Photo via Time
It was pretty good news for clean energy enthusiasts when Obama announced $2.4 billion in funding for electric vehicles. Sure, like the high speed rail plans, it didn't seem like enough money, but a couple billion can go a long way. So what's the problem? Decisions as to who gets the funding will be decided by Obama, his team, and state governments--meaning the gov will have a huge hand in deciding which electric cars succeed or fail. Will Obama decide the fate of the American electric car?The funding will largely go to developing the electric car batteries--meaning the government will find itself charged with decided which battery will be most cost-effective, most marketable, and most economically viable. But are they best equipped to make the decision that could determine the future of the electric car in the US?
Over at Green Biz, Marc Gunther dives into the problem:
Much as I admire Steven Chu, the energy secretary, do we really want to entrust him and his staff to decide which battery technologies are likely to succeed and which companies can most wisely spend that $2.4 billion?
One thing to consider is whether or not the electric car will be deemed mass marketable by the administration:
Some of these batteries, by the way, could well find their way into cars like the Tesla (sticker price:$109,000) and those made by Fisker Automotive, a California firm that plans to sell $88,000 luxury-hybrids next year. So tax dollars collected from working people and the middle class go to subsidize rich boys and their toys.
So if not Obama, and co, who'd be better fit to make the call?
Please don’t get me wrong. I think electric cars are a great idea. The faster they arrive, the better. But judgments about which battery-makers to finance should best be left to venture capitalists, investors like Buffett (who bought 10 percent of BYD), big investment banks and the like. They may be no smarter than the people at the DOE but at least they are putting their own (or their investors’) money on the line. If they’re wrong, they’ll be held accountable, or at least they should be. You can be sure that some of them will be wrong, and that’s fine.
It's an interesting perspective to be sure, and free market capitalists (even pro-green ones) are probably cringing a little at what could happen to the electric car industry. Then again, some pretty strong arguments could also be made for better regulatory guidance on industry at the moment . . .