More Electric Vehicle news

When you’ve lost the New York Times, well you’ve lost an elitist institution most of whose members wouldn’t have bought a Volt in any event.

So the future of General Motors (and the $50 billion taxpayer investment in it) now depends on a vehicle that costs $41,000 but offers the performance and interior space of a $15,000 economy car. The company is moving forward on a second generation of Volts aimed at eliminating the initial model’s considerable shortcomings. (In truth, the first-generation Volt was as good as written off inside G.M., which decided to cut its 2011 production volume to a mere 10,000 units rather than the initial plan for 60,000.) Yet G.M. seemingly has no plan for turning its low-volume “eco-flagship” into a mass-market icon like the Prius.

Quantifying just how much taxpayer money will have been wasted on the hastily developed Volt is no easy feat. Start with the $50 billion bailout (without which none of this would have been necessary), add $240 million in Energy Department grants doled out to G.M. last summer, $150 million in federal money to the Volt’s Korean battery supplier, up to $1.5 billion in tax breaks for purchasers and other consumer incentives, and some significant portion of the $14 billion loan G.M. got in 2008 for “retooling” its plants, and you’ve got some idea of how much taxpayer cash is built into every Volt.

Yep, electric cars are a way to create jobs: for Federal bureaucrats. If that money had been left in private hands, and only 10% of it went to new car purchases, it would have created more jobs for autoworkers than is the case. Not to mention all the other industries that could have benefited.

Electric Vehicle news

Not good. Kenneth P. Green, at The American Enterprise Blog, crunches some numbers on the $41,000 Chevy Volt. Read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

[The Volt is] more than twice as expensive as a comparable gasoline-driven car. …[T]he government will give each …[buyer] a $7,500 subsidy, and another grand if they install their own charger at home (apartment owners … get to subsidize homeowners with this one). President Obama wants a million electric cars on the road by 2015, …[so], it’s safe to assume the subsidy would remain, sucking only $8.5 billion dollars out of taxpayers coffers…

Of course, that’s only the direct subsidies… 80 percent of vehicles aren’t parked in the garage of the person who owns them, which means there are going to have to be a lot of public charging stations built at taxpayer expense. And the gasoline that electric owners don’t consume also takes tax revenue out of the Highway Trust Fund, meaning that if there is massive penetration of cars that don’t use gasoline, some other way will have to be found to maintain transportation infrastructure.

Skyrocketing electricity rates, maybe?

Summary: There will be a Synfuels-like perpetual subsidy for a few hundred jobs. The Feds bought GM, forced it to bring the Volt to market ASAP and are propping up the experiment with your tax dollars throughout the manufacturing and sales cycle. You pay to build them and you pay people to buy them.

Meanwhile, technology marches on. Toshiba has announced it will begin production (in Japan) next year of a competing type of battery for Electric Vehicles, the SCiB (Super Charge Ion Battery). It has some advantages over the batteries planned to be built in Michigan by LG Chem and A123.

The battery’s specs claim 6,000+ charge/deep-discharge cycles with minor capacity loss, safe rapid charging to 90% in 5 minutes, and enhanced safety regarding overheating or shorting out. It could make its way into electric vehicles before long.

Is this a battery that can be built, without retooling, in the Michigan plants being subsidized by government? Will the innovation have to be licensed from Toshiba? I don’t know, and I’m sure neither our Governor nor the President do either.

Neveready

Veronique de Rugy, NRO: Life Saver: The Battery?

I do see the immediate benefit for the factory owner that will receive the stimulus money, but this money has direct and indirect costs that will ultimately hurt the economy. First, let’s remember that this money doesn’t fall from the sky; in order to spend it, Obama needs to either tax Americans or borrow money (that, or print money), which means less capital for private businesses and potentially higher interest rates in our future. For that factory owner to get his cash, others have to give it up.

Second, you have seen the data but it bears repeating: According to Harvard economist Robert Barro, $1 spent in government spending means that the economy will skrink by $1.10.

Anne E. Kornblut and Peter Whoriskey, WaPo: Obama pours energy into electric-car batteries, but will it jump-start industry?

…the administration’s $2.4 billion investment in the development of batteries and other electric-car technology in the United States is an enormous bet on a product that has yet to gain broad commercial success. Major manufacturers have yet to sell electric cars in the United States. Hybrids, though they have been around for a decade, represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s roughly 250 million-vehicle fleet.

“The battery story is highly questionable,” said Menahem Anderman, the founder and chief executive of Total Battery Consulting. “Basically, there’s really no proven market, neither electric vehicle nor plug-in hybrid electric vehicle — and there’s really no battery company in the United States that has a verified product.”

Although U.S. battery makers could export their products, the global market is glutted, according to analysts. Anderman said global capacity to build car batteries in 2014 will be three times greater than demand that year.

…in 2015, the domestic capacity to build batteries will be more than twice the demand.

Default and battery

Lithicus,

I think this discussion merits more visibility than just an addition to the comment thread on the post wherein I complained (also here) about the subsidization of battery manufacture in Michigan, so I am replying here. 

You wrote:

In a ideal world, government would not get involved in free enterprise. I’m no fan of picking winners and losers either. The invisible hand is far better at that.

But we don’t live in a ideal world. Michigan has a strong interest in bringing jobs back to its economy, and encouraging new industries. The federal government has an interest in shifting us away from foreign oil.

If government did nothing, battery production and jobs would stay in Asia. A123 already has production facilities in China and Korea. The only reason they are now expanding in Michigan and Massachusetts is because tax breaks made it economically competitive. That is the unfortunate reality of the non-ideal global economy we live in.

If I understand you correctly, government should remain on the sidelines, do nothing to encourage development of the alternative energy industry or jobs. Am I representing your views correctly?

I am not a shill for corporatists, far from it. I’m simply someone who want [sic] to see us transition to electric vehicles as quickly as possible, and lithium-ion batteries are a technology that makes that possible.

Once it becomes a mass market, battery subsidies will not be required. But at this point government can play a role, can build some roads into the wilderness, can help promote the general welfare.

We are about to see explosive growth in the EV industry, and our elected officials want some of that growth to occur in the US. As much as I would prefer the purity of free markets, I can’t fault them for that.

You approvingly refer to Adam Smith. Let me remind you of what that means:

From Book II, Chapter III of The Wealth Of Nations:

It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.

Book IV, Chapter I

We do not, however, reckon that trade disadvantageous which consists in the exchange of the hard-ware of England for the wines of France; and yet hard-ware is a very durable commodity, and were it not for this continual exportation, might too be accumulated for ages together, to the incredible augmentation of the pots and pans of the country. But it readily occurs that the number of such utensils is in every country necessarily limited by the use which there is for them; that it would be absurd to have more pots and pans than were necessary for cooking the victuals usually consumed there; and that if the quantity of victuals were to increase, the number of pots and pans would readily increase along with it, apart of the increased quantity of victuals being employed in purchasing them, or in maintaining an additional number of workman whose business it was to make them.

Book IV, Chapter II

By means of glasses, hotbeds, and hotwalls, very good grapes can be raised in Scotland, and very good wine too can be made of them at about thirty times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries. Would it be a reasonable law to prohibit the importation of all foreign wines, merely to encourage the making of claret and burgundy in Scotland?

Book IV, Chapter VIII

It cannot be very difficult to determine who have been the contrivers of this whole mercantile system; not the consumers, we may believe, whose interest has been entirely neglected; but the producers, whose interests has been so carefully attended to; and among this later class our merchants and manufactures have been by far the principal architects. In the mercantile regulations, which have been taken notice of in this chapter, the interest of our manufacturers has been most peculiarly attended to; and the interest, not so much of the consumers, as that of some other sets of producers, has been sacrificed to it.

So. If you misrepresent my views, it is only by not going far enough. I do indeed mean, “If it is less expensive to manufacture batteries in Asia, then that is exactly what should be encouraged.”  Adam Smith agrees, and so should you if your objective is to rapidly increase market penetration of electric cars.

What you could be promoting to more effect is the manufacture of nuclear generating stations in order to “fuel” the many electric vehicles you see on the horizon. This could be done by petitioning the general government to get its regulatory house in order so that such plants may be constructed more quickly. (I suggest ‘Nucleus’ as a handle.)

Imagine the consumer anger if their new electric cars can only be charged on days matching the last number in their license plate – and certainly not at home. Imagine the objections of the Envirostatists if we have to build dozens of coal plants in short order. These are outcomes detrimental to the success of electric vehicles.

You mention that the general government wants to wean us from foreign oil. If this is true it represents nearly half-a-century of failed intervention and wasted treasure.

If this were true we’d be drilling in ANWR and off the coasts of Lake Michigan and Florida, and the regulations for extraction of natural gas from shale deposits would be far less onerous. Your faith in government is, to be charitable, misplaced.

Remember Jimmy Carter’s Synfuels Corporation? Congress killed it in 1986 after it consumed several billion dollars in order to produce nothing. This wasteful agency lasted only (?) 6 years, but Carter’s legacylation still costs us a billion a year in tax credits.

You appear to imagine that union labor in Michigan can contribute to your goal even though only “tax breaks made it economically competitive”. In perpetuity? We already have more than sufficient evidence that this is not a realistic expectation.

You seem to understand that A123 has been involved with government in a dance of extortion and bribery wherein the moral questions are sufficiently, and intentionally, confused so as to excuse both parties from public approbation. This sleight is accomplished via the euphemism “public funding.”

If Michigan actually has a “strong interest” in creating jobs, it should let the jobs be created. That is, it should pass right to work legislation, eliminate corporate income tax and cease picking loser after loser.  You might have at least a pragmatic point if a “winner” had ever been selected.  But there’s no example.  Let’s take subsidies for the film industry…  Sorry, I digress.

Charged against Michigan in the area of “encourag[ing] development of alternate energy,” must be the twin debacles of ethanol (local and national bankruptcies abound, while we continue to apply devastating tariffs on Brazilian ethanol) and windmill manufacturing (which represents nothing not easily duplicated at lower cost by those pesky Asians).

So, in the case of batteries, I would like you to tell me how the short-sale of capital to Asian lenders can permanently improve domestic labor prospects. In other words, is borrowing from China to temporarily fund US jobs a good idea? If so, is the assertion that it is a good idea because these are “technology” jobs in a world where technologies are frequently outmoded? Please include your detailed thoughts on this Mackinac Center for Public Policy analysis when replying.

The non-ideal global economy could move closer to the ideal global economy if the government would cease to line the pockets of corporatists at the behest of their lobbyists.

So I, for one, do fault them for that.

Batteries are very expensive

It isn’t just LG Chem, the South Korean company mentioned yesterday, getting free money for making batteries that the market obviously doesn’t want. It’s also A123 Systems, based in Massachusetts.

In 2009, the [Michigan] Legislature authorized $100 million “refundable” business tax credits for both A123 Systems and LG Chem.* “Refundable” means that the state will send the companies a check for however much of the credit remains after it cancels any Michigan Business Tax liability.

…According to documents it filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, Massachusetts-based A123 Systems is the beneficiary of a raft of other tax breaks and subsidies provided by Michigan taxpayers, including an outright $10 million grant authorized in March of 2009, another $4 million grant in the form of forgiveness for a state loan, a $2 million “marketing” grant, and as much as $25 million in additional tax credits depending on how many workers it hires, up to a maximum of 300 jobs.

Why not just give the money to 300 individuals? They could invest their share and never have to work. Their investment decisions would be better than those of the government and would thereby create more jobs.