Have you ever observed a circumstance that seemed doomed to certain failure? Perhaps it was the nuptials of a friend when he or she was romantically enamored with someone who no one else believed had your friend’s best interest at heart. Maybe it was your teenager’s first used car purchase, which seemed like a great road to independence to your child but seemed clear and obvious to you would run very little and cost a lot.
So it is with the electric fantasyland of the “save the world” contingent among us. Electric cars are being forced down our throats despite little public desire, poor public acceptance, and a complete lack of practical infrastructure. Batteries typically take 45 minutes or more to charge, often even not to full capacity, and even when the batteries are charged full, the vehicles offer a driving range of only about 200 miles in optimum conditions. That’s about half as far as most new cars go on a full tank of gas.
GM has committed that in just six model years from now, every single Cadillac and Buick sold will be electric. No combustion engines at all. Is this good financial stewardship? One of the world’s largest automakers is going to limit its product offering to something the public hasn’t accepted, that takes several times longer to refill and that can drive only half as far. It seems more likely it will lead to financial ruin.
But the pie in the sky foolishness of promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled just jumped to another level. There is a Swedish company called Heart Aerospace that is developing battery-powered airplanes. Despite the fact the commercial version of the airplanes haven’t actually spent one minute in the air yet, United Airlines last year placed an order for 100 of the planes.
Unclear is how they can possibly use them in any effective, productive or customer-friendly commercial enterprise.
The ES-30, as the aircraft has been dubbed by its maker, hopes to have the airplanes available in 2028. It will be a 30-passenger plane with an electric battery range of about 124 miles. The obvious question is, how many routes of 124 miles does United actually fly? Though touted as a climate-saving electric plane, the ES-30 will actually be a hybrid and have what they are calling a “reserve” hybrid engine powered by aviation fuel. That feature means the aircraft isn’t really a fully electric plane, but when the hybrid engine kicks in the aircraft will be able to go an additional 124 miles.
The bottom line is the ES-30 is a very small plane, even by regional aircraft standards. It has never flown. The goal, however, is that the electric engines send it 124 miles. A further goal is that the electric system can be plugged in and recharged in about 30 minutes. The reality is that timing isn’t even possible for a car right now. More likely that each aircraft will take an hour or more to recharge.
Then there is the reality that electric batteries perform much worse in cold weather. United says the two major hubs they envision the ES-30 flying out of are Chicago and Denver. Both offer brutal winter conditions, which raises the question as to how many miles those planes will actually be able to fly in the winter. Ninety-five miles? Eighty-five miles? No one can answer that question, in part because the ES-30 exists only on the drawing board, yet United says it wants 100 of them. Air Canada and Mesa Air Group have both issued purchase orders as well.
The simple question is this. If you ran a company that frequently struggles for many years to operate in the black, would you commit hundreds of millions of dollars to a technology that is smaller, less efficient and slower than your current product? Apparently, if it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, the answer is yes.
What lies ahead is a very predictable disaster. California already has rolling power outages in extreme heat and cold because of its misguided “feel good” energy policies. The same will happen with autos that don’t have adequate range to drive any meaningful distance, take eight times as long to refuel as current models and have no infrastructure to support them.
But the flying idea may be the craziest of them all. Gambling stockholder money on a yet-to-be-proven product that doesn’t claim to meet current usage levels, even if successful to their greatest hope, is just bad business.
If someone can create cars and planes that travel just as far on an electric charge as combustion engine cars do today, and that can be refueled in five minutes or less, I will be among the first to trumpet praise from the treetops. But this hope and dream stuff that is based on non-existent future breakthroughs in technology is a road to disaster. The train horn is blasting, the high beams are flashing. It’s impossible to miss and yet everyone seems to be conveniently ignoring it.
The green movement may come from a place of good intentions for many, but these ill-thought-out investments coupled with government mandates based on hopes for improvements in future tech are extraordinarily bad. They are bad for the investor and they are bad for the corporate entities. The government putting its thumb on the scale trying to decide winners in any industry is a bad idea. Worst of all, they are a colossally bad idea when transportation in the United States inevitably becomes inconsistent and inconvenient.
It’s time for one brave soul to stand up and say, stop! Stop the empty feel-good promises. If electric technology is truly all it has been ginned up to be, it doesn’t require government subsidies, mandates or interventions. It’s time for a bright, articulate conservative to demand that a business plan be put forward that shows how the electric industry can build, grow and sustain itself, just like every mom and pop business in this country does.
Electric fantasyland must show a detailed road map or be unplugged.
- Tim Constantine is a columnist with The Washington Times.
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