Cold Weather Reveals Electric Cars Are Still Toys for the Wealthy

Original Article by Steven Titch

[Note:  This is an edited version of Steven Titch’s1 Feb 14th, 2019 article with the same title on  Edits were made by Dr. David Tofsted2 to better relate the article to New Mexico.]

Photo by Pixabay

You can add plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) to the list of items that last
week’s low temperatures left in the cold.

Amid hype that these expensive, battery-operated cars are the vanguard of a  fossil fuel-free age, their cold-weather shortcomings reinforce their image as a subsidized toy for the rich.

As temperatures plummeted into the -20s and -30s across the Midwest, Tesla owners discovered their car’s travel range had sharply decreased. And its interior would not warm up. Some owners weren’t even able to open the car door because its electric entry mechanism froze up.

These owners had spent between $80,000 and $140,000 for a vehicle that locks them out in cold weather. Yet they also received a $7,500 tax break when buying what is still an expensive, experimental toy.

Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt owners experienced similar problems.

A 2014 AAA study found even moderate cold weather would reduce electric
vehicle range by an average of 57 percent. The study found that average
battery range was 105 miles at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but dropped to
43 miles at 20 degrees. And a 2016 study of Nissan Leaf performance by
the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory found that, while the car’s range was 91 miles in 72-degree weather, it dropped to 50 miles in temperatures averaging 14 degrees.

In addition to their high prices, electric vehicles can take hours to
recharge, complicating long-distance trips. Imagine driving to Albuquerque
from Las Cruces, a trip uphill of over 213 miles.  Such a trip would take
hours longer than with a gasoline powered vehicle due to a required recharge halfway there, and would be further complicated by the need to recharge somewhere between Truth or Consequences at around the 75 mile mark and Socorro at the 130 mile point. Perhaps two recharges would be required, making a 3-hour trip take a full day.

Since at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of vehicles make this drive daily, imagine all of them lining up to recharge in T-or-C and Socorro and staying hours each waiting for their charge to complete.  Also imagine the power network needing to be adjusted to send this much energy on a daily basis to these remote points throughout New Mexico where electric power would be the only means of recharging spent vehicles.

Perhaps we should question the wisdom and intelligence of electric vehicle
and renewable power advocates who would encourage us all to purchase
electric vehicles for commuting over long distances in New Mexico.

Attempting to shoehorn this immature technology into a wider consumer
market, especially in New Mexico, or any other sparsely populated
state west of the Mississippi would be sheer madness.

In addition to the $7,500 tax rebate that the Federal government offers to
buyers of a car manufacturer’s first 200,000 PEVs, 41 states (not New
Mexico, for now, thankfully) offer a variety of monetary and non-monetary
incentives, including additional tax credits and rebates, vehicle
registration fee reductions, exemptions from bridge and tunnel tolls
and “free” PEV recharging in some public locations.

For example, Las Cruces has such a “free” charging station just north of
its Main Street plaza in the downtown mall.

These government incentives largely benefit the well-to-do.  The average
annual income of a Tesla owner is $146,000. The median age is 54.  Because
PEVs require a driveway or garage for an electric hookup, 88 percent of
Tesla owners also own their own home, the median value of which is $348,000.

PEV subsidies and tax benefits transfer money from the broad population
of middle-class and working-class people. That would mean most New Mexicans are subsidizing out of state PEV purchasers. This is a small group of wealthy and successful homeowners at the peak of their earnings power.
Even if we debate the necessity of subsidies, most would agree that poor
New Mexicans should not be subsidizing wealthy Californians for instance.

This problem will become more and more apparent as extremist
environmentalists urge Congress to back the so-called “Green New Deal,”
which envisions a total phaseout of fossil-fueled vehicles in about a
decade.  Although still vague, Green New Deal supporters seem to demand
only policies that require massive government intervention in the energy
economy, despite a series of failed attempts with environmental policies
designed to pick winners and losers, including the Solyndra scandal and
the Chevy Volt debacle.

Yet Green New Dealers remain openly hostile to the use of hydroelectric
power, nuclear power or any market mechanisms that would achieve the
same CO2 reduction goals, perhaps faster and less expensively.

In New Mexico the latest effort to pass changes in the state’s Renewable
Power Standard (RPS) would increase reliance on faulty renewable power
from the current level (less than 20%) to 50% by 2030, 80% by 2040, and
100% by 2050. This proposed law (NM HB 15, sponsored by District 36
representative Nathan Small) would specifically exclude nuclear power
from having any role in providing power as part of the overall RPS
renewables increases.

Most Americans agree with the effort to reduce carbon (dioxide) emissions, but consumer trends provide ample evidence that we do not need to rob the
pauper to pay the prince to do so.  Sales of hybrid gas/electric vehicles
have been growing steadily while their prices have fallen – because they
meet a market need for automotive performance and fuel efficiency.  PEVs,
however, will remain a luxury novelty for the foreseeable future, because
only a small segment of high-income citizens can afford to pay for these
luxury items.

  1. Steven Titch is a technology policy analyst based in Texas, and he is a policy adviser with the Heartland Institute..
  2. David Tofsted was born near Philadelphia. His father was from the mid-west and his mother’s family lived near Philadelphia since revolutionary times. He graduated from Penn State with a physics degree and came to New Mexico in 1980 as a Signal Corps officer with the US Army, working at White Sands Missile Range. Dave’s career spanned numerous research projects related to the understanding how the operations and performance of Army electro-optical sensors are affected by the atmosphere, including the effects of dust, fog, clouds, and the distorting effects of optical turbulence (heat boil) on imagery. Along the way, Dave studied electrical engineering at New Mexico State while continuing to work at White Sands, obtaining both Masters and Ph.D. degrees. Dave retired from White Sands in 2017 with 36 years service.