DANIEL VAUGHAN: Biden's Electric Vehicle White Whale Vanishes

 February 28, 2024

For two decades, the future has always been painted as one of electric cars. Internal combustion engines, the literal engine that thrust America into the computer age, were on the way out. The pinnacle of this revolution was seen as the fully autonomous electric car. It's the white whale of tech and industry.

In the last 12-18 months, that white whale has descended deep below the waves and practically vanished. No story is more emblematic of this than the tech giant Apple ending its decades-long pursuit of an autonomous electric car.

The concept was rumored and theorized for a long time. Apple even had a division for it, "Project Titan." The Wall Street Journal reports, "The secret group inside the iPhone giant—known internally as Project Titan—has been informed that Apple would be shutting down its efforts in building a car while the company ramps up investments in the area of generative artificial intelligence." What's next is layoffs and reassignments.

Apple calling it quits on this venture is just the latest in a series of defeats for the electric vehicle movement. Environmentalists pushed this path for years, believing it was the pathway to a green future. But that's proving to be more of a pipe dream.

That's not to say electric vehicles will vanish. We're just not headed towards Joe Biden and Democrat's preferred future. In what the New York Times couches as an election-year concession to automakers and unions, the White House is walking back its electric vehicle mandate:

Instead of essentially requiring automakers to rapidly ramp up sales of electric vehicles over the next few years, the administration would give car manufacturers more time, with a sharp increase in sales not required until after 2030, these people said. They asked to remain anonymous because the regulation has not been finalized. The administration plans to publish the final rule by early spring.

This is likely to be the first of many such setbacks for Democrats. A Republican will likely ditch such a requirement if they get a chance. And any Democrat, from Biden on down, faces the harsh reality that neither Americans nor automakers are interested in buying or selling an expensive electric vehicle.

Ford has an unsustainable backlog of various electric vehicles. They're slashing prices on cars, and they're already losing $36,000 per vehicle sold. They're not alone on that front. All the major auto manufacturers have slashed billions of investment dollars from electric cars. Early on, the thought was that this was due to increased labor costs after the new union deals were signed.

That's partially true. The other thing that's killing them is that electric vehicles aren't selling in the needed numbers. And in some cases, not selling at all. Once hot companies that planned to sell only electric cars are gasping for air as sales plummet. Tesla is nearly the only one left standing, and even it is struggling.

You can phrase this in many different ways. But at the end of the day, Americans do not want all-electric cars. The early adopter crowd got them, but broader adoption has not taken hold yet.

That's not to say they don't want part of that technology. While other automakers struggle, Toyota has played this period perfectly. Sales of Toyota hybrid vehicles are booming. The Journal reported earlier this month, "Toyota on Tuesday forecast a record $30.3 billion net profit for the fiscal year ending March thanks to higher sales of hybrid vehicles in all of its major markets."

While no one buys the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Toyota struggles to keep up with demand. People appreciate the gas-saving features, reliability, and many other things about Toyota. If your goal is increased gas mileage and lower emissions, hybrids are the better bet. You get the best of both worlds.

But we have a political class dominated by always taking the maximalist position. Instead of viewing hybrids as a vital transition vehicle, the Biden administration is trying to rush everyone into an electric car they don't want and the manufacturers don't want to build.

The tax incentives for these electric vehicles went to a wealthier segment of society, who viewed these cars as a novelty. Few view them as the primary way they want to get around. And in a country like America, where people drive long distances regularly, that matters.

The moral of this story is that while the central planners in the government have pitched a vision for an electric vehicle future that's failing hard, Americans are still pushing in that general direction through hybrids. Instead of fighting that and trying to get Americans to give up good vehicles, the government should embrace that goal.

That would involve getting rid of the gold calf of environmentalism for Democrats. So this is a tough ask. But it's clear what Americans want and what they don't want. And no one wants the electric future of Democrats. They do want hybrids and other such cars. Maybe meet Americans halfway instead of chasing white whales?

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Thomas Jefferson
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