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Low Voltage:

The Chevrolet Volt was a complete bust for General Motors, as Charles Lane explains in today's Washington Post.

GM wouldn't be in quite so deep a hole if it had not sunk a billion dollars, and much of its corporate reputation, into a not-very-realistic plug-in electric hybrid vehicle known as the Chevrolet Volt.

Likely to cost consumers more than $30,000 even after a big government tax rebate, the little four-seat Volt "is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable," President Obama's automobile task force reported on March 30.

Translation: Unless and until gas prices shoot up, you'd be crazy to buy one of these much-ballyhooed vehicles, which will run 40 miles on a single charge if GM can overcome difficult battery-engineering issues.

To be sure, the green-leaning Obama administration has not ruled out allowing a restructured GM to continue pouring (federal) money into the Volt. But I hope it won't. The Volt and other electric vehicles could gobble up more subsidies than ethanol.

John Moore (www):
If it sounds green, and makes no economic sense, be sure the Obama administration will send money to it.

Now when they get serious about nukes, I might believe some adults have finally arrived in Washington.
4.28.2009 6:10pm
Oren:
Back of the envelope calculation:

Volt goes 40 miles on a 16 KWH charge @ $0.125/KWH = 0.05 $/mile

A gasoline car at 24 mpg @ $3/gal = 0.125 $/mile.

Price difference = $10,000 to a comparably equipped small sedan.

Miles to make up price difference: 130,000

If the environmental factor are worth anything at all, then this is a good deal.

Your assumptions may vary.
4.28.2009 6:13pm
Curt Fischer:

Translation: Unless and until gas prices shoot up, you'd be crazy to buy one of these much-ballyhooed vehicles, which will run 40 miles on a single charge if GM can overcome difficult battery-engineering issues.


Of course, if you buy such a vehicle today, and two years later gas prices shoot up, you would only be crazy for two years. After that you'd be a genius.
4.28.2009 6:17pm
Oren:
We can also do the equations the other way, assuming 100,000 mile lifetime, gas prices need to average $3.50 for this to work in your favor.
4.28.2009 6:17pm
Oren:
Shoot, I failed to take into account the discount rate for future gasoline purchases relative to current capital expenditures. That will skew the results towards the gasoline engine.
4.28.2009 6:18pm
gallileo:
Oren,

You also have to think that someone looking at the Volt isn't realistically looking at 24 MPG cars, they are likely looking at a Prius and 35 MPG, which pushes the miles needed to recoup much higher, and possibly beyond the life of the car.
4.28.2009 6:25pm
Anderson (mail):
I can't help but think that this is the kind of project that a national gov't *should* subsidize. Mass production would bring down the price, widespread use would provide valuable data.

Now, whether the Volt is the particular "e-car" that needs to be funded, I don't know. I think the feds should subsidize 2 or 3 such projects and let them fight it out.
4.28.2009 6:25pm
rosetta's stones:
The assumptions don't vary, they just need to be fully laid out.

Only some of the customer duty cycles will have the vehicle travelling only 40 miles, and then being plugged back in for a 12 hour recharge. The rest will be running on the gasoline engine for anything over those 40 miles, and getting the aforementioned 24mpg. So the simple payback more likely approaches 200,000 miles, and the vehicle likely won't last that long without major rebuild. I highly doubt there's a payback on this vehicle.

Battery replacement cost isn't being included in your calculation. Nor the additional insurance required for those fragile batteries. My dealer informally waves off anybody who wants a hybrid for these reasons, although few want them.

The OEM's are being real cagey about profit margins on these hybrids, so the $30k figure given for the Volt may be artificial. I suspect that all hybrids are money losers right now.

The Volt was always a publicity campaign. Much scuttlebutt confirms that here in Detroit, although as Oren says, YMMV.
4.28.2009 6:29pm
Monty:
Don't forget maintenence. Hybrid Electric - Fewer moving parts? But how long do those batteries last, and are there any maintenence costs?

Other notes:

You can only count the first 40 miles driven a day as gas free driving, unless you charge up at work too.

As fuel prices rise, and electric cars become popular, electricity prices may also rise, not sure how to factor that in.
4.28.2009 6:31pm
rosetta's stones:
Monty, if everybody is charging at night, that'd be great, as we have mucho electricity production capacity at night, generally, so prices may not be affected much. That's one of the pluses to the e-car movement, and there ain't too many right now.
4.28.2009 6:38pm
Crunchy Frog:
Electric vehicles are never going to be more than a tiny niche market of golf carts and municipal fleet cars until the problem of rapid recharging is solved.

Chevy Volt - 40 mile range (pathetic), 1 hour (pure guessing here) recharge

Nissan Frontier (what I drive) - 320 mile range, less than 5 minutes to refill at gas station

I suppose you could speed up the recharge time, but then you'd brown out your neighborhood whenever you plugged in your car...
4.28.2009 6:39pm
Monty:
Per rosetta's stones - 12 hour recharge, 1 hour would be alot better

Also, why does it have such bad gas mileage? And what happens to its range if I'm running the A/C?
4.28.2009 6:47pm
Recovering Law Grad:
Assuming, say, a used car that gets 25 mpg, how many miles would you have to drive that car before you used as much energy as was needed to build a new Prius?
4.28.2009 6:50pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
I wonder how much a 1/4-mile extension cord costs? I wonder how much power it loses through resistance?

Electric cars are nifty if you've a socket you can plug them into easily. Can you picture any major city with extension cords hanging out the windows, crisscrossing the air and the streets to get to the car parked just around the corner? Electric cars have a huge problem when it comes to apartment dwellers.

I'm currently driving a 13-y/o Mercury Sable that's getting 24 mpg on the highways. I've just turned the 80K mark on it, so a 200K mile point of economic return on an electric is going to be quite a while. My driving is mostly urban, with a few 2,000 highway trips thrown in each year. The 40 miles/charge might work most of the time (if I can find that extension cord), but really doesn't cut it at all for the longer trips.
4.28.2009 6:53pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
Someone tinkering in his garage could have gotten better results.
4.28.2009 7:01pm
Splunge:
Shoot, I failed to take into account the discount rate...

Not to mention the interest cost on the extra $10k and the higher upkeep costs with a dual powertrain requiring more skilled labor.

As for the environmental benefits: you can't use cheap electricity from coal-fired plants to do your calculation if the goal is net environmental benefit. Plus you need to include the infrastructure cost for a massive battery metals mining, refining and recycling program so you don't strew the landscape with heavy metals or the (generally nasty) byproducts of metal mining and refining.

Maybe try your calculation again, assuming "green" power so you avoid fossil-fuel combustion. The generic price for solar thermal power is 50-100% higher than conventional power, if you live in a nice sunny climate like Arizona. Consumer Reports estimated that a 2006 Prius cost about $300 more over the first 5 years to maintain than a 2006 Corolla. Recycling of NiMH batteries (present gen hybrids like the Prius) roughly pays for itself, but lithium batteries, like those used in next gen cars like the Tesla or Volt doesn't, and a 2003 Japanese study estimate a recycling cost for lithium batteries of $1000-$2000 per ton. The Chevy Volt has a 375 pound lithium battery pack.
4.28.2009 7:03pm
cboldt (mail):
-- Can you picture any major city with extension cords hanging out the windows, crisscrossing the air and the streets to get to the car parked just around the corner? --
.
For in-city travel, use overhead wires as is done for trolleys and trains.
.
On the bigger issue of market viability, Congress can just repeal the laws of economics and this baby will fly.
4.28.2009 7:09pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren:

Is your 24 mpg car the equivalent of the Volt? I get more than 24 mpg with my mid-sized Honda Accord V6, which has 270 hp. The old VW Rabbits got something like (Diesel) 40 mpg. Of the top of my head, I don't think your calculations are realistic. I read a comparison of a hybrid with equivalent non-hybrid and gas had to go over $5 to break even.
4.28.2009 7:09pm
Siskiyou (mail):
Often overlooked in green back-of-the-envelope calculations is the value of the loss of use of the money difference between the price of the green and the "other" item to be purchased. Make whatever assumptions you wish regarding the time it will take for the mileage to add up to 130,000 and the safe interest return. You will in any event arrive at a significant number. Also overlooked is operational life.

Given the short range of the vehicle, I would guess no more than 10,000 miles per year. (Anybody here driving a GM product that is at least 13 years old?) In our present and probable future monetary predicament, I would accept any low guess about the future value of money, but say 2% annually on interest.

Hand me that envelope, wouldya'. The car and particularly the battery will be a recycling and disposal problem before the difference cost is amortized by lessened cost of operation.
4.28.2009 7:12pm
Siskiyou (mail):
I type slowly. Splunge and the rest of you beat me to it, with more specificity, at that.
4.28.2009 7:16pm
Siskiyou (mail):
Then there is that little corporate culture thing. How many radical-looking GM concept cars have we seen in the last six decades or so? How many even made it to pilot production? Oh, the government will do it better now. I see.
4.28.2009 7:26pm
Kolohe:
Volt goes 40 miles on a 16 KWH charge

Some other sites state that the 40 mile range is based ending the battery at something like 30% of capacity. So the total energy for 40 miles is possibly closer to 12 kWh than 16. Otoh the official chevy volt site say '(minimum)' next to it's 16 kWh capacity spec, so it could be already taking into account. It's not entirely clear but since elsewhere there is also talk of '80 cents worth of electricity' (at 2009 prices) I'm thinking it's the lower number.

Can you picture any major city with extension cords hanging out the windows, crisscrossing the air and the streets to get to the car parked just around the corner?

Acutally, each car could just carry its own power cable (wouldn't be too much bigger than jumper cables) to plug into receptacles at parking meters and the like. You'd need zombie Herbert Hoover re-appointed to Commerce Secretary to impose the standardization. But it wouldn't anyway because partial discharges and re-charges are really really bad for battery life.
4.28.2009 7:27pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
The Achilles heel for the electric car is the battery. If you look at the energy density on a volume basis, our best lithium-ion batteries have only about 1/20 the energy density of gasoline. This really limits the range, so you end up with some kind of hybrid. I don't know the how many charge cycles you get from these batteries, but it sure isn't going to compare to the life of a gas tank.

I thought the Volt was basically a dumb idea. Even the Obama task force which, has no expertise in matters automotive, can see that.

Lesson learned: even the government is not as dumb as GM.
4.28.2009 7:30pm
Kolohe:

As for the environmental benefits: you can't use cheap electricity from coal-fired plants to do your calculation if the goal is net environmental benefit


Yes.

The Volt miles per kWh (if powered by coal) works out to be the same carbon emissions as a 12-14 mpg traditional gasoline powered car.
4.28.2009 7:31pm
Oren:

Only some of the customer duty cycles will have the vehicle travelling only 40 miles, and then being plugged back in for a 12 hour recharge.

The vast majority of Americans' commutes are less than 20 miles, actually, so I think it's safe to say that 95%+ of the Volt's driving miles will be grid-powered.


The Achilles heel for the electric car is the battery. If you look at the energy density on a volume basis, our best lithium-ion batteries have only about 1/20 the energy density of gasoline.

And the Achilles heel for the gasoline car is that you can only reasonably expect to get 10-12 KWH out of that gallon of gas that contains 32 KWH. Less in the city unless you have regenerative braking.


You'd need zombie Herbert Hoover re-appointed to Commerce Secretary to impose the standardization.

Actually, this time the industry has agreed on a standard plug.
4.28.2009 7:35pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
It costs about 4 cents/kWh to generate electricty from coal. That extra 8 cents must be transmission costs, profit, and other overhead. Windmills will cost at least 16 cent/kWh, and we still need a storage system. So we are talking at least 24 cents to go green. I'm sure it's way more because you always leave something out.
4.28.2009 7:36pm
Siskiyou (mail):
Zark,

Normally, I agree with you, but the government is too as dumb as GM.
4.28.2009 7:36pm
Oren:

The Volt miles per kWh (if powered by coal) works out to be the same carbon emissions as a 12-14 mpg traditional gasoline powered car.

Just plain wrong.

1 gallon of gasoline = 20 lbs of CO2
1 KWH of power from coal = 2.0 lbs of CO2.

10 KWH gets you 25 miles = 20 lbs of CO2
1 gallon gets you 25 miles = 20 lbs of CO2

Off by a factor of 2!
4.28.2009 7:41pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren:

"And the Achilles heel for the gasoline car is that you can only reasonably expect to get 10-12 KWH out of that gallon of gas that contains 32 KWH. Less in the city unless you have regenerative braking."

Gasoline cars don't have an Achilles heel. Look out the window. The system works on a large scale. Even though the available energy is less from gasoline, you still get a good range from your gas tank. You can't do that with batteries. I don't want to be limited to 20 mile trips.
4.28.2009 7:41pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Normally, I agree with you, but the government is too as dumb as GM."

Ok, Ok I give up. You don't have to twist my arm.
4.28.2009 7:43pm
Oren:

they are likely looking at a Prius and 35 MPG, which pushes the miles needed to recoup much higher, and possibly beyond the life of the car.

Except that the Prius only costs $4k less than the Volt, not the $10k that I budgeted. It is left for the reader to redo my calculation with those numbers.
4.28.2009 7:43pm
Oren:


You can only count the first 40 miles driven a day as gas free driving, unless you charge up at work too.


Average commute is 30 miles.
4.28.2009 7:45pm
Oren:

Maybe try your calculation again, assuming "green" power so you avoid fossil-fuel combustion.

Sure, tack on 25% for an all-nuclear grid and we are good to go.


Anybody here driving a GM product that is at least 13 years old?

My colleague has a 1995 Chevy S10. Another one has a 1989 Chevy midsize truck (forget the model). Both have >200k miles on them.


Is your 24 mpg car the equivalent of the Volt? I get more than 24 mpg with my mid-sized Honda Accord V6, which has 270 hp. The old VW Rabbits got something like (Diesel) 40 mpg. Of the top of my head, I don't think your calculations are realistic. I read a comparison of a hybrid with equivalent non-hybrid and gas had to go over $5 to break even.

I've never been in a Volt, so I have no idea, but I'm comparing to a sort of generic midsize sedan, which tends to get in the mid to high 20s.

Because the Volt will be bought primarily by city-going folks that spend a lot of time in traffic, the ICE is going to be at its most disadvantaged. On the open highway, of course, your Accord will wipe the floor with it.
4.28.2009 7:49pm
Oren:


10 KWH gets you 25 miles = 20 lbs of CO2
1 gallon gets you 25 miles = 20 lbs of CO2


I should add that due to natural gas, nuclear and other sources, the real figure for the US grid will probably be half this (or close, not really sure).
4.28.2009 7:50pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Average commute is 30 miles."

We need more information. What fraction of drivers commute more than 20 miles?
4.28.2009 7:50pm
Oren:
Incidentally (I probably should have written this before), I intended to show not the the Volt is a good deal in and of itself, but that it's close enough to a good deal that, if you factor in some non-negligible amount for environmental factors, it makes sense.

Even if you don't believe in AGW, simply moving the combustion to a power plant with advanced emissions-trapping technology improves air quality and generates less waste.

Even if you don't believe in the environmental factors, the geopolitical factors (we don't buy coal from people that are trying to kill us) also have to be worth something. As a personal matter, I'm willing to pay a 50% premium for a product with the same utility that's not produced by Saudi Arabia.
4.28.2009 7:54pm
Oren:

We need more information. What fraction of drivers commute more than 20 miles?

Those with the longer commutes can buy a TDI. Sheesh.
4.28.2009 7:56pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
The Volt looks smaller than the Accord V6. See specs here and here.

Note the Accord has 40% more cargo room.
4.28.2009 7:58pm
rosetta's stones:

On the bigger issue of market viability, Congress can just repeal the laws of economics and this baby will fly.


cboldt, they need to put you on a leash, boy. ;-)
4.28.2009 7:58pm
John Moore (www):
Here in AZ, you volt will be using 5kW just for air conditioning for a significant part of the year. That'll cut your commute down a bit.
4.28.2009 8:00pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren:

"Even if you don't believe in the environmental factors, the geopolitical factors (we don't buy coal from people that are trying to kill us) also have to be worth something."


We can get all that by using the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert coal to liquid fuel and run the cars we have. This way we don't have to suffer the capital costs of replacing our whole automobile fleet, and we can run the trucks too. We know Fischer-Tropsch works-- Germany ran its WWII machine on it. South Africa runs its economy on it and the USAF uses it for jet fuel. We can build the conversion plants and get off imported oil pretty quickly.
4.28.2009 8:06pm
eallison:
Also, the Volt is not limited to the range of the battery. It has a small gas engine that recharges the batteries past 40 mi. and runs at constant speed at its most efficient point - which should result in significantly better mileage than most if not all other cars, even when past the all-electric range.
4.28.2009 8:09pm
eallison:
Also, the Volt is not limited to the range of the battery. It has a small gas engine that recharges the batteries past 40 mi. and runs at constant speed at its most efficient point - which should result in significantly better mileage than most if not all other cars, even when past the all-electric range.
4.28.2009 8:09pm
Oren:


We can get all that by using the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert coal to liquid fuel and run the cars we have.

How wonderfully wasteful. What's the total end-to-end efficiency of FP+ICE versus coal combustion + Volt?
4.28.2009 8:15pm
gallileo:
Oren,

Prius may only cost $4,000 less, but 35 MPG is a very conservative number. I don't own one myself, but my brother gets 42 MPG plus in his.

Volt just isn't going to happen on a practical basis. Sad, but true.
4.28.2009 8:22pm
rosetta's stones:

Also, the Volt is not limited to the range of the battery. It has a small gas engine that recharges the batteries past 40 mi. and runs at constant speed at its most efficient point...


In concept, I see this as the wave of the future in e-cars, with an on-board ICE acting in a stationary engineering application, providing electricity to electric motors, which will likely be close-coupled to the wheel(s). Eliminates transmissions and drivetrains and associated weight, etc.

Unfortunately, the Volt as you're describing it is destined to be a performance dog, because if the ICE isn't available to provide Hp boost, it's probably gonna be a dog.

And people don't like doggie cars, greenies notwithstanding.
4.28.2009 8:27pm
geokstr (mail):

Oren:
...I'm willing to pay a 50% premium for a product with the same utility that's not produced by Saudi Arabia

Not everyone can afford to buy a new car, even with subsidies or tax breaks. Lots of people buy used cars now out of necessity, not because they want to.

No matter how fast we try, there is going to be a significant transition period to replace 250 MILLION (as of 2006) gasoline or deisel powered passenger vehicles (not including trucks, buses, trains, ships, airplanes, construction equipment, generators, lawn mowers, tanks, etc, etc.) The time and cost to construct the infrasture necessary to support the eventual replacements is another unknown. In the meantime, we are still going to be financing the jihad against us, as we already have with tens of trillions of dollars over the last 35+ years.

And all that assumes we won't bankrupt ourselves if we try to do this too fast without some kind of rational transition strategy. 250 million x X thousands of dollars/each in subsidies equals more trillions we don't have right now, just for the passenger vehicles alone.

Why can't we at least compromise on interim solutions while the economics of alternate energy vehicles are being worked out, which may take 20 years or more? How about we drill here to at least eliminate that drawback during the transition period? No, that option is totally precluded by Obama and the environmentalists, despite how they're trying to spin it.
4.28.2009 8:32pm
rosetta's stones:

And all that assumes we won't bankrupt ourselves if we try to do this too fast without some kind of rational transition strategy.


...and let's overlay carbon caps on all this, while we're at it, like a cherry on a sundae.

If we're gonna go bankrupt, why not go way bankrupt?
4.28.2009 8:41pm
Kolohe:
Off by a factor of 2!

Yep. My mistake was to use the 'carbon' # from the EPA website for gasoline (2,421 grams) http://www.epa.gov/OMS/climate/420f05001.htm but the 'carbon dioxide' figures from the same link you used.
4.28.2009 8:43pm
eallison:
Early reviews of the test mule cars are pretty good: autoblog review. So I don't think it is a given that it will be a poor performer. It's not a Tesla, but it seems it will be at the very least competitive with the Prius, which is all it needs to be. A report came out today saying Honda and Toyota make $3000 profit on each hybrid sold.
4.28.2009 8:45pm
John Moore (www):

In concept, I see this as the wave of the future in e-cars, with an on-board ICE acting in a stationary engineering application, providing electricity to electric motors, which will likely be close-coupled to the wheel(s). Eliminates transmissions and drivetrains and associated weight, etc.

This is how diesel locomotives work. I don't know why some hybrids don't use that approach (for example, the Prius) but they must have some good reason.

The tragedy of electric cars is that they are really, really what you want, except that the batteries are too heavy. A pure electric car will do 500,000 miles on the motor, and has a lot fewer accessory systems that need constant tending. It can have lots of torque. In general, way cool.

Unfortunately, I do not expect battery technology to get that much better, no matter how many billions we throw at it. The chemistry is well known, and the gains from tricks like nano-fabricating anodes to get more surface are not enormous.

It may be that a hybrid with an efficient diesel engine will be good enough. Perhaps some savings from having an engine that has only one speed and a small torque range can somewhat offset the huge cost of the batteries.
4.28.2009 8:55pm
Oren:

Not everyone can afford to buy a new car, even with subsidies or tax breaks. Lots of people buy used cars now out of necessity, not because they want to.

Myself included. That doesn't mean that we can't start introducing novel ideas sooner rather than later.


No matter how fast we try, there is going to be a significant transition period to replace 250 MILLION (as of 2006) gasoline or deisel powered passenger vehicles (not including trucks, buses, trains, ships, airplanes, construction equipment, generators, lawn mowers, tanks, etc, etc.)

Accepted except for the tanks part -- the M1A1 gets 1 mpg and that's AOK with me :-P


Why can't we at least compromise on interim solutions while the economics of alternate energy vehicles are being worked out, which may take 20 years or more? How about we drill here to at least eliminate that drawback during the transition period? No, that option is totally precluded by Obama and the environmentalists, despite how they're trying to spin it.

I prefer a more heavy-handed approach. Each State legislature will furnish sites for 2 nuclear reactors (CA, TX, NY, IL - 4 apiece) within 6 months or face total loss of all Federal funding. All the reactors will be standardized and will be run under one (1) NRC license. All lawsuits regarding the entire project will be heard by one (1) Federal judge from the DC circuit and will be directly appealed, no cert, to the SCOTUS who will put it at the front of the docket and decide it expeditiously. The DOE will disassemble a couple hundred nukes (don't worry, we have 3000 or so) to fuel them while a breeder reactor is constructed to harvest plutonium.

What's precluding that solution? Deference to State and local NIMBY-coddlers.
4.28.2009 8:56pm
Oren:

A report came out today saying Honda and Toyota make $3000 profit on each hybrid sold.

Wow, economics in action -- they exactly pocket the Federal tax break. Dang.
4.28.2009 8:58pm
Oren:
PS. If you insist on domestic oil, get it from the shale in CO/UT rather than drilling up AK.
4.28.2009 8:58pm
Tom952 (mail):
Not one to miss a sinking boat, Chrysler announced an electric car with 25 MPH capability and a healthy push-it-home plan if you go to far.
4.28.2009 9:00pm
Oren:
Tom, while I wouldn't buy that monstrosity, nowhere is it marketed as a car. If I owned a mall with hippies, I'd give one to the security guards.
4.28.2009 9:04pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Average commute lengths have significant variation by region. In Southern California, more than 20 miles each way is very common - and we're not talking about from exurbs.

Nick
4.28.2009 9:08pm
geokstr (mail):

Oren:

I prefer a more heavy-handed approach. Each State legislature will furnish sites for 2 nuclear reactors (CA, TX, NY, IL - 4 apiece) within 6 months or face total loss of all Federal funding. All the reactors will be standardized and will be run under one (1) NRC license. All lawsuits regarding the entire project will be heard by one (1) Federal judge from the DC circuit and will be directly appealed, no cert, to the SCOTUS who will put it at the front of the docket and decide it expeditiously. The DOE will disassemble a couple hundred nukes (don't worry, we have 3000 or so) to fuel them while a breeder reactor is constructed to harvest plutonium.

What's precluding that solution? Deference to State and local NIMBY-coddlers.

I can get behind that, if those 2 nuclear sites already have the approval process fasttracked and over in those 6 months. Unfortunately, in this political climate, with the power and finances of the environmentalists, finding the lost herd of pink unicorns is more likely to happen.

Oren:
PS. If you insist on domestic oil, get it from the shale in CO/UT rather than drilling up AK.

I could care less where we get if from, as long as it's domestic and we start digging/drilling/processing it right now. But therein again lies the problem, we have an administration that will not allow that under any circumstances.
4.28.2009 9:12pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren:

"How wonderfully wasteful. What's the total end-to-end efficiency of FP+ICE versus coal combustion + Volt?"

I don't know the answer, but FP can't compete with $40 oil. If oil goes to something like $100 and stays there, them FP is viable. It's all about cost not end-to-end efficiency. But if we don't want to import oil any more then FP is the way to go.
4.28.2009 9:14pm
Tatil:

Wow, economics in action -- they exactly pocket the Federal tax break. Dang.

Are you sure? Didn't those tax breaks expire a long time ago? They were for the first 60,000 cars from each company and Toyota along with Honda sold many more than that limit.
4.28.2009 9:18pm
Doug Sundseth (mail):
Oren: "PS. If you insist on domestic oil, get it from the shale in CO/UT rather than drilling up AK."

Strip-mining a few thousand square miles of rather nice land to get expensive oil is a better deal than drilling in a few square miles of uninhabited tundra to get cheap oil? I'm afraid I don't understand that calculus.
4.28.2009 9:58pm
Ricardo (mail):
A Chinese auto-maker called BYD Auto has a plug-in hybrid that can go 63 miles operating only on battery power. It's a very ordinary looking sedan and costs about $23,000 in China.
4.28.2009 10:11pm
Ben P:

A Chinese auto-maker called BYD Auto has a plug-in hybrid that can go 63 miles operating only on battery power. It's a very ordinary looking sedan and costs about $23,000 in China.



I usually don't like parroting this particular talking point, but 2:1 says if it were brought to the US the price would go up about $15,000 for safety measures.
4.28.2009 10:19pm
John Moore (www):

PS. If you insist on domestic oil, get it from the shale in CO/UT rather than drilling up AK.

There are a lot fewer people to discomfit up in AK, and the oil is cheaper.

Also, better than shale oil is coal gassification -> fuel. This process is now roughly competitive with oil, and the US and Canada together are the Middle East of hydrocarbons.
4.28.2009 10:28pm
Fact Checker:
Electric cars are nifty if you've a socket you can plug them into easily. Can you picture any major city with extension cords hanging out the windows, crisscrossing the air and the streets to get to the car parked just around the corner? Electric cars have a huge problem when it comes to apartment dwellers.

Actually, if you live in a city where blockheaters are a necessity in the winter (like much of Canada and Alaska), this is quite common.

And it just cracks me up that libertarians as a whole seem to disdain all government subsidies except those for nuclear power. What is it? Is being contrary more important than the principle and mantra that the market is always right. Nuclear power was invented and exists as a viable power source only because of massive government subsidies, yet libertarians have a fascination with it. It is like the exception that proves the rule that the government can't do anything right.
4.28.2009 10:45pm
Oren:

Nuclear power was invented and exists as a viable power source only because of massive government subsidies, yet libertarians have a fascination with it. It is like the exception that proves the rule that the government can't do anything right.

Quite wrong, nuclear costs like 150% of fossil fuel power and a lot less under any carbon tax or cap and trade system.
4.28.2009 10:51pm
Oren:



I usually don't like parroting this particular talking point, but 2:1 says if it were brought to the US the price would go up about $15,000 for safety measures.

It's a good thing that Americans are wealthy enough to value their lives at $10-12M instead of the $400-600K that a Chinese life goes for. We use our excess capital to purchase safety.
4.28.2009 11:02pm
Fact Checker:
Quite wrong, nuclear costs like 150% of fossil fuel power and a lot less under any carbon tax or cap and trade system.

You say I am quire wrong yet admit nuclear is 50% more expensive than fossil and will only become competitive when carbon taxes are implemented. You also fail to mention that the government indemnifies nuclear plants, and that the government is responsible for disposing of nuclear waste. Most importantly, nuclear fuel is either produced directly by government owned companies or private companies that bought the production facilities at deeply discounted prices from the government so that the fuel production infrastructure has been paid for by the taxpayers of the nuclear fuel producing countries (mostly buried in their defense budgets).

The industry was born out of the Manhattan project, and most of the the production facilities are still those that were developed as dual use facilities by DOE and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, to supply the needs of both the civilian and military nuclear complex (both the weapons side and fuel for the nuclear navy). The national lab system and the DOE production complex is a private/public partnership that is responsible for much of nuclear research (again the line between military and civilian application is a very fuzzy one) done in the world. The same companies (e.g., Westinghouse at Savannah River Site) that run the production facilities for the DOE also are the largest manufacturers of commercial reactors. They benefit from their contracts with the government as well as the research of the national labs (which are mostly run under DOE contract by universities).

Furthermore, the legacy costs of the nuclear industry (and it is completely unreasonable to separate the civilian and military nuclear industry when talking about these costs) is absolutely staggering. The environmental cleanup costs at the big three DOE facilities (Hanford, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge) are well into the hundreds of billions of dollars, not to mention contamination, both nuclear and non-nuclear at other sites all over the country. Some of the sites are so bad, especially at Hanford, and so problematic, there are currently no feasible cleanup options available at any price.

Explain how I am "quite wrong" to say that nuclear exists only because of massive government subsidies.
4.28.2009 11:30pm
John Moore (www):
Fact Checker:

Nuclear power is expensive because:

1) Environmentalists and NIMBY's who put huge delays in the projects

2) see #1

3) see #1

4) Environmentalists and NIMBY's who require excessive regulaiton

5) Lack of standardization in US reactors, so no economy of scale

6) #1 above

7) No new reactor technology in 30 years in US nuclear power.

8) No breeder reactors because of environmentalists and anti-proliferation folks who don't get it.

9) #1 above

10) Insane storage requirements for RadWastes and NIMBY's (in Nevada) and environmentalists who block storage facilities.

Note that other countries, like China which has no carbon tax, are going gangbusters on nuclear power. Are they stupid about cost estimation?

IOW... there is no real reason that nuclear power should be terribly expensive.

OTOH, if we dropped the restrictions on carbon based fuels, the cost of that would drop a lot too.

Basically, our cost of energy (the lifeblood of our economy) has been raised too much by E &N's, and is about to be raised a whole lot more by "Climate Change" apocalyptics.
4.29.2009 12:09am
trad and anon (mail):
Not that I know anything about this subject, but without a major breakthrough in battery technology I'm not seeing this becoming competitive. Rechargeable batteries really suck and it doesn't appear that anything is going to change that.
4.29.2009 1:24am
John Moore (www):
It is very unlikely that we'll see a major breakthrough in battery technology. There will be incremental improvements, but that's been happening for the last 30 years or so, as battery powered devices have become more and more important (radios, computers, etc).

If electric powered vehicles form a larger part of our fleet, that may or may not be that good - it is less efficient to have different kinds of systems to provision for and maintain. OTOH, the variety that auto manufacturers already put out is far from efficient - just look at the cost of replacement parts.
4.29.2009 2:20am
rosetta's stones:

I don't know the answer, but FP can't compete with $40 oil.


About 8-10 years ago, I read that FP could be competitive at $85 per barrel of crude. So, let's say that's $100 today. I don't think we're quite ready for that.

On the other hand, right when crude first skyrocketed in about Fall 2003, the Alberta tar sands, which had just then brought on their first production facility, was costing out at about $30 per barrel of crude. After crude went through the moon, those Canadians were tripping over their beer cases to ramp up that production. That's the future of oil production in NA, btw. That's what they're all ramping up for, all the way down to Tulsa. It's dirtier than the legendary Texas light sweet crude, but we can crack that nut, and we are. The ME crude is often dirty as well.

Canuckistan, baby. That's the future.

I don't buy that nuke is 150% of fossil, even now. I do buy that poorly considered priorities have driven up the cost.
4.29.2009 9:19am
Chem_geek:
I wonder, just how much of the blame for the financial crisis can be laid at the feet of exorbitant gas prices? Things were fine until last year, when the avaricious oil men decided to jack the price of gas up past $4/gal. Electrifying transport, via hybridization and PHEV, would have reduced that impact...
4.29.2009 9:24am
geokstr (mail):

Ben P:

A Chinese auto-maker called BYD Auto has a plug-in hybrid that can go 63 miles operating only on battery power. It's a very ordinary looking sedan and costs about $23,000 in China.

I usually don't like parroting this particular talking point, but 2:1 says if it were brought to the US the price would go up about $15,000 for safety measures.

Ben, I'll see your 2:1 and raise you 4:1 on how far that 63 miles on battery power drops after the extra weight is added for those safety features.
4.29.2009 9:27am
Mark Buehner (mail):

You also fail to mention that the government indemnifies nuclear plants, and that the government is responsible for disposing of nuclear waste.

Which is appropriate because government has banned the reprocessing of nuclear waste (as is done in France) for purely diplomatic reasons. Moreover it has de facto banned any long term storage solutions by the utility companies (Com Ed building a Yucca Mountain doesn't even pass the giggle test).

I find it odd that you credit the government for absorbing costs that it has invented.
4.29.2009 9:29am
Mark Buehner (mail):
PS- i'd be VERY careful about making projections on the life expectancy of the Volt. Assuming it will last anywhere near as long as the tried and true gasoline powered engine without major (out of warranty of course) work is pretty ballsy. Worse than that- finding mechanics and parts will be a nightmare for a long time. You think your Range Rover is difficult to service?
4.29.2009 9:31am
Oren:

Explain how I am "quite wrong" to say that nuclear exists only because of massive government subsidies.

Because we were going to generate all that uranium for nuclear weapons anyway. They are a sunk cost entirely irrelevant to the nuclear power equation. Given that we already have a huge nuclear program for military reasons and it's never going to go away, nuclear power adds very little cost on top and provides safe, CO2-free power for a small premium over fossil fuel ($0.04 for coal, $0.07 for nuclear, $.12 for the distribution/transmission grid, all per KWH).
4.29.2009 9:40am
Abdul Abulbul Amir (mail):

Actually, if you live in a city where blockheaters are a necessity in the winter (like much of Canada and Alaska), this is quite common.



In those places it gets quite cold for much of the year. Cold reduces battery charge life. In addition, unless the passengers are willing to freeze, the heater will drain the battery. Heating a gasoline powered car is free. Heating a battery powered car must be paid for.
4.29.2009 9:41am
geokstr (mail):
John MOore:

Well said on why nuclear power costs so much, except for one thing - you didn't attribute nearly enough of it to "#1 above" since both these are solely due to it as well.

5) Lack of standardization in US reactors, so no economy of scale

7) No new reactor technology in 30 years in US nuclear power.

Nor did you mention that much of the NIMBY is due to the complicity of the MSM in whipping up fear of the atom in every story they've ever done about nuclear power. We're still suffering from the real fallout of Three Mile Island, the hysteria fallout. Not one person every got so much as indigestion from the "massive" but imaginary radiation leak, where even the workers inside the plant received less exposure than the average commuter gets from naturally emitted radiation from the granite walls by walking through Grand Central Station.

This pathological and irrational fear of everything atomic even has massive costs in our danged food supply, as it has kept perfectly safe irradiation processes from being utilzed, and contributed to the various outbreaks of pathogens that could be easily prevented by its use.
4.29.2009 10:06am
Dan Weber (www):
geokstr said:

Oren:
...I'm willing to pay a 50% premium for a product with the same utility that's not produced by Saudi Arabia

Not everyone can afford to buy a new car, even with subsidies or tax breaks. Lots of people buy used cars now out of necessity, not because they want to.

We don't need everyone to use a Volt. Neither does GM. They are (were?) only planning to make 10,000 of them in 2010.

If it functions generally like it's supposed to, and GM isn't beaten to the punch on the "drive your commute using no gas" line, they will have no problem selling 10,000 of them.

No, they aren't for everyone. Neither are econoboxes or pick-up trucks or minivans or convertibles or SUVs, yet each of those sell very well.
4.29.2009 10:10am
Mark Buehner (mail):
Something else to consider- if an appreciable percentage of Americans move to electric cars, electricity rates will rise (we will also burn more coal to produce it). No such thing as a free lunch.
4.29.2009 10:12am
Dan Weber (www):
Oren said:

Because we were going to generate all that uranium for nuclear weapons anyway.
Is the fuel cost really a significant factor for power plant operation?

The costs of a nuclear power plant are in construction, not fuel. (This is similar to an electric vehicle, in which the upfront costs of the battery are what matters.)

It's costs billions to build a nuclear power plant. If the start of operation is delayed by some NIMBY group, that can easily put the plant into the red for the rest of its life as it falls behind on capital costs.

Utilities won't build nuclear plants unless they know they'll be able to get it running soon after starting.
4.29.2009 10:19am
Mark Buehner (mail):

The costs of a nuclear power plant are in construction, not fuel.

Exactly, and as you rightly point out, the cost of construction is in lawyers and campaign contributions, not concrete and rebar.
4.29.2009 10:30am
Connecticut Lawyer (mail):
I guess I'm just an old fogy.

I went to the NY car show last week and it was kind of a sad thing. Electric cars and hybrid cars, whatever else they are, are not sexy, fun cars - with the notable exception of the Fisker (wow!)

IMHO, GM's biggest mistake of the last ten years was taking that $1 billion and pouring it into the Volt rathole instead of using it to bring to market the 16-cylinder, 1,000 horsepower Cadillac concept car: that was a car that would have restored Cadillac's reputation as a top-line luxury car, competitive with BMW, MB and Jaguar.

By far the best explanation of what happened to GM over the past 30 years can be found in the Wall Street Journal today, Holman Jenkins, "The Truth About Cars and Trucks." Read it and weep.
4.29.2009 10:33am
rosetta's stones:

Utilities won't build nuclear plants unless they know they'll be able to get it running soon after starting.


...shhhhhhhh, keep it under your hat, but that was the point of evil Dick Cheney's double top secret Energy Task Force.... to put us on the road to nukes. He talked with those who'd be building those plants... silly, evil him.

Civil Engineering magazine had a summary article right around that time, describing the conceptual framework of the coming program, how we'd be partnering with the other, smarter nations who use nuke power (France, Japan, etc.) effectively, standardizing processes as Moore rightly identifies as critical, and basically lining up a righteous nuke power effort in this country... taking years and years of course, but you gotta start somewhere.

That evil bastard Cheney... it's his fault.
4.29.2009 10:35am
Oren:

This pathological and irrational fear of everything atomic even has massive costs in our danged food supply, as it has kept perfectly safe irradiation processes from being utilzed, and contributed to the various outbreaks of pathogens that could be easily prevented by its use.

Quoted for truth, and a rare occasion where I get to agree with geosktr without any reservations or caveats :-P.


Is the fuel cost really a significant factor for power plant operation?

It would be if they had to buy enriched uranium on the open market (the thought of commercial uranium enrichment, of course, ought to scare the pants off everyone). That was FC's original complaint.

Instead, the DOE provides the fuel at way-below-cost (actually "leases" -- the fuel is owned by the DOE even when it is inside the facility being fissioned).
4.29.2009 11:06am
Yankev (mail):

Electric cars are nifty if you've a socket you can plug them into easily. Can you picture any major city with extension cords hanging out the windows, crisscrossing the air and the streets to get to the car parked just around the corner?
I had an electric car in 1965 or 1966. It ran on 12v. power from two metal strips running down the middle of the lane, accessed by a "pick up" with two metal brushes on either side of a plastic blade. Steering would be a challenge, as the blade rode in a slot between the two metal power strips. All powered by a Pittman take-off of the infamous Mabuchi "tin can" motor. It worked pretty well in 1/25 scale.
4.29.2009 11:23am
Yankev (mail):

Of course, if you buy such a vehicle today, and two years later gas prices shoot up, you would only be crazy for two years. After that you'd be a genius.
Unless Obama drives the cost of electricity up as he threatened during the campaign.
4.29.2009 11:24am
Slocum (mail):
I can't help but think that this is the kind of project that a national gov't *should* subsidize. Mass production would bring down the price, widespread use would provide valuable data.

The problem is that the critical components are the batteries. Specifically the lithium ion batteries that have been mass produced for years to power laptop computers and other electronics. And there has already been a major economic motivation to improve the power/weight ratios (to make lighter smaller gadgets). So this isn't a technology in its infancy where we can reasonably expect major, quick improvements in cost and efficiency. And lithium for batteries isn't an unlimited resource either, so mass production of the Volt could make the car more expensive as production increases -- and could drive up the cost of all our portable electronics in the bargain.
4.29.2009 11:28am
George Smith:
If you've seen the Volt, it is a really good looking car, Now if it had a small block V-8, Tremec gearbox, posi-trac, Konis, ..................
4.29.2009 12:34pm
mariner:
The Volt and other electric vehicles could gobble up more subsidies than ethanol.

That's a feature, not a bug.
4.29.2009 12:49pm
Abdul Abulbul Amir (mail):


We don't need everyone to use a Volt. Neither does GM. They are (were?) only planning to make 10,000 of them in 2010.


About 250,000 a year is what you need for economic production. Thats one assembly line running two shifts five days a week.
4.29.2009 2:55pm
Losantiville:
Since the gasoline using small Toyotas get better than 30 mpg it's hard for electrics to compete. Battery durability issues are also a factor.

We don't know if the new batteries are good for 100k miles. Charging is slow. Cold weather performance sucks. Cheap super capacitors would solve those problems but currently share price and energy density problems with batteries.

Gasoline won back in 1910 because of energy density and refill times. IC engines are garbage for transportation, however.

Dense electric storage would let us eliminate engines, transmissions, radiators, etc. and substitute motors inside the wheels. Also 750,000 mile lifetimes.

Get enough density in electric storage/generation and you could get aerodynes instead.
4.29.2009 3:22pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
The potential market for short-range vehicles as first or only cars for American householders is 0, to a first approximation.

People do not buy autos that cannot do anything but get them to work.

The potential market for second cars that cost $30K is also effectively 0.

If I have, say, $80K to spend on cars (and if I am a normal American), I am not going to split it 50-30. I'm going to split it 60-20 or even 65-15.

Siskiyou asks: ' Anybody here driving a GM product that is at least 13 years old?'

Me. I have a 1990 GMC S15 4WD with about 145K miles. Needs a ring job and had to have a new transmission at 100K miles. It was fully amortized sometime in the second Clinton administration. So even though I pay $2.76/gal for gasoline, my all-in cost to drive it 10K miles this year will be under $3,200. That includes insurance, taxes, fees and enough of a good mechanic's time to keep it roadworthy for several more years.
4.29.2009 7:16pm
John Moore (www):

Dense electric storage would let us eliminate engines, transmissions, radiators, etc. and substitute motors inside the wheels. Also 750,000 mile lifetimes.

Get enough density in electric storage/generation and you could get aerodynes instead.

Ain't gonna happen. Chemical storage has theoretical limits, and gasoline is not bad in that regard. Chemical battery limits are about 1/4 that of gasoline, and practical limits are much worse.
4.29.2009 8:24pm
rosetta's stones:


In concept, I see this as the wave of the future in e-cars, with an on-board ICE acting in a stationary engineering application, providing electricity to electric motors, which will likely be close-coupled to the wheel(s). Eliminates transmissions and drivetrains and associated weight, etc.





John Moore:
This is how diesel locomotives work. I don't know why some hybrids don't use that approach (for example, the Prius) but they must have some good reason.


JM,

Haven't put my hands on one of these things, but my understanding is that they don't use a locomotive/submarine schematic because they want the ICE and the elec. motor to work in series, so the Hp of the 2 engines is additive, and they get the performance.

If they went straight elec right now, with a big heavy tranny and driveshaft, all powered by some little 80 Hp elec motor or whatever, the vehicle would be a dog, and few will buy a dog. So they need both right now.

The 3rd generation hybrids or maybe 4th will get to what you're describing, I suspect. Right now, these things are so unreliable that nobody dares decouple the ICE from the driveshaft.

Close coupling elec motors to the wheels is a ways off as well, and will mean a complete tear up in vehicle architecture, if they decide to go that route.

I believe in historical terms re e-cars, we are about where we were with ICE vehicles as of CY 1910 or so... just getting started.
4.29.2009 8:59pm
John Moore (www):
I suspect you may be right about the bigger motors. However, with a hybrid they need a tranny and driveshaft, while with pure electric drive they just need a two motors.

I believe in historical terms re e-cars, we are about where we were with ICE vehicles as of CY 1910 or so... just getting started.

I think you will find the progress will be much faster, but won't go very far. We know a heck of a lot more about the underlying physics and engineering now, and have computer design and modeling tools.

It's the batteries where I don't expect great improvements, which is probably why people used to talk about fuel cells. I suspect you don't hear as much about them now because they have stubbornly refused to get practical enough (after 50 years of development) and everyone wants to "save the environment" RIGHT NOW.

I have real safety concerns. I want a lot of mass in my vehicle, even if I have to pay more for energy. However, I don't want that mass in batteries!
4.29.2009 10:11pm
Oren:

About 250,000 a year is what you need for economic production. Thats one assembly line running two shifts five days a week.

What about the cite from earlier stating that the Prius makes a huge ($3k) profit per car. They don't build that many.
4.30.2009 8:31am
Oren:



Haven't put my hands on one of these things, but my understanding is that they don't use a locomotive/submarine schematic because they want the ICE and the elec. motor to work in series, so the Hp of the 2 engines is additive, and they get the performance.


Yup. Gasoline engine efficiency goes down with displacement in the >1L range.
4.30.2009 8:33am
geokstr (mail):

Dan Weber:

No, they aren't for everyone. Neither are econoboxes or pick-up trucks or minivans or convertibles or SUVs, yet each of those sell very well.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Of course let's develop electric vehicles and wind power and solar.

The major problem is the Obama admin and the environmentalists seem to be exclusively focusing on the development of renewables to the total exclusion of domestic fossil fuels and nuclear power, the ONLY sources of energy that can possibly handle our energy needs for the near to intermediate future while this transition takes place. This literally guarantees that we continue to fund the jihad, and if the requisite technology is not developed very much more quickly than even optimistic projections think is possible, we put out entire economy at serious risk unless we get a lot more realistic about using domestic oil and nuclear in the meantime.
4.30.2009 9:33am
Yesimahippie:
The problem that I see is that many libertarians and amateur economists spend all of their time wailing about the fact that renewable technologies cost a bit more, basically arguing that climate change can't be dealt with until renewables cost as much as fossil fuels, and the Big Bad Government shouldn't be involved in this any way because Saint Reagan said so, meanwhile the polar ice caps and glaciers are melting and the world economy is going to be on it's knees in 100 years after flooding, draught, disease, famine, and war ravage the globe. And all of this because we used nice little back of the envelope calculations to justfy our failure to change our lifestyles and because we don't factor in the true externalities of fossil fuels into our back of an envelope figures. When are we going to wake up and realize that we can't keep dragging our feet just because the solution will be unpleasant?? The alternative will be much more unpleasant--where is that factor in the cost-benefit analysis?
4.30.2009 10:42am
rosetta's stones:

...which is probably why people used to talk about fuel cells.


They probably stopped talking about hydrogen fuel cells after they discovered they'd be lugging around a 10,000 psi bomb in their trunk!
4.30.2009 1:32pm
John Moore (www):

When are we going to wake up and realize that we can't keep dragging our feet just because the solution will be unpleasant?? The alternative will be much more unpleasant--where is that factor in the cost-benefit analysis?

And then there are those of us who recognize all the signs of "pathological science" in the field of climate prediction, and recognize the difference between greenhouse effect warming and the dramatically higher warming forecast by the alarmists.

Also, there is no reason at all to believe WE MUST ALL PANIC AND DO EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW OR THE EARTH WILL COME TO AN END! Not of all of subscribe to the apocaltypic greenie cult.

Finally, it isn't "a little more" to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions. It is an enormous capital cost and continuing cost - all for a questionable scientific theory.

You don't have to be a libertarian to see how foolish all this stuff is.
4.30.2009 5:16pm

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