With skepticism rising, the once-popular electric technology for automobiles is losing favor as quickly as it rose to acceptance. Is it proving to only be a trend?
THE future would appear bright for the electric car. Gasoline prices are high. The government is spending billions on battery technology. Auto companies are preparing to roll out a dozen new electrified models. Concern is growing about the climate impacts of burning oil. And tough new fuel economy standards are looming.
Yet the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate. General Motors has temporarily suspended production of the plug-in electric Chevy Volt because of low sales. Nissan’s all-electric Leaf is struggling in the market. A number of start-up electric vehicle and battery companies have folded. And the federal government has slowed its multibillion-dollar program of support for advanced technology vehicles in the face of market setbacks and heavy political criticism.
The $41,000 Volt, in particular, has become a target of conservatives. Glenn Beck called the Volt “crappy.” Rush Limbaugh accused General Motors of “trying to kill its customers” by selling an unsafe car. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said while campaigning for president in Georgia last month that the Volt was too small to handle a gun rack (a claim proved wrong repeatedly on YouTube).
Polarizing legitimate technological advancements, with the potential of saving consumers money, as a political issue: election year is in full swing, in case that was not obvious.
The fate of the electric car remains hazy, with technical, economic and political forces working both for and against it. Chris Paine, who made the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” about the demise of G.M.’s EV1 at the hands of the car company, government regulators and the oil industry, said he was alarmed at how quickly the political climate had turned against the Chevy Volt and other electric vehicles, and offered a theory as to why.
John Broder of the New York Times reports on the effect of political agendas on the environment and the automotive industry, and he manages to offer an opinion, while at the same time not offer one, which makes for an interesting, open-ended read.