Plug-In Vehicles: A Luxury No Nation Can Afford

Jan.29.10 | About: Ener1 Inc (HEV)

I'm going to apologize up front for revisiting a topic that inevitably draws furious comments from readers who just don't get it, or who refuse to get it. I understand that it's painful to learn that politicians, environmental advocates and the mainstream media have been lying about critical issues, but that doesn't make exposing the lies less important. So I'm going to endure the slings and arrows of the eco-religious one more time and use a new example to show that plug-in vehicles are a luxury no nation can afford.

Ener1 (NASDAQ:HEV) is a pure-play manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries. While I am frequently critical of Ener1's penchant for vague disclosures and EV happy-talk, today I'm going to take a different tack and accept their disclosures as gospel. In the Company section of its website, Ener1 describes its domestic production capacity as follows:

Current production capacity is 10,000 electric vehicle (NYSE:EV) packs per year, equivalent to 100,000 hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) packs. Capacity will peak at 30,000 EV packs per year in the current Indiana-based facilities at full utilization.

On receipt of the conditional $118.5 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), EnerDel will double this number by 2012, to give a production capacity of 60,000 EV (600,000 HEV) packs per year, creating an estimated 1,700 new jobs in the State of Indiana. ...

In a press release dated January 21, 2009, Ener1 disclosed that it planned to spend $237.5 million to expand its domestic battery production capacity to approximately 600,000 HEV or 60,000 EV packs per year. Roughly half of the planned expansion funding will come from a $118.5 million ARRA battery manufacturing grant that Ener1 was awarded in August 2009. Ener1 will have to raise the balance from open market equity sales and other non-government sources to fulfill the requirements of its grant.

HEVs and EVs both use advanced batteries and sophisticated electric drive technologies to capture energy that would have been lost in braking, use the captured energy in subsequent acceleration cycles and minimize the waste of gasoline. While HEVs draw the line at maximizing vehicle efficiency, EVs go a step further and use additional battery capacity to replace the fuel tank, which means an outlet in your garage becomes your fuel source instead of your neighborhood filling station.

The typical American drives about 12,000 miles per year and if he buys a new fuel-efficient car he can expect to pay roughly $18,000 for the vehicle and buy about 400 gallons of gasoline per year. In comparison, a consumer who buys a new HEV for roughly $22,000 can expect to buy 240 gallons of gasoline per year and a consumer who buys a new EV for roughly $40,000 won't buy any gasoline at all.

According to burning one gallon of gasoline produces 20 pounds of CO2. While EVs don't burn any gasoline and are widely touted as super-green, the power plants that generate electricity in the U.S. release an average of 9.7 pounds of CO2 for each gallon of gasoline equivalent.

With those numbers firmly in hand, let's do some simple comparisons of what happens when the batteries from the Ener1 expansion leave the plant and are used to manufacture 300,000 additional HEVs or 30,000 additional EVs.

Incremental manufacturing revenue HEV EV
Per vehicle $4,000 $22,000
Plant total $1.20 billion $0.66 billion
Annual gasoline savings
Per vehicle (gallons) 160 400
Plant total (gallons) 48 million 12 million
Annual CO2 emission reduction
Per vehicle (tons) 1.60 2.06
Plant total (tons) 480,000 61,800
Click to enlarge

It's important to note that the table presents the two extremes on the range of possibilities and the likely impact on manufacturing revenue, gasoline consumption and CO2 emissions is somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, I think it's important for everyone to understand that using the additional battery production from the Ener1 plant to produce 300,000 HEVs instead of 30,000 EVs would be twice as effective at creating jobs, four times as effective at reducing national gasoline consumption and eight times as effective at reducing national CO2 emissions, especially when I consider that the taxpayers are going to pick up half the tab for the plant expansion.

How about you?

This really isn't a rhetorical question. I want to know what my readers think. Please take a few seconds and respond to the following single question poll.

Disclosure: None.