Friday, January 8, 2010

Global Warming and Fast Cars -- A Perfect Match

From Becker's Environmental Law Update:

Global Warming and Fast Cars -- A Perfect Match

There is an under-reported fact that may very well save the world from those who fear global warming. It will do it without government mandates and it will do it following tried and true capitalistic principles. The fact? Electric cars are faster than gas-powered vehicles.

A while back I posted about Lamborghini’s foray into hybrid cars. It seemed odd to me that a gas-guzzling race car would want to “go green” by using an electric engine. Then Ferrari did the same thing. What I didn’t focus on was that these manufacturers were just being true to their sport—they wanted to go faster. The green advantages were just a fortunate by-product.

Now we have Tesla Motors, which has already sold 700 all electric vehicles. A few facts about their cars:

• For $128,000 you get a car that goes 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds;
• For $101,000 you get a car that goes 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds;
• The federal government has provided Tesla with a loan for $465 million to produce an all electric sedan to sell for $50,000.

These are all sorts of other facts about Tesla that are interesting . . . but none of them matter. Zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds. There are only two gas-powered production vehicles currently being built that can beat it and neither of them have a fixed gear box.

You see, we love speed. That’s why NASCAR is the second most popular spectator sport . Now that there’s a car that can go faster, particularly without putting gas in it, people are going to want it. And if the consumer, the capitalist and the environmentalist all want it, it will be built. This time, no one is going to kill the electric car.

There are a lot of details to work out. How do you store the energy? How far can they go on a charge? How do you get the price down? But the tipping point has been reached. Like the dinosaurs that wondered what that big explosion was, the internal combustion engine for cars is dead — it just doesn’t know it yet.

It’s conceivable that Tesla will go the way of DeLorean, but the concept has now been made feasible. When people start demanding the speed provided by the electric car in the body of a family sedan, Ford, Toyota and Honda will find a way to make it affordable. Most car manufacturers have already made major inroads into electric cars. Expect to see the first big wave of them sold to those “kooks” in California. Then Florida and Washington, D.C. (GM ought to call it the GoreMobile). Finally, Iowa. Once it hits Iowa, you can relegate the internal combustion engine to the Smithsonian.

So in the end, what does it mean for the environment? You already know the answer. Emissions from cars is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States alone, auto emissions account for 33% of carbon dioxide emissions as well as 70% of the carbon monoxide, 45% of the nitrogen oxide and 34% of the hydrocarbon emissions. Driving a car is the largest source of pollution for most individuals. With the widespread use of the electric car, this source will be gone. It will be gone whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. It will be gone whether or not you believe in global warming. It will be gone whether or not we have a “Copenhagen protocol." It will be gone because electric cars are faster than regular cars and we love speed.

When the CD replaced the music album, I thought it was a fad. It wasn’t, because CDs are more convenient, smaller and (arguably) produce better music. It took a worldwide change of mindset to change from albums to CDs, but the change was inevitable once the advantages became clear. And so it is with the electric car. It’s fast, so we want it. All that is left is to make it cheap. And there are whole countries that are willing to do that.

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