Why So Many Critics After 17,000 EV Sales in First Year?
Figures this week showed that the first mass-produced electric cars in the United States, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, had total sales of 17,345 in 2011, the first year in which they were available. Compared with sales of 9,350 gas-electric hybrids in 2000, the first year the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius were offered in the U.S.—where total hybrid sales have now topped 2 million—17,000 might seem like a decent start for EVs.
Instead, they are under fire—even as gas prices jumped because of Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint in global oil trade.
The Washington Post on Sunday called for elimination of the $7,500 tax credit for EV purchases, and Mike Kelly, a congressman from Pennsylvania who is a car dealer, has introduced legislation to end the credit.
Rocky Mountain Institute sees EVs as a crucial step in moving the United States away from fossil fuels for reasons of national security, human health, environmental protection and durable economic advantage. EV benefits go beyond fuel economy. Reinventing Fire, RMI’s new, peer-reviewed book backed by 30 years of Institute research, shows that EVs—ultimately made of ultrastrong, ultralight materials that dramatically speed energy savings—can become energy storage vessels that feed electricity back into a revamped, more-secure electrical grid.
A great deal of difficult work on how we generate and distribute electricity stands between today’s reality and that vision, extending far beyond EV sales and incentives. Recognizing that Washington is all but paralyzed by partisan gridlock, Reinventing Fire calls for no new acts of Congress. Business must lead this ambitious transition to a safer, cleaner, stronger America, with rational state-level regulatory changes.
Of course people respond to incentives, and the EV tax credit—written to phase out when a manufacturer’s sales hit 200,000—is a proven way to spur a socially desirable change. Governments have long subsidized transportation, directly and indirectly, from granting rights for oil drilling to building our vast network of roads with tax dollars. Because Congress has approved tougher fuel economy standards, creating an incentive for EV buyers similar to the hybrid incentive that was phased out as sales grew would seem like consistent policy.
These calls to repeal the EV credit show both that the nation can’t necessarily count on Congress to guide its energy future (though, in fairness, Congress is a long way from acting on this) and that the nation’s media are adopting a flawed narrative about EVs. It is becoming pro forma that news stories about EVs say that Volt and Leaf sales disappointed this year and that the Volt is under investigation for battery fires. (General Motors on Thursday <a target=”_blank” href=”http://www.freep.com/article/20120105/BUSINESS0101/120105006/Chevrolet-Volt-fires-GM-to-announce-fix-today-to-reinforce-battery-case?odyssey=tab