Dynamist Blog

Cool Paints and Hot Cars

The SacBee's Dan Weintraub reports on a California policy debate surrounding a cool new technology--car paint formulated to absorb less heat, regardless of color. The paint keeps the car cooler, which saves air conditioning, which saves energy and cuts CO2 emissions. The debate in California is over whether to require car makers to use cool paint on new cars. The article left two big questions unaddressed.

First, if this paint is as great as it sounds, I would expect there to be a big demand for it in hot or sunny places, where any edge against a broiling car is desirable. Is the paint superexpensive? Does it require some special application process or equipment that other auto paint doesn't? Is it just too new to have been marketed well? What's the problem? Why aren't new car buyers looking for cool paint as an option? Why isn't there an aftermarket for repainting cars with cool paint?

Second, new cars account for a tiny fraction of the cars on the road. From a policy point of view, shouldn't the emphasis be on getting cool paint on old cars? Does it not work if it's painted over not-cool paint? If it does work, a much more effective policy would be to encourage people to repaint their old cars through tax incentives, subsidies, etc. Aside from the immediate advantages, a time-limited incentive program would spread the word about cool paint and help create demand for it in the future. But, of course, targeting consumers with incentives rather than manufacturers with regulations would require doing something where the costs are obvious to the California budget rather than hidden in the prices of new cars or the reduced profits (and shakier pension plans) of automakers.

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