February 16, 2013

Reading Charles Lane’s Feb. 12 op-ed column, “The electric car mistake,” I was reminded of the saying that “the past has too great a constituency, the future never enough.” 

The problem with driving the Tesla Model S from Newark, Del., to Milford, Conn., as the New York Times’ John M. Broder did, is that you are testing the car for something it does not need to do. An electric vehicle is not a substitute for a conventional vehicle, nor does it need to be.

Mr. Broder’s ill-advised intercity test drive of the superb S-class sedan was a monumental PR mistake. Today’s electric vehicles are not intercity cars and will not be until fast-charging technology and infrastructure have been commonly installed.

But the key point is that they do not have to be. Of the 250 million light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads, at least 60 million to 70 million are second or third family vehicles. How many cars capable of driving across the country does one family need? The average car in this country is driven roughly 40 miles a day and is in use for approximately 90 minutes. These tens of millions of conventional cars, which are clogging roads and spewing emissions into the air, could be replaced at the end of their useful lives by plug-in electric vehicles. Reports of the electric vehicle’s death are premature.

David Crane, Princeton, N.J.

The writer is chief executive of NRG Energy, which owns and operates eVgo, a privately funded electric vehicle charging network.

Charles Lane wrote: “Nor do electric cars promise much in the way of greenhouse-gas reduction, as long as they rely on a power grid that is still mostly fired by fossil fuels.”

According to a New York Times report from last year, the findings from a Union of Concerned Scientists analysis were quite encouraging. The article said that “for 45 percent of the United States population, an E.V. [electric vehicle] will generate lower levels of greenhouse gases than a gasoline- engine vehicle capable of 50 m.p.g. in combined city-highway driving. . . . About 37 percent of Americans live in regions where a [Nissan] Leaf’s greenhouse gas emissions would equate to a gasoline-powered vehicle rated at 41 to 50 m.p.g. Some 18 percent of the population lives in regions with a comparatively dirty power supply, where the . . . carbon footprint of a Leaf would be the equivalent of a vehicle rated at 31 to 40 m.p.g.”

For most Americans, electric vehicles would provide much lower emissions than their fossil-fuel counterparts. These vehicles not only hold promise but they also currently contribute to substantial greenhouse-gas reductions.

John Dukovich, McLean

●I commend Charles Lane for his excellent commentary pointing out the folly of those investing in these frivolous, new horseless-carriage businesses. As Mr. Lane wrote, the folly was made worse by a government squandering public funds in support of fanciful dreams.

With a few small alterations, Mr. Lane’s argument against electric cars could have been published a century ago: These “motor cars” can never replace the noble steed. They are hopelessly dependent on the presence of paved and cobblestone streets. As such, they will never be useful for traveling the considerable distances between cities. Only the most intrepid would risk the journey, forever in a fruitless search for the petroleum fuel necessary to reach the next destination.

These machines must go through several generations of refinement before they might have any practical value. Indeed, they may not reach such point until some bright soul manufactures a way to power the vehicle in much the same way that Edison’s light is powered. The needed power must be produced by a contained generator or stored in some sort of reservoir. Surely, such a revolution in science will not come to pass before another century has gone by. Let us focus our energies on those things we might yet accomplish in our lifetimes.  

Edward Fischman, Bethesda