A Toyota representative plugs a power cable from a vehicle charging station into the side of a Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid in San Francisco, California.

Electric vehicles (EVs) have been around for over 100 years and despite being especially popular in the Bay Area, they’ve never quite cracked the national market. But with Tesla briefly overtaking General Motors as the most valuable automaker in America on Monday and Tesla’s more affordable Model 3 set to be released later this year, electric vehicles might be headed for the mainstream. In this hour of Forum, we’ll discuss the current state of electric cars in the U.S. and how President Trump’s policies on energy and trade might affect the EV industry.

Wall Street Embraces Tesla — But Will American Drivers Follow? 11 April,2017Michael Krasny

Guests:
Joel Levin, executive director, Plug In America
Ethan Elkind, director of the Climate Program at the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment, UC Berkeley School of Law
Loren McDonald, marketing evangelist and blogger

  • Bill_Woods

    ‘Electric cars are great … except for the inadequacy of the batteries’
    is not the selling pitch your guest imagines.

    • Paul Personne

      Sadly, it was the only excursion to reality in the whole program. The guests more than made up for that brief moment of truth.

    • Kevin Skipper

      Battery efficiency is limited by size and safety. Gasoline and diesel still manage to pack a large amount of stable energy in a relatively small space. It will be interesting to see how all of the propulsion methods stack up, when and if perfidious regulatory and protectionist lobby forces are taken out of the picture.

  • Mark

    Michael, the term is “electric vehicles” not “electronic vehicles.” Thanks for covering this topic!

  • Ben Rawner

    Though I want Tesla to succeed in spreading electric vehicles. The stock price and market share of Tesla is more a function of growth expectation and pure speculation versus actual value. for instance in 2014 GM sold over 10 million cars worldwide, while in 2014 and 2015 Tesla sold 53 thousand. My question is what is the future of Hydrogen power is?

  • Bob

    Keep up the good work promoting electrics, but perhaps one of the market adoption problems, alongside cheap gas, lies in our own local affliction, that is blind worship of our tech overlords. The big auto manufacturers can and will produce thousands of affordable electric vehicles as long as the demand is out there, whereas Elon Musk’s empire is so dependant on federal largess, and so unable to produce on a mass scale, Tesla will never be a reason we achieve this goal.

  • Die.Leit

    Eventually the market will take over, and it may be partially aided by people wishing to pursue loftier goals. Another increase in petroleum prices will do more for electric cars than 30 years of aggressive policy.

    • Paul Personne

      Renewables will never displace petroleum on cost alone. PRODUCTION of crude oil averages a cost of less than $20 per barrel worldwide. PRICES may rise higher than that, but if battery EV’s start to displace too much petroleum, gas prices will drop again. You can’t have high oil prices AND displacement of lots of oil by other technologies. What we need is a tax on carbon. THEN, more sustainable technologies will be able to compete.

      • Die.Leit

        What time period are you talking about with your avg oil price? I think you can disregard pre-1980 data, where supply massively outshot demand. I would not be opposed to a targeted environmental tax that the government is not allowed to steal, but I think the demand for plastics and higher end chemical products will also influence oil prices, as will regional stability, supply, delivery costs, etc. I expect that electric car bodies and maybe chassis will be made out of plastics once the heat problems from combustion are eliminated. Also, a mere doubling of the gasoline price will cause a massive drop in demand for inefficient vehicles, and it may be enough that such a fluctuation is only two years to force the issue with vehicle makers, since most Americans are so financially stretched out.

        • Paul Personne

          The issue is the disconnect between COST of producing oil and the PRICE for which it can be sold. As long as there are no really good substitutes for the main use of crude oil, which is transportation fuel (gas, diesel & jet), OPEC can restrain production and keep prices WAY above production costs. And when they do, alternatives look promising. But as soon as a significant substitute tries to steal their market share, oversupply causes prices to fall to a point where OPEC can still turn a profit, but the alternatives cannot. We JUST saw this happen with “shale oil” in the USA. We had a sudden ramp-up of 2-3 million BPD production (about 10 – 15% of our national demand), and that caused prices to fall to the point where shale oil was no longer (very) profitable. The same will happen when / if substitutes like biofuels or electric vehicles become more than a few % of supply at the margin. OPEC (and other exporters) will NOT yield market share, particularly when doing so would encourage development of alternatives. So they will keep pumping, prices will drop, and low-carbon alternatives will go out of business. Carbon taxes are the only way to level this playing field.

          • Another Mike

            OPEC is not a factor in our energy supply, except to set a price ceiling. We can get all the Alberta bitumen we want.

            OPEC was a factor pre-1980, when we had the two oil shocks of the 1970s. And one of the reasons we fought Iraq was to make Kuwaiti oil available to customers like Japan.

          • Paul Personne

            Yes, but PRICES are set globally. Except for a standard light-heavy differential, no one is going to sell us ANY resource below the prevailing price, and of course we won’t buy it if is is above the prevailing price. The more independent sources of supply there are, the more the low-cost producers are forced to sell for lower prices. But the low-cost producers ALWAYS win at ANY price in a market where buyers and sellers are free to buy from and sell to whomever they want. The U.S. gets very little of its crude from the Middle East, and only a modest amount from all OPEC nations combined. But we depend on stability in OPEC, because without it, prices would soar. We’d still produce a lot of our own crude, and get a lot of the rest from Canada and Mexico, but the PRICES are set on a global basis. North American oil men would be doing fine, but the rest of us would be paying out the nose if global prices shot up to $200/BBL.

  • EIDALM

    With today near all electricity in the U S produced by fossil fuel fuel with the consequent extreme rise of CO2 and other global warming gases and it’s contribution to global warming. that make electric cards an extreme case of fraud as it actually increase the pollution as the efficiency of the electric car engines according to engineering principal is far less than 100% add to that the extreme threat by eventual disposal of the batteries which contains extreme toxic elements which most end up in the ground, and could seep in ground water and the air.

    • Paul Personne

      Yes, they won’t read my comments on this on the air, but with an electric car, you “drive the grid.” As long as our NATIONAL grid is still based to a significant extent on COAL, unless we clean up the grid FASTER than we add new demands to it for charging electric cars, we just perpetuate these dirty, CO2-spewing power plants.

  • Chuck

    Please elaborate on battery research and development. Who is doing it? What breaktroughs? etcs
    What is the danger of explosions of both hydrogen and ev?

    • Kevin Skipper

      Elon Musk seems to see Tesla’s Superfactory to be the answer to consolidating development, manufacture and global distribution of an unprecedented volume of batteries.

  • Kevin Skipper

    Where does Tesla get the minerals to manufacture its batteries? Are the carbon-costs of acquiring these materials in places like Central Africa counted against the supposed environmental benefits in places like the US?

    Hopefully the guest is allowed to answer this question. Seems like a broader understanding could help to better contextualize the debate.

    • Paul Personne

      Today’s guests are clearly not interested in the truth.

      • Kevin Skipper

        Shocking.

    • Kevin Skipper

      Still waiting for a mention on this topic. Something tells me that if Musk and his European and South African cohorts were required to pay fair-trade prices for lithium or the precious metals necessary for electrical components, they would be rendered less-than-feasible.

  • Kevin Skipper

    How is Tesla poised to compete with emerging fuel-cell technology on models like the Toyota Mirai or Honda?

    • Paul Personne

      Fuel cells are an absolute pipe dream for personal vehicles. For fleet vehicles, MAYBE, but H2 cars will never compete with IC or battery-electric vehicles.

      • Kevin Skipper

        Why not? It it the cost of hydrogen production or the distribution of necessary infrastructure. Seems like solar energy is a great way to subject water to electrolysis.

        • Paul Personne

          Kevin – It is, but H2 is hard to store in large quantities, and if you can just use the electricity to drive coal (and eventually natural gas) off the grid, that is a much cheaper way to reduce fossil CO2 emissions.

          • Kevin Skipper

            At market conditions stand, that is certainly the case. The only alternative seems to be for fossil fuel interests to diversify their research and development of alternative fuel concepts. Seems that this is one of the reasons that the conversation even exists. If its not a matter of what’s cleaner or cheaper or more sustainable, it’s logical for the largest interests to push all sides of the debate and keep the market ‘informed,’ interested and poised to respond to innovation.

      • Another Mike

        Things change. I never thought that a methane-fueled power plant would be more economical that a coal-fired plant. A battery powered car looked completely insane. What is the fundamental limitation of fuelcell powered cars?

  • Bill_Woods

    Hydrogen is just a highly refined form of natural gas.

    • Kevin Skipper

      …except for the product of its combustion: pure water. Interestingly, water can also be a terribly abundant source of this universal fuel. Star Power (copyright pending).

    • Paul Personne

      No, it is not. It can be made by a complex and expensive (esp. at small scale) process called steam-methane reforming. That is not a “form” of methane. Hydrogen also has storage and safety issues that natural gas does not.

      • Bill_Woods

        That was the point I was trying to make: hydrogen is made from methane. CH4 + 2H2O ~> 4H2 + CO2.
        (Well, you can also make it by stripping off the hydrogen from other hydrocarbons — oil or coal.)
        I.e. it’s essentially another fossil fuel.

        • Paul Personne

          Bill – That is unquestionably the cheapest source today. But hydrogen can also be made from bio-methane, or by electrolysis of water driven by renewable electricity. I think there are multiple problems with fuel-cell vehicles, at least for passenger cars, but fossil natural gas isn’t the only technically-viable source of H2.

  • jzj

    It is critically important to hear from actual EV owners. A public charging infrastructure is NOT important — except for true fast-charging, which I will come back to in a moment.

    I have driven over 80,000 miles in EVs in the past 7 years, and only used public charging a handful of times. We all have the gas station in our garage, charging at home. Indeed, half of all EV drivers use plain ‘ol 120V charging.

    However, for the next level of EV owners — apartment dwellers or others who do not have a garage in which to charge — then we do need true fast-charging, 150-400 KW chargers that can pump in electricity about as fast as gasoline. Important new battery technology will be greater energy-density, but even more important is greater power density (i.e., electricity in and electricity out).

    BTW: I have solar on my house, and replacing my PG&E electricity and replacing my gasoline means that my solar pad for itself in 4 years!

  • Kevin Skipper

    what about Tesla’s plans not to build any more dealerships, especially outside of California. How do proponents of electric cars and homes plan to reach out to potential salespeople and educators as they switch to a more independent or direct sales platform?

  • Paul Personne

    Wow! All of the guests today and most of the callers have apparently consumed the electric car Kool-Aid BY THE GALLON. I am an advocate of electric cars, but today’s program is so pathetically one-sided and in several cases simply WRONG that it might as well be an electric car commercial. Shame, KQED! Shame, Michael! Try a little balance and objectivity!

    • Kevin Skipper

      The underlying issue: the supposed track by which federal regulations promise to improve emissions and efficiency of combustion engines are, by some arguments, unrealistic and cost-critical. Where’s the defense for conventional vehicles? If anyone has one, I’d love to hear it. I’d like to sell Teslas one day. I’d appreciate hearing as many sides to the conversation as possible.

  • Kevin Skipper

    That Model 3 is gonna kill everything in its class. No question. Your Mustang, Audi, BMW, Lexus IS, Infinity and Dodge will look like garbage. Not to mention the price. Ouch.

  • Blanche Accardi

    If we all move to hybrid vehicles who will pay to fix the roads? There is only going to be $100 charge starting in 2020 for their share of the cost.

    • Paul Personne

      You are correct. Widespread electrification will starve the road-use taxes for gasoline and on-road diesel. Get ready for toll roads and/or new taxes. The electric-car people completely ignore this, and they can as long as e-cars are less than 1% of national sales. But let that figure rise, and you’ll see our terrible roads & bridges get EVEN WORSE!

    • Kevin Skipper

      Those funds have already been shunted away from less profitable infrastructure like urban public schools and public art programs. Billion-dollar bonds and no-bid contracts are likely already prepared.

    • Another Mike

      Transponders at major intersections and freeway on ramps will read our mileage. Based on vehicle weight, we will pay so many cents a mile. (Road damage being a function of vehicle weight.)

  • Another Mike

    My understanding was that the EV-1 cost GM an insane amount of money to make, much more than anyone would want to pay, so they leased them at a money-losing rate in order to test the market.

  • Harold Spencer

    Someone asked for EV drivers to comment on personal experience, so here goes:

    We installed solar panels on our roof in 2010, and bought our first electric car (a Leaf) in 2011. The Leaf was great, fun to drive, but alas, the battery was too small for us and the battery management on the Leaf was not so good, and we lost 15-20% of the range pretty quickly. In 2015, we replaced the Leaf with a Tesla. It cost at least three times what I had ever paid for a car. Next year, the Tesla Model 3 will bring the price back into my price range, at a base of $35K (before any subsidies).

    We charge at home typically 3 to 4 times a week, using a 240V clothes dryer receptacle. We run the charger starting at 11PM, and I get a message on my smart phone at 2 or 3AM saying that charging is complete. Last year, our solar panels provided enough electricity to power our house and charge the car but for $240 for the whole year.

    In the 21 months we have had the Tesla, we have driven 47K miles including round trips to NYC, Dallas, Indianapolis, Tucson, and Seattle. We have spent exactly $13.75 at public chargers, all the rest of the distance driving has used the Tesla Supercharger network (prepaid in the price of the car). We have had one annual service visit and several tire rotations, but, of course, no oil changes (no oil), no exhaust testing(no exhaust), no fan belts, no timing chains, spark plugs, mufflers.

    For the record, I’m more than happy to pay my fair share for maintenance of the roads, should we ever start doing that again.

    Finally, the EV is darn fun to drive. To know that it is doing less damage to the environment is a plus of course. If you haven’t driven one, you should give it a try. There is no going back for me.

    To respond to one or more comments about the IRS, CARB and PG&E subsidies that we Californians enjoy: It is a popular theme to be anti-Musk and anti-Tesla because of the “massive subsidies” granted to Tesla (BTW, also to Ford, GM and Fiat-Chrysler). Musk is on record that Tesla would be much better off, and more competitive, if all auto and oil subsidies were eliminated. We should take him up on his assertion.

Host

Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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