Wednesday, October 7, 2009

American Electric Vehicle Strategy

America should consider following Europe's example and begin preparing a strategy to oversee the transition to electric vehicles (EVs). Currently, greener vehicles are in high demand and the trend towards zero emission vehicles will continue to grow exponetially. IHS Global Insight forecasts that electric cars will increase from nearly 9500 this year to more than 58,000 in 2011.

There is growing interest in greener cars in the US. The Cash for Clunkers program motivated the American public to dispose of 700,000 gas guzzlers and replace them with more fuel-efficient vehicles. These results led US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to declare the program “wildly successful...This is a win for the economy, a win for the environment and a win for American consumers.”

In Europe, the interest in green vehicles was on display in September at the 63rd International Motor Show (IAA) in the German city of Frankfurt. 781 auto and auto parts manufacturers from 30 countries showed about 100 new models, many of which emphasized fuel economy. There was also an assortment of EVs on display from almost every major car maker including Audi's electric e-Tron supercar.

The US can learn from forward thinking European nations that are preparing for a post fossil fuel transportation system. The city of Berlin is setting a goal of one million electric vehicles by the year 2020 and C,mm,n is hoping to see one million electric cars on the roads in the Netherlands by 2020. C,mm,n is a joint initiative of the Netherlands Society for Nature and Environment, three Dutch universities, the private sector and government.

In the US, the absence of adequate renewable power supplies and recharging stations preclude the mass manufacturing and deployment of EVs. A couple of studies from the USC and DOE show that meeting US energy requirements and reducing greenhouse gases demand a mix of renewable power generation technologies. However coordinated strategies are needed to efficiently build, generate and transmit renewable power.

Laudable efforts like Project Better Place intend to reshape the vehicle market through battery swapping and city-wide recharging stations. Better Place is a California based company that is helping to foster zero emission mobility around the world.

California has recently announced America's first recharging corridor on highway 101 connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, with only 40 ChargePoint stations in the US, EV infrastructure will need to be massively expanded.

SDG&E’s Clean Transportation manager, Bill Zobel said to avoid the electric car fiasco that killed GM's EV1 in the 1990s, utilities, governments, car dealers and drivers will need to “understand the requirements for an owner walking off the lot with a plug-in car.”

Some European nations have already begun the detailed planning required to support EVs. The Netherlands Electric Mobility Action Plan is the nation's first master plan for a large-scale introduction of electric cars. Ruud Nijs, Rabobank’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility said; "Electric cars are the future. Now is the time to build a solid foundation for the electric car, and that is what this plan does."

The action plan is being supported by a broad coalition and covers every aspect of electric mobility: the infrastructure, (including charging points and net capacity), electricity generation and battery development. The plan addresses everything from the role of consumers and government to mechanics and road services.

This plan is a true partnership that incorporates private enterprises. According to Richard Sikkel, CEO of Athlon Car Lease Netherlands, "This plan is a perfect match for our vision and approach. Athlon Car Lease sees electric cars as a key focus area for creating sustainable mobility, and to that end we will be offering electric mobility to our clients and lease drivers in the very near future." The Dutch plan not only benefits sustainable businesses, it drives innovation. "Electric mobility is an enormous stimulus for innovation in scientific research," adds Prof. Bart van Arem of the University of Twente.

Integrating transportation concepts is another important facet of the action plan. Kees Jan Dosker, ProRail’s Executive Director for Rail Development said, "We are studying the options for using our rail facilities and our electricity network for public access charging points. At the same time, working with a number of different partners we are exploring new, sustainable transport concepts in which new forms of electric transport can play an important role."

Toyota's VP of R & D, Takehi Uchiyamada, believes that there will have to be a technological breakthrough for pure EVs to penetrate the market. He may be right, but the incentives make it all but inevitable.

The US can prepare for the future by developing comprehensive EV strategies that address the complex issues of coordination and integration.
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NEXT: Electric Vehicle Battery Technology Obstacles and Solutions / Greener Commercial Transport Vehicles / Nissan's Greener Vehicles / Toyota's Greener Vehicles / Honda's Greener Vehicles / Korean (Hyundai & Kia) Greener Cars / European Greener Cars / American Greener Cars (Ford's Greener Vehicles / GM's Greener Vehicles) / Government Investment in Greener Vehicles

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