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Tuesday, August 08, 2006 

Bainbridge on Electric Cars

Jonathan Adler of Volokh links to this article written by Professor Stephen Bainbridge. Bainbridge takes on a timely question: who killed the electric car? Recently, filmmaker Chris Paine has produced a movie with that title. It looks at the short life of the EV1, the electric car produced by GM in order to comply with the California Air Resources Board's demand that car companies doing business in California produce a zero-emissions vehicle. Why did it fail? Well...
In Paine's version of the story, the EV1 was a potential environmental savior murdered by evil car and oil companies and corrupt politicians.

In fact, except for a few Hollywood tree-huggers such as Ed Begley Jr. and Alexandra Paul, there really wasn't much of a market demand for the EV1. And the reason is obvious: The original version with lead-acid batteries had a claimed range of 55 to 95 miles; the nickel-metal-hydride battery version had a claimed range of 75 to 130 miles. Both required an eight-hour charge.
As Bainbridge points out, the EV1's actually range was much shorter...
Most Americans want a car that can handle occasional weekend jaunts. In my case, from my base in Los Angeles, I'd like to be able to reach places like Las Vegas (about 275 miles) or San Francisco (383 miles) in a single day's driving. The EV1 simply couldn't do it.
That paired with almost no luggage space made the EV1 an unattractive car to most people. However, all is not grim for people who want to ditch the traditional gasoline engine...
Meanwhile, the market continues to work its magic. Toyota recently announced plans to introduce a new version of its very popular line of hybrids in which the electric motor can be charged from a household outlet. Most estimates suggest a plug-in hybrid should achieve 100-plus mpg fuel efficiency.
Bainbridge thinks that we are better off letting the market work in this situation. People seem to be very supportive of hybrids for both environmental reasons and personal preferences. If they can make the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, maybe Bainbridge will buy one too.

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