Tax the greenies

John Marshall wonders why we’re not taxing the living daylights out of these alternative-whachamacallit vehicles:

[G]overnments and big business have missed out on one particularly easy green revenue scheme, I mean revenue stream — green drivers. Eco-minded drivers will pay pretty much anything (they pay more to get less horsepower than the comparable dinoblood model). And odds are, hybrid and EV drivers are the folks among us who are least averse to taxation.

Then again, it’s anybody’s guess how many Volts Chevrolet would be able to unload were it not for a $7500 taxpayer contribution sitting on the hood. (The other big debut for this year, Nissan’s Leaf, is ostensibly sold out, but it costs several thousand dollars less and comes with similar Federal incentives.)

As they say in the carbon biz, though, there are offsets. There hasn’t been a tax credit for any of the Toyota/Lexus hybrids for three years. (Law says: credits start getting phased out after a manufacturer has moved 60,000 units.) Prius sales are down a smidgen lately, but this is due to the unexpected failure of gas prices to soar into the stratosphere, not to the absence of incentives.

If you really want to guilt-trip alternative-vehicle buyers into paying more taxes, you’re going to have to give them a reason for it. Like, for instance, compensation for externalities:

Driver A buys a V6 Ford Fusion sedan — a sensible daily driver with a bit of an added kick over the base model. The car burns gas and gas alone, much like 97%+ of the other vehicles on the road today. Driver B pays $5000 more than Driver A to get the Fusion Hybrid, which runs on gas and electricity generated from the brakes and from the main internal combustion powerplant. Driver B’s car weighs considerably more due to the inclusion of 800 pounds of NIMH batteries, and so uses more energy per mile to move its mass than Driver A’s car (not all of that energy comes from burning fuel, true, but seriously, it’s physics!), thus hastening the inevitable heat death of the universe. The fact that hybrid owners are trying to kill us all and bring about Ragnarok aside, Driver B probably got a tax credit, despite the fact that those batteries had to be produced somewhere. That somewhere is almost certainly a toxic mine run by brown people in some godforsaken hellhole where Driver B will never visit.

Mass is also the enemy of fuel consumption, so perhaps the most sensible way to do this is to impose a Mass Tax, something like 10 cents per pound of curb weight, proceeds to go to anything over which Congress has no jurisdiction. Maybe a fund for remediation of toxic mines in godforsaken hellholes.


  1. Brett »

    11 October 2010 · 1:28 pm

    Expecting a car to use less total energy in stopping and starting when it’s carrying 800 extra pounds of NIMH batteries? Craziness!

  2. Charles Pergiel »

    11 October 2010 · 8:33 pm

    Yes, it takes more total energy to get heavier hybrids rolling, but you make it up by recovering some of that energy when you slow down. That’s why hybrids get higher mileage around town.

    It took me a while to get my head around it, but all the complicated equipment required (engine, transmission, differential, drive axles, etc.) to put a car in motion is countered by the relatively simple mechanics of the brakes that turn all that kinetic energy into heat.

    I saw an episode of Top Gear the other day. They had some hot rod going around the track and you could see the brake rotors glowing red hot as it came into a corner.

  3. CGHill »

    11 October 2010 · 8:50 pm

    You can try this yourself, in fact; all you need is a stuck brake caliper and a few hundred dollars available on your MasterCard.

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