Smart Money Betting Against Electric Cars

Don't get caught up in all the electric-car hype too quickly.

There is no secret,  there is no argument, it really isn't a change at all. Electric vehicles will not replace our usual means of transportation anytime soon. And when they do, it will be a gradual takeover and it will be voluntary. It will take a lot of time. Many pundits and process junkies are running around caterwauling about the necessity to change the infrastructure and make other accommodations for a change to electricity immediately.

The same is true for electric vehicles becoming a necessity as it is for climate change to occur. Both issues are being approached with a hysterical outlook pushed by the immediate need to fleece the public.

Like an accommodation to a changing climate, the change to all-electric locomotion, divorcing ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuel sources, is not an emergency measure.

We have years – decades – to affect that change-over. Nothing cataclysmic will transpire if we don't change immediately. Nothing cataclysmic will transpire if we don't change for years.

One of the nation's largest financiers understands this, and is putting his money on tradition - not tradition as in sculpting stone or raising horses, but traditional as in petroleum fuels.

Warren Buffett, for all his support for Democrats, is a conservative person, especially when big money is at stake as it is when it comes to future fuels. Instead of being a hedge bet on his part, this writer thinks it is his prime investment philosophy.  So the fact that's he's made a major investment in Pilot Flying J truck stops, whose whole business is based on the retail sales of fossil fuels for trucks and food and conveniences for their human drivers, speaks volumes.

We can be certain that at some point, electric cars will become a viable means of transportation. That will happen. It may not happen until we run out of fossil fuel a quarter millennium from now, but it will happen someday. The Chinese government is placing their bets, but their fascist system can make these decisions without regard to convenient (for the populace) results.

What this writer thinks we will be seeing first for our benefit is improved vehicle fuel efficiency, as typified by the Toyota Prius (Pious, as named in "South Park"). That car is a hybrid with electric motors for locomotion powered by electricity generated from a relatively small gasoline engine and stored in large batteries. These vehicles will help us drive battery technology to maturation.

It will be a long time before truck engines and other long-haul vehicle engines become all electric - at that  time they will be called "motors" since that's all they'll be. And there will always be a market for "muscle cars" that go racing, although electric cars – with their amazing torque – may find a home there also.

Recently, the New York Times published an article reporting that the long suppressed information about the length of time that it takes for a battery to charge has become a subject of concern. Surprise, surprise!

And the only type of battery that can accept a deep charge – which is the kind of charge needed for heavy-duty use – is the heavy, traditional lead-acid type. That is the kind of battery that has been used in submarines, for instance, since before World War II. All of that is subject to change with new technology, but the new technology that is being developed is not directly transferable from cell phone size to large-scale battery power. That will happen too, of course, but it will take time.

Then there's the creation of the power. Batteries do not create power; they merely store power. Power creation requires fossil fuel or another form of energy. The green bullshit energy sources will slowly gain in capability, but slowly. With all the silly bans on nuclear power – it is used routinely in Europe – this country will probably not use that phenomenal source until it becomes necessary. We will probably use fossil fuels for a very long time.

There is a law pending approval by California's legislature that will require that all California vehicles be electric by some date approximately 20 years hence. Conveniently, there are some facts that are being ignored. The amount of power that will be required simply to recharge the batteries of all the electric cars that will be using power upon the implementation of such a law ignores the fact that the number of cars being recharged at a single gas station replacement, will demand the same power – roughly – as a city of around 30,000 people. Or more!

Think of that – a single gas station replacement!  Then consider just how very many gas stations are in the entire state of California.

This will require power plants, and lots of them. These are large buildings with tall smokestacks for exhausting the (theoretically) invisible products of combustion away from the nostrils of our politically-correct kindred. Then there are transmission lines and power poles; there are transformers and distribution centers; there are all the components of the electric grid. Until we can power a high-rise building, or a hospital, or a shopping mall, or a grocery store on solar energy at some point in the very far distant future, we will be using the basic electric grid design that we have now.

Warren Buffett is right, and his purchase of Pilot Flying J is an astute one - is anchored in his long-held conservatism.

It's all about time: time for charging, time for development, time for adaptation to new systems.

There was a TV sitcom entitled "It's About Time," starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. They were the 1960s version of cave-men. We really haven't come very far from that.

Thomas Anderson is a multi-state registered architect and an ex-Air Force electronic technician, who is a keen observer of the human condition.  Read other articles by Thomas Anderson or other articles on Business.
Reader Comments

I think you should have defined what "deep charge" means. Without knowing the definition, one paragraph goes nowhere.

In Europe there is also hostility to nuclear power, Germany voted to shut it all down, time will tell if that is foolish. When you consider capital costs, nuclear power is rather expensive (I estimate 9 cents/kwh in US, maybe 5 in France).

Modern conservative energy relies on combined cycle combustion turbines running on natural gas. Every pollutant except CO2 is far less than coal, and even that is half. I have trouble forseeing the large buildings with tall smokestacks you refer to.

Capacity to charge lots of batteries? It makes a lot of sense to arrange charging in the wee hours, when both cost and market price of electricity is awfully low.

Like you I am sure, I believe the subsidies for electric cars have outlived their purpose... but it certainly is conceivable electric cars will sell in numbers without subsidy, given their quietness, low maintenance, and low fuel costs.

I like to read Scragged essays but this one I think contains too many invalid points. Thank you.

October 11, 2017 6:19 PM

I bought my first Tesla, the Model S, 4 years ago. I sold it last year and bought the Tesla Model X, their SUV. I will never buy a gasoline powered car again. Never, ever, ever.

I read the NYT article in your link. Fake news. Here's the reality. I drive from my home in NYC to my home in Vermont, a trip of 262 miles. When I get in my car in Manhattan and hit the navigation screen, the program tells me I have to stop and charge the car in order to complete the trip and lists the Tesla Superchargers on my route. I'll usually stop in Springfield, MA, because the charger in located conveniently next to a Panera bread where my wife and I can grab a bite and use the restrooms. Lunch takes 20 or so minutes which is enough time for the Supercharger to give me enough energy to reach my destination. There's no need to charge up to 100% capacity when you only need, say, 30% capacity to complete your trip. And, by the way, the Tesla computer figures all that out for you so you don't have to do any calculations.

I've equipped my garage in Vermont with a 240 volt charger, basically the same as you would use for your washer/dryer. That charger does take longer but so what. I charge during the night and wake up to a fully charged Tesla the next morning.

I didn't buy the Tesla to save the environment. I bought it because it's the fastest car on the road, it has the best electronics by far, it's silent and there's no maintenance to speak of.

Oh, did I mention when I pull up to my garage in Vermont, I press a button on the shift stalk twice, hit the "forward" arrow, exit the car and walk away. As I'm walking to my house, the garage door opens, the car pulls in all the way into the garage and then the garage door closes. Magic.

I'm telling you guys, this car is a flat panel, hi-def 4k surround sound tv and gas cars are the old black and white crts.

October 11, 2017 8:55 PM

Missing in this download is that Buffet is buying a chain that caters to the long distance drivers. That is the car or truck driver who is going + 500 miles to see grandma or drop offa load of construction materials. These folks don’t have any interest in waiting an hour or so while their battery charges. They expect to take no more time than it takes to fill up their tank with icky gasoline. Unless the Greens come up with an efficient battery exchange system, they will be relegated to trips to local shopping and amusements. Not the driving that our Interstate system was designed for. Mr. Buffet knew what he was doing.

October 12, 2017 12:36 AM

Note that the pushbacks to your article didn't deal with the infrastructure needed to support all this electric charging...

October 12, 2017 12:54 AM

Spot on - except that Its About Time starred Imogene Coca and Joe E. Ross, rather that Sid Caesar :)

October 12, 2017 11:50 AM

More accurately, Buffett is betting against driverless trucks.

October 16, 2017 2:51 PM

Michael Greenburg is right. Once you go electric, you wonder why you didn't do it sooner. I own a Chevy Bolt, and it's been the best purchase I've made in a long time. I get 240+ miles to a charge, costs ~$9 to charge it from my level 2 charger in my garage. I have instant torque/power, very little maintenance, and virtually zero noise pollution. Most people's negative reaction to EVs are based on fear or lack of understanding. Keep an open mind and educate yourselves about these cars. By 2025 most, if not all, automakers will have EV options. The charging infrastructure is growing rapidly, and the time to charge is decreasing year over year. is a great resource for all things electric. This industry will only get better and cleaner if more people adopt it.

October 17, 2017 8:48 PM

For all the talk about Warren Buffett's investment in Flying J truck stops, there is no mention of Buffett's investment in Chinese electric car and bus maker BYD.

October 20, 2017 10:24 PM

All of the discussion of electric cars seems to assume an adequate source of electricity. The implicit assumption is a well supplied electrical grid that reliably stays up all the time. As recent hurricanes have demonstrated, electrical grids are vulnerable to extreme weather. Electrical grids are also vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse from nuclear weapons and sun spot storms. Since we build big generators and depend on the grid to bring the power to the electric cars, electric cars are only as reliable as the grid they plug into.

There is an alternative. Nuclear power can become much more reasonably priced with pre-fabricated small reactors built in factories and transported to the generation sites pre-assembled. The technology of small reactors is fully developed for military naval use. While the reactors used in submarines are highly classified, particularly the features that make them extremely quiet, I think the ordinary propulsion for surface ships is not, or at least does not need to be.

Smaller, more dispersed generators would allow us to be less dependent on the electrical grid. Small nuclear generators would be a way to deploy economical small generators that could both support base load economically and serve as emergency local backup if the grid goes down. Then you will be able to plug in your tax credit battery driven cars.

October 23, 2017 5:10 PM
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