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Is the Bell Tolling for EV Mania?


By H. Sterling Burnett, The Heartland Institute

Electric vehicles have been all the rage among politicians at least since President Barack Obama’s first term in office, but they’ve never really caught on among the unwashed masses, who actually want their cars to deliver them to their destinations in comfort in a timely fashion, toting everything and everyone they might want to take along, without blowing up while parked and burning down their residences in the process.

In truth, EVs had been tried and rejected long before that, largely because of the same problems they still have: low range and high cost. The first electric vehicle, a locomotive, was tested in 1837, nearly 60 years before the first vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine (ICE) entered service. Electric locomotives couldn’t even compete with steam engines fueled by coal. The first rechargeable batteries were created in 1859, and EVs still couldn’t compete.

Electric cars predated the first gasoline- and diesel-powered private vehicles, all without government support, subsidies, or tax credits, by the way, and they couldn’t compete. They still can’t compete. Yet now, in a vain quest to manage the climate, the government is putting its thumb on the scale to mandate and incentivize them with various types of support and regulations.

I have noted before that EVs are in general much more expensive than their roughly comparable ICE counterparts. As such, research shows that most EVs are sold to people in the top two income brackets, making the tax credits and other government support no more than welfare for the well-to-do and politically connected crony-capitalists.

Even with all that support, the chickens are coming home to roost. The stock price of Tesla, the top-selling EV maker, is in freefall, and the company’s declining dividends reflect that. EV rival Rivian is laying off workers as its stock has fallen dramatically on losses topping $1.5 billion. Another early EV entrant, Fisker, has already gone through one bankruptcy and may be lurching towards its second, its value having fallen to the penny stock level.

As EV inventories mount on dealers’ lots, Ford and GM, each of which announced billions of dollars in losses on its EVs, have reduced production lines and cut sales and production outlooks. After spending billions of dollars on various EV efforts, Apple, Inc. cancelled all its EV projects. If one of the most profitable, well-funded corporations in the world can’t make an effective EV and have it go mainstream, who can?

Energy analyst and Heartland Institute policy advisor Ronald Stein and my colleague Chris Talgo have both recently detailed the myriad problems facing EVs. Talgo points out that the two top issues limiting EVs’ appeal are those already known nearly 200 years ago: “range anxiety” and costs. I have written previously, at Liberty and Ecology, about the range problem EVs present to most normal drivers, pointing out that charging them would make various day trips I commonly take into two-day trips, at a minimum, and would cut the vacation part of week-long driving excursions in half or more.

Stein points out that used EVs are almost impossible to sell, and Hertz is cutting its EV fleet dramatically, purchasing new ICE cars to replace them.

Increasingly, even the mainstream media are being forced to acknowledge the drawbacks of the EV revolution which they have so breathlessly and brazenly promoted as a critical step in preventing climate catastrophe. The child and slave labor that EV technologies are built upon are becoming harder and harder to ignore, as is the environmental destruction caused by the mining of the minerals necessary for EVs to function.

Stories out of Oslo and Sweden, as well as in the states of Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota, detail how electric buses have failed to complete their rounds during the winter, forcing those jurisdictions and others to pull them from service or severely truncate their routes. Of course, as shown by electric bus problems in North Carolina, San Francisco, and Wyoming, among other places, it doesn’t really have to be all that cold for electric buses to fail. The evidence suggests electric buses simply aren’t ready for primetime (or cost-effective). For most operations, traditional gasoline, diesel, and even natural gas buses are a better choice for schoolkids, commuters, and taxpayers.

A simple web search for “electric vehicles” and “fires,” or “electric bus” and “fires,” will turn up dozens if not hundreds of stories detailing how electric cars, scooters, and, increasingly, buses are spontaneously combusting, destroying property, and killing people in the process. Headlines note EVs, scooters, cars, and buses have become a significant fire hazard in New York and Connecticut, internationally in France and India, and during shipping. Some insurers no longer offer insurance on EVs or to those who store or transport them.

In the past week the hits on EVs just kept coming. Headlines in the Daily Mail on consecutive days declared, “Britain’s e-bus ticking timebomb: How nearly TWO THOUSAND electric buses worth £800m face urgent recall over fears they could … burst into flames,” and, “Electric cars release MORE toxic emissions than gas-powered vehicles and are worse for the environment, resurfaced study warns.”

The first story notes Great Britain’s Driver Vehicle Standards Agency issued an emergency recall of 1,758 double- and single-decker electric buses currently in service around the country (600 in London alone) because “there is no permanent solution to prevent future fires” tied to the buses’ power supply—i.e. the battery packs.

If electric vehicles had been brought out by automakers in the 1960s and 1970s, consumer advocate Ralph Nader would have had a fit and declared them “Unsafe at No Speed.” The U.S. Consumer Products Safety commission or other agencies would have almost certainly forced the makers to remove them from the market for safety reasons, instead of promoting them as they are doing now.

The second Daily Mail story, with facts confirmed by an article published at Fox Business News the following day, reported that because EVs are so much heavier than ICE vehicles, their tires wear out much faster, with the treads releasing 400 times more “toxic particles” into the air during operation than are emitted from the tailpipes of ICE vehicles. Considering pollution during mining and manufacturing, pollution during operation, and pollution related to charging (depending on the source of electricity used), the evidence suggests EVs are dirtier than the ICE vehicles they are supposed to be replacing on the grounds that they are better for the environment.

You can’t make these things up. Well, you could, but who would believe you?

With sales and stock prices falling and the media now starting to report on the problems with EVs, the scales are increasingly falling from the public’s eyes regarding EVs and governments’ ambitions for them.

The U.S. government never should have intervened in the market to promote EVs. There is no evidence we face a climate crisis outside of elites’ dogmatic rantings and the outputs of flawed computer models, and even less evidence that if there were a crisis EVs would prevent it instead of making it worse.

The question really is not whether the bell will toll to call an end of the government’s promotion of EVs, but how soon will it happen. With any luck, the coming election could prove a turning point if the turnaround does not happen before that.


H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is the director of The Heartland Institute’s Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.