Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

The Future Of Cars? Not So Electric [1]

Pi remembers the first experience of driving a hybrid gas/electric car. 

It was a rental in Miami.  Pi had not actually asked for a hybrid, but had deployed his Spanish so successfully in flirting with the Dominican girl on the airport rental desk... that he got a free upgrade to a Prius.  It was red. 

Pi climbed in and noticed that there wasn’t an ignition key, or indeed a hole to put one in.  The dispatcher patiently explained that you just pushed a button and the car came to life, like booting up a computer.  Pi gingerly drove the thing away, and noticed that it made very little noise. There was also a little movie-screen on the dash, showing a kind of real-time video that represented the proportion of power consumption being contributed by the electric storage cells at any given moment.  The video soon just looked boring.  Pi quickly decided that the whole experience was more than anything like... well, like driving around in an iPad.

There are those who have predicted that the future of automobiles on our roads is electric.  Unfortunately, those betting that “electric cars will win” have not been having a good year.  Coda, a US-based electric car maker, went bankrupt.  Car-battery makers have teetered on the edge of financial collapse.  Fiat-Chrysler admitted it  was losing ten thousand dollars on each 500e battery-driven car that rolled off its production line.  (The $32,000 price tag was a major disincentive to buy, the company confessed, when compared to the same car’s petrol-engine version at almost 50% cheaper.  But they had to push the battery version anyway to meet quotas on zero-emission vehicles).

Overall, electric cars, both the all-battery ones and the hybrids that tap petrol power as a backup, have mostly failed to fulfill their early promise.  Governments force-feed them with subsidies, but it seems not to make enough difference.  This is partly because all cars have been getting greener, cleaner and more fuel-efficient.

Which makes politicos’ stance on electric automobiles look increasingly silly, particularly since, when you think about it, the things use electricity from dirty coal-fired power stations.  Instead of treating electric cars as an end in themselves, officialdom should allow them to contribute as best they can to the real goal – lower harmful emissions overall.  Governments can tell people what to do, but are extremely unwise to tell them how to do it. 

A simple emissions target should suffice, pushing the automotive industry to make cleaner, more efficient internal combustion engines, rather than forcing it into technologies which may or may not appeal to people, or even contribute much to achieving their goals.  Car-makers in geographies where targets for clean-running engines have been imposed (the USA, Europe, Japan and now China) have complained... but complied.  Consumers, as consumers do, have quickly shown what kind of cars they want within the new standards.

Pi admits:  the hybrids and electrics have been part of the answer.  But that does not make them... well... The Answer.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Consumer Products