Peter Morici Blog | Democrats And Detroit Need A Dose Of Reality About Electric Cars | Talkmarkets
Professor Emeritus, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

Professor Peter Morici is a recognized expert on economic policy and international economics. Prior to joining the university, he served as director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission. He is the author of 18 books and monographs and has published widely in ... more

Democrats And Detroit Need A Dose Of Reality About Electric Cars

Date: Thursday, September 12, 2019 7:35 AM EDT

Democratic presidential hopefuls and automakers are betting big on new technologies to rid cars of fossil fuels and field self-driving vehicles.

Cars and trucks account for about half of the petroleum consumed in the United States. Joe Biden promises to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by focusing federal procurement on electric autos to accelerate battery development and creating a national network of 500,000 charging stations.

Among Democrats, his proposals are more palatable than those of candidates embracing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's "Green New Deal" and are likely where public policy is headed.

Even if a more extreme Democrat wins the presidency, he or she will have to deal with a Republican Senate or garner support from enough Republican senators to reach the 60 votes necessary to pass major legislation. Compromise could put America on a track to match Chinese and European initiatives to put more electric vehicles on the road.

If President Trump holds on, most voters still want something done about climate change, and any kind of infrastructure package will require movement in Mr. Biden's direction.

Electric cars predate gas-powered vehicles by 50 years, and were sold commercially through the 1930s. As now, the slow progress of battery technology permitted the internal-combustion engine to outperform in terms of power, capacity, recharge time and cost.

Even with limited range and unacceptable recovery times for intercity trips, power packs account for 35 percent to 50 percent of current vehicle costs. Contemporary batteries are a combination of expensive cobalt, lithium, manganese and nickel. To increase capacity, engineers are tinkering with boosting nickel content but among stability challenges, it can get extremely hot and cause fires.

Engineers have been grappling with battery problems for more than a century, and this may be the old story of the man walking half way to the wall, over and over but never reaching his goal. The theoretic limits of battery chemistry may put a durable, inexpensive battery that can power a decent size SUV 400 miles and recover quickly beyond reach.

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