“The electrification of the automobile is a foregone conclusion”. Those were the words of Bob ‘Mr. horsepower’ Lutz, the cigar smoking, jet fighter flying old timer and former Vice-Chairman of General Motors . A strong statement by a once staunchly anti-electric Detroit executive. However, Bob’s much improved sentiment goes to prove that the alternative energy ball has well and truly started rolling. Just how far and how fast remains to be seen.
(Above: Lutz with his brilliant but disparate creations, the Dogde Viper and Chevy Volt)
With the help of visionary trail blazers such as Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and Carlos Ghosn of Nissan-Renault, CEOs of major automakers have to jumped on to the alternative fuel bandwagon over the past couple of years. BMW, GM, Honda, Toyota, Ford and Mitsubishi all have alternative fuel vehicles ready or in the pipe line.
Consumer demand also looks promising in the long term. Gas price spikes have softened many to ideas of alternative fuels whilst in America especially, the idea of oil independence is widely popular as relations with Middle Eastern countries remain difficult. Some of this demand has been born out through a growth in home built EV’s and companies offering conversions on existing vehicles highlighting the strong grass roots support for these technologies.
We have also seen the foundation of two completely new car makers, Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors. With political support from the President and individual states such as California, large DoE loans have been made available to both companies (lets not mention Fisker’s loan cock up now).
Most encouragingly, despite being used as political footballs by Republican candidates and simple minded media cretins such as Bill O’reilly, both companies have stated that do not rely on the loans and are viable in their own right. This could be in large part due to the fact that they are producing genuinely compelling alternatives that enjoy a near fanatical fan base.
Although so called “range anxiety” has apparently been putting many people off from rushing out to buy their car of the future, increasing amounts of R&D are now being pumped into new solutions (just take a look at Better Place) whilst range extended electrics such as the Chevy Volt deal with this solution well in the interim.
However, despite all this good work electric vehicles have not yet reached mass adoption (electric vehicles represent less than 1% of the USA’s current fleet) and ‘volt-heads’ remain in the minority in car enthusiast circles (just take a look at the biggest motoring website in the UK http://www.pistonheads.com/ for a taste of that). The relatively high price point for cars such as the Volt and Leaf also seem to be keeping production numbers humble for the time being.
Far from a foregone conclusion then perhaps. Indeed the electrification of the fleet faces considerable challenges. Remember the electric car had to be killed once before. Therefore, if it does succeed it will be because we fought for it. Engineers, journalists, bloggers, policy makers, marketing guys, entrepreneurs and consumers all have their part to play in what will surely be one of the most important technical revolutions of our time.
So welcome all to my small corner of the internet where you will find much news and comment on the cars of the future and the technology that will run them! Jump in, buckle up and let me take you for a ride on the green side. Please feel free to comment, share, correct, debate, love and hate.