This week an electric car's battery ran dead near a coal mine in West Virginia. Six coal miners helped push the car to the mine for it to recharge.
It was a fitting metaphor given that most electric vehicles are charged by coal fired power through the electricity grid in any case.
I have nothing against electric cars which do have some advantages over traditional, internal combustion engine vehicles. They can accelerate much faster given the more immediate transfer of power from the battery compared to mechanical pistons. That is a lot of fun.
But they are not the environmental saviours that many make out. Electric cars take much more energy to make because of the large number of metals and materials required to make their batteries. A recent study by Volvo concluded that an electric car generated 70 per cent more emissions in its manufacture than an equivalent internal combustion car.
Electric cars can generate lower carbon emissions during their life of operation but that depends a lot on how the electricity is created. Because Australia relies mainly on coal fired power you have to drive an electric car a long way to make up for all the higher emissions in their construction.
According to that Volvo study, Australians would need to drive an electric car more than 110,000 kilometres before an electric car produces less carbon emissions compared to a normal, petrol car. Given the average Australian drives a car 13,000 kilometres, an electric car would typically not make a positive contribution to the environment until it was more than 8 years old.
Why then is there such a focus on subsidising electric cars? For many, electric cars have become the latest method to signal their virtue. An electric car may not cool the planet but they warm the hearts of the well to do, guilty about their bountiful lifestyles.
The new Labor Government has introduced legislation to make them even more affordable for the rich. For a start you have to have a high income to even afford an electric car. The cheapest in Australia starts at 40,000 but most will set you back more than $50,000.
Labor's legislation before the Parliament would exempt an electric vehicle from paying fringe benefit tax. This means that if your employer buys you an electric vehicle you can get this tax free.
However, the benefit of this tax break will flow mainly to the rich. On a $50,000 vehicle the tax saving for someone on $200,000 will be around $5000 a year. If you are on the lowest tax bracket, your saving will be 80 per cent less at just $1000.
So Labor's policy does next to nothing to improve the affordability of electric cars but it lets the new Labor Government engage in the same virtue signalling game as a new electric car.
Labor's laws are little help to those of us in the regions where long distances make electric cars impractical. Electric cars are hopeless at towing anything like a boat, a caravan or a trailer.
The *Los Angeles Times* has reported that "The electric automobile will quickly and easily take precedence over all other[s]". It made this prediction in 1901.
Demand for electric cars will probably rise but they will not completely replace petrol and diesel cars anytime soon. There is no environmental case to take taxes paid by low paid workers to subsidise the ineffective consumer habits of the rich.