Battling the Anti-BEV Press

June 28, 2005 (by Paul Scott)

Dear Andrew,

Sorry to put your teeth on edge, but I just have to respond to your rant on EVs. I hope you will take the time to actually do some reasearch on the subject before attempting to write on EVs again.

You wrote:

It's electric.
Hearing the un-researched praises heaped on ethanol sets my teeth on edge, but hearing the supposed ecological wonders of electric cars makes me want to bang my head against the desk. (I'm talking about true electric vehicles, not hybrids.) Electric cars are dirty. In fact, not only are they dirty, they might even be more dirty than their gasoline-powered cousins.

** You're going to have to document this, Andrew. Studies by EPRI, Argonne Labs and California's Energy Commission (among many others) have all concluded that, well-to-wheels, EVs are much cleaner than even the cleanest of hybrids, and that's even when the electricity comes from the national grid currently consisting of about 60% coal. Here in California, our state grid mix averages about 18% coal, so EVs are cleaner still.

People in California love to talk about "zero-emissions vehicles," but people in California seem to be clueless about where electricity comes from. How else can you explain a state that uses more and more of it while not allowing new power plants to be built?

** Which "people" are you referring to, Andrew? While I'll grant that many people in all 50 states don't know, or even care, where their power comes from, there are many Californians who do care and who do know where their power comes from. That's why many of the EV drivers have solar PV systems so that their driving is completely pollution free. That's also why we here in California are close to passing landmark solar legislation (SB1) that will enable a million households to buy PV systems, further reducing our reliance on dirty power. We are not preventing new power plants to be built here in California, but we sure as heck don't want coal plants to be built unless they can demonstrate that their effluent is not going to harm those who live downstream.

Quoth Schoolhouse Rock: "Power plants most all use fire to make it: electricity, electricity/Burnin' fuel and usin' steam, they generate electricity — electricity."

** Great movie. Love that Jack Black!

Aside from the few folks who have their roofs covered with solar cells, we get our electricity from generators. Generators are fueled by something — usually a hydrocarbon (coal, oil, diesel) but also by heat generated in nuclear power plants. (There are a few wind farms and geothermal plants as well, but by far we get electricity by burning something.)

** You make it sound like only a few people in California have solar. The truth is, thousands of us do, and thousands more will have it in a couple of years. The solar industry is quite robust these days. Those of us who have had the pleasure of driving EVs know the personal power of generating one's own fuel for our cars and trucks from a clean renewable source. The payback for a PV system that replaces gasoline is much faster than for replacing household current alone. We have the additional pleasure of knowing our dollars are not feeding the coffers of oil companies and Saudi despots bent on our destruction.

** Where do you get YOUR electricity, Andrew? If your power comers from polluting sources and you havent done anything to mitigate that, then you shouldn't be talking. Many utilities offer renewable power (usually from wind farms) for a small additional charge. If you haven't at least made that small effort, you really shouldn't be lecturing anyone on using power from coal plants.

In other words, those "zero-emissions" cars are likely coal-burning cars. It's just the coal is burned somewhere else so it looks clean. It isn't. It's as if the California Greens are covering their eyes — "If I can't see it, it's not happening."

** See above. Your house, like most people's, is burning coal, too.

But it's worse than that. Gasoline is an incredibly efficient way to power a vehicle; a gallon of gas has a lot of energy in it. But when you take that gas (or another fuel) and first use it to make electricity, you waste a nice chunk of that energy, mostly in the form of wasted heat — at the generator, through the transmission lines, etc.

In other words, a gallon of gas may propel your car 25 miles. But the electricity you get from that gallon of gas won't get you nearly as far — so electric cars burn more fuel than gas-powered ones.

** Hang on, Andrew. Not true!

** The studies I referenced above take these inefficiencies into consideration. The pollution per mile driven already considers the inefficiencies of transmission lines, etc. And talk about generation efficiencies, an internal combustion engine (ICE) is horribly inefficient compared to an electric motor. Your statement that a gallon of gas has a lot of energy in it is true, but only a very small part of that energy actually drives the wheels of a car, less than 30%, and that's not even considering all the energy expended getting the gasoline in the first place. Did you know that the oil extraction and refining industry uses over 15% of the entire electrical load in California?

** Of the energy that charges a battery in an EV, more than 90% drives the wheels. A good example is the Toyota RAV4 EV. It can travel an easy 100 miles on 30 kWhrs of electricity. The gas version of the same car will travel less than 30 miles on a gallon of gas. There are approximately the same number of BTUs in a gallon of gas as there are in 30 kWhrs of electricity. Generally speaking, an EV will travel 3-4 times as far on the same amount of energy as its gas version. This is basic physics, Andrew. Can't get around it.

If our electricity came mostly from nukes, or geothermal, or hydro, or solar, or wind, then an electric car truly would be clean. But for political, technical, and economic reasons, we don't use much of those energy sources. We should, but we don't — that means those electric cars have a dirty past.

** This is precisely why we should ensure that EVs have a cleaner future! Those of us working to make EVs available for the public to choose are also working to clean up the grid. All ICE vehicles get dirtier as they age. EVs are the only vehicles that get cleaner as the grid gets cleaner.

** A dirty grid is NOT a reason to forego EVs. A dirty grid is a reason to get active in energy politics.

Furthermore, today's cars are very, very clean. I'd be willing to bet they're a lot cleaner than coal-burning power plants. And that's not even getting into whatever toxic niceties are in those electric cars' batteries — stuff that will eventually end up in a landfill.

** This is an astounding statement! Absolutely no documentation on earth will back up that contention. I hear this all the time about how clean today's cars are, but I'd be willing to bet not a single one of these "clean car apologists" are willing to sit in an enclosed garage with their engine running for any length of time. I'd probably starve to death waiting in my garage for the battery to wear down, but you Andrew, would be dead in a few minutes from the filth that spews from your tailpipe. Remember, EV drivers tend to get their power from clean renewable sources, so there is no pollution at all associated with it.

** As for the batteries, every ICE car in the world has a lead acid battery in it. Lead acid batteries are recycled in the U.S. at a rate of 98%. But the production EVs will never use that chemistry. They will all be Nickel Metal Hydride, Lithium Ion or some similar chemistry from here on out. These are much less toxic than lead by far and have a higher intrinsic value, so the recycling rate will be pretty much 100%. No one will allow a battery pack worth several hundred dollars to go in the landfill.

And finally, when cars are the polluters, the pollution is spread across all the roads. When it's a power plant, though, all the junk is in one place. Nature is very good at cleaning up when things are not too concentrated, but it takes a lot longer when all the garbage is in one spot.

** You have everything backwards, Andrew. We shouldn't be asking nature to clean up our mess. We should not be making the mess in the first place. It's much easier to clean up one big polluting source than millions of tailpipes. And the power plants, as nasty as they are, tend to be away from most people, while the cars are all around us. EVs will clean the air we all breathe, even those living downwind of the power plants.

Being green is good. We've squandered our space program on things like the International Space Money Pit, so we won't be leaving the planet very soon. It's what we've got and we should do better at taking care of it.

But that doesn't mean we should jump on any technology labeled "green" anymore than investors should have jumped on any stock labeled "tech" in the 1990s. We know what happened there.

** You're right, we shouldn't squander our money by spending $130 billion for foreign oil, much of which is from countries and dictators who hate us. We should use that money to invest in more renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. And we shouldn't squander $300 billion and thousands of American soldier's lives on energy wars. Remember, all of our electricity is generated here at home, so all of our money stays here at home.

** Andrew, you owe your readers an apology for misinforming them to such an extent.

Paul Scott


It is not hard to make an electric car out of parts off the shelf. If consumers became educated about how a BEV is the perfect car for ordinary, day to day, 40-miles-roundtrip-or-less life, they would demand these cars. So a reasonable car maker would want to destroy all existence proofs (extant BEVs) that these cars are perfect for ordinary, day to day life. The purpose of doing so would be to stop all word of mouth education of the public by electric car owners (those pesky little devils and their website).

Because if you don't destroy all the cars and stop all the talk, and if consumers start to demand battery electric vehicles, then many new car companies are going to start making BEVs to fill that demand (because BEVs are not hard to make). It's the end of the current barrier to entry into the business--the ability to make a cylinder block and assemble all the Byzantine parts of an internal combustion engine.

Think of it. An automobile industry not dominated by an oligopoly; an automobile industry in which companies have to compete on substance and value (fuel economy, safety, fit and finish, real technical innovation...expensive things) instead of on relatively inexpensive foo foo automobile style considerations. If you're in the car business, this is anxiety producing to contemplate. Not the least of reasons being that if its not just the three of you (along with those pesky Japanese who sometimes have to be persuaded to support the industry line), but if, instead, its a larger number of companies competing on substance and value, then it will be harder to pay for elections and then lobby with a unified voice about how you would like the government and regulatory agencies to help you make more money while providing less benefit to the public.

It's the end of oligopoly. Its terrifying. It makes you hate battery electric vehicles, after you get over your panic attack--if you're in the car business.

If you are in the manufacturing of cars business, then you wouldn't mind if the cars fell apart on a regular basis so that they would require lots of the parts of cars which you also manufacture. The internal combustion engine is perfect for this purpose. All those goofy parts with their reciprocal motion and enormous heat, as well as the problems associated with managing cooling and lubricating fluids, lead to a wonderful and continuous need for new parts which the public has come to regard as being as inevitable as gravity and electromagnetism. Electric motors don't break down much. When did you last take your refrigerator (which runs just about 24/7) to the repair shop? This is a reason to fear, and then hate, battery electric vehicles--if you're in the car business. Better to destroy all the BEVs we were faced to make during the Air Resources Board's brief moment of valor, and hope that the word of mouth is destroyed along with them. Better to run some flim flam on the public about fuel cell cars which won't be ready until the permafrost has already released all its methane into the atmosphere, rather than let the public start thinking about battery electric vehicles--if you're in the car business.

- Doug Korthoff

December 20, 2006 response to the free press article here. (registration required)

Plug In America, a non-profit organization advocating for plug-in vehicles, takes great exception to Mark Phelan’s one-sided column on EVs. While Mr. Phelan interviewed members of Plug In America (PIA) for his column, none of the information we gave him was included in his column. He essentially gave Toyota a free ride with no rebuttal.

PIA’s Mike Kane had authored a white paper contrasting Toyota’s marketing campaign for the RAV4 EV with the Prius. That paper was forwarded to Mr. Phelan and he was told that it provided a strong counter to Toyota’s claim that both vehicles received similar marketing help. Mr. Phelan stated in a phone call this morning that he did not have time to read it before publishing his column. He further stated that he did not have time to incorporate our verbal response in his column. In a phone interview last week, Paul Scott of PIA provided Mr. Phelan with anecdotal evidence of his efforts to buy the Toyota EV in 2002. This evidence is backed up by dozens of other prospective buyers of the RAV4 EV that could easily be verified, yet none of this evidence was presented to counter Toyota’s Ernest Bastian.

Phelan states that GM delivered about 800 EV1s while Toyota delivered 342 RAV4 EVs without mentioning that those numbers represented 100% of the vehicles made available for retail lease or purchase. Scott was very specific in countering this common media contention as it is constantly brought up in articles favorable to GM and Toyota as evidence that, even though they tried, GM and Toyota couldn’t sell any more than this paltry number of vehicles. When a carmaker sells or leases 100% of the vehicles offered, and there are waiting lists of thousands of people who are clamoring for more, it is disingenuous to the extreme to claim this program as a failure. Upon further examination, we believe Mr. Phelan would find that the total number of EVs offered by GM and Toyota are not based on what the market would bear, but are notably similar to the minimum number of cars required to be made available by the CARB mandate.

Phelan states that Toyota “did everything it could to attract buyers to the RAV4-EV”. This is patently false! If Phelan had taken the time to read Mr. Kane’s paper, he would know that there was a significant difference in how Toyota marketed the Prius from how it marketed the EV. In fact, Toyota regularly promotes the Prius by denigrating the RAV4 EV with the marketing tagline, "you don't have to plug it in". Those who did hear of the RAV4 EV and tried to get one found that only a few dealers even carried them, and several of those weren't enthusiastic about it, trying to convert customers to other Toyota products. None of this suggests dealers who were given “a sweetheart deal so they could make twice as much selling a RAV4-EV as a Prius”. Most importantly, it should never have been an either/or scenario; there is indeed a market for both.

He further states "Toyota… subsidized the price, so customers paid $279 a month". This, too, is patently false. The list price of the RAV4-EV was $42,500 vs. $21,000 for the Prius. Three-year leases were generally well over $570 per month.

Phelan also says that "Toyota delivered 342 RAV4-EVs in 2002-03", suggesting that the vehicle was available for two years. In fact, it was only available for 8 months, from February to October of 2002. The only reason that Toyota delivered vehicles in 2003 is that they received more orders than they were capable of fulfilling and buyers at the end of the program had to wait several months to take delivery of their vehicles.

Phelan also says “buyers…avoided the electric car like it was a downed power line”. Clever turn of phrase that, but it happens to be completely false. Hardly anyone knew of the existence of these vehicles, and for those who did hear of them, the process of actually buying one was filled with obstacles most buyers would never put up with, and sales staff who openly attempted to turn buyers away from the EV and toward the Prius. This happened all over California and there are many who will testify to this.

Finally, Bastian is quoted as saying "Customers are not willing to compromise on things they need. They need cruising range. They don't want to worry about running out of fuel, and they don't want to wait five hours to recharge. The movie didn't give any consideration to that fact." In fact, the film itself showed consumers expressing exactly these concerns, though Mr. Phelan conversely doesn't consider that today's batteries provide up to 300 miles of range, and that even the 100-150 miles available then is several times the average commute in the US. EVs have never been represented by their proponents as the cars for everyone- neither is the Hummer, and that's not the point. The case for a product, EVs included, is not about the people who don't want the product, it's about the people that do. The only relevant question is whether there are enough of those people to make a business case. But even that question only matters if the company in question truly wants to be in that business. Toyota has already answered that question with respect to the RAV4 EV program; all that matters now is where they go from here- will they rest on their Prius laurels, or respond to consumers' collective demand for better vehicles that run on cleaner, cheaper, domestic energy and minimize dependence on petroleum? Given that the industry takes its cues from NAIAS in Detroit, we're mere weeks from an answer.

Plug In America respectfully asks that the Detroit Free Press correct the many inaccuracies in the Phelan column at the earliest opportunity.

Paul Scott
Mike Kane
Plug In America

Tom Gage's response to an Automotive News article on, Jan 7, 2007

First a snip from the article:
*DETROIT --* No one knows whether there's much of a market for plug-in hybrids, which qualify for niche-within-a-niche status. No plug-in hybrids are on the market yet. But eco-geeks who want more pure electric power from hybrids are pressuring automakers to build them.

And then a letter to the editor from our friend Tom Gage, President of AC Propulsion:

Dear Editor,

Re: "Airstream shows Ford's plug-in technology"

Although I am not personally offended by the term eco-geek as used by Richard Truett to describe those who want to substitute electricity for gasoline as a fuel for their cars, I do feel its use reveals a disimissive attitude toward a real problem. The term marginalizes and diminishes those who understand that our excessive gasoline consumption in the United States is causing economic, environmental, and political problems around the world. "Eco-geeks" does have a nice ring to it, so maybe Mr. Truett just likes the way it sounds. If so, here are some snappy names he could use to describe other groups of people. He could cleverly call anyone who buys a big heavy truck and then uses it to commute and run local errands a "terrorist's tool". And it would be hilarious when he writes about journalists, politicians, and auto executives who ignore, hide the truth about, and encourage our hideous appetite for gasoline if he called them "OPEC ass kissers".

You may print this letter.


Tom Gage
AC Propulsion, Inc.


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