The Man Behind the Plan to Make Electric Cars Mainstream
Image: TreeHugger Slideshow on Electric Cars
Interview with Brian Wynne, Electric Drive Transportation Association
As you're likely aware, this year is a big one for electric cars -- two of the highest profile EVs ever aimed at the mainstream are slated to debut soon. Meanwhile, the political and cultural climate is beginning to shift away from the oily favoritism of decades past: Gas prices are rising ever higher, and there's a new premium on efficient vehicles. All in all, it looks like the long-promised electric vehicle revolution is on the horizon. It might just need a little push. And that's exactly what the Electric Drive Transportation Association is planning on doing. I already highlighted the group's initiative to bring EVs into the mainstream consumer consciousness at this year's CGI. I had the opportunity to ask EDTA president Brian Wynne more about his program -- and he explains how and why the era of the EV has finally arrived.1. It's long been held as conventional wisdom that a major paradigm shift would have to take place before US consumers would be willing to give up their gas guzzlers. With this being a big year for electric cars -- the Volt and the LEAF are debuting -- do you think we're seeing that shift now?
Yes. Production of plug-in electric vehicles will grow to record levels over the next several years with the roll-out of diverse PEV models by many different major auto manufacturers, including Ford, GM, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota. GM alone expects to produce 80,000 Chevy Volts by 2011 and 200,000 by 2014. Nissan is planning to produce 25,000 Leafs by 2011. Just the volume figures from these two manufacturers represent a highly accelerated market curve - more than twice the initial five-year sales rate of the entire hybrid fleet.
The mass production and growing demand for plug-in electric vehicles is a reflection of the public desire to decrease dependence on foreign oil and support the environmental benefits of this new technology. Today, the United States imports 57 percent of its oil or more than nine million barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Much of this oil is imported from the Middle East and other regions of the world where conflict and political instability often threaten supply. Widespread use of plug-in electric vehicles will reduce carbon-based greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere and cause damaging climate changes. In addition, more than 20,000 charging stations are being deployed across the country.
The U.S. Department of Energy has provided $115 million to support the installation of charging infrastructure for two different programs. The EV Project is underway in 16 major U.S. cities and will be installing home, workplace and public charging. ChargePoint America is another program that is installing levels I,II and fast charge stations across the country and already has 700 stations. A variety of manufacturers are producing charging infrastructure components for plug-in electric vehicles, including Coulomb Technologies, Eaton Corporation, ECOtality and General Electric.
2. With its new initiative, EDTA is working to help push electric cars mainstream. What are the greatest challenges in getting American consumers excited about electric cars?
The challenges we face are similar to those any industry faces when introducing new technology--bringing down costs, ensuring availability and educating the public. Government incentives are making owning and operating a plug-in electric vehicle more affordable than ever before. Drivers who purchase a plug-in electric in the U.S. may qualify for a federal tax credit up to $7,500. Drivers who purchase a plug-in electric in Washington D.C. and in several other metropolitan areas are eligible to receive a free home charging station through the ChargePoint America program.
Many choices will be available to consumers over the next few years as a variety of PEVs hit the market. By 2012, consumers will be able to choose from 15 different PEVs from such manufacturers as Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, and U.S. auto manufacturing start-ups such as Tesla, Coda and Fisker. Consumers who are familiar with the environmental benefits, cost savings, convenient charging options and unique driving experience associated with PEVs are already excited. We will reach beyond the first adopters in our efforts to educate the public. This is why EDTA and its members have created the National Plug-in Vehicle Initiative to serve as a national clearinghouse for timely and accurate information on plug-in electric vehicles.
3. How do you envision the initiative you announced at CGI impacting the public? How will the different parts -- which include a website, development of educational materials, and fostering inter-industry and government cooperation on the issue -- congeal to make the nation a more hospitable place for EVs?
Our website will provide consumers with everything they need to know about owning and operating a plug-in electric vehicle. It will be an interactive resource of information with Q&As;, information on incentives and new vehicles.
The components of EDTA's action plan announced at CGI will be complementary in their support of making the U.S. a welcoming environment for PEVs. By educating consumers about the benefits and accessibility of plug-in vehicles, we will also be helping to grow the market. As the electric drive industries grow and vehicles become more commonplace, costs will come down and understanding of the value will increase.
4. Do you think the US is truly ready for electric cars? How long do you think it will be before EVs represent a significant share of the market, and what more can be done to speed the process up?
Yes. Even the most conservative estimates in a recent Boston Consulting Group study project reflect that more than one quarter of all new cars sold on the consumer market in 2020 (only a decade from now) will be electric drive vehicles. Ten years is the "immediate future" in the vehicle manufacturing, where design, development and production cycles are established for multi-year periods. Inter-industry and inter-governmental collaborations to establish best practices, uniform standards, and incentives will accelerate market acceptance of all types of PEVs and PEV deployment in the U.S.
5. What's the biggest aversion to EVs you encounter -- is it range anxiety? Charging concerns? The expense?
I don't hear much aversion, but I do hear a lot of curiosity. There is a great demand for credible and customized information about owning and operating a plug-in electric vehicle. For instance, there are different types of plug-in electric vehicles: some that run entirely on electricity (battery electrics), some that offer a range extender (extended range battery electrics), and some that offer two drivetrains (plug-in hybrids). The configurations offer different benefits to different consumers. Consumers want to understand the differences and how to make the best choice to meet their needs. They also want to know how they can get help - what are the incentives in place for vehicles and charging. Many consumers will find the federal (and in some cases state) tax credits make the purchase of a plug-in electric vehicle more affordable than they might have thought. Plus, plug-in electric vehicle owners save on gas and have the convenience of charging their vehicle at home.
6. If you could, briefly outline how you envision the future of EVs over, say, the next 20 years.
We - and others - see the increasing electrification of the transportation sector over the next two decades. Hybrid, plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles will all play an increasing role in meeting our national goals for energy security and sustainable transportation. Plug-in electric vehicles will be an important part of the electric revolution.
As battery technology continues to advance, vehicles will provide increased performance at reduced cost, reinforcing the market's embrace of electric drive. In fact, a recent National Research Council report estimates a conservative forecast of 13 million plug-in vehicles on the roads by 2030 is likely, but also says that number could be as high as 40 million with thoughtful policy support. The stimulus funding and consumer incentives for vehicles and infrastructure are exactly the policy support that will help speed adoption in that higher range.
We also believe that other market factors will accelerate the turn toward electric drive. Economic growth and auto sales in China, India and other fast-growing economies will increase global demand for oil. So the forecast is for rising gas prices, which makes the efficiency of electric drive increasing attractive to consumers.