Science / Tech, Tech
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The Case for Electric Vehicles

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is trying to lead the world to a better place with his commitment to electric vehicles. Specifically, he is leading American middle-class families of the future towards cheaper, more efficient cars and energy usage. Musk’s desire to make America competitive in the budding electric car market is not only good for American consumers, but it is also good for the United States: it will help make the country more energy independent, thereby liberating America from having to depend on dubious oil-producing states. Musk should not only be commended for his pioneering work, but the United States government should continue subsidizing his work to remain competitive in the 21st century economy.

Since its inception in 2006, Tesla Motors has contributed significantly to research into and development of the electric car in the United States. The electric car is not a new idea. Yet, it never fully captured the imagination of Americans the way the traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicle did. However, the Great Recession of 2008 (and the anemic recovery that followed), placed many Americans in a position where even the cost of fuel for their vehicles was becoming an onerous expense. Despite the positive changes occurring in America’s economy today, Americans are still strapped for cash and in need of cost-saving measures wherever they can find them.

Some critics are quick to point to the current expense of electric vehicles compared to the lower costs of fossil fuel-powered vehicles as a reason to discontinue subsidizing Tesla. While electric vehicles are more expensive than ordinary cars today, their prices have plummeted 80 percent in six years. In due course, the price of electric cars will come to match those of similar non-electric vehicles.

Ultimately, it is the hope of Elon Musk (and myself) that electric vehicles will prove to be a more economical option for a majority of Americans than traditional fossil fueled-powered vehicles. You see, electric vehicles could not only keep long-term energy costs for Americans relatively low, but fully developing the technology now would help the United States prepare for the day when we’ve reached the peak production of most fossil fuels.

Hitting Peak Fossil Fuels

British Petroleum’s chief economist, Spencer Dale, predicts that, “cars will be used more in the future, traveling longer distances.” So, rather than Americans moving closer to the cities (where the majority of jobs are), and relying less on cars, it is likely that Americans will continue moving farther away from work (due to the high cost of living in and around the cities), looking for more economical—and faster—ways of transportation. Electric vehicles are currently being designed to drive for longer and in a more efficient manner than traditional, fossil fuel-burning vehicles.

It is also believed that by 2030, nearly one-third of all vehicles (around 320 million worldwide) on America’s roadways will be electric. Most assume that this number will increase over time, particularly as fossil fuels become more expensive. The reason that fossil fuels would become more expensive is because we will have reached a peak in their production. Reaching a peak in production is when one reaches the maximum output possible of a given commodity, based on the available resources. Once those resources peak, everything that comes after will be in decreasing amounts. This, coupled with potential high demand, would cause prices to skyrocket.

Interestingly, BP predicts that the world will reach peak oil around 2030. Other major oil producers, such as Royal Dutch Shell see peak oil arriving by 2025. Meanwhile, the American oil producers, represented by ExxonMobil and Chevron, believe that no peak will come at all. According to energy analyst, Nick Cunningham, these views highlight “a bit of difference” between European and American producers.

Even so, the mere fact that American producers are beginning to rely more heavily on the fossil fuels produced through shale gas and other unorthodox drilling techniques indicates that, quite possibly, more easily accessible quantities of fossil fuels are declining. American oil producers believe that North America’s mostly untapped oil and natural gas stores will effectively ensure that the United States is the world’s leading fossil fuel energy producer. But, both ExxonMobil and Chevron’s postulations are predicated on forecasting models that might be flawed.

Justin Montgomery and Francis O’Sullivan of MIT’s Energy Initiative believe that forecasting models used by the United States Energy Information Agency “have a tendency to significantly overestimate the impact of technology because they are not flexible enough to account for these short-distance locational variations present in the data.” Montgomery and O’Sullivan assessed that, “current forecasts for future production and cost of tight oil and shale gas resources in the United States may be overoptimistic [sic] due to unrealistic expectations of future technology-driven productivity gains—an important consideration for any transition to a lower-carbon future where natural gas plays a bridging role in the power sector.”

We already know that several of the world’s leading oil and natural gas fields have been depleted. While energy companies are presently locating new sources, they are located in harsher, harder-to-reach (and therefore more expensive) locations—notably in the Arctic (which is why Russia has made the Arctic such a primary point of its foreign policy). This fact is also why the American energy producers, such as ExxonMobil, are so keen to tout the benefits of shale production. And, to be sure, we need every bit of cheap energy we can get. But, the real issue is one of sustainability.

Are these new sources of fossil fuel energy reliable over periods longer than two or three decades? The answer is likely “no.”

Also, Goldman Sachs reported in 2015 that the world had reached peak coal production in that year. All you need do is look at how erstwhile users of coal energy, such as China, are diversifying their energy portfolio away from coal toward something more reliable. This isn’t just good business; it’s also a response to declining coal production.

Curbing Demand

Plus, don’t forget that there is not a set date for peak oil. While it’s likely to happen at some point in time, it can be pushed back. It’s all about demand. Thus far, we have prevented peak oil by finding new and innovative drilling techniques. But, that alone will not push the date of peak oil back too far. Reducing the demand for oil—which will dramatically increase, thanks to the economic development of countries like India and China—over the next two decades will be key. Having a third (preferably more) of all vehicles being electric will help to reduce the onerous demand for fossil fuels.

The electric vehicle can be a wonderful stopgap—or a refuge—for a world that is in dire need of diversification of its energy production. No one is saying that oil or natural gas or coal will simply vanish. What Musk and others are arguing for is a viable, renewable alternative to avoid excessive reliance on a product that is inherently finite. Having an energy portfolio that includes a large—and growing—number of electric vehicles will achieve these goals. Rather than waiting for a fossil fuel crunch in the 2030s, why not simply continue (and expand on) the investments that Musk and other visionaries have made in the electric vehicle industry?

As a taxpayer, that is a worthwhile use of my money (far more so than bombing another Middle Eastern country).

It’s Less About the Car and More About the R&D

Musk’s detractors point out the flaws in Tesla vehicles; they complain about Tesla’s failures to deliver on Musk’s grandiose claims (which he does eventually deliver on, mind you); and they believe that the Tesla cars are poorly built. Whatever may be the case, the benefit of Tesla Motors is in the R&D into a vehicle that, as I’ve argued above, will be essential for the future prosperity of the United States.

If left to its own devices, the private sector in the United States would never have funded electric vehicles. Elon Musk and Tesla got the proverbial ball rolling thanks, in large part, to subsidies from the United States government. Some may find that to be “crony capitalism.” But, since government R&D spending has been on the decline for 20 years (and since the U.S. needs technology of the kind that Musk is developing), subsidies are a small price to pay.

The Chinese have a saying, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” Thus, the time to invest in electric vehicles is not when we’ve actually hit peak oil, but rather in anticipation of hitting peak oil. Whether the Tesla vehicles are built as well as cars comparable to the Tesla prices is irrelevant. The more important issue is whether the research and development of the actual technology that will make EVs work properly (and cheaply) is being done. That way, when the time does come, we will not suffer significant disruptions (and we might even delay that date). Face it: the electric vehicle is not going away. Better to dominate this budding industry rather than cede it to a fierce competitor, like China.


Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who runs The Weichert Report: World News Done Right. He contributes to the American Spectator, and he is a contributing editor at American Greatness. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonWeichert 

Filed under: Science / Tech, Tech


Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who runs The Weichert Report: World News Done Right. He contributes to The American Spectator, and he is a contributing editor at American Greatness.


  1. Nicholas Conrad says

    An econ 101 class would be very helpful for Brandon, and apparently whichever Quillette editor approved this copy.

  2. Anthony K says

    I wonder what the Gulf economies will do when the oil runs out.

  3. Dom B. says

    Seems to be article.about peak oil than a case for.electric vehicles. Also the vehicle pictured appears to be a Smart FourTwo, which is petrol powered.

  4. Sorry, but this is perhaps the Noddiest article I’ve seen in Quillette.

    While I’m at it, let me criticise the writing. Just one example. “As a taxpayer, that is a worthwhile use of my money (far more do than bombing another Middle Eastern country)”. In one sentence there’s a dangling modifier, an inanity, and a trite, childish comparison.

    Again, sorry, but I am enjoying Quillette and wish it it continue with the high quality and insight it has been showing.

    (Note that this criticism is not motivated by disagreement – I agree with the sentiment completely. Also note, the first Peak Oil book was published in 2004).

    • andrewnwest says

      The first peak oil book may be 2004, but people have been talking about this for literally a hundred years.

      “The Constitution of the United States thus grew in large part out of the necessity for united action in the wise of one of our natural resources. The wise use of all of our natural resources, which are our national resources as well, is the great material question of today. I have asked you to come together now because the enormous consumption of these resources, and the threat of imminent exhaustion of some of them, due to reckless and wasteful use, once more calls for common effort, common action.”

      Theodore Roosevelt, 1908.

      Peak Oil relies on no technological or price change. The real reason to embrace electric cars is that we can’t burn all the oil we can already economically recover, due to climate change.

  5. Anna Ryden says

    I’m enthusiastic about EVs because they’re definitely the future, but the author has no idea about energy…he seems to confuse electric cars with an energy source saying they’re an alternative to fossil fuels, as if the electricity needed to charge the cars were some kind of magic, and not actually coming from gas or oil driven thermal power plants.

    • Philip Backman says

      Like you Anna, I found it strange that the author never discussed the source of the electricity that powered E-vehicles….and does seem to imply that the electric car itself would serve as a form of energy to replace petroleum.

  6. Stephen Jamison says

    Poor effort. Shilling for Tesla, specifically, as well as spreading fears of peak oil are both wrongheaded.

    Tesla’s near monopoly is nearing an end as the other automakers’ models come to market. The author shouldn’t worry about the future of EVs since there will be plenty to choose from (and with available tax credits). Tesla will likely continue to have quality and financial problems though, but why should anyone but Tesla stakeholders care?

    Peak oil arguments are just embarrassing. Global oil supply is at record levels and will continue to grow indefinitely at current prices. Malthusian economics isn’t credible, since prices, incentives, and technology are more powerful than scaremongering.

    That said, I enjoy most of quillette and will forgive this error.

    • Dave Butler says

      Oil will continue to grow indefinitely? What, are you mad? We live on a finite planet and the supply of nothing will grow indefinitely. Ignorant people who know nothing of oil or finance might believe this but you really need to do some research before posting such nonsense.

  7. frog says

    I like Electric Vehicles as a concept.
    because they put a layer of indirection between your power production and consumption.
    so even if the electricity is still generated with fossil fuels,
    you can centralize those reactors
    and more effectively use filter technology to minimize air pollution.

  8. Daniel PV says

    The future of green vehicle technology is hydrogen power, with the waste product produced being literally water. Toyota and BMW have committed to have ‘ready to market’ machines available before 2025.
    The major constraint on battery power (even as the range increases) is materials – the speed in which you can mine material for lithium ion batteries wont keep pace with the demand. The technology is there to produce a 100KW (or more powerful) battery, but its just not cost economical to produce them as nobody would be willing to pay £100k+ for a run of the mill electric car with a long range

    • Ugh. Batteries don’t consume their contents when you discharge them. The batteries will degrade over time and have to be recycled, in a similar way to the catalysts in a fuel cell. In that respect, the “waste” in batteries is less than that of fuel cells. Both get their energy from other sources. In the case of batteries, the energy congress from the electricity grid, so the waste is generated by generating that electricity. In the case of fuel cells it is from separating hydrogen from water, and that would be using electricity.

      But I’m confident you know this. Readers of Quillette sent l seen to be well informed, and for you to know at least something of hydrogen fuel cells leaves me thinking you know more than your seemingly naïve comment reveals. Which leads me to further conclude you’ve got some other motive for touting hydrogen. Some kind of “look at me” non-conformism akin to a theory thinking?

  9. NPW says

    The thrust of the article seems to be that the US government should continue to subsidize Tesla since EV are a net good for the nation. It isn’t a case for EVs as the title suggests, but rather for public dollars to prop up a specific private company.
    An alternative view is when the federal taxpayer is subsidizing about 20% of the base price (tax credit and the carbon tax) in addition to the individual state tax credits for a car company that had a $465 million loan from DOE, the product should be financially feasible for a significant percentage of taxpayers.
    Personally, I’d put Tesla as a product of its time. Right now the institutions that should be leading the charge into EVs have become so unwieldy with bureaucratic and political concerns that only private industry is able to make headway. Tesla could be defined as a externally led government organization, if you define organization by its funding. This is more of a commentary on the inability to work with the FARs, lobbyist, and politicians. No, I’m not making the argument that Tesla is in actuality a government agency; I’m pointing out that there are agencies that should/could have done the R&D work. It was several times cheaper and faster to utilize Tesla and as a result I’d say it was an appropriate use of federal dollars.
    The exceptionalality of Tesla is directly linked to the ossification of the government funding it and the personality of Elon Musk. I would not say that the model of taxpayers subsidizing toys for the upper class is a universally useful tool for technological progress.

  10. Kat says

    Tesla’s R&D itself is enough argument for government subsidies. Tesla’s advancement in technology benefit the nation and the auto industry as a whole. Tesla shares their EV patents for anyone who wants to develop EVs. They are not seeking monopoly of EVs. It was never their intention to be automaker or sell cars, they merely needed to create a market for their eventual product where none existed.

    I’ve said this many times over and over again, Tesla is not an automotive company. They are an energy company. They sell energy. Therefore their goal is to depress the price of EVs and encourage proliferation of EVs (customer base).

    I do commend Tesla for doing all the design and manufacturing in house, in America. (SpaceX is also made in America). Government subsidizes manufacturing, it might as well subsidize high-tech manufacturing — like EVs, green energy etc. Rather than bringing back steel and coal.

  11. Bill says

    So….you either burn fossil fuels to turn the wheels, or burn fossil fuels to spin a generator to charge a battery which turns a motor to turn the wheels. I see a lot about how “efficient” EVs can be; however, those pitches fail to account for the energy loss through the production line of the electricity itself. The same groups that champion EVs and scream about climate hysteria are the same that decry nuclear power sources as if Solar/Wind is a panacea. Just forget about all the dead endangered species due to wind power (but if a coal mine does the same…omg). Forget about the hazardous materials from production and disposal of old solar panels which have a payoff period longer than their effective lifespan (or just ignore that fossil fuels are being burned to transport them from China, what there, go back to sailing ships?).

  12. Why does this article feel like it was written by the Tesla marketing department? Probably the weakest piece I’ve seen Quillette publish.

  13. Mark Harrigan says

    I agree with many commenters here – this has to be the worst piece on Quillette ever- not worthy of the site or the name

    The Elon Musk hagiography aside it is riddled with unquestioned (and often erroneous assumptions) about EVs not to mention a total lack of numeric support of or analysis of the hyperbolic claims.

    While we can admire Musk and his achievements the fact is his companies suckle on the public teat almost entirely – and without such huge subsidies he would be nowhere – and for what (as yet) public benefit?

    While EVs will undoubtedly have a role to play in the future – perhaps even an important one – the facts are
    a) Today they represent a tiny faction of new cars sold and an even tinier (far less than 0.1 %) of all vehicles on the road – like it or not ICE vehicles are dominant. And never forget incumbent technologies do not stand still when new competitors emerge.
    b) Their range is comparatively poor – suitable for many inner urban users (the unthinking elite who generalise with innumeracy about their own experience and needs) but not for tradespeople, sales people, long distance commuters (many outer urban working class) or large scale transport
    c) All they do is transfer the emissions from the tail pipe to the power plant – which means if you do not de-carbonise your grid first (no easy task and on the evidence today impossible without either being blessed with large amounts of hydro electric power or building nuclear) you are quite possibly increasing emissions rather than decreasing them
    d) They are a LONG way short of being cost competitive with ICEs when a whole of life cycle analysis is done. This is mainly because replacement battery costs are enormous – up to 1/3 of the cost of the car – and by far the largest cost of owning a personal vehicle is the depreciation (be wary of the greenwashing hype articles which contend otherwise – when you look into their analysis the battery replacement is invariably not accounted for)

    There is a lot of hype surrounding EVs which this article has simply swallowed and repeated (hence it being unworthy and lacking in real analysis that we expect from Quillette).

    For just one example of a more reasoned and numeric analysis you could look here

    It concludes “the potential positive impact of electric cars is marginal at best. ” and “The enormous hype surrounding electric cars and the associated initiative and investment it consumes are therefore quite worrying. We simply cannot afford to invest so heavily in technological pathways which are fundamentally unable to alleviate our 21st century sustainability crisis.”

    Now, you could argue this point if you wished but you would need evidence and analysis to so so since the article I link uses a lot of evidence to support that conclusion

    The article here on Quillette fails miserably on that account

    For innovations to be successful against an incumbent (meaning they largely displace their alternative) they MUST offer some sort of private (meaning to the acquirer who pays for it) advantage over and above what they displace.

    EVs in their current form seriously struggle to achieve this. In other words they offer little or no personal benefits (they are not cheaper to run) – apart from virtue signaling – and in many jurisdictions their environmental benefits are entirely marginal.

    They have a long way to go – Elon Musk’s personal energy not with standing

    • TarsTarkus says

      Purchasing an EV is ignorant virtue signaling by the wealthy, the only ones who can afford them. Period. They run on fossil fuels, hydro, or nuclear, and significant pollution is involved in their construction (as is with almost every other man-made product on the planet). At least hybrid cars supposedly recharge their battery when their IC engine is being used. Musk is just a crony capitalist who has capitalized on the mystique of being ‘green’. If the taxpayer spigot to his companies is ever turned off, or sharply reduced, they will collapse like a house of cards. Hopefully soon. A true alternative to the IC engine awaits a significant technological change, like a new battery technology or its like (I’ve heard noises about nannocarbon capacitors), LOX or NOX-temperature level superconductors, or something else.

  14. Caligula says

    Some advantages of electric vehicles: an electric motor is far more efficient than a combustion engine (but less so if one measures energy input all the way back to the primary source used to generate the electricity); electric motors are simpler and generally more reliable and durable than combustion engines; many different primary fuels can be used to generate the required electricity.

    Some disadvantagers of electric vehicles: it takes far longer to charge its batteries than it takes to pump fuel into a combustion-powered car; energy density of batteries remains far below that of liquid fuels; batteries are costly and have a finite life.

    Fossil fuels are obviously a finite resource; nonetheless, the more shrill cries of Peak Oil-ists have moderated as U.S. production has recovered to production rates not seen for decades, and as world prices have remained far below their peaks. Further, coal may be a dirty fuel but the USA has huge reserves of it and, although you can’t burn it directly in your car, technologies to covert coal (plus some hydrogen obtained from natural gas) into liquid fuels have been known for over 70 years. Thus, “we’d better wean ourselves off fossil fuels while we still can” rhetoric seems excessive. Yes, obviously, fossil fuels will be exhausted someday, but there’s little evidence that a crisis is anywhere near imminant.

    BUT, if there is to be a wholesale switch to electric cars then surely it’s time to ask, “Where is all that electricity going to come from?” The quick, easy, and wrong answer is “renewables.” Germany has already shown the world what happens if you attempt that too rapidly: you end up with electric rates ~300% higher than in the USA, and despite the massive investment the intermittant nature of the renewables produces more coal use than ever before.

    So, if the automotive future truly is electric then my guess is we’re looking at building a whole lot of nuclear power plants. Now, try to sell that as the price of electric cars and you’ll shortly hear shouts declaring the evils of nuclear power.

  15. bingobango says

    electric car is completely worthless until clean power infrastructure (MSRs, gen IV nuclear reactors) are in place. We could have had those decades ago, if we put money into it. But nope. The people who shill for electric cars because they’re good for the environment are the same ones who shill against nuclear on behalf of the petrol companies. Good job.

  16. I haven been driving electric vehicles for around 5 years now. They are called electric bikes, but many of them look more like traditional scooters or motorbikes. They are mass produced in China (around 40 million pieces per year) and cost around 500-1,000 USD with SLA batteries. Versions with Li-batteries double the price.

    I’m not against electric vehicles, but I’m against the technically uninformed, political drivel in articles like this. […]The electric car is not a new idea.[…] says the author. Indeed it isn’t. It’s as old as the idea of the ‘fossil fuel powered’ vehicle, probably even a few years older. The reason why the combustion engine succeded and the electric engine has not is still the same as in 1885. You can simply store the energy in a ‘bucket’ (tank), whereas in the other case you need a battery.

    Battery technology has not improved to a point where it can compete with a simple tank. It never will. Maybe it will sometime come close. But today we use rare and poisonous chemical elements to make batteries.

    Peak oil is just around the corner and has been throughout my life. The ‘global warming’ and CO2 arguments are also a non-starter. As long as so called climate scientists can’t provide reliable, accurate temperature measurements, and have to “correct” them to fit their desired pattern, the dispute is outside the realm of science. The very basis of their “science” is utterly corrupted.

    Is an inner city much nicer and more pleasant if the vehicles don’t make so much noise? Yes, definitely. Can we build very affordable electric bikes/scooters and small electric cars that run up to around 50km/h or so and are good for 2-3 trips in the city before they need to be recharged? Yes, ‘we can’ 🙂 Do we need electric long distance vehicles and pour billions of tax money into them? No, we don’t. How about we stop wasting all that tax money that goes to climate hysterics and Elon Musk, and give it to electrical&chemical engineers and pysicists in order to research battery technology to a point that would make electric energy storage a cheap and realistic option. How about some common sense for a change?

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