A Pothole in the Path of the Electrification Agenda

A number of problems stand athwart the Electrification Agenda, which is supposed to be accomplished fact less than nine years from now – come 2030. Perhaps the single biggest problem is the fact that even if every car maker makes nothing but electric cars by then – or sooner, as several have “committed to” already – there will still be a lot of non-electric cars for a long time to come.

Well beyond 2030.

This is so because non-electric cars have a much longer useful service life – functionally and economically – than electric cars. Almost any car bought today, in 2021, will not only still be in service come 2030 it will still have many years of functional and economically viable service life left.

A nine-year-old car is a middle-aged car.  It is routine for cars with 100,000 miles to go another 100,000 miles, often without a major repair being needed. This is why the average age of a car currently in service as a daily driver is 12-plus and also why it is common to see cars much older than that still in service. Especially exceptionally durable models such as the Toyota Corolla and Camry, the Honda Accord and a number of others that routinely keep on keeping on for more than 20 years and 250,000-plus miles.

There are not many ten-year-old electric cars still in service  – and won’t be – because of the inherently shorter functional and economically viable lifespan of electric cars, especially when they are used as daily driver cars (which most aren’t; see here for more about that).

The reason for both of those problems is the battery problem, which is a problem that hasn’t been overcome and will not be overcome until there is a new type of battery – one that somehow defies the known physics of batteries.

Specifically, the functional problem that all batteries – from the tiny one in your smartphone to the huge one in an electric car – lose their capacity to hold a charge over time as a result of being discharged and then recharged. This is not an economic problem when the battery is small – or rather, when its replacement cost is small relative to the device it is powering. It makes economic sense to spend say $5 to put a new dime-sized lithium-ion battery in a remote control for a ceiling fan rather than chuck the control and spend $12 for a new remote.

But it does not make sense to spend $4,000 – on the low end – to replace an aging electric car’s enormous battery pack due to the fact that by the time it becomes necessary to replace the electric car’s battery pack, the value of the electric car itself has depreciated to such a degree that it does not make economic sense to spend the money on the battery pack.

Electric cars are exactly the same as any other car in that they lose value over time – i.e., they depreciate. But depreciation is a much bigger economic problem for electric cars, because of the inevitable and sooner-occurring need to replace the thing that makes the EV go, i.e., its batteries.

Without which it doesn’t go.

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