Myopia in Trump’s White House

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 1, 2017

Once again, I am struck by the myopia of having a “businessman” in the White House who seems incapable of seeing the business opportunities before us, the business that actually could contribute to Making American Industry Great Again.

The issue at hand is electric cars, brought into the limelight again recently by Tesla bringing out a $35,000 electric car (rather than a $70,000 car) along with all the gadgetry that will accompany it. The idea is that it starts to bring electric car travel into the middle-class range — there are estimates that the lower cost versions of electric cars will be in the $20,000 range within a few years — helping, among other things, to boost efforts towards technical compliance with the Paris Climate Agreements.

As a move towards more mass acceptance of electric car travel, the technical aspects involved will show in a variety of other industries — American or otherwise — that will take advantage of improved battery construction and storage, from trucking to short-haul aircraft, lowering overall dependence on fossil fuel industries.

There, of course, is the rub. If you are Donald Trump, this all sounds too frou-frou. You want more Big Oil, more shale-drilling, more mining for coal to meet ever-growing demands for electricity. And, of course, it sounds like just the kind of thing that Barack Obama would endorse, so you are against it.

Here is the technical update. Electric cars now account for about 2 percent of the 1.5 new car sales in the United States, though the numbers over the last two years have jumped noticeably. Electric cars can be plugged into home stations, once established, and refuel overnight (the hours required vary by model, battery size and storage capabilities), and in the morning, most are ready for 100-mile trips before the next refuel.

The Tesla series, as an example, has 18 moving parts, and has reduced maintenance costs to pennies per ride. Tesla risks little in offering lifetime warranties for their car sales. Estimates are that a new electric car (or bus or truck) will run for more than a million miles without risk of obsolescence. Ford, General Motors, Volvo and others have jumped into the manufacture of these vehicles as well.

Have you heard from Donald Trump about this? I didn’t think so.

Norway is requiring purchases of public fleets of electric cars after 2025 and Britain and France after 2040; Volvo says it won’t make fossil-fuel cars after 2019. This is an avalanche about to start sliding down the hill.

My friends, Peter and Melanie in Southern California, bought a Nissan electric car early and use it for all local driving. They installed solar panels and batteries and simply plug the car in at home overnight. They also have a gasoline-fuel car for longer trips.

The real issue here is more operational than technical. I live in a New York City apartment, where I can’t plug in, and use a car to drive away 100 miles upstate where there are no such filling stations. This will be solved, but, just as with gas stations and air conditioners, the availability of mobile fueling spots will prove key.

Gee, that sounds like an opportunity for government to be involved in building the infrastructure of a new set of manufacturing goods and jobs.

Tesla says it will be improving range to 200 miles shortly, A report by Stanford University economist Tony Seba making the rounds in environmental circles suggests that the fossil-fuel car won’t exist a mere eight years from now. He predicts that by then, gas stations, repair sites, spares and the like will be hard to find because there will be a run on electric cars. Whether you believe the eight-year timeline is irrelevant; the marketplace is about to show the businessman in the White House that he has been barking up the wrong manufacturing tree — again.

Implications for all this are ripples — Big Oil will suffer (and the strategic thinking behind it), the smaller OPEC countries like Scotland, Venezuela and even Russia or Saudi Arabia could find themselves with a useless asset, Big Car companies will be competing with Google and Apple to build computers on wheels, insurance and repair chains will see a loss of business. You get the idea. Think of camera and film companies and what happened with the arrival of digital phones that can capture an image.

Add in the idea of driverless cars and trucks, and you can accelerate those changes. If you can auto-drive goods safely around the nation 24 hours a day without hiring drivers, companies are going to find huge economic incentive. Or perhaps drivers will become involved only with overseeing loading and deliveries.

Here’s what I want from my government — and this has nothing to do with Democratic, Republican or other partisan groups. I want my government to be expert, particularly if it has been jammed full of business minds, to be able to collect appropriate data and see the kind of vision that traditional politicians have consistently failed at recognizing, and then to plan an appropriate level of investment to help birth new industries.

That’s how you grow your economy, keep America at the front of the line and important in the eyes of other countries, and develop the new jobs (through training programs and investment) that will make these things possible.

We can do better.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer