If F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous (and apocryphal) line that “the rich are different from you and me” were updated from Paris in the twenties to Hollywood today then Ernest Hemingway’s reply might have been” “Yes, they can afford to be green.” That was the premise of my column today about electric cars.
Forgetting that it is a Japanese import, Arianna Huffington called her Toyota Prius “an automotive two-fer, a pleasure to drive and patriotic to boot” while actor Will Ferrell said “there’s no reason all Americans shouldn’t be driving hybrid cars” and Meryl Streep opined that America would not be in the Middle East if everyone drove one. Perhaps the most honest of these A-List Prius-drivers was comedian Larry David, claiming he “needed something to make me feel smugly superior.”
But hybrids are sooooo 2007. With the arrival of electric vehicles (EVs) such as the $100,000 Tesla Roadster or the cheaper $41,000 Volt from General Motors, the likes of George Clooney, Matt Damon and Google’s Larry Page achieve zero tailpipe emissions while buying American.
Clearly going from being sort of green to really green comes at a significant bump in expense, even after generous tax credits that the rest of us poor schmucks have to pay. But – surprise, surprise – in a new study Boston Consulting Group has lowered its estimate for US electric vehicle penetration from 5 to 3 percent by 2020 despite high pump prices. Why?
More mundane technologies will appeal to those who are cheap rather than than chic. Generously assuming a 60 per cent drop in battery costs by 2020, BCG calculates that an EV’s price per percentage carbon dioxide reduction is twice as high as cutting-edge combustion technology and five times the gain from improved aerodynamics.
But it gets worse – or, if you want to stick it to that sanctimonious environmentalist neighbor of yours, better. It turns out that electric vehicles are not green at all. That electricity has to come from somewhere and burning coal or natural gas produces carbon dioxide too. Based on the US generation average, charging up that Chevy Volt battery will release about 27 pounds of CO2 on a typical 40 mile commute. Drive a Chevy Cruze – a car so similar in size and appearance that it is called “the Volt without the plug” – and you create just one pound more. You also spew less sulfur, mercury and other bad stuff, and you’re paying half as much even after the tax credit. Oh, and all those heavy metals in the Volt’s battery will have to be disposed-of somehow when it conks out in eight-to-ten years.
Don’t tell any of this to Matt Damon, Will Ferrell or Meryl Streep though. Those environmentally-conscious stars would never be caught dead driving a Chevy Cruze from their Malibu mansions to their private jets.