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Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that will Recharge America Paperback – December 1, 2006
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Main merits of Boschert's book: wide-ranging account of many starts and slips from about 1990 to the present; engaging style, focused on charismatic individuals; deconstruction of hydrogen-powered transportation myths.
Main defects of Boschert's book: inability to relate vehicle speed to operating range performance, cavalier approach to environmental and conservation issues, lack of concern about long-range marketing appeal.
Boschert says plug-in hybrid vehicles can reduce petroleum use and air pollution but does not prove the case. In order to do both, widespread use of plug-in hybrids must somehow avoid stimulating new coal-fired, oil-fired and gas-fired power plants. Boschert shows no way to assure that such an outcome would actually occur.
And there is nothing wrong with that. You do not have to be neutral about a subject like this to write well about it. In fact, the opposite is true -- no writer can write a good book about a subject that he or she does not feel strongly about.
But balance is better. If your passion takes you too far, your argument weakens.
Plug-in Hybrids sometimes goes too far. A few examples. Boschert says, "As Marc says, it's a choice between riding to the store in your Hummer today, or having life-saving medications available to your grandchild." Huh? Come again? To say that Hummer drivers (as opposed to other drivers) are depriving their grandchildren of life-saving medications is too much. And it's not true.
Another example. Boschert says that GM conspired to buy up the nation's clean and popular streetcar systems and replace them with buses. That resulted in the obliteration of US electric public transportation. For that, GM was fined $5,000 for antitrust violations.
Boschert cites the film "Taken for a Ride" as her reference. That film, in turn, is a very slanted, poorly researched doumentary that relies solely on the research of Bradford Snell. Snell's view of history -- and his finding of a giant oil company/GM conspiracy to eliminate electric public transportation -- has some support.
But historians who have looked at Snell's arguments and evidence have found them wanting. Very much wanting. In my view, and in theirs, Snell has rewritten history. Boschert relies on a dubious source to present this point as uncontroversial. That weakens her argument.
There are other examples. Boschert notes the advantages of nickel metal hydride batteries, and says that battery technology is not a problem for plug-in hybrid cars. She says that the Toyota Prius makes a great plug-in hybrid car. She says that GM had no reason to kill its EV1 electric car. Nor Toyota to kill its RAV4 EV electric sports utility vehicle.
On all these points, there is another view. (Certainly GM and Toyota would disagree on the points that apply to them.) Read this book, and you would never know that. Boschert treats all these points as proved. Uncontroversial. So there's no balance to her presentation. It becomes a melodrama with heroes and villains. Real life is not that way.
Of course, if you are preaching to the choir, that's fine. And here that is what Boschert is doing. Her choir is Andrew Frank, Marc Geller, Ron Gremban, Felix Kramer, Chelsea Sexton and James Woolsey. Add to that everybody involved in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" None of these people will quarrel with Boschert's book.
But if that's all you're doing -- preaching to the choir -- why write the book? If you advocate plug-in hybrid cars, a balanced view will gain more converts.
I enjoyed Boschert's book. But I can't help but wish that she had aimed higher. If she had been more critical? More balanced? With her research and writing skills -- and with her passion --she could have written a book that would change a lot of minds. This book, Plug-in Hybrids, will not.
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