Electric vehicle mandates mean misery all around

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Appeared in the National Post, May 10, 2024
Electric vehicle mandates mean misery all around

The latest news of slowing demand for electric vehicles highlight the profound hazards of the federal government’s Soviet-style mandate that 100 per cent of new light-duty vehicles sold must be electric or plug-in hybrid by 2035 (with interim targets of 20 per cent by 2026 and 60 per cent by 2030, with steep penalties for dealers missing these targets).

The targets were wild to begin with—as Manhattan Institute senior fellow Mark P. Mills observed, bans on conventional vehicles and mandated switches to electric mean, in jurisdictions such as Canada, “consumers will need to adopt EVs at a scale and velocity 10 times greater and faster than the introduction of any new model of car in history.”

Indeed, when the Trudeau government announced its mandate last December, conventional vehicles accounted for 87 per cent of the market, and today the mandated switch to electric looks even more at odds with actual consumer preferences. According to reports, Tesla will cut its global workforce by more than 10 per cent (or more than 14,000 employees) due to slowing electric vehicle demand.

In Canada, a Financial Post headline reads, “‘Tall order to ask the average Canadian’: EVs are twice as hard to sell today.” Not only has Tesla’s quarterly sales declined, Ford Motor Co. announced in April it will delay the start of electric vehicle production at its Oakville plant by two years, from 2025 to 2027.

According to research from global data and analytics firm J.D. Power, it now takes 55 days to sell an electric vehicle in Canada, up from 22 days in the first quarter of 2023 and longer than the 51 days it takes a gasoline-powered car to sell. This is the result, some analysts suggest, of a lack of desirable models and high consumer prices—and despite federal subsidies to car buyers of up to $5,000 per electric vehicle and additional government subsidies in six provinces, as high as $7,000 in Quebec.

Similarly in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reports that on average, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids sit in dealer lots longer than gasoline-powered cars and hybrids. Again, that’s despite heavy government pressure to switch to electric—the Biden administration mandated two-thirds of new vehicles sold must be electric by 2032.

In both Canada and the U.S., politicians banning consumers from buying vehicles they want and instead forcing them to buy the types of vehicles that run contrary to their preferences, call to mind famed philosopher Adam Smith’s “man of system,” described in his 1759 book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

The man of system, Smith explained, “is apt to be very wise in his own conceit” and “seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess–board.” But people are not chess pieces to be moved around by a hand from above; they have their own agency and if pushed by the “man of system” in a direction opposite to where they want to go, the result will be misery and “society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.”

That nicely sums up the current government effort to mandate electric vehicles contrary to consumer preferences. The vehicle market is in a state of disorder as the government tries to force people to buy the types of cars many of them do not want, and the outcomes are miserable all around.

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