Green Machines?

green carsOver the weekend I was asked to appear on Fox News with anchor Arthel Neville to discuss the Electric Car industry. Sales of Hybrids like the Chevy Volt and the all-electric Nissan Leaf have risen dramatically and the question of the day is, why?

I admit I don’t follow the industry as much as I should so I dived right in preparing for the segment. As I clawed my way through the mountain of research, I soon found with every question I answered, another two would surface. The biggest and perhaps most controversial is, “Are Electric Vehicles as Green as the Industry Says?”

First, let’s go through the easy stuff. The recent spurt in sales of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are the result of a price war. The automakers are falling over themselves to cut prices and its working. With sticker prices on the 2014 Chevy Volt being cut by $5000 dealers are having trouble meeting the demand.

Recently, Honda issued an apology regarding their Fit EV’s saying, “We recognize that some customers have experienced frustration as they attempt to locate dealers with available Fit EVs.” Dealers are rejoicing because of the sudden surge. In a Time Magazine interview, sales manager at Honda of Santa Monica said, “It’s incredible, especially since we haven’t had any foot traffic or interest in the car in six months.”

A lot of questions remain unanswered. “Are they making money? What are the margins and are the promotions we see sustainable? Are these programs designed to just stir up interest and what will happen to demand as these promotions are eliminated?”

According to Auto Week, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is on record saying, they will lose more than $10,000 on every battery-powered Fiat 500 it sells. Hardly a sustainable business model.

Incentives

Current incentives to purchase these vehicles are very attractive. The Federal tax credit can be as much as $7500 and if you live in California maybe another $1500.

Hybrid vs. Electric

In the near term, I believe Hybrid vehicles will continue to lead the market. For most all-electric vehicles, the range simply isn’t enough. The darling of the industry Tesla (TSLA) advertises a model with a 300 mile range but most are significantly below that.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination you have to charge the vehicle. In today’s fast paced, I need to be there yesterday world; waiting around hours for your car to charge simply won’t be an option for many. The hybrid’s gas/electric drive train lets you continue on your journey long after the battery is out of juice.

I think for now, all-electric vehicles are more suited to fleets like taxi’s or delivery trucks that come back to a central location at the end of the day.

Green Machines?

That’s really the question isn’t it? Are these vehicles as green as advertised? The selling point behind using all-electric vehicles is they are green, with most advertising Zero Emissions. However, with everything considered is that really true?

Think about it. Your electric car is sitting in your garage charging. Your home is attached to the electric grid and in turn to your local electric utility which is more than likely burning fossil fuel. Perhaps, even a dirty fuel like coal?

Ozzie Zehner

Ozzie Zehner, a scholar at the University of California who worked at General Motors on Electric Vehicles, is one of the industry’s leading critics. In a recent article, Unclean at Any Speed, he points out many miss-conceptions of the electric car industry. When considering emissions, he believes it is important to look beyond the fact that the electric vehicle doesn’t have a tail-pipe. There are other environmental costs as well. He points readers to a study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. He goes on to say that much of the research available is funded by the auto makers who dominate the electric vehicle industry and stand to make a profit.

Energy Independence

A major headwind for the industry can be found right in our own backyard. If we put the right policies in place, our nation has a chance at becoming energy independent in the next decade. I’m not certain gasoline prices will remain as high as they are right now. If traditional energy sources fall in price as we develop these resources, plugging in may prove less attractive than filling the tank.

Here is where I come out on the subject. I think the industry is exciting and electric vehicles are certainly part of the solution but given the fuel options we have available right now, it shouldn’t be jammed down our throats. I think energy independence for our country is the key to our future and electric vehicles are just one piece of the puzzle. It would be criminal to waste this opportunity to free ourselves from mid-east oil and those who control it.

Disclosure – Funds managed by David Nelson are long Apple stock at the time of the release of this post. however, reserve the right to sell at any time. Belpointe Asset Management, LLC (“Belpointe AM”) is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  Registration with the SEC as an investment adviser should not be construed to imply that the SEC has approved or endorsed qualifications or the services it offers or that or its personnel possess a particular level of skill, expertise or training. For disclosures visit: http://belpointe.com/disclosures/