Events on the eve of Drive Electric Week scorched the utopian illusion of “a Prius in every garage.”
On Wednesday, Toyota declared a worldwide recall of 1 million hybrid vehicles over the potential fire risk posed by faulty electrical wiring. And given the fire danger already posed by the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs), which have been known to ignite—and reignite—at incredibly high temperatures, this recall is no joke.
The recall emphasizes a point often overlooked in the pro-EV hysteria: this is an evolving technology that still has a number of kinks to work out. Under normal circumstances, such safety tweaks would be made over time as market demand increased organically.
Unfortunately, state and federal governments have sought to jump-start tepid market demand for EVs by offering lavish subsidies and benefits, which in some states top $12,000. But because it costs 44% more to own and operate an EV than it does a traditional vehicle, according to an Arthur D. Little analysis, government bribery hasn’t made EV-ownership any more realistic for the average American.
As a result, the main beneficiaries of these generous taxpayer-funded EV subsidies have been the wealthy, who can afford to purchase an EV as a third car or simply as an expensive hobby.
An analysis of 2014 IRS data shows “78.7 percent ($207.1 million) of the federal consumer tax credits were received by households with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $100,000 or above.” That’s over $200 million in one year that was taken from taxpayers’ pockets and spent to help wealthy people buy expensive toys, instead of fixing potholes and building roads. And that $200 million doesn’t include state subsidies, which in some cases nearly match the federal incentive.
Rather than concede that the stubborn lack of consumer demand for EVs reflects the need for an improved product, supporters are doubling down on the need for more subsidies. This, despite the fact that after spending hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, EVs are still only 1.2% of overall new vehicle sales.
EV supporters—and the electric utilities looking to cash in—are now agitating for establishing networks of EV chargers to be paid for by increases in everyone’s utility bills. California, New York, and New Jersey have already put their taxpayers on the hook for $1.3 billion in electrification infrastructure projects.
But the proposal to charge Maryland ratepayers (taxpayers who also use electricity), $104 million to build a network of EV charging stations in that state met some fact-based pushback. The energy policy manager for the Maryland Energy Agency opposed the plan saying, “We do generally view this as a regressive form of taxation given the wide, established wealth gap between EV owners and non-owners."
Indeed, all forms of EV subsidies are regressive taxes on families already struggling to pay their bills. And all forms of EV subsidies divert resources from needed infrastructure and social programs in order to buoy a product that lacks consumer demand and is still working out its flaws.
Attempting to throw good taxpayer money after bad policy will only leave holes on the road and in consumers’ pockets—and not even the most hyped Drive Electric Week can change that.