Although there is a great deal of hype about the next generation vehicle, thanks to the elaborate marketing of Tesla by its found Elon Musk, the path to that vehicle is not at all clear and its timing less so. The enthusiasm over these efforts should be tempered by past experience. Remember the Clinton Administration’s Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle that was to get 80mpg?
A recent blog by Seeking Alpha summarized the directions being taken by major manufacturers. The Japanese automakers are pursuing fuel cell technology while US manufacturers, including Tesla, seem to be betting on electric vehicles. The article said, “ German automakers are seen hedging their bets a bit with the group supporting efforts to build out hydrogen charging network and selling electric vehicle models at the same time.” All of this is good for the future because competition should lead to better technologies that lead to more cost-effective vehicles.
However, a couple of thoughts should temper optimism about NextGen. First, the R&D investments and test vehicles like Toyota’s new fuel cell vehicle are being driven by large subsidies and misguided efforts to suppress CO2 levels. Without those subsidies and the alarmism surrounding climate change, it is doubtful that these initiatives would be more than R&D efforts to advance technologies for the day when the internal combustion engine (ICC) is no longer dominant.
Second, all of these advanced vehicles are more expensive than their ICC competitors and could get more so when subsidies are withdrawn. In the case of hybrids, there are two power systems—electric and ICC. All electric vehicles require large and expensive lithium battery packs that have to be replaced within about five years. Although the cost of lithium batteries has declined, it has not been enough to make electrics competitive. Further advancement in battery technology beyond lithium is needed to drive down cost and extend endurance.
Both electrics and fuel cells need a charging infrastructure that will take decades to develop and a significant capital investment to achieve.
With the passage of time, it will become more clear that climate alarmism built on alleged dangers of CO2 and hostility toward fossil fuels is a weak basis for radically changing the way vehicles are powered. The complexity of the climate system and the inability of advocates to demonstrate that CO2 emissions are causing changes in temperature will eventually weaken the costly and damaging push to replace fossil fuels. Sooner or later, policy makers will begin to focus on the imperative of developing a capacity of resilience to adapt to whatever climate we face in the future. Climate has always changed and always will. In the meantime, the internal combustion engine is becoming more advance, efficient, and less polluting.
This article appeared on the FuelFix website at http://fuelfix.com/blog/2015/05/15/nextgen-vehicle-an-unclear-path/