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Electric cars still don't meet 'society's needs'

A Tesla Motors electric sports car charges in

A Tesla Motors electric sports car charges in the automakers showroom in San Jose, Calif. (Credit: Bloomberg News, 2011)

When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed President Barack Obama during last week's debate for pouring some $90 billion in to clean energy "losers," Obama supporters were quick to point out that Elon Musk's electric car company Tesla, included among those "losers," has actually proven to be a winner.

Indeed, the company's share price is up more than 50 percent since it debuted in June 2010, and, as Forbes noted, Tesla has even taken steps to repay its U.S. Energy Department loan early because of the strength of its cash reserves.

While Romney could have benefitted from a fact checker for that comment, his pessimistic outlook on green energy is not unfounded -- especially when it comes to cars.

Despite Tesla's apparent health, the nation's growing environmental consciousness and the continued ascent of gas prices, car manufacturers are hedging their bets in the electric vehicle sector, according to a recent report by environmental news site Mother Nature Network. Yes, a handful of electric models have been plagued by bad reviews, but the larger problem is the inability for them to travel much more than 70 or 80 miles between charges, about the distance from Riverhead to Manhattan on the Long Island Expressway.

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” Takeshi Uchiyamada, a vice chairman at Toyota, told Mother Nature News.

As a result, Toyota and Hyundai are among the manufacturers that are scaling back production of most electric models. Aside from in California, where 40 percent of all electric vehicles are sold thanks largely to a state emissions incentive program, automakers have begun revising their expectations for when demand for electric vehicles will finally pop.

Disappointing as that may be in the short-term for clean energy champions, it could leave time for the automobile industry to engineer much-needed improvements to electric vehicles. Currently, the life cycle of an electric vehicle is even more harmful to the environment than that of a standard car, according to a study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology cited by the Guardian.

Until the manufacturing process of electric vehicles becomes less toxic and the electricity they consume during those all-too-frequent charges stops coming from coal-fired power stations, the greatest cost of electric vehicles won’t be expensed to the American taxpayer through more Obama credits. Instead, unwittingly, it will be charged to the environment.  

Tags: Tesla , Electric Cars

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