China Out to Dominate in Electric Cars (and Why Not GM)

A New York Times article tonight reports that China intends to become a world leader in electric and hybrid cars:

Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.

The goal, which radiates from the very top of the Chinese government, suggests that Detroit’s Big Three, already struggling to stay alive, will face even stiffer foreign competition on the next field of automotive technology than they do today….

To some extent, China is making a virtue of a liability. It is behind the United States, Japan and other countries when it comes to making gas-powered vehicles, but by skipping the current technology, China hopes to get a jump on the next.

The article then goes on to discuss the advantages (cleaner air) and difficulties (lack of public recharging centers, consumer worries about the safety of lithium ion batteries, disincentive of current cheap oil prices).

However, it fails to mention Detroit was once a leader in this technology.

I did a study on advanced batteries, visited Detroit, and drove an electric car made by a GM consortium in 1993. At the time, there was a mandate in California as well as the Northeast scheduled to come into effect in a few years to have 2% of cars sold be electric. Now the idea of forcing a sales goal seems silly, unless you had some obvious targets. The early vehicles were best suited for city use (no worry about your car running out of juice on the interestate), so public transport, delivery services (think the Post Office, UPS, Fedex) and government fleets were logical buyers. But the states did nothing to help create a market.

GM spent over $1.5 billion manufacturing and marketing the EV1, its electric car, despite its ambivalence (at least when I was investigating, which prior to the 1996-2000 opportunity to lease the car in Arizona and California). GM did costly consumer marketing in those states, despite being able to manufacture only 600 cars a year. California also welched on its promise to lease electric cars and trucks in meaningful numbers and wouldn’t install public chargers.

Another issue was the batteries were not ready for prime time (I had looked at all the competing technologies adn recommended against investment for that reason and the lack of enthusiasm for the iniative). Batteries don’t do well in the cold. And electric engines don’t throw off heat the way an internal combustion one does, so the early EVs had small gas fired heaters to warm the passenger area.

However, success also depends on commitment to overcome obstacles, and GM had already divested key bits of relevant technology BEFORE the EV1 launch. Which begs the question, how hard were they really trying to make this work (for instance, did they press the California government when it started waffling?).

We have ceded leadership in battery technology to Asia, and reader Keenan pointed out, also the know-how for the related drive trains:

h torque DC servomotors are the sine qua non for electric vehicles.

High torque performance is achieved via magnets made of alloys of various so called “rare earth” elements. Prominent among the alloys are samarium-cobalt and neodymium-iron-boron. GM held a majority interest in Magnaquench, an Indiana company with expertise in such materials and magnet fabrication. GM however decided that electric motors did not fit into its “core competencies.”.

While the article highlights the aspects of defense technology, the commercial / industrial side of the business is every bit as important in today’s world of economic warfare.

GM sold Magnaquench in 1995:

Magnequench had a unique expertise in the manufacture of high-powered neodymium magnets, which it pioneered in the 1980s for its parent company, General Motors, to use in airbags and mechanical sensors. When GM restructured in the early 1990s, the company began to divest itself of subsidiaries that were not in its “core competence.” Magnequench, in spite of its high-tech pedigree—and the fact that it provided critical component parts to “precision guided munitions” that were then in great demand by the U.S. Department of Defense—was put up for sale.

Reportedly, Magnequench supplied 85 percent of the neodymium magnets used in servo motors for PGMs,[5] but neodymium magnets are far more important and ubiquitous than their use in advanced weaponry might suggest. They are the sole reason high-speed, high-capacity computer data storage devices can work. They are found in literally every computer in the world, and in 2004, Magnequench, together with its merger partner NEO Material Technologies (and its integrated Chinese joint-venture partners), supplied about 80 percent of the world market share of neodymium and rare-earth oxide powders used in those magnets.[6]

So when GM put Magnequench on the block in 1995, who should come up with the $70 million asking price?[7] An investment consortium headed by Archibald Cox Jr. (son of the illustrious Watergate prosecutor) acting in concert with two Chinese state-owned metals firms, San Huan New Material and China National Nonferrous Metals Import and Export Company (CNNMIEC), which had been pestering GM to sell Magnequench since 1993.[8]…

Magnequench’s Chinese owners cleverly reinterpreted the CFIUS conditions. One Magnequench employee reported that shortly after the Chinese took over, Magnequench’s neodymium-iron-boron magnet production line was “duplicated in China” and that, after the Chinese “made sure that it worked, they shut down” the U.S. production in Indiana. The employee added, “I believe the Chinese entity wanted to shut the plant down from the beginning. They are rapidly pursuing this technology.”[16]

So this vignette reveals the degree to which Detroit helped seal its own fate. It went along with the electric car mandate fully hoping its 2% goal would make it a non-starter (that was the line I heard, anyway, that the cars would be costly enough that the target was pretty certain to be unrealistic) and played the game out, rather than try to influence the legislation so as to get a program that might be viable for the states as well as the carmakers.

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  1. acai berry

    It’s disappointing to read this. I had thought the Chevrolet Volt technology sounded promising. What about that? Is the Volt a workable product/technology?

  2. Anonymous

    When profit is the primary goal then strategic goals get abandoned in lieu of greed. If you have seen the “Who killed the Electric Car” you may see another example of the oil/auto collusion working against society’s best interest just like what they did to mass transit of days of yore and current efforts.

    Same as it ever was…different day.


  3. Anonymous

    Best illustration of the nexus of the coal, oil, gas etc. lobby I have ever seen.

    There is footage of the Chevy Volt’s complete failure during its debut.

    The first part is nothing new, skip it.

    If anyone is serious about an electric car, NUCEAR power must be part of it.

    Back of the envelope math says that 10% of the cars in the US going to elecric would mean 20 new nukes, at least. That or you are burning it anyway.

  4. Thomas

    I wonder, though: Is this really a “strategic technology” where a nation needs to be the first to develop viable applications or risk being shut out?

    Or won’t it much rather be the case that once someone manages to do it right, others can jump on the bandwagon within a few years, and the “first mover advantage” isn’t all that big?

    (And in any case, as a previous commenter said, I wonder where all the electricity for widespread use of electric cars will come from…)

  5. alex black

    That throws a dash of cold water on Obama's strategy to get GM back to viability by having it become a world leader in green technology. I suspect that the Chinese government is in a wee better position to dump money into massive R&D than the US government. Their labor costs may fun a bit lower, what with US autoworkers earning around $70/hour when you include benefits, and Chinese factory workers earning, what, $70/WEEK or so?

    So what will we have that we can use to trade with the Chinese to obtain the goods that they will produce so much more cheaply than we ever could? Dollars? No,I think that little ruse is coming to an end. Let's see…..

    With China's one-child policy and it's preference for boys, there are tens of millions of men who will soon be coming to maturity who have no girls to date or marry. Ladies and Gentlemen of the US, start encouraging your daughters to learn to speak Cantonese and Mandarin, and to learn now to properly bow. Our country will be requiring their sacrifice in our time of need.

  6. Anonymous

    I wonder if the decline of the American auto industry is in part a consequence of the rise of finance. Because the leaders of the car companies became finance guys, not engineers.

  7. Anonymous

    Check out the film “Who Killed the Electric Car” if you want to go deeper into why it failed in its first run up.

  8. K Ackermann

    I’m surprised the fab line for the magnets was so difficult to design.

    Neodymium, despite its classification as a rare-earth element, is quite abundant, and there is nothing particularly difficult about the metal, AFAIK.

    This post, though, is almost representative of the way the US does anything anymore.

    That’s what scares me about this financial crisis the most; industry and especially the government it has purchased has shown for a few years now that it is incapable of executing the poorly thought out plans that always seem to rise to the top.

    We don’t do squat anymore, and now it’s serious.

  9. Swedish Lex

    As you point out, the U.S. and Europe handed over leadership in battery technology to Asia.

    A few exceptions exists, however. I will – as often – pitch in with a French alternative:

    You can order your bluecar now but date of delivery etc. remains a bit shaky… A friend ordered one at the auto show in Geneva a couple of weeks ago.

  10. SD Scientist

    Chinese to turn the country into one of the leading producers of hybrids/EVs within three years?

    Is that the same Chinese that took 45 years (1958 to 2003) to put a man into orbit, despite help from the Soviets and plentiful experts in reverse-engineering whatever Western technology they could get their hands on?

    The same Chinese whose auto manufacturing industry is infamous for producing primarily unlicensed copies of reverse-engineered Western and Korean/Japanese vehicles (Chery QQ = Daewoo Matiz, Great Wall Peri = Fiat Panda, etc. etc.)?

    You gotta be kidding me.

    Back of the envelope math says that 10% of the cars in the US going to elecric would mean 20 new nukes, at least.

    You need 8500 MW of additional power to run 25 million of EVs for 12,000 miles/year at an average efficiency of 250 wh/mile, do the math. An average nuclear power plant is 1000 MW. So you could satisfy added power requirements by building 8-10 nukes. Or you could choose any other way, such as wind or solar. 8500 MW is less than one percent of total energy production in the United States.

  11. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    When an empire falls, it’s not automatic another one will rise to the occasion and replace it.

    We could be entering another Dark Ages, with some non-political institutions of the erstwhile empire, for example, religion or, in today’s case fast food, perhaps, surviving the fall.

    So, AlexBlack, it’s not foreordained that your daughters will have to learn Chinese like Jimmy Rogers’. Besides, from what I know from Chinese history, their emperors tended to take fancy to Korean virgins (see When China Ruled the Seas) more than anything else, not that we have any from our own land to compete with the Koreans anyway. And this was even true 1,400 years ago in Chang-An, or Xian as it’s called now, when you could find many a yellow-haired singing and dancing ‘Western Houri’ (see Edward Schaffer’s Golden Peaches of Samarkand) in the cheap taverns by the eastern walls of the capital of Tang China.

    What will happen if, not necessarily when, China becomes the top dog is, as I imagine it, that we’ll be all listening to their music, as art, unfortunately, is more about political power and wealth than anything else. We’ll learn to ridicule Rock or Hip Hop and to appreciate the music of qin, the 5-string Chinese lute, for which, legend has it that Confucius stopped eating meat, or in other versions, stopped eating, period, after having heard it for the first time. Ever since, it had been the preferred choice among all self-respecting Confucian scholar-gentlemen, because music penetrated from Earth to the Heaven, or some other nobler nonsense than what is given for what passes for music in the West.

    As for all those prima donna’s of Hollywood…well, they will find their physical looks undesirable by Chinese standards, perhaps too uncouth or too uncivilzed. Let’s face it, stripped of the imperial images they represent, balanced neatly with a bit of self-disdain for empiring, those sex gods and sex goddesses aren’t really that attractive. Just ask the Goths about Roman matrons after they conquered their empire. The Goths would tell you they like their Teutonic women just fine. In fact, better, for a variety of political reasons…like, their women possessed qualities that Roman women didn’t and that was why the Goths were triumphal, they would glad to tell you.

    And we’ll all be studying 7th Tang century poetry, 10th century rare Song Jun-bowls or 14th century Ming novels. Perhaps some ancient Chinese playwright will be more famous than Shakespeare, whose name will be unknown to future kids worldwide. And we will learn Chinese philosophy and instead of struggling over Plato’s Dialogues, students of tomorrow will have to come to terms with ancient Chinese puzzles like why a ‘white horse is not a horse.’ And the lucky ones will be able to read original Cinderella story, the tale of Yeh Hsien (from Famous Chinese Short Stories), first written in around 863, in Classical Chinese.

    But since we are dealing with the Chinese communists here, who nailed traditional Chinese culture as the main culprit when China fell behind the West technologically in the 19th Century, maybe we will be lucky enough to be spared of the above unpleasantness.

  12. schrodinger

    Electric cars are a non-starter. You can’t store enough energy in a reasonably priced battery to get a decent range out of them.

    This is just another example of the kind of idiocy which undermines centrally planned economies. The only way these will sell is if they are massively subsidized.

    Hybrids are more realistic, but the Japanese lead that field. The Chinese will take a long time to catch up.

    Thanks for your story of how the Chinese bought American magnet technology and exported it to China while our government looked the other way. It deserves to be more widely known.

  13. Anders

    interestate => interstate
    adn recommended => and recommended
    iniative => initiative

  14. But What do I Know?

    I knew some of the people working for a battery company which was “developing” batteries for the Big Three Consortium (I think it was called ABC, or something like that) in the nineties. I always got the impression from them that the Big Three were spending money on a science project without taking it seriously–they hoped that throwing a little dough at the project would give them cover for business as usual. . .

    I disagree with the assumption of some who seem to think that the statist, corporatist approach to research is doomed to failure, or that government mandates are invariably wrong-headed and misguided. Much of research and development involves making mistakes and running up blind alleys–that’s why the bean counters hate it. To create a really revolutionary technology often involves a “bet the company” philosophy that few B-school managers are willing to embrace. Sure, government mandates can be wasteful and corrupt, but at their best they can promote useful new technologies (early aviation was given a huge boost by its early adoption by the Postal Service). The Alchemy of Air gives a fascinating account of BASF and later the German state’s obsession with developing the Haber-Bosch process to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. BASF’s CEO essentially bet the company on the construction of a facility which used untested and seat-of-the-pants engineering and construction techniques–and yet it worked. (Curiously enough, there was a rival technique also being pursued with single-minded devotion which ultimately was less-commercially viable, and “wasted” the capital of its backers.) Later, the German government provided funds and support for the project (after its usefulness in making munitions became obvious.)

    New technologies require the will to succeed–either by obsessive madmen or by those in desperate circumstances with little or nothing to lose. The decision makers in the US still have too much to lose by moving away from gasoline based cars (think of the profits, the sunk costs of infrastructure, the jobs) but they also are not men who are willing to gamble. like the Guild in Dune, they will choose the safe path which leads ever downward to stagnation (with apologies to Frank Herbert). Bottom line: the Chinese are willing to try shit, and we aren’t.

  15. Anonymous

    What is patently obvious is that understanding of climate change and ecological factors amongst business is pretty poor. The argument is that electric cars produce no carbon dioxide when compared to the internal combustion engine. Anybody who studies the logistics of how electric cars are made will know that the carbon footprint to produce an electric car is considerable more than a standard car. So much so that it probably uses 5 years worth of carbon dioxide for a normal car in its manufacture.

    One reasonable alternative seems to be hydrogen powered cars with carbon capture. Hydrogen is fairly cheap to produce, and the technology is here now, especially with rotary engines. There are big company interests though which are dead set against this for a number of reasons not least because they would make less profit from us.

    Not that many have properly taken the time to digest what the IPCC climate report says. Namely that although carbon dioxide is a major component of climate change it is not the only one. We can still have run away climate change even with zero carbon dioxide emissions and electric battery production contributes to climate change through these other mechanisms.

    Electric cars may well be a dead end technology enamoured by those who don’t bother to really digest the impacts of climate change beyond carbon dioxide and carbon trading. Unfortunately many politicians fall into the category of those that just skim these reports for highlights.

  16. alex black

    MyLessThanPrimeBeef –

    Wonderful post.

    Hopefully we’ll all transition smoothly enough that I can listen to Chinese opera tonight, and The Black-Eyed Peas tomorrow night.

    And definitely concur that what arises in Korea far outshines what arises in the US.

  17. wintermute

    SD Scientist is right! China have a massive uphill struggle to dominate the electric car industry.

    Consider this:
    As Ng Aik Kwang (2000) observed in his publication Why Asians are Less Creative than Westerners, “If people are conditioned to respond to prods and punishments, they are prone to becoming passionless and passive and developing conformist tendencies. This is liable to stifle their creative potential.”

    It may have taken much of the 500 years since the start of the Renaissance but Europeans (and by extension – Americans) have acquired a chaotic, error-tolerant, lateral thinking mind-set which improves inventive processes.

    So China have cloned the Magnaquench production line, fine. But will they still be tinkering with it years later – when superior battery composites are invented in the West? Anyone read about the improved electon tunnelling nanostructure that might soon revolutionise Lithium-ion batteries?

    Our failure in the West is different. It is short-termist thinking for financial return.

    Possibly this is related to the debt-fuelled inflationary fiat-currency paradigm which has plagued us since the end of the gold standard: 1970s onwards.
    In a deflationary economic model longer-term investment might actually be encouraged. Lets hope we get there soon.

  18. Anonymous

    “If people are conditioned to respond to prods and punishments, they are prone to becoming passionless and passive and developing conformist tendencies. This is liable to stifle their creative potential.”

    I’m glad you qualified that as describing Asians. Otherwise I would have thought it was discussing the modern American and European populations.

  19. Anonymous

    Tibet and Bolivia are the two largest sources of lithium.

    One wonders how much access to either the US will have…

  20. atomic

    @wintermute: I think you are engaging in wishful thinking with this post and a subtle form of racism, in addition to being wrong. The ascent of the US and Japan as major powers is a direct result of their eagerness to work hard and import scientific talent from Europe, and then improve upon it. Did Ford invent the car? No, but he created the production line. How much of Edison’s legacy is really the work of Tesla? Where would the American (or Russian, for that matter) post-war space programs be if not for the import of German scientists? America is inventive, yes, but it has learned quite a lot from others. We have been all too eager to profit off the export of our technology edge to China.

    As many like me have been screaming for years, the finance, media and real estate sectors have been crowding out the critical science and technology sectors in the West and we are only beginning to feel the pain of this. Today I write this post on a Shuttle PC (Taiwan made AND designed) with an Acer LCD, made and designed in China. They’re not quite at the sophistication of Apple just yet, but give them another 5-10 years. Then what will we export to get out of this mess, once the USD reserve status is gone? Entitlement? Indignation? Not sure what those get on the open market.

  21. pepster

    “Today I write this post on a Shuttle PC (Taiwan made AND designed) with an Acer LCD, made and designed in China. They’re not quite at the sophistication of Apple just yet, but give them another 5-10 years.”

    Yup, 5-10 years from now they’ll be at the level of sophistication of where Apple is _right now_ – but Apple and other American companies will have moved on to create something even better and more creative and inventive. My bet is we’ll be seeing voice activated and controlled computing resulting in much less typing. Guess which country is leading research in this field? Hint: it’s not China.

    I’m with SD scientist, wintermute, and others here – China might have superior battery technology right now, but it does not look like future batteries will be made of rare-earth metals. Rather, it looks like it’ll come from nanotechnologies, and the US is a world leader in this field as indicated by the dominant number of publications in Science and Nature coming out of US universities. China has a lot to do to catch up here.

  22. Anonymous

    “The article then goes on to discuss the advantages (cleaner air).”

    Once again, wrong as far as electric cars and “cleaner air”.

    You plug your car into the wall and it gets recharged. What recharges the car? Electricity. Where does the electricity come from? A power plant. Does the power plant produce emissions? Unless it’s a nuclear one, yes. So all we’re doing is just removing the gas station.

  23. Anonymous

    “It is short-termist thinking for financial return.”

    Bullcrap. What the hell do you think the NASDAQ/ bubble was? That was entirely predicated on long-termist thinking for financial return while the short-termist thought the business model was horribly awful.

  24. wintermute

    Anon 10:24 The Tech-bubble is a textbook example of efficient markets. It arose because the invention of the internet and its “killer-app”, the world-wide-web, was as revolutionary as the first printing press.

    The markets did a fantastic job of giving a huge variety of potentially successful companies a chance to exploit this new paradigm. Remember razorfish? $16bn at its peak and pop! But who decided that Google, Amazon and Ebay would emerge as winners? Only the market did that. It performed darwinian natural selection on a monumental scale with ruthless efficiency.

    (Only idiots like Greenspan would mistake market efficiency as a economic disaster warranting interest rates of 1%.)

    The general point is that too many companies are encouraged by inflation eroding capital, bonus culture, electoral cycles, to seek returns in just a few years – and the economy suffers from a surfeit of this thinking.

  25. atomic

    You make valid points. Of course Apple and others will continue to innovate.

    However, your statements are similar to those made by proponents of the US auto industry years ago, mocking the Japanese (and later Koreans) as purveyors of tinfoil rust buckets who’d never catch up, or understand what Americans want.

    Yes, scientific research and innovation continues to take place in the US. And who is doing that research? In many top schools, Chinese and Indian students with a sprinkling of east Europeans. Ever seen who is doing all the heavy lifting for Microsoft and other American tech companies? A virtual army of H1-Bs, because intelligent, native Americans understand that there is little point in doing difficult and unglamorous technology work for 100k when you can go into investment banking or marketing and make 500k. This is the crowding out at work.

    The lure of high pay, subsidised in large part by the almighty USD, has brought many bright people from around the world into the US. As opportunities open up elsewhere, people will return home, and China in particular is well-placed to start bumping up living standards for its upper-middle classes. Once it does so, many of those brilliant Chinese grad students will return home after serving their H1-Bs that will undoubtedly dry up over the next few protectionist years, and they will take with them a whole lot of important experience.

  26. atomic

    @Anon 10:22
    “Does the power plant produce emissions? Unless it’s a nuclear one, yes. So all we’re doing is just removing the gas station.”

    This is a fallacy that needs to be stopped in its tracks.

    A power plant, whether coal, oil or natural gas, operates at much higher energy conversion efficiencies than small, distributed 20% efficient combustion engines. In addition, electric motors convert more of that more-efficiently produced energy into useful motion. This is why, as Yves pointed out, the first electric cars needed gas heaters — there is not nearly as much waste heat. So this is a double win.

    So while you are right that electric cars will remove not emissions completely, they will make a dramatic improvement even if we continue to centrally burn fossil fuels to power them.

  27. alex

    atomic: Ever seen who is doing all the heavy lifting for Microsoft and other American tech companies? A virtual army of H1-Bs, because intelligent, native Americans understand that there is little point in doing difficult and unglamorous technology work for 100k when you can go into investment banking or marketing and make 500k. … As opportunities open up elsewhere, people will return home

    Agreed. That's the danger in relying so heavily on guest workers. In fact this has already happened. I recall a TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor) founder talking about how they were able to start their operation because they got hundreds of Taiwanese in the US to return.

    Another factor is the trade deficit. Wherever manufacturing goes, engineering and then R&D follow. We've already seen this with, for example, your Shuttle PC.

    Fear not: the US will simply rely on its fabulous expertise in finance. Has the Dow hit 36,000 yet?

  28. Anonymous

    All the Chinese wonders to imagine… When they release there little pet called North Korea, wider world war shall begin. China will not remain a superpower, no one will be considered a superpower afterwards. Large swaths of Russia will become Chinese territory.

    The Chinese-American alliance will continue after this very short dark age of a return to mercentilism and feudalism.

    And do not think China will walk away unscathed in a world war. Destroy a few dams and China is a
    3rd world country again. I wish no harm or evil to anyone on this planet. I wish an end to Central Bank/Fractional Reserve Lending which always bankrupts a host nation in the end. Middle men controlling the globe era is almost over.

    The Internet being disruptive technology will replace large, cumbersome beurocracies as they will no longer be needed. But the transition to the end of this age and the start of a brigher one is indeed going to be bloody and take decades.

  29. Anonymous

    “A power plant, whether coal, oil or natural gas, operates at much higher energy conversion efficiencies than small, distributed 20% efficient combustion engines. In addition, electric motors convert more of that more-efficiently produced energy into useful motion.”

    Don’t try and test me on this, I’ve been working on engines for five years. It’s my day job. If society wants cleaner, more efficient engines, they’d buy diesels. That’s not something with millions of dollars in research before it ever produces anything, that’s something that exists NOW. And guess what? They don’t buy diesels by and large. And neither do most of the people on here decrying our oil consumption I’m willing to bet.

    Back to electric cars, even more and larger power plants would have to be built if they’re going to start powering our transportation. And take a state like California, just about every single attempt to build a new power plant that was sorely needed due to the population increase the past decade was stopped by the environuts and NIMBYs, regardless of how clean or the number of California-specific laws the power plant would have to adhere to, so they had to build the power plant across the border near Tijuana. Those people hate nuclear power too.

    And if the Chinese are the frontrunners in electric car technology and sell a lot here, you’re still going to have the vast majority of cars made in China shipped across the Pacific Ocean in these huge tankers that use how many thousands of gallons of diesel per hour? They’re not building the cars here, Americans actually want to get paid for working.

  30. atomic

    @Anon 3:24
    Americans have rejected diesel engines because the price they pay for gasoline does not justify an investment in a technology they are (irrationally) afraid of. This is changing though.

    Having sold my biodiesel-running car in early 2008 for a hefty profit (i now use transit and a zipcar when needed), I can say that once this price did move up, concerns about belching smoke or rattling went down quite a bit.

    But even the most efficient diesels are only going to narrow the efficiency gap with a large, centralised power plant, not to mention that it is far easier to control and keep a few large power plants clean and reduce their pollution than it is to enforce the cleanliness and good operation of millions of engines, nevermind the cost of operating such smog programs. If you work with engines every day, you surely understand this.

    NIMBYism exists even for green technologies like windmills. This is a political problem to be solved with proper education and information campaigns.

  31. Carnap

    “And who is doing that research? In many top schools, Chinese and Indian students with a sprinkling of east Europeans”

    The schools have a decent number of Chinese and Indian students, they are by no means the majority though. But if you actually look at the faculty you’ll find that the majority are of European heritage. Take MIT’s electrical engineering department for example:

    The students (under or grad) are just grunt workers. Some will end up being brilliant engineers, but the majority will end up being mediocre. Looking at the faculty gives you a bunch better idea of who is doing the innovative work.

  32. Jay

    Great post – and here’s the thing… While the Obama administration sets out to help GM by firing its CEO (kinda scary), there’s a provision in the new White House budget that could cripple GM’s ability to compete in overseas markets… It’s repealing the tax law that lets U.S. multinationals defer taxes on overseas earnings until those earnings are repatriated.

    Good article here on this breaking story. This could harm all U.S. multinationals.

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