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The Nissan Leaf: an affordable electric car?

The environmentalist’s dream seems tantalizingly close today with the unveiling of the Nissan Leaf, a plug-in car that will go 100 miles on a single charge, priced at $25,000.

Yes, there’s a catch. What drove the price down was a breakthrough in battery technology -- plus federal tax credits for consumers. So while they’re relatively affordable, they’re still pretty expensive to produce.

Sure, tax credits might actually get people to buy the cars. But is this the best strategy for cutting emissions? The answer is probably “no.”

A recent study from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs finds that purchase tax credits are pretty ineffective at actually cutting transportation-sector emissions, and they “require excessive government expenditure.” Among other things, the report’s modeling finds that purchase tax credits tend to “impede conventional fuel economy improvement.” That’s because car makers have to meet fuel economy standards that average across their vehicles. Stimulating the purchase of some extremely clean cars means that manufacturers can produce conventional cars that have relatively low fuel economy and still meet those standards.

In terms of emissions reduction, doing nothing isn’t better than providing such tax credits. And in the long term, there are more efficient ways to bring down transportation emissions and oil use: imposing stronger fuel-efficiency standards, putting a reasonable price on carbon or, by far the most effective, steadily raising the gas tax.

Environmentalists claim that alternative cars will be cost-competitive with conventional cars, once you factor in savings on gas. Perhaps -- but if that’s so, it should be without tax credits distorting the price of the vehicles, and with a higher gas tax. That arrangement would simply encourage people to use less gas and provide incentives for researchers to come up with the sorts of technological breakthroughs -- such as better batteries -- that make cleaner cars more affordable to produce.

By Stephen Stromberg  | March 30, 2010; 3:52 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

Electric cars give a market for those who produce electricity from wind, solar and geothermal. WEven solar cell makers could have a greater market.

That is where it helps.

Posted by: gary4books | March 31, 2010 5:56 AM | Report abuse

What is this, more oil propaganda?

We already have batteries that are better. We had them four years ago.

If I have a choice between two cars, one of which has "lower emissions" and the other has "zero emissions" - I'm going to pick ZERO because zero is less than, hmmm let's see... all the other cars. I have a bigger worldview than just tomorrow. Or even just next year.

It is worth every dollar spent to start reducing our negative affects on this planet as soon as humanly possible, and if companies are finally willing to create for us a product that does that - then a future for myself, my family, and my community on this planet comes within reach, and causes the dollar amount price of the car to be a literal steal, since a greener future is priceless.

Gimme a break. The statement, "imposing stronger fuel-efficiency standards", means nothing in these United States. Are you that naive? Check your history about what oil companies have done in the past. Go back to Florida and their trolley system, go back to California, and their rail system, their trolley system. Hell, even Dallas, Tx had a system in place that was bought by oil companies and literally torn up.

Wake up and smell the fumes. We're going to be a lot better off if we start putting purchasable solutions on the market rather than wait for kindness, generosity and a view for the greater good to actually become more powerful than greed, arrogance, and selfishness.

Posted by: mv2005 | March 31, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

If you don't have enough money for an electric car, an used car is always the best alternative. They are cheap, reliable, and if you want to save time and money, check out Carsala because people there will go through the whole car-buying process for you and guarantee you the lowest killer price.

Posted by: steven14 | March 31, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

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