Automotive Task Force consultants are plug-in hybrid electric vehicle skeptics

The website, run by my friend Felix Kramer as part of his non-profit work promoting plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEVs), first published this post.  For background on PHEVs, see “Plug-in hybrids and electric cars “” a core climate solution.”

At a moment when the future of two of the Detroit Three hangs in the balance, the new administration’s Automotive Task Force (ATF) is relying in large part on the expertise and strategic outlook of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for its evaluation of GM’s and Chrysler’s prospects. Whatever BCG’s expertise on the auto industry in general, we are concerned that in its understanding of future pathways, it offers a flawed analysis and predictions based on “business as usual.”

BCG acknowledges a theoretical possibility that the U.S. could make a rapid transition to plug-in vehicles, with GM leading the charge. But it concludes it probably won’t happen — based, we think, on narrow and short-sighted ways of thinking. Below, we analyze and critique a public report on plug-ins by BCG. We suggest there’s a divergence between BCG’s outlook and the forward-looking views of this Administration. We also include not-easily available background on the ATF in hopes that followers of this newsletter will make their voices heard to decisionmakers as they see appropriate


When President Obama unveiled the Automotive Task Force’s analyses of the auto industry, many people were taken aback at the ATF’s summary dismissal of the Chevy Volt:

“While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable.”

(Read the full document at­assets/­documents/­GM_Viability_Assessment.pdf and one of many summaries at­2009/­03/­presidential-auto-task-force-concluded-plugin-gm-volt-likely-too-expensive-to-be-commercially-succes.html .)


In early April, we had heard that BCG — a management consultancy and business strategy firm with 66 offices in 38 countries — was highly influential in developing the ATF’s report. Since then it was announced that ATF is paying BCG $7M to help it evaluate GM’s restructuring plan and the proposed Chrysler-Fiat alliance. So it’s important to understand BCG’s perspective.


ATF’s verdict on the Volt makes sense as a logical continuation of “The Comeback of the Electric Car? How Real, How Soon, and What Must Happen Next.” It’s worth your time to go back to the source on this. Start with the press release (less neutrally titled, “Electric Cars Are Unlikely to Help Carmakers Cut CO2 Emissions Significantly by 2020”) at­impact_expertise/­publications/­publication_view.jsp?pubID=2819&language=Englishl and download the report (a quick 10-page read) at­impact_expertise/­publications/­files/­Comeback_Electric_Car_Jan_2009_rev.pdf .

(We were alerted to the report by a interview­news/­auto-task-force-advisors-beware-ev-costs-25685.html with Xavier Mosquet, Senior Partner and Managing Director in BCG’s Detroit office, who is the point person with the ATF. Mosquet is one of five authors of the report; the others are all based in Germany.)

The report oscillates between “realistic” business analysis and occasional nods to the growing wave of support for a massive and rapid transformation of the auto industry. It begins inauspiciously by saying there is little consensus in the auto industry, citing two poles: “one perspective holds that hybrid electric engines violate the laws of physics, whereas another holds that by 2020, companies will sell nothing but hybrids.” (This is either a joke, or perhaps an attempt to mimic the style of global warming deniers.) The report then makes admirably short work of natural gas and hydrogen, and while acknowledging that electric propulsion wins on CO2 reductions, picks improvements in internal combustion engine (ICE) technologies as the most likely path to reduce CO2. (It misses important subtleties in saying plug-ins won’t help emissions in China or India today or in 2020 because of their high use of coal. Like other analysts, BCG hasn’t understood that within a decade, the choices for these nations with soaring vehicle populations will not be electricity from coal vs. imported gasoline but rather electricity from a evolving power grid vs. fuel made by liquefying domestic coal, with 2-3x the CO2 of coal-fueled plug-ins.)

The report reaches questionable conclusions about costs for plug-in vehicles based on elevated battery costs, which it sees currently at $2,000 per kiloWatto-hour now, declining to $500-$700 by 2020. This assumption is the heart of its analysis — and it’s one that automakers, especially GM, have strongly criticized. While not getting specific, GM has made clear that its battery costs (for packs, not cells) will be “hundreds less” than $1,000 for the first generation Volt­archives/­2009/­03/­our_real-world_learnings_differ_from_cmu_study.html and still lower in the second and third generations of the Volt, on which it is already at work. GM isn’t waiting for the “breakthroughs in technology” BCG sees as necessary. The report projects continued high incremental costs for hybrids; Mosquet in his interview doubts carmakers make money on hybrids, and the report sees full hybrids stuck at $4,000 more than ICEs even by 2020.


Rival consultant Bain sees a battery cost of $4,000 in 2020 for a battery equivalent to one BCG pegs at $14,000­magazine/­content/­09_12/­b4124078381283.htm . Former President Katsuaki Watanabe’s in early 2008 said Toyota makes money on hybrids and is bringing to market new system designs at half the cost and half the size­2008/­01/­15/­news/­companies/­isidore_detroit.fortune/­index.htm?postversion=2008011510 . GM spokesman Rob Peterson responded to the ATF conclusion, “The Volt is a brand-new technology, no different than the iPod, plasma-screen televisions or DVD players. We’re working towards Generation II and Generation III, when costs come down and the business case gets brighter. But you have to take the first step in that direction, and that’s what we’re doing.”­ar/­criticism_chevy_volt_090401/­


The rest of the report hinges on BCG’s projections of TCO, using high battery costs as the starting point. BCG asserts “recent surveys confirm that a key criterion influencing consumers’ buying decisions is the total cost of ownership. (We have NEVER seen anyone except a fleet owner or an automotive analyst do that math — we’d love to see the surveys.) Its five-year TCO calculations (not including maintenance costs, which of course favor plug-in cars) show plug-ins as uncompetitive until batteries are at $500/kWh and oil is at $100-$120. This is presented in a skewed graphic that misrepresents a $5-$7,000 gap by cutting out most of the base of the chart — showing the same amount of space for $0-$25,000 as for $25,000-$30,000. (If you don’t read the report, you can see the graphic at the URL above.) And once again undercutting its own argument, it acknowledges that subsidies available already in France, Denmark and Israel make plug-in vehicles competitive now.

Projecting alternative future paths consultant-style, BCG proposes three scenarios in four markets and globally. It projects oil prices from today to $300/barrel; we think it disqualifies its base case from serious consideration by suggesting “abated” energy security and “diminished” global warming concerns compare to today. In all three cases, it sees ICE vehicles as the “dominant technology” in 2020, with plug-ins ranging from a few million vehicles up to 16% globally. (This is based on consumer demand, not on scaling or market penetration factors; like all mainstream analysts, it does not consider the possibility, about which CalCars will soon have more to say, that conversions of ICE vehicles could speed up the evolution of the global fleet.)

It confirms its projections by citing the “staggering” $49 billion cost for Europe in 2020 for “embedded extra product costs,” plus $21B for battery charging infrastructure. BCG mystifyingly sees as unattainable investment levels that are in fact already starting to appear in France, Germany and Spain. The analysts don’t recognize the U.S. TARP program committing $25B for automaker retooling, our recent $1.4B battery program, or multi-billion dollar public and private investments in Japan. And since the report’s release, China has committed to $8,800/vehicle fleet subsidies and $1.46B to the auto industry for plug-in development. See two important reports by NY Times Hong Kong Bureau Chief Keith Bradsher (author of “High and Mighty,” the best-seller on SUVs): on April 2, “China Vies to Be World’s Leader in Electric Cars”­2009/­04/­02/­business/­global/­02electric.html and on April 11, ” China Outlines Plans for Making Electric Cars”­2009/­04/­11/­business/­energy-environment/­11electric.html .


The report continues with uninformed comments about the lack of a business case for public charging facilities, giving no indication of being aware of the trend to “decouple” utility profits from increased sales of power, and dismissing the significance of turning families’ second cars into plug-ins. And finally, as if the analysts had been reminded that people buy cars for features (many decide to buy a V-8 or V-6 engine despite the negative TCO), they reluctantly acknowledge those motivated by what we call the Green Feature or the Show OPEC Feature, while patronizingly relegating them to the margin: “peoples’ buying decisions are rarely based on logic. Emotional factors, such as distress over high oil prices or concern about environmental degradation, may move some consumers to buy electric vehicles at a relatively high TCO. Such decisions are likely in some niche segments…  Clearly consumers who care keenly about their environment and want to contribute to the sustainable use of the earth’s resources can look forward to having some interesting automotive options in the next dozen years.”

We can’t help being reminded of Dick Cheney seeing energy conservation as a “personal virtue.” Yet repeatedly these analysts also acknowledge that the world might be changing. Throughout the report and in the press release, we see mentions of a possible different direction — if governments scale up incentives for plug-in cars. They even mention “disincentives,” indicating they are aware of feebate programs in development, in which revenue-neutral vehicle taxes incentivize higher-MPG cars and penalize same-class lower-MPG vehicles. All these could swiftly affect the demand for plug-in cars — and any TCO calculations.


The administration’s TARP and ARRA (stimulus bill) funding of what it calls “fuel-efficient vehicles” is admirable. And we are eagerly awaiting federal action allowing California to put its long-stalled new vehicle standards in place. Public statements by many officials confirm the administration recognizes the imperatives of a rapid transition. Twice in the past month, in full-page Newsweek features, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has made the case for plug-ins­id/­192481 and­id/­193488 . Cathy Zoi, nominee for Assistant Energy Secretary, and many others recognize the urgency and the opportunity.

But we see a disconnect between their statements and the advice Washington is getting from BCG on the importance of GM’s Voltec and Chrysler’s ENVI plans. Reading this report, it seems to be the product of insiders who until recently assumed an endless future for fossil fueled-vehicles. Just as many people wonder why Washington decided that the people who could best resolve the fiscal crisis were those who understand it because they helped set it in motion, so relying on advice about GM and Chrysler’s future from analysts who are accustomed to business-as-usual and expecting more of the same may not be the only option. Where are the problem-solvers whose starting points align with those of top appointees? Where are consultants who seek to accelerate electrifying transportation, lightweighting, reducing miles travelled, and cleaning the power grid? Such analysts would ask, “how do we take struggling companies and enable them to contribute to a rapid, massive rapid transformation of the auto industry, stoked by public subsidies for higher up-front prices that will help free us from the external costs of continuing oil addiction?”


Matching the famous “bully pulpit” of the President, we’ve been looking forward to the government’s first use of its purchasing power (Obama’s platform included $300M for federal PHEV fleet purchases). The first step was disappointing: President Obama announced the General Services Administration would spend $285M of stimulus funds on17,600 “fuel-efficient vehicles” by June 1. With a goal of immediate car sales from the Detroit 3 and a restriction to “commercially available” vehicles, GSA simply required vehicles to be 10% more efficient than existing ones So a new 14-20 MPG Chevy Suburban easily retires an older 12-17 MPG Suburban! The purchase includes the federal government’s largest one-time buy of 2,500 hybrids — which continue to be described popularly as “alternative-fuel vehicles,” though they’re simply more efficient gasoline vehicles. An additional $15M by September 30 will fund some “advanced technology” hybrid, CNG and electric vehicles and buses.

Below we supply information on who’s who in the new administration’s work on vehicles; if you’re connected, we encourage our readers to contact any and all of those involved.


When the President on March 30 announced “one last chance to fundamentally restructure” GM and Chrysler (for a transcript, see­2009/­03/­30/­us/­politics/­30obama-text.html ), the live coverage and every newspaper showed him with a large lineup of people in the White House Grand Foyer. They were chosen carefully to demonstrate how broadly the auto industry affects the nation — but we didn’t see anyone ask, “WHO WAS THERE?” We found a photo that identifies everyone rounded up at­detail/­85703661/­Getty-Images-News — confirming how high this issue is on the President’s priorities. From left to right, Former National Economic Adviser Gene Sperling, Executive Director of the Task Force and Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser to the Vice President Jared Bernstein, National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers, White House Budget Office Director Peter Orszag, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, former Deputy Labor Secretary Edward Montgomery [named Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers], Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Council of Economic Advisors Chair Christina Romer, and White House Energy And Climate Adviser Carol Browner

MEMBERS OF THE AUTOMOTIVE TASK FORCE: Here’s a list from­feeds/­ap/­2009/­03/­30/­ap6231326.html of all members as of March 30 of the Automotive Task Force, a Cabinet-level group that includes the Secretaries of Transportation, Commerce, Labor and Energy, along with top officials from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of Management and Budget and the Environmental Protection Agency, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s top two advisers. Members include:

  • Ron Bloom is a former investment banker who has worked with the United Steelworkers union since 1996. A Harvard Business School graduate, he serves as a top adviser to Geithner. Bloom was once a vice president with the Wall Street firm Lazard Ltd., focusing on the steel and airline industries.
  • Steven Rattner, a Wall Street financier who was a co-founder of the Quadrangle Group LLC in 2000, serves as a top adviser to Geithner. He previously acted as deputy chairman and deputy chief executive officer of Lazard Freres & Co. LLC.
  • Diana Farrell, formerly of McKinsey & Co., is deputy director of the National Economic Council.
  • Gene Sperling, a former White House economic adviser to President Bill Clinton, is a top Treasury adviser to Geithner.
  • Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden’s economic adviser, is a former senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.
  • Edward Montgomery is a senior adviser to the Labor Department.
  • Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown University law professor, is a senior Environmental Protection Agency adviser.
  • Austan Goolsbee is staff director and chief economist of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
  • Dan Utech is a senior adviser to the secretary of energy.
  • Heather Zichal is deputy director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change.
  • Joan DeBoer is chief of staff for the Transportation Department.
  • Rick Wade is a senior adviser and acting chief of staff at the Commerce Department.

— Felix Kramer

16 Responses to Automotive Task Force consultants are plug-in hybrid electric vehicle skeptics

  1. Stefan Min says:

    BCG used to be more progressive than that! And I thought they understood ‘substitution competition’ along logistic curves.

  2. Gail says:

    Apparently at least one BCG employee would rather work at a Better Place:

    “Today in DC, a young man from the Boston Consulting Group corners Agassi on his way out of the Hilton conference room and hands over his résumé. Granoff, who has organized Agassi’s day, waits until the man is out of earshot and reminds Agassi that the same guy made the same request after a speech in Boston. Agassi has a groupie.”

  3. charlie says:

    also left unsaid is that the Volt is nothing but a fig leaf designed to give GM access to low cost DOE loans. Now that the situation has gotten worse, the Volt isn’t needed.

    after throwing that out, this BCG report is right up there with the McKinsey report telling AT&T that the cellular industry would top out at $20 million a year.

    Joe has made the point that the Volt is overbuilt,and you don’t need a 40 mile range. There is some value to that statement. Lower range means lower battery and lower costs.

    Assume plug-in are 10% of the fleet in 2020. Throw in a another 5% for natural gas trucking. Add marginal ICE improvements — and they will be marginal — and we could be clipping 3 to 4 million b/d of oil out of the demand. We need these plug-ins not the replace the ICE, but to save it. Without it oil will be too expensive.

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    My current fave: a full series hybrid with the most efficient generator feasible.

    Efficient generators could be: ICE’s like the Prius’ Atkinson gas engine, diesel, DEKA’s Stirling engine (that he put into a Think! electric and called the ReVolt), or even even a small turbine engine.

    The hard part seems to be making high heat components reliable and affordable.

    The 2010 Prius has the number to beat: 50 MPG. Could a mass-produced Stirling engine boost that to 75 MPG or more?

  5. Jim Beacon says:

    This ATF/BCG analysis, like most others I’ve seen, seems to determine “commercial viability” based on the assumption that consumers will continue with their foolish buying preferences and habits of the last 15 to 20 years. That’s a bad call, particularly when the rest of the world (China included) will begin to offer far different, more socially-acceptable automobile products to consumers in the next few years.

    Existing catalytic converters in today’s cars are essentially unchanged for the past 25 years — I can’t help but think that if the auto industry had really been trying since then that somebody could have discovered a better version that removed a lot of the CO2 currently coming out of our tail pipes. There was just no incentive for the industry to spend R&D money in that direction.

    For at least the last 15 years the global auto industry (not just Detroit) has not seriously tried to improve efficiency or reduce emissions. There was no incentive either from consumer demand or imposed by new regulatory standards. It’s actually a miracle (or corporate fluke?) that Toyota somehow managed to build the Prius so that it was around in very limited numbers for people to see when gasoline suddenly went from $2 a gallon to $4 a gallon. I say it may have been a fluke because, aside from the Prius, the efficiency of the rest of Toyota’s non-hybrid models did not improve significantly over the last couple of decades either.

    The Chevy Volt is overbuilt and was obviously intended to be an “electric car for the elite”. That’s classic GM thinking: Create sort of a Cadillac for the well-heeled in the eco crowd. But there’s no reason that GM could not decide (or be forced to, under the authority of the Federal bailout) to take the Volt’s design and technology and downsize it into a more sensible, far cheaper vehicle for the average consumer. The Asian auto makers clearly intend to follow that course and will just as clearly be very successful at it. If Detroit doesn’t get its act together, it will just mean more sales for them.

    There should not be another single taxpayer dollar given to Detroit unless it is clearly earmarked to be spent on building cars to directly compete with the new models the rest of the world will be offering. There are more than enough ‘luxury vehicles’ already on the planet for the time being.

    It’s true that, until we can get the coal out of our electricity generating system, plug-ins will not significantly reduce total CO2 emissions, just shift them from individual vehicles to the central power plants — but we have to make a serious start at getting these new technology vehicles on the road right now, even as we work to reduce the amount of electricity generated from coal. We don’t have the luxury of enough time left to say “we should wait to build the plug-ins until we clean up the electric power plant emissions”.

  6. One of the authors of the often quoted NRDC-EPRI study discussed that study at Click on the comments to see a further discussion and a link to the study and the summary study. Looking just a careful look at the study summary will show that the benefits of plug-ins are doubtful at best. Indeed, the production Prius is quite superior to the plug-in version for most of the country.

    Then continue reading the comments at the IEEE page to see it pointed out that the Detroit version of conversions is not represented correctly in the study.

    Then revisit my point that coal is the fuel that will be used in response to every plug-in in the USA for many years to come. Then please think about it.

  7. Rick C says:

    >>Jim Beacon Says:

    Existing catalytic converters in today’s cars are essentially unchanged for the past 25 years — I can’t help but think that if the auto industry had really been trying since then that somebody could have discovered a better version that removed a lot of the CO2 currently coming out of our tail pipes. <<


    No matter what car you use, if it uses gasoline, it will emit 20 lbs of CO2 per gallon of gas. It’s basic physics. CO2 is the end product of burning a hydrocarbon and while you can remove sulphur in the refining process from gasoline and diesel, at the cost of an additional energy penalty, you’re left with a hydrocarbon chain comprised of 8 carbon atoms and 18 hydrogen atoms. That’s gasoline. When it is burned you get heat, water vapor and CO2.

  8. Rick C.,

    Right you are.

    Now go look at what it actually takes to make electricity in the USA. (Not what we might someday do.) The answer is coal, no matter what we do to pretend differently.

    Even if we in California switch to more natural gas, the effect of using that natural gas, under basic economic rules, would be to increase the market price of natural gas. The rest of the USA will have none of that, so they will buy less of that natural gas, and of course, they will buy and use more coal. Thus, the intended accomplishment in California is a myth.

    The problem is that there is no real way to change this without greatly penalizing coal. That might happen; if and when it does the marginal (response to incremental increase in use) fuel will shift to natural gas. Watch out for the price of natural gas under that scenario. Now go back and look at the NRDC-EPRI study and you will see that there will be some reduction in CO2 emitted by making a Prius into a plug-in, but not a lot.

    Now think about a Hummer converted into a hybrid and then into a plug-in hybrid. (Yes that could happen. Look at what Andy Grove says at ) Do you think converting the Hummer to a hybrid Hummer will be a big efficiency gain? There will be some, but I can assure you it will not begin to perform like the Prius. Now make that Hummer hybrid into a plug-in and see what will happen. By comparison with the Prius plug-in we should expect the plug-in Hummer to be worse than the hybrid Hummer for coal based electric power; probably the CO2 will be worse than the original gasoline guzzler Hummer. For natural gas based electric power some time in the future there will be a slight gain in CO2 as a result of making conventional cars into plug-ins.

    In the end we will have continued production of large, inefficient vehicles, and a public believing that something significant was accomplished. That will be a disaster because it will be the ruination of any future efforts that could have real merit.

    Sorry to provide disappointment for the well intentioned plug-in crowd.

  9. JimBeacon,

    I think you have it right, except when we convert cars to plug-ins it must be conditioned on also making them energy efficient in general. It will not do to simply shift from oil to coal.

    Think about a world full of plug-in SUVs. I repeat the link to Andy Grove’s plan: energy/ an-electric-plan-for-energy-resilience

    Grove, ex CEO of Intel, is focusing on the need to develop better batteries, but his plan does not lead where you might think. Look at the vehicles he would put batteries and then notice his suggestion to trick people with “green” intentions.

    Then look at what GM was saying about a year ago:

    I argue for moderate measures to increase cost of coal to give other fuels a chance, but there have to be much more effective ways to actually use less energy to help the public go along with such measures. This plug-in craze is a dangerous stumble and it will not be easy to catch our balance.

  10. Craig says:

    Last summer, people were piling on the big three for their ‘stupidity’ in not having enough of the small, fuel efficient cars that people wanted when gasoline looked like it was heading to $5/gallon. Less than a year later, gas is back down to $2.25 or so, and sales of the once popular Prius have fallen even more sharply than the overall car market.

    This is exactly what Detroit feared, and why they were reluctant to invest that heavily in small and fuel efficient cars, especially when their cost structure made it impossible to produce such cars at the price point that people expected to pay for a small car. What Detroit believed was that most people prefer larger, more comfortable cars, even if that means poorer fuel economy. Over the last 40 years, they were probably right more often than they were wrong with that assessment. The only times they weren’t right was when the price of gasoline was relatively high and rising fast. For the most part, those periods did not last very long.

    It is painfully obvious that the public will not embrace fuel economy until gas prices get very high, and stay there. We have always had the power to do this to ourselves, by raising the taxes on gasoline. Europe has done this for years. We have not. For that, blame your fellow citizens who rant hysterically about about Big Oil conspiracies every time gasoline prices start to rise. And blame the cautious politicians who avoid raising gas taxes because they (rightly) judge that they will be voted out of office for doing so.

    Obama and company may now have the power to force GM to turn out millions of small, expensive, fuel efficient cars. They will all end up gathering dust in auto show rooms if Obama and company don’t also create the economic conditions to force people to buy those cars (i.e., massive gas taxes). Of course, doing that in the face of a severe recession could pretty much guarantee that he is a one-term president.

  11. jorleh says:

    Tata Nano, 25 kW and 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres.

    There are 2020 300 million Tata Nanos and like in China and India. Most of them fuelled by coal to liquid poison. 2050 1 billion. Looking well?

  12. P. Louis Bump says:

    After 25 years providing technology consulting to the auto industry (75% of the worlds vehicle makers) in all engine and drivetrain, electronic control and materials areas, I can sit back and marvel at the periodic repeat of former mistakes by the US carmakers.
    Our most impressive, forward-thinking, creative and market-savvy clients were always the Japanese carmakers. The must torpid and market blind were GM, Ford and Chrysler. None of these three ever learned how to disign and sell a marketable small car to the American public, even though both Ford and GM had the products needed in their European operations.

    Gas-electric hybrids such as Toyota’s Prius, as an example, have held in there, even with the drop in fuel prices and they will increase market share as GM, Ford and others spin their wheels attempting to attract customers to vastly overpriced and range limited electric cars. Forget Hydrogen cars and electric plug ins, the infrastructure cost will be prohibitive and the building of a proper and countrywide structure will take twenty years – only if the market share for such cars warrants the investment.
    Unfortunately, when the Government hires large consulting firms the result is that reports are generated by 26 year old MBAs with 30 years of industry experience. They have, through the internet, too much opportunity to cherry-pick from other studies and reports, without the benefit of direct experience to understand what is correct and what is not, and what is, at the least, questionable analyses.

  13. jcwinnie says:

    Automotive Task Force — Auto Motive — Otto Motive, get it?

    The Otto cycle don’t need no stinking plugs. We welcome the Anthropocene. Bring it on! We’ve got our oil stocks to keep us going.

  14. Joe, this is a great article, but maybe you could borrow a page from Scientific American and put a bulleted list of your main points at the head of the article.

    (They call them “Key Concepts” and you can see an example here: )

    I’m a journalist who covers this stuff full time, and even I don’t have the time to go through the entirety of posts of this scale!

    I appreciate the hard work, though.

    [JR: SciAm is a great source — They pay their authors real money and have full-time editors who craft each article into perfection. Can’t do that on a blog. For my posts, I try to put the key points in the headline and opening graph — but I was raised by journalists. For the occasional guest posts, I usually ask writers to do the same, but it really isn’t practical for reprints like this. Apologies.]

  15. Thanks to our host for his great efforts.

  16. lizardo says:

    BCG would appear to not be qualified to advise the administration’s Automotive Task Force, let alone have a major influence on their decisions–if they don’t know that the electric motor is so much efficient at converting energy to motion than an internal combustion engine (ICE) that converting short to medium haul transportation to plug ins (or indeed hybrids) would reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases and pollutants, even if it were entirely charged on coal-generated electricity.

    So the coal plants in China/India or here is not a reason not to get on with it. And that goes for some otherwise really intelligent and knowledgeable comments here. Believe me I was pretty surprised to find this out, but I’m not an automotive engineer and it took one (Dave Erb) to put me straight. I was already convinced we needed to switch to plug ins for as much transportation as possible but this other aspect was an eye-opener.

    So, no, we don’t have to and shouldn’t wait until our grid transmission system has a different mix.

    In addition, having a plug in and a solar array to charge it could be the best insurance against oil price shocks, supply disruptions, grid disruptions etc. etc.

    I should point out that Erb’s point was that we need to reduce vehicle miles travelled and otherwise reduce our driving/increase efficiency, given that plug-ins are not widely available and/or affordable, but I agree with him that trying to come up with alternative liquid fuels is to put too much effort into solving the wrong problem. I hope I’m not misquoting him here.

    On my own I would point out that there are a lot of small cars out there like the smart car that could probably give as good a mpg as a Prius and its the one-person-in-a-SUV that drives up our consumption, and part of what drives this on top of purchase price is the fact that you don’t get much of a discount for the premise that you can’t drive two vehicles at once, and, of course, any vehicle depreciates like mad so who wants to tie up their assets into these sink holes.

    We do not need an infrastructure to start converting to plug-ins because the vast majority of people do return to the same place after work, sleep in the same bed at night, and it’s in detached home with garage suburbia that people are commuting and shopping from. I saw Shai Agassi on PBS’ Planet Forward last night and if he’s right about the dropping cost curve there seems some promise in the idea of charging infrastructure in all populated areas. It could be possible in rural towns too, you would drive into town to recharge just as you currently do to fill up while doing all those other errands, or going to work.

    I don’t mean to suggest that we can simply keep driving as we have in the past, and I know people here who are basically buying hand tools and planting vegetables and figuring that our current (recently past) lifestyle is gone for good…