Electric Vehicles: Running on Empty

Buck Throckmorton16 Jan, 2024 5 Min Read
The Germans walk it back.

The widespread transition from gasoline-powered, internal combustion (or “ICE”) vehicles to electric vehicles (“EVs”) has been a foregone conclusion for years now, at least according to our ruling class and its obsequious media mouthpieces. Instead, as predicted by people who instinctively resist government actions designed to “save the planet,” there is a massive EV bust occurring. Pretty much any company not named Tesla is seeing its EV future crash and burn.

Rental firm Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ.O) is selling about 20,000 electric vehicles, including Teslas, from its U.S. fleet about two years after a deal with the automaker to offer its vehicles for rent, in another sign that EV demand has cooled. Hertz will instead opt for gas-powered vehicles, it said on Thursday, citing higher expenses related to collision and damage for EVs even though it had aimed to convert 25% of its fleet to electric by 2024 end.

There are recent precedents to the failure trajectory of electric vehicles, specifically, those of compact fluorescent light bulbs (“CFLs”) and autonomous vehicles. The government paved the path for an all-CFL future by banning incandescent light bulbs, but even with the weight of the government on consumers’ backs, CFLs were widely rejected by those who were supposed to buy them, much like EVs are being rejected by consumers now. As for autonomous (self-driving) cars, it was reported a decade ago that our roadways would be filled with driverless vehicles by now. It never happened, just like our roadways will not be filled with EVs in the near future, if ever.

Some day our time will come...

With the federal government virtually mandating an all-electric future by the 2030s, and with several states (including California and New York) outright banning the sale of ICE cars in the next decade, the “EV transition” seemed to be assured. In addition, there was the undeniable success of Tesla, which, to some EV cheerleaders, seemed to indicate a tremendous consumer demand for EVs. But Tesla’s success is just the opposite of widespread consumer demand. It has appealed to car shoppers who seek exclusivity, with some conspicuous green virtue-signaling thrown into the mix. It’s a demographic that includes millions of potential car buyers, but overall, it is a comparatively small minority of total drivers.

The great problem for all the legacy auto manufacturers who want to recreate Tesla’s success is that the limited EV customer/status pool pretty much only wants an EV with a Tesla hood ornament on it. These customers will generally not buy an EV from a Chevrolet or a Ford dealer for the same reason they choose Whole Foods over Wal Mart to buy their organic groceries. And the reverse is true too, the person who uses his one vehicle to commute, possibly do some towing, and to drive cross country, is not going to consider an EV no matter who the manufacturer is.

EVs and their highly combustible lithium batteries are a safety concern to many people, including those who transport and store these volatile vehicles, and to the firefighters who struggle to extinguish the thermal runaway fires they produce. Add to that the disturbing provenance of the cobalt and lithium used in the batteries, as well as the fact that the typical EV has no less of a “carbon footprint” than an ICE car, and it is fair to wonder if the current iteration of EVs will someday be banned by the same environmental activists who are pushing them today. (Let me stress that I do not care about my “carbon footprint,” but an alleged reduction in carbon emissions is a core obsession of those pushing EVs.)

An electric double-decker bus caught fire in southwest London on Thursday, prompting the city’s transportation agency to remove a fleet from service as a precaution while the incident is investigated, according to reports. Passengers on the bus in Wimbledon during rush hour had to be evacuated, but no injuries were reported, according to BBC News. Video of the incident show flames and smoke engulfing an apparent rear section of the bus.

"Safety is our top priority and we are working with the operator, London General, and the bus manufacturer, Switch, to investigate what happened," Transport for London’s head of business development Tom Cunnington said in a statement, the BBC reported.

If EVs are someday banned in the name of “the environment,” that would track with how the conversion to CFL bulbs played out. It was barely 15 years ago that the government started banning incandescent bulbs in favor of compact fluorescent bulbs, but it is CFL bulbs that are now being banned, because they are toxic and damaging to the environment. Effective January 2024, Oregon has become the seventh state to ban fluorescent bulbs, joining Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Maine.

Who could have predicted that the environmental activists promoting those little mercury bombs might someday want them banned? But they did. So, it is also rational to predict that in coming decades the greens will realize just how environmentally destructive EVs are, and start banning those too. But modern-day bans on CFLs don’t matter much now, since CFLs were widely rejected by consumers long before the bans on them started being implemented.

Not going to happen.

As for autonomous cars, their ubiquity by the early 2020s was reported as a virtual certainty in the mid 20-teens. Elon Musk famously boasted in 2015 that Tesla would have fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2018.

During an interview earlier this week with the Danish news site Borsen, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company is rolling out its "Autopilot" feature to the masses next month and the company's fully autonomous vehicles will be ready in just a few short years. "My guess for when we will have full autonomy is approximately three years.”

In addition, Musk predicted back in 2015 that virtually all cars would be self-driving by 2035.

Twenty years from now, Musk said it's likely all cars being built will be self-driving and a very large percentage of vehicles will be electric.

The excitement was growing, and a year later, in 2016, pretty much every major manufacturer was boasting that they’d have fully autonomous cars running the roads by 2020 or 2021. None of that happened, of course, because the anticipated technology improvements didn’t occur.

The unfulfilled promises of autonomous cars align with the failed predictions for widespread EV adoption. All the negatives that keep the masses from buying EVs – price, range limitations, charging hassles, fire hazard, etc. – were expected to magically disappear through “technology improvements” that were fatuously reported as inevitable.

This past year was the year that “the EV transition” stalled. The coming year of 2024 will be a year for legacy auto manufacturers to address the financial reality that their EV investments are an unrecoverable sunk cost. Their survival and future profitability will require them to re-focus on being profitable manufacturers of ICE vehicles (which include “hybrids”) rather than being failed mass-market EV manufacturers, a niche for which there is no “mass market.” The abandonment of the EV fantasy by legacy auto manufacturers can then be a catalyst for EV mandates to be pushed back and ultimately abandoned.

Buck Throckmorton is a writer ("co-blogger") at the Ace of Spades HQ blog. His career includes many years in banking and commercial lending, as well as a stint with an American auto manufacturer. Buck's writing often takes a critical look at electric vehicles, "green" energy, and woke capital. Twitter: @BuckThrockmort; email: buck.throckmorton@protonmail.com

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11 comments on “Electric Vehicles: Running on Empty”

  1. "It is also important to remember EVs are in their early stages and the fossil fueled car is 100 years old. Let's see what happens.

    [EVs] also will do fine in cold, provided you buy a heater for your battery. People in cold climates have done that with cars and trucks for years (battery heaters, engine heaters)."

    Mostly good points, but a couple disagreements.

    First, analogizing EVs to ICE cars of 100 years ago isn't really apt. Unlike then, the vehicles themselves are now very well developed. Moreover, 100 years ago, the ICE was extremely primitive. In contrast, batteries have had that same 100 years to improve. Yet the LiH battery is as good as it gets (so far), is very heavy — with all the attendant knock-on effects — and will, according to the IEEE, take 90% off the service life of distribution level transformers should EVs become widely adopted.

    Regarding cold weather and ICE: Block heaters were necessary when cars used 20W-50 oil. Modern cars (i.e., built in the last 15 or so years) run 0W-20 oil — the oil flows even at extremely cold temps without heaters. Additionally, most of them come equipped with AGM batteries, which have far more cranking power in the cold.

  2. I might take a slightly different view-not supporting EVs or against EVs. Instead, recognize some things. EVs are heavily subsidized. Subsidize something, you get more of it and A LOT of the stuff you get will stink. CAFE standards also screw up major auto companies and contribute to bad decision-making by management. Tesla not only has the snob appeal and marketing going for it, pound for pound compared to every single other EV on the market they make the best cars at the best price. No one has more range etc. The environmental wackos were able to get control of the government purse strings to pursue their green agenda.

    EVs have gotten ahead of themselves when it comes to public policy. Eventually, they will be self driving. However, forget about the technology in the cars. The world doesn't have embedded technology in roads that it will have when they are all repaved in the next twenty to thirty years to help drive the car.
    Eventually, you will be able to page your car on your phone, and have it drive you. This will radically change car design. Why do your 8-10 hour driving trip in the daytime when you could do it at night and sleep through the whole drive?
    Yes, EVs battery production and its dispersal are polluting the environment. What's the opportunity cost to that? Famously, a Hummer is more recyclable than a Tesla. EVs have less noise and exhaust pollution so that is a benefit and gasoline/diesel powered cars and trucks also have their own costs/benefits. It just depends on how you value/total up the opportunity costs.
    One benefit to EVs is that even if they are charged with a coal fired powerplant, the pollution is centralized so it's easier to treat than decentralized networks of gas stations, and catalytic converters which thieves steal!
    It is also important to remember EVs are in their early stages and the fossil fueled car is 100 years old. Let's see what happens.
    I don't care about "the planet" since both kinds of vehicles contribute to the degradation of the planet. There is no free lunch. I also don't care about "government can shut down your EV and track you" since they can do that pretty easily with fossil fueled cars too. when you run out of gas, what happens if the pumps don't operate?
    EVs are great for local commutes where you drive short distances; especially in warmer climates which is where most people are starting to move since they tend to be red states now. They also will do fine in cold, provided you buy a heater for your battery. People in cold climates have done that with cars and trucks for years (battery heaters, engine heaters).
    HERE IS THE KEY:
    Get rid of the nanny state. We ought to encourage freedom of choice with NO subsidies, no CAFE standards and let the market decide. If someone wants an EV, automakers will build them. Same goes for useless small cars in their fleets no one wants.

  3. I believe Dodge is going to market a pickup with a 6 cylinder running a generator, which runs an electric motor. Dodge Ram 1500, due out in '25.

  4. [In response to "nraendowment:"]
    Not to mention that there are little if any secondary markets for used EVs -- especially if any history of accident damage.

  5. Another huge negative for electro-toys is the dawning realization by insurers that even a minor accident can be extremely costly or even total the vehicle, greatly increasing the insurance premiums for their trendy owners. Hopefully those costs will continue to stay with the owners and not be passed on to people smart enough to stay with ICE cars.

  6. Well written overview of EVs and a good look at the AV technology stall. It's interesting how reality eventually sets in with these attempts to position technologies as the "next best thing," only to find that people either don't want them or the tech is more complex and expensive than originally thought. Bottom line: EVs are a niche luxury product for those who want to show off to their friends, and AVs have extremely limited use cases and will probably be used only in heavily controlled environments such as airports, military bases, mining operations, distribution centers, or factories.

  7. Hey Buck: You are one of the few reasons that I still peruse (seldom) Ace HQ. You, Mannix and Weird Dave. I was not aware of this blog site, but rest assured that I will be visiting more often looking for you stuff and see what else it has to offer. Best of luck. Will you still be contributing at the HQ ?

  8. I wonder why manufacturers can't make 'diesel-electric' powertrains instead of hybrids. It works for trains and ships, why not for cars and trucks? You'd get the benefits of EVs in that you could power 2 or 4 wheels with near-instantaneous torque without the drawbacks of a gigantic bomb, er, battery. Would the engine required be too big?

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