Good news for those living at the intersection of manufacturing and environmentalism. Here in the U.S., sales of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles almost doubled between 2012 and 2013 with an 84 percent jump to 96,600 of the vehicles sold. That’s 49,000 plug-in hybrids (like the Volt) and 47,600 pure battery powered plug-in vehicles sold.
As a resident of Michigan and a guy concerned with environmental and sustainability issues, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the auto industry. On one hand, auto emissions are a main source of greenhouse gasses and the international thirst for oil, as gasoline production accounts for almost half of our oil use. On the other hand, friends, family, neighbors and the community depend very notably on income from the auto manufacturing sector.
The foundry just a few hundred feet from where I grew up employs hundreds of good folks with good paying jobs and benefits. They manufacture parts for car companies, both foreign and domestic. So when things are going well for the auto industry, the local economy does decent. But when the domestic auto industry is in a slump, the economy pretty much collapses. There was about a 10-year stretch until the recent auto rescue when the Michigan economy was in a free-fall and lost almost a million jobs in a decade. WUMP. And believe me, you could see it every day in the news: companies and mom-and-pop shops closing; layoff reports; and boarded-up windows at malls and local retail spaces.
I definitely cheer the resurgence of the auto industry as it puts people and manufacturers back to work. And I even admit that I kind of like the smell of the foundry air when I happen to be at the hardware store near my old neighborhood.
I cheer even louder, however, when part of that resurgence is coupled with growing normalization of plug-in electric vehicles on our roads and in our neighborhoods. I cheer for electric cars parked in the grocery store parking lot like any other mortal’s car. “Just stopping in to get eggs and milk. In my electric car.”
No longer is the electric car just one more of the future wonders to be found in Popular Science magazine. Now they’re on the roads, the ultimate proving ground. And as actual use grows, so does the supporting infrastructure. Charging stations are sprouting up in communities across America, reducing the anxieties later adopters of electric cars may have about how to charge the car up on the go. Little old Muskegon, Mich. has no fewer than 14 of them throughout the city.
Also encouraging is the continued growth of traditional hybrid vehicles, which grew by 15.3 percent over the last year to 489,413 cars.
Cars in 2013 also broke a record for average fuel efficiency in new cars at 24.9 MPG. That number is going to jump even higher as new, federally mandated fuel efficiency standards come into play, which require average fuel efficiency to be 54.5 MPG by 2025 – more efficient than even the smaller, fuel-sipping cars are today.
It’s heartening to see a cleaner change of direction in the automotive industry, and it’s heartening to see consumers embracing that future. Also, it’s great to see friends and neighbors going back to work.