NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Electric Cars: Not There Yet

April 15, 2013

Environmentalists across the globe have declared that electric cars are the future's mode of transportation. The Germans have promised 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020 and President Obama has promised that same number by 2015. Indeed, the electric car will one day be the vehicle of the future, but today, the product cannot compete with traditional cars and the environmental benefits are negligible, says Bjørn Lomborg, founder and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

  • Electric car buyers can receive up to a $7,500 subsidy in the United States, $8,500 in Canada and $11,700 in Belgium.
  • Despite Denmark offering an enormous subsidy that is worth up to €63,000 (about $82,380), there are only 1,224 electric cars in the country.
  • In Germany, only 2,154 out of 3.2 million cars sold in 2011 were electric, and the U.S. Department of Energy now expects the total number of electric cars on U.S. roads in 2015 to be 250,000 -- far short of Obama's promise of 1 million.

Consumers are not flocking to the green-friendly vehicles as expected because the costs associated with owning an electric car do not justify the sticker price. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office has estimated that an electric car costs $12,000 more than an internal combustion vehicle over its lifetime.

  • New research finds that electric cars will not cost the same as hybrid vehicles and conventional cars until 2026 and 2032, respectively.
  • Another challenge with the vehicles is that consumers are aware that while the vehicles may be zero emissions once they are operating, the manufacturing process involved with creating the cars creates double the emissions compared to the production of a gasoline-powered car.
  • With current battery technology, an electric car would need to be driven upwards of 100,000 miles to emit less carbon dioxide (CO2) than a conventional car.
  • Twenty-eight percent less emissions equals 11 tons of emissions, which is worth about $55, far less than the subsidies being offered by the government.
  • Many electric car batteries are being manufactured in China, whose dirty coal-fired power plants increase CO2 emissions by another 21 percent.
  • Air pollution in Shanghai would kill an estimated nine people each year from gasoline-powered cars but an estimated 26 people annually from the manufacture of electric cars.

While the technology is promising for the future as a viable alternative to conventional vehicles, the current product cannot compete.

Source: Bjørn Lomborg, "The Electric Car's Short Circuit," Project Syndicate, April 11, 2013.


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