ev-plans-and-some-damn-lies

With apologies to Mark Twain, it seems there are lies, damn lies and projections about electric vehicles.

President Joe Biden says he’s going to create “1 million new jobs in the American automobile industry” with his policies to fight climate change, such as installing EV chargers and converting the federal fleet to electric power.

The claim is highly dubious, our fine colleagues at the Associated Press pointed out, given that there are fewer than 1 million Americans making autos and auto parts now, and electric vehicles are likely to require fewer human hands than those with engines and related components.

The president might be rolling in jobs to build charging stations or to repave highways. But counting construction jobs as auto jobs isn’t an act of creation.

In a word, the claim looks like malarkey.

Fighting global warming is good and necessary. Emphasizing the opportunities over the risks may be smart leadership. But making bogus promises with meaningless numbers does not help: It erodes trust at a time when the industry is being asked to make significant changes by governments around the world and possibly soon across the U.S.

Here’s another: Breakdowns in Texas’ electric grid show that EVs aren’t a practical solution.

It’s a popular auto industry hot take from the epic storms and their terrifying outcomes. But of course the truth is more nuanced than that.

While EVs couldn’t be charged during the blackout, gas pumps weren’t working, either, and some people found gasoline turning to jelly in their tanks.

Still, the Texas blizzard — like wildfires, hurricanes and other disasters — did put a spotlight on the challenges of living in a changed climate while trying to stop making it worse.

Individuals, businesses and governments need to plan for extreme weather and other emergencies. The investments needed to increase clean generation and bolster distribution networks are going to be massive.

Speaking of extreme weather, some EV policy positions have shifted as swiftly as the wind.

General Motors was firmly behind former President Donald Trump’s efforts to strip California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate until it was firmly behind Biden’s efforts to promote EVs.

GM has a game plan that it had to keep on the shelf during the Trump years, especially after the president opposed extending the federal EV tax credit that expired for exactly two companies, both based in the U.S.: GM and Tesla.

Now, GM, with its “aspirations” toward a zero-emission lineup by 2035, probably thinks that if electric powertrains become the primary system, it has a winning play: It sees a technology advantage against all but Tesla, against whom it has a significant manufacturing advantage, if not a coolness advantage.

I remember covering GM as a reporter when it was still the world’s largest automaker and had more of an “all-of-the-above” approach to powertrains. That is pretty much still the view at the world’s largest automaker today, Toyota Motor Corp.

A family with three vehicles might be able to easily adopt an EV — even one with limited range, such as Mini’s sold-out model — for local runs. A single-vehicle household with a garage might need the flexibility of a PHEV’s extended range. An apartment dweller who parks on the street might be best served by a hybrid.

Toyota chief scientist Gill Pratt notes that a consumer’s desire for 400- or 500-mile range (though few drive more than 50 miles a day) results in carrying around a lot of expensive, heavy batteries that put more load on the vehicle — which then requires more charging, which may demand more coal being burned.

It makes good sense, but I don’t feel like the American car buyer has traditionally been as rational as an MIT professor, and I don’t think I’d bet on them changing.

A survey that J.D. Power put out last week showed the risks ahead for automakers racing to get electric models to market.

About 3 in 5 shoppers are noncommittal about considering an EV for their next purchase. The loyalty of EV owners as well as positive impressions of drivers and even passengers may indicate strong potential interest.

But at this point, the survey of consumers who plan to buy a new vehicle in the next year found that half of them have never even sat in an EV.

With almost 100 new electric models planned for the U.S. market through 2024, it looks like a lot of brands have a lot of work ahead to sell EVs: Get butts in seats so they can feel the torque, and help them figure out if they can live with a plug-in car.

The president wants to talk about a million jobs? Come back when we get a million annual sales.