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Will government help hurt electric cars like the Chevy Volt?

Battery-powered cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are benefiting from major government support. And that’s what may end up depriving this important technology from crucial market-driven innovation.

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The electric plug-in vehicles Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf will soon hit the market, spurring hopes that “green” cars are about to go mainstream.

To the extent that consumers embrace them, they will reduce our need for foreign oil and involvement with anti-American regimes such as those in Iran, Libya, and Venezuela. However, based on our experience with other industries, most notably personal computers (PCs), there are serious concerns about whether we are taking the right steps to help these innovative autos succeed in the market.

Simply put, electric cars are not currently commercially viable for most Americans. To become viable, they must evolve quickly. But high levels of government support, while well-intentioned, may be thwarting this evolution.

Batteries need improvement

Problems are already evident.

In a test drive, Wall Street Journal reporter Joseph White found several issues with one new electric model, the Mitsubishi i-Miev. He was able to drive only about 12 miles before being advised by the car to recharge. The stated range is up to 100 miles on city streets, but his use of the air conditioner apparently drastically depressed actual range.

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