Monday, June 25, 2007

Electric Wheels... Let's chat about this

I was recently asked this question by a friend:

What is the issue with electric cars in USA? Is there a conspiracy to limit their production to sustain a fossil fuel based economy?

Not to long ago a documentery film was produced to ask the same questions. The title of the film, Who Killed the Electric Car?, dove deep into the issue of General Motors’ adventure with the EV1. The EV1 was a brain child of some very smart engineers in GM, who were planning for California’s strict vehicle legislations. These legislations would encourage the use and production of electic vehicles for consumers as a way to reduce the hazardous air pollution build up in the state. GM started early and developed the EV1 and leased out about 200 or so cars.

Over time, the State of California changed its mind about the strict vehicle guidelines and the whole incentive to use an electric car disappeared. GM pulled out of the business and destroyed most of the EV1s, despite the high demand for the vehicles.

The film goes on to describe the players involved in the demise of the EV1, which includes big oil companies. As a fact, the USA uses about 51% of all crude oil production and imports to produce gasoline. This is huge business especially with the millions of vehicles on the roads guzzeling gasoline. Simple business logic dictates a loss of market share for big oil in fueling vehicles, if vehicles turn electric. I cannot specifically say they sabotaged the EV1, but I am sure they were not happy with the idea.

A country as big as the USA takes time for major changes to occur. If the government were to start electric vehicle programs, there would be a lot of resistance. The car is a fundamental industry in the USA, which made the country a super-industrial power. Historically, many industries were linked to vehicle manufacturing and it made many people wealthy, usually the people who today have huge influence on politicians and business trends.

All of this historical baggage does not necessary mean the electric car is dead. What it means is that traditional industrial businesses will not fund such a project, therefore needing other sources of income. Currently, this is what is happening in the electric vehicle market. There is an emergence of new vehicle companies, funded by internet billionaires, building prototypes. Very soon commercial electric vehicles will share the road with conventional fossil fuel vehicles and make more economical sense when air pollution savings are added to the price tag. But it does not end there. Where does the electricity come from?


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