I am surprised one of the main selling point of EVs is totally omitted in this article: pollution. PM10 particles that enter lungs and cause cancer come most from ICE cars. Living near a road or in cities with extreme traffic can give you lung cancer even if you never smoked a single cigarette in your life. And this is worse for kids. Our cities are gas chambers and it's mainly due to combustion engine cars. The sooner we get rid of them, the better for our health.

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May 14, 2023·edited May 14, 2023

The majority of people buy cheap used cars and fix them cheap. Average car in US (similar in europe) is 12 years old - not because the cars age that well, but because most of society can't pay more than 5-10 K for it.

The ONLY way for a meaningful EV adoption is putting poor people on the bus and train. This is a massive drop in their quality of life - I live in a densely populated European country with ample public transport. Having a car still beats it hands down, and only the poorest people and juveniles use affordable public transport. In sprawled USA, it's a no-contest. Life without a car is horrible.

Now if you are fine with a feudal society where only 20-30% can afford to own their own car and be independently mobile, that's fine. Owning a car will be a true status symbol again, like in the 40's and perhaps 50's outsids US. Just remember the remaining 70% much prefer having a cheap old rusty petrol car than using a bus. They will rightfully say so in elections.

Problem of cheap old used EV's for the general public is 2 - 4 K for a new battery when car is 12 years old. This is petrol for 2-3 years of driving for most of them.

If we somehow subsidise/organize this cost, we are left with the issue of home-charging through electricity production. Go to a car-dense area on Sunday evening - when most people are at home. Either a parking lot under a block of flats, or streets with on-road or driveway parking. I am well aware you probably don't live in such place... But most people do. Imagine every car running a cable to the house/block with a power outlet. This is all doable - we need a powerful network, enough power plants runing in the night, and password protected connection to car to prevent theft of energy from household outlets.

But this is a HUGE investment into state-wide power generation and network ability for every house and every street. We would need to roughly double or triple our power generation (and network ability) if all current petrol transport moves to EV (depending on how much industrial transport with trucks would also move to EV).

Who will pay taxes for this investment? Who (and how fast) will build all the nuclear power plants so we don't fuel our EV's with coal? Tesla and other car makers? The rich? The masses? My guess would be nobody. EV's will be there for the rich, and running them will be expensive enough that demand for national energy overhaul won't happen at all.

If you start taxing ICE mobility out of existence, you will either have median income people humbled on a bus with much lower quality of life, or you will have voter rebellion. Which is more likely - and which do you prefer?

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Great post, but the point that EV owners won’t have range anxiety because theg can just plug in their cars every day overnight is a little dismissive and ignorant of the fact that many Americans - young people without families, poorer folks, inhabitants of urban centers - don’t have private garages with electric outlets or may not have spare garage spaces after taking into account other folks with cars living with them.

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One issue is that there's a mismatch between the timing of government mandates re: EV sales, and power utility predictions of EV adoption. In North America, we need to increase generating capacity between 2 and 3 times that of today. That doesn't get built in 10 or 15 years, but it might be possible in 20 to 30 years.

We are heading towards several walls on EV adoption. The good news is that they're pretty easy to solve, because they were all created by government. Some dates are going to slip.

Of course, if EVs were really so compelling a product, we wouldn't need any future government bans on ICEV sales.

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"A tiny handful of long distance road trippers." We are all long distance road trippers, at thanksgiving or Christmas or Chinese New year. UK full of anecdotes about 2 hour waits for a charging station on motorways last Christmas.

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I liked the post! A question I didn’t see addressed was the very local technology for charging at home. If you have off-road parking, I see it. But many many especially in cities park cars on public roads, and it’s not clear how they will physically be able to drip charge their EVs.

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I'm surprised at how lazy this defense is. The biggest criticism of EVs is that just simply might not be that much better at reducing CO2 emissions. No one knows how much widespread adoption of EVs could reduce emissions, or whether they might even increase them While grid realities will indeed matter more than most realize (certainly this author with his assumptions of wind and solar – each with their own valid criticisms), the relevant and surprising emissions wildcard comes from gargantuan, energy-hungry processes needed to make batteries.

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The big issues that I see and you have omitted it resale value.

After 10 years a petrol car will run just as long as the day you bought it (assuming it's maintained).

But an electric car's battery will be cactus after 10 years of use, meaning resale value is also much lower, making the cost of electric cars over several ownership cycles much higher.

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I wrote a book review of “Cobalt Red” about the Congolese (including children) who are leading horrible lives as they mine the cobalt that goes into our EVs.

This “industry” was always bad but working conditions have been made much worse since the demand for cobalt skyrocketed due to EVs.

EVs are literally built on the back of something that is nearly indistinguishable from slavery. Just saying that maybe we should factor this into our considerations before we declare that electric vehicles are “winning”


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Since you quoted me, I feel obligated to respond:

I actually agree with your point that "if anything, [EVs] probably leaves [suburbia] unchanged." The problem is that we need to address suburbia-our current land use patterns are unsustainable as evidenced by increasing road deaths, traffic congestion and rents. My criticism is less about EVs on their own and more that many center-left politicians (and people who are not on urbanist twitter) view EVs as a panacea (as evidenced by the IRA only including funding for EVs rather than any form of mass transit).

I view EVs as a tool - a valuable one - but not enough. They're great in Europe where they already have more sustainable transit/development. But in the US, we need a more holistic change.

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Artificially pushing EVs before their time has been foolish and wasteful. Activist’s pipe dreams that have attracted huge subsidies and have essentially been forced by regulators MPG standards (forcing manufacturers to pay Danegeld to Tesla to meet benchmarks).

The US SHOULD fall behind because the population density in the US is a fraction of say, Wales, one of the less populated parts of Western Europe. The US is simply not the ideal marketplace for EVs.

EVs do make good sense in large urban areas, particularly those beset by pollution problems (LA). Buses, taxis/Ubers, and delivery vehicles in cities are wise solutions. Private passenger EVs also make sense in LA or in the NY- DC sprawl but less sense in Denver, Salt Lake, Phoenix, Vegas- areas where cities are surrounded by hundreds of miles of nothing.

All of the mis-investment into EVs for rich people would have had much bigger payoffs if instead put into the grid (and into storage solutions for the grid- bigger batteries) as well as into nuclear power and also into electrified freight rail lines and new port and rail infrastructure (for freight not passenger).

Gasoline is energy dense and is a good fuel for transportation with an existing infrastructure- remaking our personal transport infrastructure should not have been a top priority, IMO, in addition to the task being infeasible from a resource point of view.

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Holding back on progress on EVs would be a mistake, but not pushing for driving less cars because EVs would be a mistake too. Electric cars still come with most of the caveats of cars, like driving (still) using a lot of energy, having lots of dead people on the road, loud and polluted streets, etc.

There are other things benefiting from cheaper batteries too. An electric bike or electric Vespa is always going to be cheaper than an electric car, and these can cover a lot of current use cases for cars, for less cost and less nuisance and other negative effects on other people.

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Great article, Noah! I am not an EV believer yet, but agree that the writing is on the wall long term.

Peak lithium is as overhyped as peak oil. Capitalism is amazingly efficient at finding resources if you allow prices to adjust.

I'm reading a book called Concrete Economics right now. Do you know it? It has lots of historical examples of exactly the process you're describing here: government takes the lead to promote a given technology and lets the private sector figure it out.

My only caveat is that EVs only reduce GHG if they're charged on non carbon generated electricity. I know you like solar panels and windmills, but that the reality is that means nuke plants. Anyone serious about decarbonization needs to get on board. Canada is the Iran of uranium (Australia is the Saudi Arabia). We are foolish not to take advantage of this.

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What about everyone who doesn’t have a designated parking space? When you park on the street I don’t know how you’ll conveniently charge up

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The result of the proposed EV transformation would be to leave society as it is. society is overcrowded with cars and people and too dependent on extraction of wealth from land and people. We need a larger perspective within which the car Discussion can take place. Cars are part of a larger problem

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Seems like the only thing really holding back EVs is cost, IMO. Batteries have already won or mostly won many other transitions. Does anyone buy gas lawn mowers or weed eaters anymore? Chainsaws? Heck, ANY home gardening and building tools?

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