"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Friday, October 8, 2010

Make Like a Car and Leaf

We've been down this road before.

The New York Times published an ecstatic review of the new Nissan Leaf today which claims the new zero-emissions production car is the "first all-electric car from a major auto company."  Apparently the Times didn't bother to check their facts.  The cute little coupe pictured above is the 1947 Tama which was built by Prince Motor Company in Japan.  In 1966, Prince Motor Company merged with...Nissan Motors.  So not only is the Leaf not the first all-electric car.  It's not even the first all-electric car made by Nissan.

Of course, the New York Times never lets the facts get in the way of a good story, but in this case, the facts are even more unbelievable:
“It just keeps getting better and better,” said Justin McNaughton, among the 20,000 people who have reserved a Leaf. “My wife thinks it’s funny because at the end of the day, we’re just buying a car.”

Since Mr. McNaughton, a lawyer in Nashville, paid his $99 deposit, he has been bombarded with government incentives — promises of a $7,500 federal tax credit, a $2,500 cash rebate from the state of Tennessee, and a $3,000 home-charging unit courtesy of the Energy Department.
That's right, the federal government and the state of Tennessee have promised Mr. McNaughton a combined $13,000 in government handouts to buy a car that only costs $32,000.  Best of all, the Times reports that the Nissan factory which will make new Leafs (Leaves?) hasn't even been built yet.  Thus, your taxpayer dollars are being given away to promote a car made in Japan.  When President Obama spoke of creating 5 million new "green" jobs making fluorescent lightbulbs and electric cars, who knew that his vision was to create those jobs overseas?

More importantly, how green is an electric car really?  According to the Department of Energy, fossil fuels accounted for more than 70% of electricity generation in 2008.  Coal alone accounts for roughly 50%.  Thus, Obama's pledge to create "green" electricity with windmill farms seems particularly quixotic when we consider that hydroelectric, wind, solar, and biomass (i.e., doo-doo) account for barely 8.5% of the total national output.  The Nissan Leaf might as well come with a bumper sticker already applied at the factory that says, "This Car Runs on COAL."

Aside from the outsourcing of American jobs and the negligible environmental benefits, the Leaf also has a major practical problem.  According to the Nissan website, the car only has a maximum range of 100 miles.  So if you want to drive the 99 miles from Baltimore to Philadelphia, you better hope there aren't any detours!  According to the manufacturer, a full charge takes 8 hours, so if you want to take a short road trip of a few hundred miles, you're going to need to make a lot of stops.

Bottom line, without massive investments in nuclear and renewable energy and major advances in battery technology, an electric car is neither environmentally sound or very practical.  Ironically, even Mr. Electricity himself, Thomas Edison, couldn't make an electric car that was commercially viable and despite more than 100 years of progress, the internal combustion engine still reigns supreme.

1 comment:

  1. Just so you know, in California, where I proudly own my Leaf, the state gets only about 7% of its electricty from coal. The rest is from (in descending order) hydroelectric, natural gas, nuclear, and a mix of renewables. And, for the sake of argument, let's say your stats are correct for the rest of the US (outside CA), studies show that power plant emissions are still cleaner than tail pipe emissions. Get your facts straight.