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Electric vehicles tough choice for consumers

I’ve had a series of discussions with some bright and successful people in Orange County who have looked seriously at electric cars. Some own them. Some want them. Some are skeptical about them.

Electric vehicles will play a key role in the nation’s quest for reduced dependency on imported oil and, indeed, oil in general, and they hold out the promise that we can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But they are not yet ready for prime time. Here are some issues that prevent widespread use.
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1. The costs

Pro: Electric cars have come a long way. Electricity is less expensive than gasoline and is more efficient. While the costs of operations and the amortization of the costs of EVs don’t balance for Orange County consumers now, prices are coming down and EVs soon will be attractive to more households.

Con: EVs are not accessible to most Americans. They are too expensive, even with present federal subsidies, for middle-class households in O.C. and elsewhere, and they are not accessible at all to lower-income households. The new cars cannot go beyond 250 miles on a fully charged battery. While the number of charging stations is increasing, it’s still difficult to find one. It’s scary when you’re low on power.

2. The emissions

Pro: EVs are essential to reduce GHG emissions. They are close to zero emitters of carbon. They would really help the environment. The nation should move rapidly to expand their use.

Con: About a third of the power in the nation comes from coal, which emits large amounts of carbon. Therefore, many EVs, at least indirectly, are responsible for GHG emissions. Even if power plants use natural gas, the carbon that is generated by the plant, while less than what is emitted by coal, is still significant. Before we crown EVs as zero or low-emission vehicles, GHG emissions must be fairly allocated to electric vehicles based on the power received from the power plant.

3. The market

Pro: GM just announced it is aiming to sell 500,000 electric vehicles by 2017. Its leaders, as well as the leadership of the other major car companies, say that electric cars are here to stay and will begin to attract larger markets.

Con: The auto companies have made promises before and have pulled back when the market was not ready for their products. One of the more visible electric-car makers – Fisker – has real financial problems based on supply-chain issues, battery problems, financing and production difficulties. Right now, the market for electric vehicles is uncertain, except, perhaps, among the more affluent. To reach a broad market, prices for a four- or five-seater vehicles must approximate $30,000 or less without a subsidy. Fewer than 50,000 EVs were sold last year. Auto companies are considering larger investments in hybrids.

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