Net Impact 2008: Irrational Exuberance in Electric Vehicles

carcarcar.jpgThe room was packed on Friday for a panel entitled “Bringing Electric Cars to the Mass Market”. The moderator, Bill Moore, editor of EV World, set the stage with a historical perspective–did you know that Henry Ford’s wife drove an electric car?–and then launched straight into the thick of things.
Before being critical, let me just say that I really enjoyed the panel. The panelists had some excellent things to say on the topics of battery rental, lithium availability, and V2G technology. The audience was very knowledgeable and engaged and the room was filled to capacity.

Unfortunately, the real theme of the day was irrational exuberance.  I use the phrase in the same way that Greenspan did: the panelists repeatedly and unequivocally stated that the EV revolution was upon us in much the same was as tech entrepreneurs spoke of the ascendancy of the Internet during the late 1990’s.  Having followed the trajectory of the tech boom and bust very closely, I couldn’t help but cringe: the EV industry isn’t doing itself any favors by preemptively declaring victory.
Some the panel members’ most choice statements include:
Charles Gassenheimer, CEO of Ener1:

  • “You are for the first time witnessing the remaking of the car industry.”
  • “Today we don’t have carbon caps in the US but under the Obama administration we will.”
  • “Detroit is already done. What’s happening now is the effect, not the cause.”

Michael Granoff, Head of Oil Independence Policies at Better Place:

  • “Electrification of the car is the path we’re on; it’s inevitable.”
  • “Electricity has made oil obsolete before and it will do so again.” (He was referring to the obsolescence of kerosene lamps via the incandesent bulb.)

Vicki Northrup, head of operations for Th!nk North America:

  • “We know that people will eventually move towards full battery-electric vehicles.”

Is EV deployment truly inevitable? Of course not. Are there ways that we could still fall off the track? Of course there are. The industry and its leaders need to be worried about history even when things seem ripe for change; 100 years of inertia is a force to be reckoned with. 
If there was one lesson to take away from the tech boom, it is that long-lasting innovation requires sober engineers, sober executives, and sober investors.

Tristan Handy is a first year MBA student at the Kenan-Flagler Business School and part of a team of students that covered the Net Impact North America Conference for Triple Pundit. He is the founder of

Net Impact 2010 will be hosted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Stay tuned for coverage!

2 responses

  1. Very good point.
    I was at the Net Impact Europe conference last June, and as great as the conference was, there was a bit too much ‘nodding in agreement’. Of course, everyone that likley attends these kinds of events will share similar views – but I think the real thought provoking discussions will only happen when we start challenging our conventional wisdom (if we can even say that) and be perhaps a little more bleak at times.
    On another note, I’ll be checking out the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Summit at UCBerkeley’s Global Venture Lab tomorrow. Check out the beta version of the tech briefs.

Leave a Reply