Tough Times for Electric-Vehicles (EV)

By Dave Trecker

It’s hard to believe when you’re driving around Naples. Teslas and other electric vehicles seem to be everywhere. There’s no evidence of a decline in sales, at least around here. And why should there be? EVs are quiet, powerful and fun to drive. Up north I drove one that was largely autonomous – a bit scary but, presumably, not dangerous.

Half of my friends own Tesla stock, eager to cash in on President Biden’s crusade against combustion engines and his subsidies to underwrite EVs. The switch, we are told, will help slow climate change.

Yet we read about EV sales tanking around the world. Nobody seems to want them anymore. A Wall Street Journal headline trumpeted, “The Electric Car Revolution is Losing Its Charge.”

What’s going on here?

First off, EVs have some very real problems.

  • Consumer Reports just rated electric cars and electric SUVs as the “least reliable” of all vehicles, with 79% more problems than internal-combustion vehicles.
  • Cold temperatures in the Chicago area last winter froze charging stations, leaving EVs inoperable.
  • Hurricane Ian showed that saltwater intrusion is death to battery driven cars.
  • Electric vehicle fires are especially dangerous, notoriously hard to put out and easy to reignite.
  • Driving at high altitudes with inherently lower oxygen levels rapidly drains EV batteries.
  • Unreliable auxiliary 12 volt batteries have rendered new EVs impossible to start, triggering a federal investigation.

These problems, along with soaring prices, have consumers backing away from EVs in droves, leaving car companies in thelurch.

Demand in Germany is down by half. In the U.S., startups have been plagued by losses and have sharply curtailed production.

The big guys are also being hit. GM has lost billions on electric cars with gas powered trucks delivering most of its profits. A February report said Ford lost $4.7 billion on electric vehicles in 2023.

Rental companies are also feeling the pinch. Hertz reported it was selling off 20,000 EVs and using the proceeds to buy combustion engine cars. In March of this year, CEO Stephen Scherr resigned, blaming EV investments for heavy losses.

Worse perhaps than the financial hits are the political claims about environmental benefits. They simply aren’t true. Consulting firm Goehring & Rozencwajg reports that Norway, an oil producer, needs to get 45 years of use out of its EV battery (expected life is 15 years) to offset the global CO2 cost of producing it. And that doesn’t take into account ethical issues, such as child labor used in the Congo to mine cobalt, an essential ingredient of car batteries.

No question, the problems are real and not easily solved.

What’s the answer? If demand for electrics is fading, what’s taking its place?

Most prominent are low emission gas powered cars and trucks, squeezing the most out of available technology to improve miles pergallon efficiency. But more important might be hybrids, a step down from full electrics and said by dealers and rental agencies to be the next big thing.

What the heck are hybrids?

They’re cars or trucks that have a gasoline engine and one or more electric motors that can work in tandem or separately to drive the vehicle. The electric motors are powered by juice produced onboard and stored in high voltage battery packs. Some hybrids are plug ins and some are not.

The technology is amazing. I’ve rented hybrids and marveled at the efficiency they deliver. But what about President Biden’s latest demand that 56% of all vehicle sales be full electric by 2032? Don’t worry about that. It will be tied up by legal challenges until the Supreme Court strikes it down.

The smart money is on the free market. After all, consumers should be able to choose what they drive.

Dr. Trecker is a chemist and retired Pfizer executive living in Naples.

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