Michael Lynch is the president and director of global petroleum service at Strategic Energy & Economic Research.
Recently, Dan Akerson, the CEO of GM, lamented that the Volt has become a "political football," which is ironic, given the car's reliance on a huge ($7,500) federal subsidy. In support of the product, environmentalists like Joe Romm have argued that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have wiped out American jobs by attacking said vehicle and hurting sales. This is symptomatic of much of the debate surrounding new technologies that have performed poorly in the market, exemplified best by the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? which blamed everybody but the poor state of the technology.
The reality is that current battery technology means that the range of electric vehicles is very restricted and the cars are much more expensive than conventional cars, while providing only a modest improvement in emissions. Shortcomings are argued to be unimportant because of promised new developments, such as batteries with longer range or changing stations that would swap out depleted batteries. But promises rarely sell products, and electric vehicles, in particular, have a long record of not living up to promises.
Promoters of clean technologies have a long list of rationales for why some do not attract consumers: lack of information about costs and benefits, high discount rates, conservatism, and so forth, although blaming Rush Limbaugh is a new one on me. And they have often claimed consumer choices are irrational, including stating that SUV's aren't "needed," or that buyers are brainwashed by advertising, one going so far as to blame GM for failing to use attractive models to market the EV-1. Not that models in swimsuits or evening gowns saved Detroit automakers when high gasoline prices meant, gasp, consumers chose smaller vehicles!
In reality, these arguments ignore the fact that new products succeed all the time, overcoming these and the various other obstacles which exist. By blaming other factors, environmentalists overlook the fact that with their own history of overpromising performance, they actually hurt their own cause, damaging their credibility and slowing the conversion to technologies that actually hold promise.