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Volkswagen Exec: We Need More Federal Investment in Electric Vehicles

Mary Mazzoni headshotWords by Mary Mazzoni
Leadership & Transparency
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A top Volkswagen executive had bold words for Washington at the 2015 Electric Drive Congress seminar on Tuesday.

During his presentation, Jörg Sommer, Volkswagen's VP of product marketing and strategy, said the company believes continued legislative support is needed to reach the next level of electric vehicle adoption.

"Automakers have effectively delivered electric vehicles that can satisfy the needs of most American drivers,” Sommer said this week in Washington, D.C. “In addition to the investment we and other companies and industries are making, we would like to see federal financing support for establishing fast-charging networks in urban areas and interstate corridors."

Sommer's statements come on the heels of Volkswagen's announcement that it will partner with BMW and ChargePoint to create express-charging corridors on the East and West coasts.

Sommer went on to add a dollar figure to that commitment: The company will invest $10 million in the EV infrastructure initiative, which will add 100 fast-charging stations to both coasts by the end of this year. The company will also invest to support the installation of charging stations in certain dealer locations.

To facilitate local, state and regional infrastructure deployment, Sommer suggested that regulators will also need to support programs that reinforce these efforts to make mass EV adoption a reality, including the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program and the Department of Transportation’s MAP-21 program. But he also noted that more investment is needed beyond these programs, saying: “We need further congressional support with the mid-term review of the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulation to extend the multiplier credits for plug-in vehicles beyond [model year 2021 vehicles].” (For background on what's to be expected in the upcoming mid-year review, check out this industry brief from Resources for the Future.)

Additionally, Sommer suggested that state and federal governments could also lead the way by adopting electric vehicles for their own fleets:

"We’d like to see more state and federal organizations commit to cleaner fleets by purchasing EVs and [plug-in hybrids]. This should be a U.S. government priority, and federal purchasing guidelines should reflect that by giving fleet purchasers the flexibility they need."

Sommer is surely on to something here: Including the military, the U.S. government operates more than 600,000 cars, buses, SUVs, ambulances, and light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks. A footprint of that size means great potential to spur shifts in the market.

This fact isn't lost on President Barack Obama, who noted these figures in a 2009 executive order that effectively kicked off the government's first Electric Vehicle Pilot Program.

Launched in 2010, the program leased 116 plug-in EVs to 20 federal agencies and called for a 10 percent increase in alternative fuels (including electricity) every year until 2015. However, despite some impressive moves from the postal service, fleet electrification has been slow.

We've already seen the impacts that small shifts can have when rolled out across an entity as far-reaching as the federal government: Back in 2013, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimated that energy efficiency programs could save the U.S. economy $1 trillion by 2030.

For Volkswagen's part, it will continue to invest in EV adoption in the U.S. and abroad: In addition to the company's EV charging initiative, it will partner with SunPower to offer e-Golf owners “premier access” to SunPower’s upcoming home solar energy storage solution. The company also turned heads in October when it announced it will roll out more than 20 electric vehicles in China over the next few years. The move may signal what's to come for Volkswagen in the European and North American markets as well, a company rep told TriplePundit after the announcement.

"While we aren't able to provide specifics, VW is looking at other plug-in offerings for both Europe and North America," said Darryl Harrison, Volkswagen's manager for brand communications for the West. "Those offerings include [plug-in electric vehicles], EVs and other e-mobility solutions."

Volkswagen isn't the only automaker doubling down on electric vehicles: At the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), Chevrolet unveiled its Bolt EV -- which, with 200 miles of electric range at a $30,000 price after federal tax incentives, has the potential to push EVs into the mainstream. And, of course, Tesla announced last year that it would open-source its technology to boost EV market share.

So, will the federal government follow suit? Only time will tell, but a push from top automakers can only help.

Image courtesy of Volkswagen

Mary Mazzoni is the Senior Editor of TriplePundit. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, has written for TriplePundit since 2013. She is also Managing Editor of CR Magazine and the Editor of 3p’s Sponsored Series. Mazzoni’s recent work can be found in Conscious CompanyAlterNet and VICE’s Motherboard. She is based in Philadelphia.

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