There is something about human nature that responds to a challenge. That’s a good thing and it is something that we are going to have to count on as we look ahead at the challenges confronting us. One of those challenges is, of course, that of being able to maintain the transportation system that is a pillar of our economy, at a time when our dependence on the fuel that powers that system is putting our future in jeopardy.
That challenge has been issued, and though not yet heard by all, most car companies have been busy at work doing the very things that not too many years ago they were saying couldn’t be done.
For 2013, we have seen the Chevy Malibu getting 37 mpg highway with their eco version, the new Ford Fusion hybrid with 47 mpg highway and the new Ford C-Max getting 47 mpg as a hybrid and as much as 98 mpg equivalent as a plug-in, edging out the similarly configured Prius at 95 mpg. These are impressive numbers coming from impressive cars that maybe in another year could have grabbed the spotlight, perhaps even as contenders for Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award, which is generally awarded on overall performance.
But, if you’ll forgive a football analogy, this combination of a strong ground game helped out by some short passes are no much for the long bomb represented by the all-electric Tesla Model S which won the award, unanimously.
The Tesla electric might be considered a “shocking” choice, but considering the stream of superlatives issued by the panel, it really seemed to be a shoo-in. Describing the 4-door sedan as being “ eager and agile and instantly responsive,” as a sports car, they also called it as “smoothly effortless as a Rolls-Royce,” as commodious as a Chevy Equinox, and, with 106 mpg city/ 90 mpg highway, “more efficient than a Toyota Prius.” Oh, and let’s not forget, as sexy as “a supermodel working a Paris catwalk.”
I think it’s safe to say they liked it.
This is a pretty significant accomplishment, a made-in-America, all-electric car really holding its own, not just among the greens, but among the serious car guys. This could be as good a sign as any that, as Bob Dylan once said, “the times they are a-changin’.”
Of course, that is not to say that electric vehicles have successfully taken their place in the American mainstream. There is still much to be done before that can happen.
For one thing, we need a fully developed charging infrastructure. California has certainly taken the lead on this, but even there, there is a lot of work to be done.
We can get there but only if everyone, well okay, maybe not the oil companies, but if everyone else is pulling in the same direction.
A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was critical of the $7.5 billion in incentives that have been allocated over the next seven years in support of advanced vehicle technology.
According to Jim Kliesch at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), this criticism really misses the point. The point is not to make the vehicles affordable now, but rather to build a long-term “self-sustaining industry.” The point is that public investment begets revenue and revenue begets private investment. The situation is, in some ways, similar to what we have already seen in the ethanol business with the renewable fuel standard.
The report complains that these investments won’t have a big impact on carbon emissions in the short term. But as Kliesch correctly points out, that is the job of the fuel economy standards that have already been passed.
What these funds are needed for is to support this budding industry at its most vulnerable point, trying to make it out of what is commonly known in venture capital parlance as the “valley of death,” referring to the stage of technology where it emerges from R&D and attempts to enter the market. Unless the product takes off immediately, or has sufficient financial support, it will wither and die at that stage.
And while $7.5 billion is hardly “chump change,” it is spread out over 7 years, but more importantly, that figure equates to what we as a nation spend on gasoline in one week.
[Image credit: Automotive rhythms: Flickr Creative Commons].
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
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