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Lewis Morris / Oct. 30, 2018

'Government Motors' Chief Calls for Electric Mandate

After receiving a massive taxpayer bailout, GM is looking to the government to make GM great again.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra wrote an op-ed in USA Today calling for the federal government to step even more heavily into the automobile market and subsidize electric vehicle production.

There was a time long ago when GM was the pinnacle of American industrial might. It was one of the world’s largest companies, and by far the world’s largest automobile producer. Employing hundreds of thousands worldwide, GM was an innovator and a leader. In the 1950s, nearly half of all the cars on America’s roads were produced by General Motors.

Those days are over. Just a few years removed from receiving a massive taxpayer bailout, Barra is looking to the government to make GM great again by forcing consumers to buy electric vehicles.

Because nothing says American greatness like forcing people to buy things. It worked for health insurance, right?

Right?

“We are calling for a National Zero Emission Vehicle (NZEV) program to create a comprehensive approach to help move our country faster to an all-electric, zero emissions future,” writes Barra.

This sounds well-intentioned at first glance. GM laid out its vision last year for zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion, a plan to increase electric vehicle production while making cars that were safer and more tech friendly for the 21st century. With this plan, you would think GM is looking to become the leading innovator in the automotive industry again. The only difference is this time Barra wants the government and the American taxpayer to do the work.

Barra’s NZEV plan basically nationalizes California’s draconian electric-car mandate. It would call for 7% of all new auto sales to be electric by 2021, with a 25% market share by 2030. She sees this happening by expanding the refundable tax credit for electric car purchases, investing in infrastructure to expand the number of charging stations nationwide, and tightening regulations to steer manufacturers and consumers toward greater production and purchases.

Barra shrugs aside the cost to taxpayers for such a venture. We’ve already spent close to $5 billion to subsidize electric car buyers. Barra would have us believe that if we stop these giveaways, it will stifle the growth of the electric-car market. But if the federal government needs to pay consumers to buy electric cars, then there is no market — or at least one insufficient to achieve Barra’s goal on her timetable.

A CEO of a major company should know better. Instead, Barra touts the NZEV’s potential to reduce carbon emissions, and she makes note that car makers and governments in Europe and Asia are already entering into similar partnerships. “The stakes are high, and time is short,” she insists.

The U.S. is already the world leader in reducing carbon emissions without creating unholy alliances between the private sector and the federal government. And simply stating the tired old argument that “other countries are already doing it” does not highlight the inflated auto markets in those countries, the poor quality of many of their vehicles, or the high taxes that consumers are paying.

The bottom line is that the electric car cannot be forced on the American public. The market has been around for several years, but the cons still outweigh the pros.

There are not nearly enough plug-in stations to support a large fleet of electric cars on America’s roads. At this point, many of these cars are still more expensive than conventional automobiles, which meet higher fuel standards than ever before in history. Many electric cars only run about 230-240 miles per charge, and it takes up to nine hours to completely recharge them. This is not workable for long-distance driving.

Innovation will surely solve these problems eventually, at which point electric cars may become the de facto choice for many consumers. Then prices will drop and the support network will grow. But propping up the entire industry at taxpayer expense is not the government’s constitutional role. Economically, that sort of winner-picking hand-holding stifles growth, to borrow Barra’s phrase. If companies know that they have a captive consumer audience and that the federal government will fill in the gaps on their bottom line, then they don’t have any incentive to innovate. This has been true ever since man began engaging in commerce.

If electric cars are going to be the wave of the future, then manufacturers must build them that way.

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