all drive our EV’s?”  None, and that’s the problem, most of the push for zero emission vehicles is to somehow someway do so in a closed system, with no changes to infrastrucure, no changes to the status quo because along with global warming there is a pathalogical fear of private sector (meaning industrial) growth, because it means ( shudder) new construction projects, it means building more, it means profit.  And there is another reason why environmentalists don’t want infrastructure growth, its because it would beg the comparison that a lot more can be done for less than re strucutring for the sake of zero emission vehicles; simply building more processing plants for crude oil and drilling for oil on American soil and off shore-not to mention that this would be done with private sector dollars. On a cost/benefit basis alone you cannot justify changing the means for producing electricity just to use EV’s, and the Greens don’t want to do it for the sake of their ideology either. We as a nation and hopefully other nations are realizing that nothing short of slitting our economic throats is enough to satisfy those who are smitten with global warming anxiety.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I also think the market needs to be ‘nudged’ and counterbalanced if we are to have any hope of something like a fair or just society. One of the problems, of course, is that those who are doing the ‘nudging’ and counterbalancing sometimes nudge things in a way that merely advances their own, narrow political ends (e.g., getting re-elected, or securing the interests of their financial supporters, and so on) rather than for the good of the community as a whole. This doesn’t always happen, of course, but when it does it creates a general suspicion of government as a whole that then makes the market seem more attractive than it should be.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      There is no such thing as a “fair and just society” so give up any hope of it happening. We are always imperfect and will usually act in our own self-interest. And not every one of us is a good person, so give up any hope for your utopia.

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      Fairness and justice are moral concepts, markets are not moral or just, and whenever there is an attempt to create a materialistic solution to a moral issue through the manipulation of the markets additional moral problems will result.  After all, whose idea of fairness are you going to use?

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The market is honest – people will go with what works best for them, and, right now, EVs do not work for most people. That is the most basic type of honesty that there is right now. The problem is that some people don’t like the result, which is not the same thing as a market failure.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      @ MikeAR  I recognize that people often act in selfish or self-interested ways, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is essentially selfish or self-interested. That, I would suggest, is an oversimplified myth. A fair and just society is something at which we aim, and if people didn’t actually believe in those ideals they would not get as upset as they do when a perceived injustice happens to them (when students don’t get the mark they think they deserved, or a person doesn’t get payed what they think their labor is worth, and so on).
       
      @panzerfaust Even if the market does not act on moral principles (which I would challenge by the way), the choice to affirm the primacy of the market is itself based on a moral judgment that it is the best way for people to live their life. Those who advocate for the free market do so on the same kinds of moral, and theoretical principles as those who argue against it.
       
      @geeber  The market is not an honest and straightforward measure of people’s actual wants or preferences, and trying to distinguish between ‘natural’ wants and needs from those that have have been constructed artificially by the market is problematic to say the least.

    • 0 avatar

      @panzerfaust
      Environmentalsts are not nearly as single-minded as your caricature suggests. Many are open to nuclear, and only a fringe opposes wind. (I write for a major environmental publication.) One of the major problems with NP is the cost, and the level of subsidies. Yeah, you can build ’em, but the money might well be better spent elsewhere.
      http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_and_global_warming/nuclear-power-subsidies-report.html?utm_source=SP&utm_medium=head&utm_campaign=NuclearSubsidies-02-23-11-head

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      David, you make an interesting point about nukes, sure they do get subsidies, but wind, solar, geothermal and every alternative receive subsidies too. In fact, they are completely uneconomical without heavy continuing subsidies. Worse yet, there isn’t any near-term chance that they will ever be feasible without subsidies. I say build nukes now because in the long run they are our best chance for abundant, non-polluting energy. I still don’t want to live next to one though.

      As far as greens go, there are a sizable minority of Luddites who won’t be happy until most of the world is back to subsistence agriculture and living in yurts. They won’t be of course unless they’re slumming but that’s what they want for the few of us remaining.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      For American natural gas there doesn’t exist in a global market as there is no way to export gas from the US/Canada/Mexican market so gas prices in this market could be much lower than the world “price”. Coal is very expensive to move so there is again a big problem with having a world market.
      Uranium, world market? Free?

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      @panzerfaust
       
      range is absolutely an issue with EV but performance should be better than ICE as maximum horsepower is much easier to increase
       
      ps. all EV on the market at the moment are what i would consider beta’s

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Regarding the subsidies on petroleum, I think that the oil companies are being basically dishonest when they, for instance, post the taxes on the gas pumps.  They should be required to also post the subsidies.  If not some depiction of the environmental costs.  Our society can’t make rational choices when the citizenry is so deplorably badly misinformed.

  • avatar
    probert

    @hreardon “Bertel –
    Another great nugget and a reminder why I come back to this site several times a day.”

    Yes a great nugget  BS – You don’t like EVs and pretzel logic leads the way.  What does that quote mean anyway?  ““We’ve made a big bet on electric… but the pace at which that develops, I think anyone who can tell you that is lying.””
    It is so abridged that it’s devoid of syntax and meaning. But I’ll take your word for it that it is a succinct arrow to the heart of the EV idea.  U Rule .

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      By JOHN LETZING
      Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Ford said Thursday that the auto maker is hedging its bets when it comes to electric car technology, noting uncertain demand for electric cars and other technologies could yet prove viable.
      An electric version of Ford’s Focus model is expected next year. The car will follow the releases of electric models from General Motors Co. and Nissan Motor Co.
      “Electric is a focus of investment,” Mr. Ford said during an appearance at The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics Conference in Santa Barbara, Calif. But he added that, “We still don’t know what the winning technology is going to be…We’re continuing to invest in hydrogen, we’re continuing to invest in biofuels.”
      Mr. Ford said that the company has no certainty that an electric grid will be developed that is capable of supporting droves of electric vehicles on the roads. “Prior to the Model T, a third of all vehicles in this country were electric… this isn’t a new technology,” said Mr. Ford.
      “The reason it died away was the ubiquity of charging,” Mr. Ford said of electric car technology, adding that today, “We have the same issue.”
      Ford continued: “We’ve made a big bet on electric… but the pace at which that develops, I think anyone who can tell you that is lying.”
      Rather than develop a “stand-alone” electric vehicle, he said Ford has “chosen to electrify our mainstream platform, which is the Focus.” He added that, “Gas, plug-in and pure electric models are possible.”
      Developing a stand-alone vehicle that did not appeal to car buyers would conceivably leave Ford in a position of “having to shove them out the door, somehow,” perhaps by having to “incentivize the heck out of them.”
      “It’s a spiral we don’t wasn’t to get in anymore,” Mr. Ford said, alluding to the recent, extreme difficulties encountered by the U.S. auto industry.

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      From the Wall Street Journal:  
      Ford continued: “We’ve made a big bet on electric… but the pace at which that develops, I think anyone who can tell you that is lying.”
      Rather than develop a “stand-alone” electric vehicle, he said Ford has “chosen to electrify our mainstream platform, which is the Focus.” He added that, “Gas, plug-in and pure electric models are possible.”
      Developing a stand-alone vehicle that did not appeal to car buyers would conceivably leave Ford in a position of “having to shove them out the door, somehow,” perhaps by having to “incentivize the heck out of them.”
      “It’s a spiral we don’t wasn’t to get in anymore,” Mr. Ford said, alluding to the recent, extreme difficulties encountered by the U.S. auto industry.

      In my (Panzerfaust) opinion Ford is rightly recognizing that popularity of EV’s reflects at best a boutique market, and until either the technology makes a significant jump or the market for current technology EV’s increases the best business sense is to electrify existing platforms. And the incentivizing comment is a direct shot at GM.

    • 0 avatar

      @panzerfaust: well said

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Ford bluntly reminded us that EVs had been tried before and failed:

    ‘Prior to the Model T, a third of all vehicles in this country were electric… this isn’t a new technology. The reason it died away was the ubiquity of charging.  Today, we have the same issue.’

    Every time we have a BEV thread, I remind everyone that my great-grandmother owned a Baker Electric before the Great War (WWI). BEVs got beat out by superior technology 90 years ago, nothing that could change that verdict, has happened, nor will it happen.

  • avatar
    rdeiriar

    p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }
    @Robert Schwartz
    “nothing that could change that verdict, has happened, nor will it happen.”
    Indeed, it hasn’t. But, eventually, it will. We still haven’t found out the best way to store energy for a vehicle, and we are even further away from being able to produce it sustainably, but, if we want to have transportation as we know it in the future, we have to find out.
    IMHO, there is not going to be a “one size fits all” solution, especially as airplanes are singularly unsuited for electrification. Hydrogen, while difficult to store, is a more viable energy storage medium for airplanes (Tupolev in Russia flew an experimental hydrogen powered airliner, the TU-155, in the 90s)
    Another, very different question is if this is the right time to start doing what amounts to subsidized field experiments with non-ICE vehicles. Europeans think it is, the US is divided on this, and the rest of the world cannot afford it.
     

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Usually technology goes down in price over time.  This is true with ICE, but the fuel is going up.  Superior technology can be beat by price.  Batteries are much better than they were years ago, as are ICEs, but fuel prices for EVs are variable, could be coal, nuclear, solar, wind, or hydro.

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      I think the point Mr. Ford is making is that the technology is better, but not significantly better to be anything but supplementary to the Ford line up of vehicles. 

  • avatar

    EV vehicles? It’s so 19th century.
    Why not making make electrical heating mandatory for every building/household. Ban other methods.
    Proven technology, no batteries, no worries about range. High-quality electricity available from every outlet.
    How’s that? Isn’t that a convenient truth?

  • avatar
    George B

    It’s really hard to make the economics of EVs or alternative fuel work compared to gasoline and diesel fuel.  Hard to make energy as cheap and as portable as refined petroleum.  Battery packs are heavy and expensive.  High pressure tanks for natural gas or hydrogen are heavy and expensive.  Alcohol fuels also compare poorly on energy density and cost.
     
    Regarding how much gasoline is subsidized and taxed, the US uses on the order of $100 billion gallons of gasoline a year and the total military budget of the US is about $600 billion, so it’s possible that military spending helps cross subsidize oil production from unstable areas, but not from our neighbor Canada.  I have my doubts that the US could ignore the Middle East even if we didn’t use their oil because oil markets don’t stop at national borders and supply disruptions cause price shocks for everyone.  However, one possible policy change would be to collect a tax on crude oil that comes to the US by ship from another continent with no tanker tax for oil that comes to market by pipelines within the US, Canada, and Mexico.  In return for a tanker tax on imported non-NAFTA crude oil, I would want to see more of the North American continent opened up for oil production and lower EPA regulatory barriers for low volume manufacturing of alternative fuel vehicles.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    “” “The reason it died away was the ubiquity of charging.  “

    Did Bill mean to say the opposite? If charging facilities were really ubiquitous, then EVs might make more sense than they do now.

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      I think ubiquity of charging means that you are incesantly charging, that is you spend more time charging than driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      Amps x Volts = Watts. That is a definition and it cannot cannot be changed. 30 Amps x 240 volts (i.e. the highest power line you will get in an ordinary American residence) can pump 7.2 kWh. If your BEV gets 5 mi/kWh, you will be able to travel 36 mi. on one hours charging. In other words, a BEV charges at 36 mph.
       
      Of course that is optimistic, line voltage and amperage are usually lower than 240/30, and charging is less than 100% efficient. Your top charging speed would realistically be about 30 mph. This is a core problem with BEVs that cannot be finessed..

    • 0 avatar
      Koblog

      And wait until people see their electric bills. There’s no free lunch. It’s less efficient to make electricity than to burn refined petroleum. And we refuse to make more electricity generation capacity.
       
      When I was a kid, it was predicted that the cost of electricity would fall so low that they’d have to give electricity away. Remember “Gold Medallion, All-Electric Homes?” The wave of the future!
       
      If we don’t make more electricity, mass-scale electric cars are impossible. We can’t keep the lights on in California now, much less if everyone used the equivalent calories of electricity we currently use as gasoline.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian H

      I think he meant the need for charging stations everywhere.  Has to be readily accessible.

  • avatar
    50merc

    You can’t say electric vehicles aren’t a success. GM has sold dozens of Volts! And quite possibly, at least one to an ordinary customer.

  • avatar
    R Sweeney

    In 1911, a Detroit Electric got 100 miles per charge and cost 2 1/2 times as much as a gas model.
    In 1996, a GM EV1 got 100 miles per charge and cost 2 1/2 times as much as a gas model.
    In 2011, a Nissan Leaf gets 100 miles per charge and costs 2 1/2 times as much as a gas model.
    Progress isn’t coming fast to electric cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian H

      In 2011 a Tesla Roadster gets 230 miles per charge and costs half as much as a comparable supercar.  In 2012, Tesla Model S will get 260 miles per charge and cost about 2/3 as much as a comparable sports sedan (but be much better).
      You were saying?

  • avatar
    Koblog

    Good for Ford. Sanity.
    Key quote: Ford “has no certainty that an electric grid will be developed that is capable of supporting droves of electric vehicles on the roads.”
    We don’t have the grid. And this, by design.
    The same idiots at war with the gas automobile are at war with electricity generation. They think electricity comes out of the wall because they are good liberals and deserve clean power, not because the Hank Reardons of the world are working hard making the stuff in a plant somewhere. Ewwww. A “plant.” Icky.
    This, as they run a houseful of electric gadgets fed by a 400-Amp panel while we experience Jerry Brown-driven brownouts because the windmills and solar panels are down.

  • avatar
    ArrowSmith

    The whole EV thing is a joke until we come to terms with nuclear energy.

  • avatar
    inspectorudy

    This is my first visit to this site and it is very interesting to see all of the diverse opinions on this subject. First, hooray for Bill Ford and his honesty. Very rare in the world today. Second, to me the best way to accomplish a meaningful advancement in the propulsion world is to offer a huge reward, $50 million dollars(?) to the man/company that  makes a significant advancement in any form of USABLE energy. My personal opinion is that it will be some combination of chemical/gas fuel cell coupled with an uninvented battery/capacitor combination. We can all agree that much of our driving is short trips that could be sustained with home charging, if new power plants are ever approved by the econazis, and the long trips could be done on the fuel cell. But no matter how hard you eco people want it to be true if there is no REAL market for these hybrids then they are not going to make. Our country is broke and we cannot afford ANY subsidies for anything. If you invent the product that does what it is expected to do without government help then you my friend will be just like Henry Ford. 

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Cut the [email protected] with this “our country is broke” rhetoric. Come out here to Aspen or Vail, where the lifts and lots are still full all ski season, even at $90 a day. Come tour the McMansions of our suburbs, with four-car garages and a home theater in every basement. The rich have never been richer, though the upper middler class has reasons to worry. Our dollars have simply been concentrated into too few hands. Tax the rich, and we can afford  to maintain our common infrastructure– the roads, schools and physical systems that have carried us up to this point.

  • avatar
    knavyblue

    Sure, the people on my block and I aren’t poor even though we don’t have good jobs or money because the guy who lives on the corner is rich and we can just take his money. Of course, after we burn through that I’m sure we can go back and get him again, unless he moves or decides to quit working or something.


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