EV Party and Politics
By Josh Landess
"No production company in the entire world makes electric cars that you can go out and buy with the exception of some small companies that make one or two here and there."
[See also EV World's streaming audio telephone interview with Paul Scott and other EV party participants.]
With this statement, Paul Scott started a meeting of several dozen EV enthusiasts at his house in Santa Monica. The purpose of the meeting was to strategize about the upcoming California Air Resources Board (CARB) meeting and to write letters and send them to CARB so as to attempt to let them know that Production Battery EVs are worth continuing to pursue.
The meeting will be held in Sacramento on March 27 (recently postponed from February 27). It will be "a public hearing to consider the adoption of the 2003 amendments to the California zero emission vehicle regulation". Those who decide to attend should research the details at www.arb.ca.gov. There is concern that after years of tremendous pressure and lawsuits from auto makers and now the Federal Government, the Board will alter regulations in a way that will result in no new highway capable Battery Electric Vehicles being available anywhere: an EV Blackout.
Citizens of many other states have effectively been in an EV blackout for decades, with the only exceptions being do-it-yourself efforts or very small makers. In California, the blackout is once again in force. Toyota, the last large maker to be making any EVs available to comply with the mandate, shut down their program this past fall.
With two dozen of the vehicles present, there were many test-drives prior to the meeting. As always seems to be the case, the vehicles rated highly on the "Wow-where-can-I-buy-a-new-one?!" scale when folks had a chance to drive them. The answer now of course is: Nowhere.
Several EV1s were present and it was a great opportunity to try them before GM forcibly takes every single one back from California leasers and destroys some while redistributing others. GM is using force in the sense they are refusing to allow lease renewals and are refusing to allow outright purchase of the vehicles at any price.
Since the EV1 is in the opinion of some leasers the very best vehicle they have ever driven, and since it could be a great tool worldwide for any homeowner wishing to avoid purchase of petroleum, there has been some talk of some leaser trying to resist this "confiscation" (as activist Doug Korthof put it at the meeting) but no such event seems to have taken place as yet.
The EV1s, RAV4 EVs, S-10 Electric Pickups, a Think City, an NEV, a Ford Station Wagon conversion and other vehicles stood outside as the sun went down in silent testimony to vehicles that could be here, now, using zero oil and getting millions of citizens to and from work, school, errands and recreation, every day of the year. It was an odd site, because there were so many EVs parked on the street that they were the norm, rather than the exception. They looked like new and shiny and competently-made conventional vehicles, except that you knew they were slightly different; it was a site of parked cars as perhaps they "should" be.
I'd like to give a full account of all the presentations that were made, but for various reasons that is not possible. For one thing, we're up against some of the most competent and able lawyers and lobbyists around (Automobile Manufacturers Association, Western States Petroleum Association) so it would be unwise to do so. Here are a couple of points made that I thought would be worth passing on, for those interested, and then a few thoughts of my own.
Mr. Scott said:
"I just found about all this, this summer, and I became a convert very quickly. Those of us who have these cars know what we've got. We know that the car companies have quit making them for reasons that they stated had to do with no demand or the cars aren't good enough, or this, that and the other thing. We know different. We know that the cars are more than adequate for our needs, for commuting throughout the LA area, the San Francisco area, we know they have more than enough power, and we'd like to see more of them made."
The main speaker was Greg Hanssen. He is with PEVDC.org (Production Electric Vehicle Drivers Coalition), representing all the folks who drive Production Electric Vehicles. They have managed to intervene in some of the lawsuits. Donations to PEVDC.org legal fund are welcome.
Some of Mr. Hanssen's further points:
Many drivers have had friends who have tried to get cars and couldn't get them. The mandate looks now to get pushed back to 2005. The makers won't have to show credits until 2005. Toyota has enough banked credits from pre-2005 such that they won't need to produce anything new for many years. CARB is worried that Toyota might sueSome Board members have given some indication they don't want to see a ZEV blackout, but how to accomplish that is another matter. They are being careful as to how they go about things.
A quote from Mr. Hanssen's presentation:
"...Right now ARB regulations favor fuel cells. They're willing to give up on battery electric cars because they say they've tried it and there's no market and the cost is too expensive. What's funny is [CARB] says the incremental cost for the BEV is $17,000 right now. They say the incremental cost for a BEV 10 years from now will still be $17,000, as if there will be no improvement in the technology. Yet, they say that the incremental cost for a fuel cell vehicle right now is $1,000,000 per vehicle. That will drop to a $120,000 difference in 2011 and then magically will drop to a $9,000 incremental difference in 2012. Now how they drop from $120,000 to $9000 in one year, I don't know. I'm not that optimistic about fuel cells myself.
"I believe we have the technology right now to build zero emission vehicles like those parked right out front, and there's no reason why they couldn't build more today. [...] And if the Air Resources Board thinks that they can back off on Battery Electric Vehicles because they have an incremental cost right now and an uncertain market, they will *never* have a ZEV program because they will have the same problem with fuel cells 10 years from now, guaranteed."
Mr. Hanssen also remarked on the "torment" that EV1 and EV+ owners are going through. EV1s are being taken back. Some will go to NY, others will most likely be crushed. GM is giving away 20 mph Neighborhood EVs on one year trial leases as a way of getting out of offering real EVs, and they're going to get credit for it, taking advantage of a loophole. GEMs also are being used to get credits for the program.
The role of the electric utilities in trying to express demand for EVS was discussed. Mr. Hanssen made clear that in the area of EVs, the utilities are very much on our side, even if some of us regard them as more foe than friend in other areas (such as their proposals to impose fees on home solar energy generation).
Heres my own analysis:
I spent the whole meeting thinking, in part: Why is all of this so hard? Why is it so hard for long-standing paying customers to get the cars they're willing to pay for and the respect and honest treatment they've earned? Why are allegedly profit-seeking businesses ignoring that some of their very low production vehicles are unexpectedly drawing such attention that there are significant waiting lists for those vehicles?
With or without California State Government Intervention, I don't think it would be hard (or overly costly) to produce a few thousand good EVs per year and distribute them to the world. I have not heard one single really plausible explanation to the contrary.
There was little or no mention at the meeting that Oil company Chevron Texaco owns a controlling interest in Texaco-Ovonic, the battery company which controls the main patents on the NiMH batteries that are so important to the EV1, RAV4 EV, Prius Hybrid, Civic Hybrid and EV+. There was little or no mention of the fact that Toyota and Matsushita are presently being sued by that company for patent infringement.
NiMH batteries for EVs made by Texaco Ovonic may cost a lot (e.g. $30,000 or so for a prototype, I've heard) but at some point the dam is going to have to burst and good batteries will become available for EV builders, whether Chevron-Texaco likes it or not. With each day that passes, we are closer to Chinese and others' mass production of good batteries, and greater availability and testing of all manner of alternatives, such as the various Lithium formulas we are hearing so much about lately.
I met a very nice mother-daughter team who were attending because the entire matter struck them as a worthwhile cause, and they'd done a lot of research into hybrids and EVs. They made several insightful comments about how hybrids and EVs are designed. On the issue of how difficult the battle has been, they drew parallels with the lengthy (centuries-long) effort to eradicate slavery.
One speaker held that we should be careful to put forth credible views which cannot be easily "marginalized". This seemed like some of the best advice of the night. There has been ample evidence that a primary tool of Political and Auto industry forces has been to characterize better-mileage-car advocacy as coming from the "fringe".
If you've never tried a new technology (such as a highway capable Electric Vehicle) you may have a feeling just from reading that it's somehow only of fringe interest. I thought this about EVs until I tried them, and then I realized, boy, these things really are a bit addictive and a real option for some drivers, if we could only get them made.
The entire meeting took place against a backdrop of recent national events, such as Bush Administration Energy Proposals for fuel cell vehicles and plans to drill in ANWR (I can't figure out if they're still proposing massive tax breaks for Oil and Gas companies, as they have in the past) in return for an offer of more "research" into Renewable Energies (as though there's something wrong with actually buying the renewable energy devices that are for sale, right now, ready to help us toward domestic energy sufficiency) .
There was not much discussion of the proposals at this meeting and I was glad of this. They were arguably a shameful attempt to present a botched half-baked National Energy Policy. How do you argue the details of such a thing? The proposals seemed designed to delay real competition in the Power Production, Storage and Conversion industries.
The Bush Administration has been waging a successful campaign against EVs, Solar energy and other technologies for two years now by shutting them out of virtually all discussion as viable options for real progress right now. This pattern seemed to continue with the recent proposals. Over the last few months, the worldwide quid-pro-quo seems to be that everyone including Environmentalists will endorse hybrids as "the" answer while sanctioning that EVs not be discussed at all. It is as though we are hearing "What is good for Exxon-Mobil is good for the country", just as decades ago we used to hear "What is good for GM is good for the country."
I hope that several Auto Union Leaders will make a point of traveling to Sacramento for the March 27 CARB meeting. I invite them to contact evworld.com if they wish to make arrangements for testing some EVs. I fear that America has already lost EV-related and other alt-fuel industry jobs to countries such as China and South Korea. Those countries do not seem to say: "Better cars are ok so long as hydrocarbon companies are not cut out of the equation". The prospects for future job loss seem worse. I hope I'm wrong.
A few days after the meeting at Mr. Scott's, I visited a Home Depot and could not help but notice the plethora of affordable and ingenious new high-efficiency light-bulbs available and being bought without hesitation by so many people. It was only a few years ago that we would hear nothing but derision when we tried to extol the virtues of those technologies. We would hear about how consumers didn't "want" them at higher prices, how the costs were difficult to lower, and how the big companies were afraid of selling such durable products that would not need frequent replacement.
Lo and behold we are hearing the same exact things about Electric Vehicles and other alt-fuel products. I wonder if the scenario will play out similarly.
The upcoming CARB meeting, and the looming repossession of the remaining leased EV1s, EV+s and other Production EVs, are matters of some urgency. Mr. Scott has apparently decided to use the time afforded by the postponement of the CARB meeting to try to bring these pressing issues more to the attention of major national news organizations.
Members of the press looking to inquire as to his story and check his claims for
themselves may contact him at :
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