More On: electric automobiles
How the United States slipped behind in the production of lithium, the 'white gold' of electric automobiles
The campaign for electric automobiles capitalizes on our nostalgia for American automobile culture, but it's not the same.
We've been taught that electric automobiles are the way of the future, and that the general public is so fascinated with them that they must be bullied and coerced into purchasing them through different forms of subtle and overt compulsion.
The veil was lifted briefly late last month, when Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg commented that electric vehicle owners “will never have to worry about gas prices again.” While President Biden may feign sympathy for Americans paying through the nose at the pump and blame oil companies for the crisis, Buttigieg’s admission should dispel any notion that high gas prices are not ultimately a feature rather than a bug for the administration’s goals.
This is in addition to the government's other carrots and sticks, such as generous government subsidies (up to $7,500 in tax credits now, and up to $12,500 if the Build Back Better spending bill passes) and outright bans on new gas-powered vehicle sales passed by several states, including California and New York, and set to take effect in the mid-2030s.
Has any previous wave of technical advancement ever been pushed down the throats of the general populace with such force? By 1930, can you envision the Woodrow Wilson government supporting Model Ts and prohibiting horse purchases? This isn't exactly the stuff that inspires American inventiveness.
Gas-powered automobiles, on the other hand, did not require such incentives because they were warmly welcomed by the general public on their own merits. The airplane, television, radio, telephone, lightbulb, and almost every other important contemporary technology were all created in this way. Electric-vehicle manufacturers are already striving to create a forced and artificial facsimile of this natural process, citing its appearance and many of its trappings while denying its basic essence.
In the previous two centuries, innovation has been driven by a belief in human potential, a notion that technology may serve as an extension of human goals, and that increasing our technical proficiency will increase our freedom. This attitude to technology does not necessarily imply a disregard for nature; on the contrary, we are acting in line with a basic natural urge by overcoming hurdles and better our lot through technical growth.
The present drive for electric vehicles, on the other hand, is based on a bleak, misanthropic view of humans as submissive to the needs of an alien natural world, a vision in which we must all work together to reduce our influence on the globe. This viewpoint, which is promoted by individuals who want "voluntary human annihilation" and see people as a "disease," would make humanity curl up and repent for their presence in the environment.
The first of these two viewpoints is significantly more inspiring. That is why, while many of the proponents of the electric automobile accept the latter viewpoint, they cover themselves in the imagery of the former. Rather of stating their case directly, they try to sell electric automobiles as thrilling and appeal to the noble spirit of technical progress that motivated Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, and others.
If you want to see this bait-and-switch at work, then watch the 2020 campaign commercial that showed Joe Biden driving a beautiful 1967 Corvette Stingray. A polo-shirt clad Biden, to the tune of upbeat music, reminisces about his father’s driving abilities and says things such as, “I didn’t get a chance to flat shift into second, I was afraid I’d go through those guys,” and, “The thing I like most is the setup right here, and you feel like you’re in complete control. This is just… boom!”
That is the bait. Here is the switch: “I believe we can own the 21st-century market again by moving to electric vehicles. And by the way… they’re making an electric Corvette that can go 200 miles an hour.”
The Biden campaign was obliged to rely on the nostalgic picture of a bygone America that the statue-topplers despise—of attractive vehicles being driven by masculine men (a stretch in Biden's case, but certainly the intent)—in order to promote their vision of an electric-vehicle future. "Make America Great Again" is the best way to characterize Biden's commercial's subtext. The following are the conditions under which electric cars must be marketed to the general public.
Whatever its flaws, twentieth-century America was a country that adopted a hands-on approach to living. For previous generations of Americans, the car was a symbol of rugged individualism, an innovation that allowed individuals the power to go far and fast on their own pace and initiative, to be the only determiner of their own route and destination. It was also a chance to show off one’s personal flair, a trait most readily apparent in the vehicles sold during the “Golden Age” of Detroit automaking.
Do not be fooled. In the Build Back Better utopia, there are no 1967 Stingrays. Electric vehicles aren't being supported with a $7,500 tax credit because of their alleged ability to travel 200 miles per hour. The electric vehicle of the future will resemble a Prius more than a Stingray.
Even the most alluring electric automobiles on the market are devoid of personality. Despite their ostentatious features and gimmicks, the Teslas you see on the road have a drab, impersonal uniformity. There's a sensation that you're never really in charge of a Tesla, that it's bigger than you are and doesn't always do what you want. It is a golden cage for travelling pleasantly through the urban sprawl, safely protected from graffiti and homeless tents. It is not a vessel for discovery or adventure, but rather a gilded cage for moving comfortably through the urban sprawl, safely insulated from graffiti and homeless tents.
The electric car has a lengthy history of failed attempts and near-misses, and it may still prove to be a beneficial technological breakthrough rather than a cornerstone of Build Back Better-ism. But don't make it a chore. If a world of public charging stations is to be our future, let it emerge from the same spirit that led to the telephone's replacement of the telegraph, not from a central plan devised by bureaucrats and crony capitalists aiming to hijack the heritage of great men of the past.