The automotive revolution: how fast?
Wall Street Journal senior editor Joseph B. White attempts to dump some cold water on the "automotive revolution" everyone’s all giddy about:
This revolution will take years to pull off — and that’s assuming it isn’t derailed by a return to cheap oil. Anyone who goes to sleep today and wakes up in five years will find that most cars for sale in the U.S. will still run on regular gas — with a few more than today taking diesel fuel. That will likely be the case even if the latter-day Rip Van Winkle sleeps until 2020.
The ensuing article smooshes together several different things, though, yielding something more like a pessimistic haze than a clear view.
The primary barrier in the way of biofuel, natural gas, and hydrogen vehicles is simple: infrastructure. You’d need a nationwide network of fueling stations to get consumers interested, and that’s a chicken-and-egg problem that only the government can unwind. A massive and massively risky new infrastructure when our current transportation and electrical infrastructures are direly in need of attention and we’re teetering on the precipice of a full-on depression? Not gonna happen.
What about electric cars, though? We already have that infrastructure, which is going to be improved in coming decades for other reasons anyway.
Here White mostly waves his hands, but it all, in the end, comes down to cost. (You’ll recall that all Very Serious people in the media think first, last, and always about cost — considerations of national security, public health, or god forbid morality are afterthoughts.) White focuses on batteries, but given the enormous financial reward waiting on the development of a lightweight, high-energy-density battery, and the amount of intellectual firepower now being trained on the problem, I suspect things will move faster than anyone expects.
The more salient barrier to me is the long turnover time of the car fleet — that’s why I’m such a fan of crusher programs, Shai Agassi’s swappable battery packs, and carsharing programs. All these are means of getting new cars in circulation faster.
I’m rambling, but the point is that cost is not the end-all be-all, technology is rarely the primary impediment, and the future is not fixed. We can speed up the automotive revolution if we decide we want to.