Friday, July 7, 2017

I Hate Your Electric Car

A new electric car is coming out today. Apparently it costs $35,000 - which is considered to be priced "for the masses."

I am not one of those masses. I remember when I bought my SUV in 2006 for about $21,000 I hoped technology would move forward to the point where it would be the last gas-powered car I'd own. But I've spent too many subsequent years sitting in traffic watching the light go from red to green and back again before I have a chance to move through. In that span I also began biking a lot more for day-to-day reasons. I also watched ride sharing apps like Lyft and the one by the sexual harassment guy take off. So I'm hoping this now eleven year old SUV is the last car I own, period. 

Yet California is shoving rebates (also known as tax dollars that would be better spent making streets safer for bikers and walkers) my way to convince me that I should have an electric car that I'd feel good about driving. There is even talk about the incentives getting even bigger because, well, they're not working fast enough.

I've said it so many times it doesn't even sound like words anymore: the goal isn't to get people to convert from gas to electric, but from car to not car

The rebates have only done two things: they give California an alibi for environmental protection when it really just encourages the state to stick with an unsustainable model of sprawl and spread-out living. Millennials, as I've written about before, aren't keen on this model and are one three-hour drive to work before packing it in and leaving the Bay Area. 

That doesn't help Silicon Valley. 

The other thing the rebates have done is simply subsidize cars mostly bought by people who don't need the subsidy. A study from UC Berkeley last year looked at over 98,000 rebate checks and found that 83% of the rebate checks were going to households that had $100,000 in income or more - and mostly to white households. 

A quick shout out to Democrats: Two years from now several of you are going to run for president. At least one of you will be from California* but all of you will talk about how it is bad when tax cut benefits mostly go to the rich. 

When you do that you might want to make sure you have a leg to stand on. 

Before some plug-in e-car fanchild reminds me that the new electric car out today costs ONLY $35,000 (before rebates) I need to add that the program looked at hybrids too, and the sticker prices of those start in the $20,000 range - which is still a lot of money for a lot of families. 

But today is still a big day for high-income households wanting to feel good about the "environmental footprint" - but talk of an environmental footprint must go further than the part of the car the exhaust pipe is normally found. 

A Tesla Model 3 takes up just as much space in a parking spot in Palo Alto as any other car. It can block the box at a Redwood City intersection just like a gas powered car. It can circle a parking lot for ten minutes looking for a space just like a gas powered car. The presence of one and tens of thousands of other electric cars (almost always with one passenger) slows down everyone, which makes commutes take longer - if not additionally making the 'better for the environment' argument a wash.

Now that electric car drivers have gotten used to life alone in the HOV lane, they will be reluctant to give that up. Too bad. They have to. It'll happen sooner or later and I'm hoping a California legislator reading this understands that - or at least takes a look at what happened in Jakarta. When they dumped their HOV lanes average speeds for the entire city dropped big time. 

The lesson from this study is that using HOV lanes as a "Good Dog!" biscuit for wealthy Californians who drive alone is a bad idea that needs to end. 24 hour carpool lanes need to begin. 

Now I'm sure if and when the HOV lane sticker nonsense does end, electric cars will still sell. They'll have to, because for now we're stuck in an environment that forces people to live in one place, have a job in another, and offer little other than using a car to get around. And this coercion is having some pretty terrible consequences since more Americans than ever are going into debt to buy cars. According to a recent study by, the average length of a loan is 69.3 months. But guess what! The average size of a loan, as of last month, is $31,000 which means that the swell new electric car is finally in reach.

The person buying this car may end up in debt to get it, trapped by the payments and stuck in a system that is unsustainable and contributing to a poorer quality of life for everyone. But at least they can still feel good about buying that new electric car.

Thanks for reading and thanks for saying no to Car Culture 2.0

* Don't ask me who.