If Toyota thinks electric cars suck, why don’t politicians?
Photograph by: Ginger Sedlarova , The Province
Here’s a question. Who do you think knows the most about consumer demand for motor vehicles?
A) Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson; B) Metro Vancouver Chairman and Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore; C) B.C. Premier Christy Clark; or D) Takeshi Uchiyamada, vice-chairman of the Toyota Motor Corp.
“No, Christy, put down that card with the big “C” on it, you’re not the correct answer.”
If you picked “D,” the guy who’s sold, like, a zillion units of one of the world’s top-rated brands of cars, you’re right.
OK, that concludes our little quiz. You can put down your pencils.
Uchiyamada, Mr. Uchiyamada to his friends, announced something pretty startling last week. I’d say shocking, but it was exactly the opposite. He announced that, after two years of work, Toyota was shelving plans for the widespread sale of its newest electric car. The reason? Electric cars don’t work very well and no one will buy them. I can’t decide if “putting the cart before the horse” or “you can lead a horse to water” is the right cliché here, so I’ll let you decide.
“Two years later, there are many difficulties,” Uchiyamada said last Monday, according to Reuters.
“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said Uchiyamada, who was in charge of the team in the 1990s that created the hugely successful Toyota Prius, the car that launched the hybrid craze and overtook the Volvo as the vehicle most likely to be driven by tweedy professors seeking a visible outlet for their pretentiousness.
Toyota remains so bullish on hybrids that the company also announced last Monday that it expects to offer 21 different gas-electric hybrid models by 2015.
Hybrids do seem to be the answer to going green or at least greener. Of the nearly three million vehicles in B.C. last year, 21,600 were hybrids, according to ICBC, 90 per cent of which appear to be parked in the cab stand outside my office most days. While 21,600 vehicles (of which 17,820 are in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island) might not seem like much within B.C.’s total fleet, compared with electric cars, it’s huge.
Other firms remain keen on electric vehicles, but they’re all struggling.
Chevrolet said in March that it was cutting production of its all-electric Volt due to slow sales and so it wouldn’t have to cut prices. It’s now offering rebates.
Nissan has also cut prices on its Leaf electric car – when it hasn’t been buying them back from consumers upset with what’s been reported as its poor “hot-weather performance.” That’s not good because the other thing electric cars aren’t great at is something called “cold-weather performance.” But don’t worry. As long as you only drive your automotive equivalent of a tofu burger in and out of your heated garage during certain days in the fall and spring when the temperature is between 14 and 15 C, you should be fine.
None of this would really bother me, short of the fact it would be sweet if electric cars actually worked, except that the various politicians listed above, among others, are behind programs that take money from my pocket, and the pockets of the vast majority of us, and give it to a tiny group of mostly wealthy people who can afford and have use of an electric car. If Mr. Toyota says there’s no actual market for them, why are politicians using our money to artificially create one?
Victoria gives e-car buyers $5,000 toward their purchase and another $500 to help them install chargers. The total program is costing you $14.3 million, money that would be far better spent on transit, something good for the environment that we can all use.
Metro Vancouver and municipal governments are also funding charging stations, although it’s not clear why that shouldn’t be left to the private sector. “Wait a second, Watson! I know! It doesn’t make economic sense. No wonder the politicians are doing it!”
Before all this we had former premier Gordon Campbell cozying up to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former California governor and Hollywood, uh, “actor” and his “Hydrogen Highway.” When was the last time you heard about that ?
Schwarzenegger said in a 60 Minutes interview clip released Friday that schtupping the maid was the “stupidest thing” he did in his marriage. It’s good he narrowed it to just dumb things in his marriage because otherwise many might have suggested his hydrogen hallucination, which now consists of a few stations around Los Angeles so all the environmentalist stars (Does Ed Begley Jr. count as a star?) can fuel up their rare and vainglorious H2-powered rides.
This is what happens when politicians use your money to pick and choose winners in a free market. They just about never get it right and poor schnooks like you and me get to pay for their errors.
If you still insist on buying an electric car, my advice is get a Volt. If you wait a few months, I bet Chevrolet will practically pay you to take it off their hands – and some politician will make the rest of us cover your bill. Pretty good deal, eh?