By on May 10, 2011

President Obama devoted his weekly address to energy and transportation policy this week, speaking to the nation from an Allison hybrid bus transmission plant in Indiana. A White House blog post accompanying video of the President’s speech included a large infographic on “The Obama Energy Agenda And Gas Prices,” the transportation-oriented section I’ve excerpted above. This one section is actually a fairly good representation of Obama’s auto-related energy policy preferences, and illustrates why I often find myself criticizing the president here at TTAC.

One half of the graphic is devoted to electric vehicles, which it shows becoming rapidly cheaper without offering any sourcing for the numbers (Churlish cynicism, you say? Sadly, a little cynicism is called for when it comes to the White House and EVs). The numbers actually come from this DOE report [PDF], published last summer, which cites the DOE’s Vehicle Technology Program and assumes 100 mile range and 3 miles per kWh is a “typical battery.” Because the industry uses $/kWh, we’ll call this “typical” battery a 33 kWh unit… and find that the government assumes a 2021 price per kWh of about $150. The 2015 price breaks out to around$300/kWh. For some perspective,  a Boston Consulting Group study released early last year found that

Given current technology options, we see substantial challenges to achieving [the "holy grail" price of $250/kWh] by 2020.

Without a major breakthrough in battery technologies, fully electric vehicles that are as convenient as ICE-based cars—meaning that they can travel 500 kilometers (312 miles) on a single charge and can recharge in a matter of minutes—are unlikely to be available for the mass market by 2020.

Is Obama banking on Germany’s “miracle battery” or is there some other major battery breakthrough that has changed the game in the last year? Sure, Nissan claims to have beat down its Leaf battery costs to $375/kWh, but that was probably only possible due to its risky global tool-up to around 300k units worth of annual battery production scale, from Oppama to Sunderland to Smyrna. Will anyone else bet that big on EV batteries between anytime soon? At this point nobody seems anxious to bet bigger on EVs than Nissan has, making $150/kWh by 2020 seem highly unlikely.

But critics of Obama’s overemphasis on EVs can’t go much farther beyond dismissing his “1 million EVs by 2015″ goal as naive or unlikely to succeed… and ultimately such criticism will only inspire more EV subsidies. It’s the other half of Obama’s transportation “Energy Agenda” that’s the most fertile territory for serious attack. And no, not the “cleaner buses” point… it’s Obama’s reliance on biofuels as the second major plank of his energy strategy that rankles.

Huge swaths of the American business community have joined up with environmental groups to protest the continuing subsidization of ethanol, most recently when the EPA announced the E15 approval Obama trumpets in his infographic. That extra money for 10,000 E15-capable pumps? That’s because no gas station owner will pay to install a pump for a kind of fuel that only cars built since 2001 can use… and which the auto industry has tried to ban. And why E15 in the first place? Because blenders can’t sell enough E10 to blend the government-mandated amount of ethanol and collect their $6b this year in “blender’s credits” to do so. A subsidy to support a subsidy which in turn props up yet another subsidy (I may have missed a subsidy in there somewhere). You can’t make this stuff up.

Finally, we have the “commercialization of cellulosic ethanol,” a red herring that’s been touted by ethanol backers for at least three years now. The latest on that front? A case study posted at energybulletin.net notes

Based upon information provided by the corporation proposing the biorefinery, Frontier Renewable Resources LLC, owned by Mascoma Corporation and J.M. Longyear, I would not consider cellulosic ethanol to be efficient from an energy perspective.

The facility would have 6 boilers rated at 90 million BTU/hour that will operate 24/7 for 347 days per year according to information provided in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Environmental Assessment. Converting the BTUs to megajoules, the boilers would generate 4.7 billion megajoules per year of energy that will be used to make ethanol.

The plant is projected to produce 40 million gallons of ethanol/year according to the DOE’s Environmental Assessment and Frontier’s air pollution permit application, which has an energy content of 3.3 billion megajoules of energy. The boiler energy consumed in making ethanol would be 1.43 times more than the energy content of the ethanol that they plan to produce. According to the DOE’s Environmental Assessment, timber harvesting, wood processing and wood transportation would require approximately 3.75 million gallons of diesel fuel per year. When diesel fuel energy use is included in the energy required for the production of the ethanol, the ratio of energy consumed/energy produced increases to 1.59.

Sound good? It had better, because the goal is to build four more or cellulosic”or “advanced” (read: made from anything other than corn) ethanol plants  in order to meet the (recently reduced) cellulosic ethanol blending mandates. Or, not. Remember, by law we have to use 36b gallons of this stuff by 2022, whether it makes any sense or not.

Ultimately, Obama’s transportation “Energy Agenda” is severely lacking in substance in terms of both long-term strategy and short-term policy. Half of the agenda seems to be waiting for EVs to cheapen up, while the other half seems to be not escaping the endless trap of ethanol subsidies (at a time when it such an escape seems most likely). Without trotting out the familiar campaign slogans (as I’m hoping to start a conversation on policy rather than politics), this is hardly the bold, new direction that Obama’s fans and detractors alike seem to expect from him (oh shoot, there’s a political lesson there… please ignore it).  Between natural gas, battery swap infrastructure and (gasp) a gas tax, there are plenty of options in Obama’s toolbox for charting a more daring, effective course for US energy and transportation policy… we’re just waiting to hear something, anything new.

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91 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Fixing Transportation Edition...”


  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    On the other hand, it is better to start finding solutions now than waiting on 15$/gallon gas.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      If/when gas actually hits $15/gal based on free market prices and not artificial factors, the solution will find itself. That’s the power of the market.

      • 0 avatar
        cmoibenlepro

        Technology would not appear by itself instantly.
        Better to be prepared for after-peak oil.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Markets don’t work that way. They are not fairy godmothers

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Actually yeah markets do work that way. Look at your history. Pretty much everytime a tecnology has reached its limits another technology has appeared to take its place. Look at cars supplanting horses. Steam v. sails, just about everything. The beauty of the market is that it responds to genuine need rather than bureaucratic edicts.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Horses didn’t reach their limit nor did sail, they were just supplanted by something “better”.

        What did reached it limit was for instance charcoal in Britain. And it took more than a century to get coal as substitute. But Britain was at least very lucky cause most places never got their substitute for charcoal until the oil age.

      • 0 avatar
        Lexingtonian

        Man, true faith like that can ward off a vampire.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        I chuckled at the free market faith lover. Horses reached their peak around the turn of the 19th century. Sails peaked around the turn of the 16th century. Technology doesn’t magically appear because the market wants it to. You’re talking about “price points” where the cost of already existing technology becomes cheaper than the current technology and throughout history we’ve found that “price points” are subjective and if an industry is large enough will avoid dealing with new technology until forced into it by the government or lack of access to old technology.

        It’s why the US car market has been flooded with crappy GM/Ford/Chrysler for years using ancient technology and inefficient engines. The market wants better fuel economy but nobody is willing to sell it because they have a collective interest in profit. If NOBODY agrees to sell a truly fuel-efficient car then NOBODY gets one. The market never accounts for monopolization since the free market is by definition monopolized.

        That being said, I think the reliance on E85 is a concession to farmers in the Midwest but there are worse things to invest in. I would sooner cut oil subsidies than corn subsidies for the simple fact that while both go to large corporations atleast the corn subsidies work their way into the hands of small farmers as well.

        On the issue of batteries, the price will come down as mass production increases. If every car in America was forced to offer a hybrid power train at an additional cost (seems to be about 3K currently) I suspect the hybrid would sell rather well and batteries would come down in price. The Boston firm is conservatively forecasting on essentially an unchanged technology. With the rapid expansion of battery tech we’re likely to see a significant shift in battery tech before 2020. I’m hoping for super capacitors.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        Xeranar: The market wants better fuel economy but nobody is willing to sell it because they have a collective interest in profit. If NOBODY agrees to sell a truly fuel-efficient car then NOBODY gets one. The market never accounts for monopolization since the free market is by definition monopolized.

        Proof, please, that the auto makers have been colluding to prevent technology that dramatically increases fuel economy from reaching the market.

        Of course people want dramatically increased fuel economy. They also want a vehicle will protect them in most crashes, can cruise comfortably at 80 mph when they want it to, features effective air conditioning, has room for at least four people and their luggage and bristles with neat gadgets.

        And – most important of all – it can’t cost too much.

        Dramatically increasing the fuel economy will, at this point, negatively impact those other variables that drive customer purchasing choices. This is why most gains in the coming years will be incremental nature.

        A 100-mpg vehicle that still meets current customer expectations regarding vehicle quality, room, performance and features would basically give its manufacturer a license to print money. The idea that manufacturers are preventing fuel economy gains to protect profits does not pass the logic test.

        I’m sure that most people also want a million dollars, or want to have the perfect body. But they aren’t willing to make the sacrifices or take the chances that will make those respective goals happen. It’s the same with people wanting increased fuel efficiency.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        [italic]Proof, please, that the auto makers have been colluding to prevent technology that dramatically increases fuel economy from reaching the market.[/italic]

        The federal standards for particles set by the EPA have been heavily influenced over the years to push gasoline as the primary motivator. Following suit the reduction in engine size could be offset by the cost of a turbocharger. Now adjusting for a mass production of turbochargers the increase in the average car should be somewhere around sub-$1000 in 2011. Arguably the auto manufacturers of the US have collectively treated fuel economy as an afterthought throughout most of their history. Only when fuel crisis hit do the manufacturers respond because they’ve made a clear marketing choice to not offer economy and power in the same equation. Multitudes of diesel and turbo-charged gas vehicles have decent pickup and economy but the corporations have made a choice to separate the two in concept because it would drive up the price of cars and cut into their profits. Thus we’re stuck with “econoboxes” and “gas-guzzlesr” While we could have a firm mix of both. That’s why we have CAFE standards at all.

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      A significant part of the future’s $15 gas is the death spiral of the US dollar.

      And that devaluation is largely caused by this administration’s reckless abuse of the national credit card.

      Nobody knows what the market will come up with when oil runs out. What the market will come up with when Washington’s credit line runs out is no mystery at all, and the effects of that will make $15 gas seem like a relative picnic.

      The specific handouts are immaterial. Good ideas, indifferent ideas, bad ideas, they’re all ideas that the US simply can’t afford.

      • 0 avatar
        roadrabbit

        @geeber

        +1 (a thousand times)

        And here’s some auto heresy, people’s true desire for high MPG is lukewarm at best. In general, people are not willing to give up much to get high MPG. Sales of B-segment (subcompact) cars are only now (with $4+/gal gas) increasing and are still are a tiny part of the overall market. People want comfort, convenience, acceptable performance, the right price and then, just maybe, good MPG (but don’t charge much extra for it). People may say otherwise, but their actions speak louder.

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    And Obama’s kind of nonsense is why I refuse to support increased gas taxes. Yes, we should use less gas. That’s a given.

    But it should be market-driven, not mandated by CARB or the EPA or Obama’s friends in high places.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      Agreed. The “engineer-in-chief” is without substance – it’s a combination of questionable politics, economics, and pixie-dust.
      We are all encouraged to use less gas by the price.
      Battery breakthroughs are wonderful, but batteries are storage devices. Where is the energy stored in the batteries going to come from?

      • 0 avatar
        obbop

        “Where is the energy stored in the batteries going to come from?”

        The USA’s politicians and bureaucrats and assorted minions and lackeys would appreciate you stowing away your rational logic and kindly please cease polluting the country and, perhaps, interfering with whatever new status quo is implement to ensure the continuance of the ever-upward flow of wealth into the hands of the few atop the the socio-economic pile.

        Thank you.

        (shhhhh….. just between thee and me…. good question but it IS best to not disturb our beloved leaders. It CAN be risky as USA history has proven so many times.)

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Coal and wind power mostly

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Increasing gas taxes is a market driven solution to decrease gas consumption

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        Except those gas taxes go to cronies and entitlements, not transportation.

        And if they do go to “transportation”, they go to useless things like Ethanol and Bridges to Nowhere.

        No way, no support.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Who cares what they are used for. The increase is to decrease demand, not to pay for roads.

        See it like tobacco taxes, they are to discourage smoking and not to raise income.

        ps. Don’t laugh to hard, i know it is just the excuse

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        +1 increasing the gas tax in a controlled manner is the market driven approach. In this case Europe has something to teach the US – no CAFE, car makers make what they want and people pay to play. If you have a 10mpg car, fine you know if you can afford the fuel. The Aston Martin cygnet atrocity is because of CAFE and CAFE like laws, no any gas tax.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Europe will have in the future a kind of CAFE to

      • 0 avatar
        musiccitymafia

        1. There’s just something intrinsically unsettling with raising taxes to “force” a supposed free-market driven solution.
        2. There’s also something intrinsically unsettling with taking money from population segment A to use for population segment B which is what would happen if increased tax revenues did not go into transportation.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        1. but that is only if you believe that markets can be free. In practise they are not
        2. But the state has to raise money anyway so why not take it with the most positive effect.

  • avatar
    charly

    ICE have the inconvenience that you can only refuel them at very specific and rare places, unlike electric cars, so they need a larger range to compensate for that. Also the refuelling time of minutes is an artefact of gasoline. 15 minutes is short enough, specially if you have electrified highways

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      Surely you are not serious? Gas pumps are in short supply? Wher do you live, in 220v land? Ridiculous.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        I didn’t say that they are in short supply but that they are rare. I have an electric socket at home but no gas pump.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Where are they rare? Just because you don’t have one at doesn’t mean rarity. How far do you have to drive to fill up? Bot very far, I bet. Do you have a 220v that has been modded to take the standardized EV plugin? I bet not. See how far you get charging an EV with what you have now.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        I live in 230v land and gas station is 1 for every 10000 people or so

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Ok so you aren’t in this country so you really can’t comment on the Continental US. We have probably through most of the country more than one for 500 people. The beauty of that is that not everyone gets gas at the same time so there are no waits or shortages.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @MikeAR Well.. I live in that oil producing country on your northern border. I got maybe 7 gas stations within 5 miles of my front door. Everyone one of them has the same $1.39 a Litre price…..Arrrrrr!

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Actually Mikey, I prefer to think or at least wish that there was another country between me and Canada. We would be better off on our own.

    • 0 avatar

      With 15 minute recharging times, refueling stations will turn into parking lots! (Electrified highways is a nice dream.)

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Recharging station isn’t as expensive or environmentally problematic as a gas station.

        ps A small gas station is at least a million so with 10 pumps it is 100K a pump which is an order more expensive than an electric recharger

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        A small gas station can also serve many households, they aren’t limited to just one family. Drop this line of discussion, it’s going nowhere fast.

  • avatar

    If they want to barge ahead with subsidies, they ought to support E85, not E15. What are all those flex-fuel Malibus and Liberties for?

  • avatar

    Oil production was essentially flat from 05-08, and the International Energy Agency predicts a yearly decline in production going forward from 2-6%. You can Wikipedia figures for oil demand, but +2% per year is a number supported by historical trends. This, if true, would mean demand would outstrip supply somewhere around 2015. Those free markets we so cherish will naturally respond to this by raising prices, probably considerably above current levels. What’s the development time for a new vehicle model using current technology, again? And when we add to that the need to develop and refine new technologies, who thinks useable 50-100 MPG or MPGe vehicles will be available by that time? Right. Obama is very obviously not the energy messiah, but at least he’s trying something. What exactly does his opposition have on the table?

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      So much wrong there, in case you don’t know history we have been on the verge of running out of oil for years now. Take your discredited Malthusian ideas and read some contrasting views for a change. I think that reserves are now greater than ever before from what I have read.

      • 0 avatar

        Have faith: VW has a 15-year plan

      • 0 avatar

        I am absolutely willing to acknowledge that my ideas may well be “Malthusian,” as you so eloquently put it. But what you’re reading cannot be based in science: oil takes a very long time to form. We’ve only been using it for about 150 years. During that time, we have using reserves that, because oil develops so slowly, are by definition pretty much static. Therefore, the reserves *must* be depleting. They cannot, by any logic based remotely on fact, be increasing.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @MikeAR: +1

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I am quite disappointed with the negativity of this article. Gas is a finite resource and will become increasingly scarce (read more expensive) as the car population increases and the supplies become harder to find. Bio-fuel is the most foolish thing I have ever heard of… Lets use valuable food crop land to keep on powering oversized “cars”… (and not doing a thing about Co2 either) WE… can clearly afford food price increases so why ever should we be bothered with those that can’t???
    We have the capability, the reasons and the time now to invest in the future and not doing so is just plain selfish. Coming up with lame little semi political reasons why looking into EV’s is kinda immature.

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      Son…don’t believe the hype. Oil is not as finite a resource as the public has been led to believe. Between Alaska and Canada, we could nearly cut our Arab oil imports in half…if they ever started drilling in Alaska. The environmental groups’ reasoning for not drilling in Alaska are absurd, to say the least, and what’s interesting is that all the ads you see for “alternative energy” seem to come from OIL COMPANIES…not a coincidence. I understand wanting to work towards the future, but doing that because of an unreasonable fear of “peak oil” is ridiculous. There is a reason for the sudden proliferation of “alternative fuel” ads…because people are making money off of it.

      • 0 avatar
        Tree Trunk

        Here in Alaska we peaked a little over 2 million barrels per day 20 years ago.

        Right now we are at less then one million barrels aday. While I agree with you there are untapped possibly here, they are a drop in the bucket compared to the 15 million barrels that are imported a day.

        Wishful thinking will only take you so far.

  • avatar

    I think BMW will save us.

    Their citycars look really hot. Bimmer’s on its small game. Easy battery switch proficiency is built right in. SUck it, Tesla.

  • avatar

    Also corn for gas is nuts

    Just look at that snide corn icon. A*&^%#@!s

    Sooooo meaningless. They can only hope

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Anything that relies on a subsidy to exist is a failure. Anything that has the government, any government, being pushed onto its citizens is going to fail as well.

    Force, coercion, “social engineering”, priming the pump, any of these so called manoeuvres fail, and have failed repeatedly.

    Somebody is not paying attention.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      So, that would include cars, guns, oil, the space program, the internet, etc?

      • 0 avatar
        Dimwit

        Yep. Cars and guns weren’t subsidized. Oil is black gold. A rush whenever there’s a strike. The internet isn’t subsidized. Yes, it was created by gov’t but gov’t itself had no idea it was going to turn out like this.

        As it stand now, the space program is a failure. One reason is the fact the gov’t hasn’t opened it up to private business. It will happen sooner or later and I wager that everything that has gone on before will be thrown out and something else will take its place. Sorta like the internet, actually.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Cars are subsidized, see for example the prius and its development. Gun are mostly made for governments. Internet is heavily pushed by governments, without it you get third world speed as seen in America

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Charly, where are you from? Nothing personal but you really don’t know much about this country. Guns, internet, whatever. You aren’t familiar with our society.

        I know we lagged in internet speeds for a long time but high speed is pretty much ubiquitous now in most areas. But for the most part we (individuals and businesses paid our own way to high speed. We didn’t burden those who don’t want it and shouldn’t have to pay for it.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        Government should and does fund things that individual businesses cannot or will not do.

        The space program – of which I am a fan – cannot be profitable. If there was a possibility of profit in traveling to Mars, we’d have gotten there 30 years ago. Only satellite launching can be done profitably, but that is not ‘exploration’, but merely ‘deployment’ of a machine whose profits are made by selling services here on Earth.

        Oil, farm, and car subsidies exist due to political pressures, not market needs; these businesses thrived before their subsidies were born. Government programs are the next best thing to eternal life.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      As well as guns, cars, etc… you can include financial institutions as well. Funny how the highest paid jobs in this country which by Randroid logic means they are the best “producers” are stock market speculators. This is a “real” job while raising children isn’t real work because you don’t get paid for it. I believe their is not a single top international corporation that hasn’t either been massively subsidised or out right bailed out at some point. Capitalism relies on socialism to bail it out all the time, recent history is just one example.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        This time I am mostly going to agree with you except I won’t get into the relative worth of different jobs. But for too long big business in this country has looked to help and money from the government. Corporate welfare has cost taxpayers trillions of dollares and we are on the hook for more as long as no one is allowed to fail. The corporate criminals ought to be punished quickly and harshly to discourage others from doing the same things. Most of the financial industry ought to be in prison now, a lot of the higher ups on death row for their crimes.

        You deliberately misread and misspeak about Ayn Rand. She did not celebrate the financial wizards, her heroes were men and women who produced something of value, goods and services that people needed and wanted. In fact her villians in Atlas Shrugged were the government and those businesses who depended on the government. That describes the financial industry today perfectly.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Businesses that depend on the government describes every industry, not just the financial industry and it has pretty much alwasy been this way.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Read again, did I say anything about the financial industry being the only one dependent on government? I used it because it is the worst offender. You have GM, GE and lots of others who are too but most of the money and most of the crimes were on Wall Street. You ducked your misstatement of Randian philosophy. Don’t want to admit you’re wrong?

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Calling Rand’s Objectivism a “philosophy” is a bit of a stretch. My point was that Randroids defend the wealthy based on Randian free market logic when in fact there are few if any self made men in the real world. Frankly, misstating Rand’s “philosophy” bothers me as much as mis-quoting mother goose, so yeah I’ll admit I was wrong if it makes you feel better.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Trains. Not necessarily high-speed as in Europe or other parts of the world, but “reasonable” speed rail by elimination of grade crossings and other improvements. 79 mph is the cheapest “high speed” readily attainable – we have that now, with some main lines rated for 90 along the ex-Santa Fe Super Chief/Amtrak Southwest Chief route in some places. Above 79 mph it gets real expensive real quick. That will not replace autos, but make sense for short-haul distances like Cincinnati – Chicago, 300-350 miles.

    This country up to now has never had a real energy policy. It has forced various regulations on the industry for various reasons, not all of them bad, and you have what you have. Is this going to change? We’ll have to wait and see.

    As far as electric/extended-range technology, infrastructure and support is key. Charging stations that can rapidly re-charge a battery (how rapidly is the question) without damage. It will most likely start off as a hub-and-spoke regional system with gaps gradually filled in depending on market, where the majority of drivers in a given region mostly travel to/from.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      I was reading an article tonight about Amtrak subsidies, it wasn’t pretty either. From memory only one route was even close to break even and the losses were huge. The worst thing though is that people just don’t take the train in any number. There are too many alternatives at prices low enough that Amtrak just can’t compete. The worst thing though is that there is a push to make train stations subject to airport level screening, that will kill passenger rail in this country.

      Found the article, 41 of 44 routes lose money and the average subsidy is $193 per passenger. Passenger rail is the answer to a question that no one is asking.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Rail makes only sense in the North East. But most of the congressmen and senators come from somewhere else which means that there is a problem with funding it.

        ps. Infrastructure rarely makes money directly as seen with the airline industry and its massive subsidies or the interstate system which only can survive because of massive transfers from the urban centers

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        But, airlines can take that infrastructure and either make a profit or fail. Amtrak can’t fail, it’s a bleeding sore that can’t be closed or run at a profit. Besides, why should I subsidize the Northeast? I don’t owe them anything so I hope my representatives vote against every subsidy around. Maybe my taxes will go down then.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Because the North East pays more in tax than it gets back

        Airlines seem to fail and survive and get massive subsidies just like rail

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        My point was simple Amtrak can’t be shut down, lots of airlines are gone but new ones replace them because they seem to think that they can make money and some do.

        Also, I guess you’re from the Northeast, if so you ought to be proud, you got what you voted for and you’re trying to impose your way on the rest of us. Vote differently and that might change.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        I am from 230V land, that is way East of the North East. But it is simply true that the voters of the North East are under represented in government and that is normally (and also in this case) associated with to little government money.

        About the airlines. First they are subsidized by the state on a large scale and also some of them have been bankrupt for over a decade. That isn’t a exactly healthy business enviroment

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Ok, you do know that we aren’t in 230v land don’t you? Residential service here is mostly 110v that can’t fast charge an electric car.

        Airlines fail all the time here (Pan Am, TWA, many others) but while they are in bankruptcy they do not receive subsidies like Amtrak. They aren’t subsidized for each passenger on money-losing routes, they can drop unprofitable routes, Antrak can’t. There are airport subsidies, air traffic control subsidies and the like but they are nothing like Amtrak subsidies.

        By the way, the Norteast US votes for more government and high taxes, they’re just getting what they wanted so they have no reason to complain.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        The idea that the Northeast pays more in federal income taxes than it gets back in federal spending has long been proven to be a flawed analysis.

        AMTRAK does make money in the Northeast, as it has the population density necessary to successfully support a passenger rail line. Unfortunately, Congressional pressure keeps money-losing lines in other areas operating, which, as a whole, makes AMTRAK a money pit.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Essential Air Service Program subsidies airlines to run money-losing routes to rural airports.
        There is also Small Community Air Service Development Program.
        The ban on Sales tax on fuel for international flights costs more money than all the Amtrak subsidies.
        Than there are the subsidies the airlines get trough Reserve Air Fleet.
        Also airports etc. are run by tax-exempt government entities so they don’t have to pay real estate taxes unlike rail road who do pay real estate taxes on stations and rails etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      The US has the most extensive and highest efficiency railroad system in the world. It is optimized for freight, not passengers. It is highly profitable and invests billions of dollars annually in improvements and upgrades. Please keep the politicians away from it.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @Robert Schwartz:

        You’re exactly right. Optimized for freight. Amtrak either must build its own lines, or work closely with the freight railroads to optimize their lines for passengers as well – only not by super elevating turns by steeper banking – that won’t work for freight trains, but by eliminating as many grade crossings as possible and being able to bypass freight yards. Case in point: St. Louis – Chicago. That line is one of the straightest routes around. When we lived in the STL area (where I’m from), our kids were raised on Amtrak back in the 1980’s we rode so much, either to Chicago or Kansas City and various points in between. Anyway, the STL-Chi line is one of the most easily upgradable – if funds were available. That’s the biggest hurdle to overcome.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckR

        Some things don’t change.

        My mother recalls that her father, who was an engineering department head at the Southern Railway, said that passengers paid for themselves, but freight paid for the railroad. He didn’t have kind words for politicians either. That was in the late 1940s.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    The truth about electric cars, and especially the Chevrolet Volt and other proposed plug-in electric hybrids, is that they ARE fundamentally sound, and that they can and will provide a long term solution to our mobility needs. The market is bearing this out. Frankly I’m sick of the constant berating and hypothetical “what-ifs” designed to attack EV’s.

    What if you’re driving across Alaska in a snowstorm.

    What is the mileage after you’ve depleted the batteries and want to drive like a maniac.

    What if the electricity comes from coal so they are dirty cars, the power grid can’t handle it, etc.

    In isolation, these are semi-legitimate questions. Together they represent an attack on the unknown by close-minded individuals in the automotive press that should be at least neutral.

    The reality is that these arguments fall flat. Of course the purchase price is higher. It will be offset by the fuel savings. Subsidies can speed their adoption. Great. That’s all there is to say about cost, yet we are inundated with this constant din. What else?

    The batteries last a long time. Hybrids maintain their values as well as other cars. Engines don’t last forever either.

    Electricity, even coming from coal plants, is cleaner than fuel, because of efficiencies of scale in generation and low losses in transmission. It’s much cheaper too.

    Cars can charge overnight and homes will have smart chargers. The grid can handle it easily.

    There will be enough minerals to build them, though it’s true that everyone in the world should take a step back from our ridiculous four cars per person fantasy consumerism.

    Anything else? Yeah. What if instead of negativity we started adopting a more positive refrain. What if instead of asking if an EV with half a charge can get us 50 miles to and from a Whole Foods, we ask if people should start organizing their lives around a bit less travel. What if people chose their home location based on relative proximity to where they work. What if people drove at a more relaxed pass and followed speed limits. What if instead of a new CUV every 4 years, you got a hybrid every 8 years and took your kids on a truly memorable trip?

    It’s time the Volt, as likely the best medium term option, starts getting the media behind it rather than against everything green just because it’s different.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      So any question about the cost, practicality and the drawbacks of electric cars is just the last stand of the unenlightened against inevitable progress? Just because you want something doesn’t make it so and you have a lot of control freak, social engineer in you too. The simple easy adjustments that you would make aren’t that easy in the real world that the rest of us live in. Not everyone can pick up and move on a whim, not everyone has easy assess to useful public transport and maybe some people just don’t think like you. Individuality really is beyond you guys, you just can’t understand why everyone isn’t just like you. Control like you’re advocating inevitably leads to opression.

    • 0 avatar
      69 stang

      This is classic liberal/dem/progressive blather. Just live your life the way we tell you to and you will be fine. Move close to work- it’s so easy to sell a house right now. Drive slower and don’t drive as much and drive where we tell you to. Take public transportation because we tell you to. If we “will” electric cars to make sense they will because we want them to. If this is the brave new world you envision you will have a couple of hundred million Americans who will fight you on this. The other 100 million are already drinking your utopian kool-aid.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        It’s my idea through careful observation that the average progressive just never matured past about freshman year in college. They are absolutely certain that they have all the answers to all the questions and if people would just let them run things then utopia would be around the corner. They think that the reason their ideas have failed is just that they weren’t around to run things. It’s just their way to make themselves feel superior to everyone else. It’s easy to decree that peopleshould change their lives to something more socially responsible but it gets dirty in the real world. They don’t care though, after all if you want to make an omelet you must be willing to break a few eggs. That’s from Lenin and you may remember how that worked out.

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        MikeAR, I admire your delicate terming. But really it all comes to this:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infantilization
        and this:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Pan_syndrome#Peter_Pan_syndrome

      • 0 avatar
        musiccitymafia

        @Acubra – great definitions made me laugh :-). Probably appropriate too … although the second one gave me pause as Peter Pan Syndrome appears to be closely related to Eternal Boy right above it …

        ” He covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable. ”

        Maybe we’re all aligned with this definition of the eternal boy …

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        If the restrictions or rules in question are stupid and ineffective, it does not make one Peter Pan to point out this salient fact. It’s called being well-informed, which, all too often, proponents of increased regulation aren’t.

        Or were the 55-mph speed limit, the 85-mph speedometer rule, the 1974 ignition interlock and Prohibition really good ideas? I can hardly wait for the arguments in support of those blunders…that should be quite entertaining, if divorced from any solid facts.

        And what is the name of the syndrome for those who reflexively support every regulation or rule that comes down the pike? The Nanny Syndrome?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @Scott_314:

      People aren’t against the Volt because “it’s different”. People are against the Volt because it is an economy car that costs $41k, and whose development and sale requires subsidies paid for with everyone’s tax dollars. And GM admittedly still loses money on every one they sell (1700 so far), which is irresponsible for a company trying to claw its way back to solvency.

      A positive attitude won’t change the fact that the Volt is dirtier than a Prius, and almost twice as costly.

      When you suggest that “we” start asking people to organize their lives in a more fuel-efficient manner, that always evolves into government mandate – using government force to push an agenda. American independence won’t permit it. I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if the government forced you to move into a bad neighborhood so you could be closer to work, and then forced you to buy a car you couldn’t afford.

    • 0 avatar
      Scott_314

      Thanks for the replies except the insults… I have no interest in telling anyone how to live. I like driving, combustion engines are the most fun, and do as you please up to a limit (harming others).

      My statements were to contrast my prior what-ifs. There are a lot of negative rhetorical questions thrown at EV’s. “What if you run out of battery and need to cross the rocky mountains, what’s the mileage then uh?” These are not contributing to the reviews of the Volt any more than me telling you to drive less or move closer to work.

      I do think that the Volt and others deserve a fair shake from the press and enthusiasts. Saying it’s a 41K economy car is insulting. A whole lot of American engineering went into it, and the result is a car that will let people live and drive more or less normally without using gas, and that can drive like a normal but efficient car on any trip if that’s what you want.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        I think the Volt has been given a more than fair shake in the press. Look at MT’s COTY award. It has been given to some pigs over the years but after the Volt it has lost any creditablity it ever had. The Volt deserved that aword as much as the recent Nobel Prize winners have deserved awards. As far as enthusiasts go, what does the Volt offer us? Is it sporty, off-road capable or anything that an enthusiast looks for in a vehicle?

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        Scott_314: A whole lot of American engineering went into it, and the result is a car that will let people live and drive more or less normally without using gas, and that can drive like a normal but efficient car on any trip if that’s what you want.

        The problem is that gas will have to be a lot more expensive to justify the extra purchase price of the Volt. For now, the Volt is an expensive exercise in technology with features that may be adapted to other vehicles.

        At this point, it isn’t a viable choice for most people, who would be better off with a Civic, Cruze, Elantra or Focus instead of a Volt, even if gas goes to $5 a gallon.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        @Scott_314: The Volt as an economy car is its entire purpose in life. It is not marketed as a truck, a people hauler, an SUV, or a sports car. GM is the one who produced the 230 MPG pre-launch banner.

        There is no question a lot of great work went into the Volt, and it gets good reviews for its behavior on the road. But good intentions do not sell vehicles; ultimately, the consumer has to embrace a value proposition with their wallet, and the Volt makes this very hard to do. Even after the government subsidy it’s still 50% overpriced compared to its competitors.

        From a technology perspective, it does miss the green mark a little, by being dirtier than a Prius or even an Elantra PZEV. If I want to save the environment, I’d just buy the Elantra and get a better warranty to boot.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    It’s hard to organize your living around being close to work when it’s highly unlikely that you’ll remain in a single job working for a single company for very long. Iif you look at places where there are ever more “green” land use laws, it’s impossible to live in the core areas of cities and you are pushed to exurbs — don’t you want police and fire protection in a core city? You can’t do it if the police and fireman can’t find a place to live. Or will this turn into a quixotic adventure to eliminate sprawl? (Can’t be done; some people call sprawl home.)

    Modern life runs on oil. Not having plentiful, portable energy that can be quickly recharged (overnight is not quick) will be the death of our way of life. What is offered to replace car culture does not appear to be better, nor does it appear inexorable — it’s just that these technology winners selected for us don’t look like winners.

    Here’s an idea: How about backing off the extreme air particulate restrictions just one level to the OK clean stuff of 2006 and make diesel easier to make and sell? I don’t see diesel in the winners column on the chart; it must not have a good lobby.

  • avatar

    Well, you know, I really would love to see blender pumps. That way you could dial in your desired amount of ethanol, right?

    Let me set the amount of ethanol to 0% and you got me as a customer :).

    D

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      That’s a great idea. Then you could see the price change accordingly, but there should also be a fuel economy meter there as well, which shows the 25% drop in MPG when buying E85.

      • 0 avatar

        I actually did the calculation about a year ago when Pittsburgh (where I lived at the time) got E85 pumps. If my memory serves, it was about 10% cheaper but got about 25% worse fuel economy. No sane person would buy it, and that’s with a multi-billion dollar government subsidy!

        I strongly suspect that if you had a blender pump that provided real world prices and fuel economy changes, gas with 0% ethanol would be the most economical and the best for engines as well.

        Of course that would completely destroy demand for the stuff, and that’s why it will never happen :(.

        Just wondering, is it illegal to sell pure gas? Why doesn’t some enterprising gas station try it?

        If gas right now is really 90% petroleum and 10% ethanol, it shouldn’t cost more than 10% more to get 100% petroleum, and probably much less because the alcohol itself is not free. I think a healthy percentage of the driving population would be happy to pay this for better quality fuel.

        D

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Yes, you can still get “pure” gasoline and it is not illegal at least in many markets. Even here in Iowa, I can get straight gas at almost all pumps but you have to pay a little more and it is lower octane which doesn’t really matter. I was actually surprised and dissappointed recently on a road trip when I saw a Shell station, which normally has quality fuels, to find they only had ethanol belends with no straight gas offered.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Here we go again with the indelible ‘magic market’. The market is great for some things and is an integral part of technological innovation and production (and social life in general). But the market is not the sole, or even the primary cause of all major technological innovations throughout history. This is a myth.

    While the market has certainly played a significant role in some research innovations, many of the major scientific and technological innovations throughout history did not take place in the free market, but were the direct result of government directed, institutionally driven, goal-oriented funding and support. The clearest examples of this are found in the military, which is a vivid example of government funded, goal-oriented research that has resulted in many major technological innovations throughout all of history. You don’t need to look any further than the Second World War, where government directed, non-market research gave rise to many of the most important innovations of the twentieth century, including such things as the computer, the jet engine, and numerous other major new technologies. In fact, government backed research during the Second World War was so successful that it became the model for developing government funded research programs within the universities (a program that has been gradually replaced and displaced by private sector funding of those institutions).

    As for the case regarding ethanol, I must admit to being skeptical as well, but who knows?

    So please, while the market is important and vital, it is not the magical source of all major innovations, and it could well be argued that it has played a much lesser role in scientific advance and technological innovation historically compared to government supported and directed research.

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    I have no qualms about telling people how to live. In my line of work I have seen scores of new housing developments in many of our states and the vast majority should be returned to the soil. The developments are built for the convenience of the builder and for their profit maximization; the owners get stuck with houses that are car-locked. Yet the houses are on small lots that are typical of walkable neighborhoods. So the buyers in these communities get neither land which might be the benefit of being car-marooned; and they don’t get the benefit of convenient services which might be the benefit of small lots. They get the worst of all worlds.

    With just a slight bit of forethought, these communities could be assets to the country instead of the driving force behind our once per decade oil wars. They might even be connectable to the community via mass transit. Instead, we double, triple, and quadruple down on the most fossil fuel intensive form of housing ever invented, while the residents of those homes get no more land than if they lived in a better planned more walkable community. I’m not suggesting people give up their 2 acre ranchettes; I’m saying the majority of new development lots are the same size as the lots in highly walkable areas that can be served by public transit.

    My family lives in a walkable area. One of our two family cars could be an electric car with a 10 mile range. We could charge this car for that range with a PV system that costs less than $5000 today and will cost $2500 in 5 years. If our development patterns were just a little smarter, most families get by with one ICE and one electric car. And yes, the “freedom lovers” will complain about “getting by”, but perhaps those freedom lovers can be first to sign up for the army in our next oil war too.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      Thankfully not everyone is like you. Being a busybody gets tiresome to most normal people. Just accept that everyone isn’t like you and leave people alone and let them live their lives. You sound like the type who celebrates diversity until you realize that not everyone wants to think and live like you.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      A big part of the reason that houses are expensive, and the lots are therefore small, is because of land use regulations.

      So now we apparently need more regulations to counteract the negative effects of the original regulation. In the real world, if something isn’t working, or is having unintended results, the correct answer is not, “Let’s do more of the same.”


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