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Is the eletric car about to bloom in America?

Though still a pitiable percentage of the total automotive market, the marginalization of electric cars may be nearing its end.
Posted: December 3, 2012 - 1:10AM
Author: Don Bain

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First let’s consider the reactions of the early owners of the new Tesla S. Someone signing in as Bill on Torque News posted the following comment regarding the S he waited two years to receive.

“I got my Model S on Saturday. I have been cautiously optimistic for the 2 plus years since I placed the deposit. I have also been dubious about some of hyperbolic claims about how this car would change the car world,etc,” he stated. “But now that I have the car, I am a believer. The speed and handling are amazing. The electronics make my 2012 Audi Q5 look like an IBM PC running DOS. Any doubters have got to drive the car, see the interior and use the systems.

“By the way, for Thanksgiving, we are taking our two kids and our pair of 70 pound dogs on a 180 mile trip in the Telsa, because it is much more roomy and comfortable than our Q5.”

That kind of promotion simply can’t be bought. Tesla is not selling cars, they are converting acolytes – it’s not marketing – its an evangelical movement.

Sandy Bauer, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, described lawyer Peter Spirgel’s glee with his new Tesla model S.

“Just eight days into ownership, Spirgel was still like a giddy kid, noting the luxury details, the 17-inch screen that governs everything,” Bauer wrote. "It’s like driving an iPad," one friend told her.

Tesla proved its ability to build viable cars over the four years since the Tesla Roadster was introduced. Priced over $100,000 and a product using totally new technology, the Roadster and Sport models managed to sell something like 2,500 around the world. We also note that rarely was heard a discouraging word, whatever the skies were that day.

When the Tesla S was first announced, it seemed to be the most technologically advanced car in production today. Early feedback from new owners seems to confirm that impression.

Pricing may drop
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Jerry Hirsch reported that during the introduction of the Spark EV at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, Chevrolet stated the car would cost less than $25,000 after tax credit, setting a new low for an electric vehicle.

The Nissan Leaf is based at $28,550 after the credit and buyers in California can take an additional $2,500 off thanks to the state. You can lease a Leaf for 36 months at $199 monthly, after putting $1,999 down in certain parts of the U.S.

Last week, Nissan said the brand would drop the price in Japan while boosting the range as well. Eventually, this move may be repeated stateside. Sales of the Leaf are off 16 percent this year, a likely result of relatively stable gas prices.

More players in the market
The buyer considering an electric car will certainly have more choices during 2013. Multiple models of EVs and/or plug-in vehicles are forthcoming from Ford, GM, Mitsubishi and Honda as well as other brands. Currently, the various pure electrics have a range from 62 to 82 miles of zero emissions commuting, not counting the Tesla S which has a range from 160 to 300 miles, depending on the size of the battery ordered.

The cost will continue to go down as the numbers go up in the normal model of mass production.

Longer ranges, more efficient batteries and quicker charging times, not to mention widespread growth of the supporting infrastructure, are simply a matter of time. The march toward the electric vehicle plateau is constantly accelerating.

Actual environmental impact
It is true, the benefit to the planet may be negated by the common production of electricity in coal fired generating plants. However the benefit to the country is undeniable in the lessening of dependence on foreign oil.

As more reliance on renewable wind and solar power continues, the environmental impact of electric cars will gain ground rapidly.

The adoption of renewable, but inefficient alternatives like hydrogen is simply trading the devil we know for one we don’t.

For over 100 years oil companies have polluted our air and water, but more nefariously, have twisted global politics for profit. Based on that track record, why would we want to set Shell or British Petroleum up to sell us hydrogen?

The Who sang, “Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss!” Those words come from a song titled We Won’t Get Fooled Again!

So isn’t a hydrogen car simply getting fooled again? Why should we continue to empower corporations with a proven disregard for the consequences of their actions, myopically chasing the myth of perpetual growth on a planet of finite resources?

Keeping America Strong
Meanwhile, writing in the Huffington Post, former Governor of Michigan Jennifer M. Granholm insists if you want to support American manufacturing you should buy an electric car.

In her eyes, the grants the Federal government gave to promote electric car innovation were far from governmental largess, but the reason for 63,000 jobs in her state.

"I know the only reason those jobs were even possible is because the federal government, led by our president, made a commitment to battery technology," she wrote, "But as we've heard, there are huge challenges facing the industry. If we don't get this right, we'll lose a lot of those high paying, advanced manufacturing jobs. Forever."

The former Governor blames opposition to Obama from party politics and the shills of the oil industry for holding back progress and keeping the US from becoming a true global leader in the fledgling industry.

Those criticizing tax breaks for electric vehicles probably own stock in oil companies. To Granholm, such subsidies are the most direct course to energy independence, added jobs, US security and fewer greenhouse gases, instead of a long term commitment. "The progress in electric cars is a true American success story," she added.

Those who wanted General Motors and other electric car makers to fail were purely motivated by defense of a deteriorating status quo. A shrinking middle class is a threat to national stability in and of itself.

To Granholm naysayers are opposing innovation, American manufacturing and clean energy jobs. She takes true pride in the Chevy Volt and the fact it was designed and built in Michigan.

Thus, for those that think electric cars are a threat to the American way of life, the former Governor has a simple suggestion.

“Get over it!”

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Nicolas Zart    December 3, 2012 - 6:15PM

You make all great points Don and I know someone locally who also bought his and is putting a For Sale sign on his big BMW. He said the same thing, the Model S feels more luxurious and handles better. This is an interesting twist.

As far as coal powered electricity, the number is dwindling in the US to almost 33%, down from above 60 a few years ago. So the electricity we are producing now and will be producing tomorrow is and will be cleaner. However, we are selling left and right coal electricity stations globally, thus negating any environmental benefits here.

But I wouldn't go as far as saying the electric car market is about to "bloom" in the US. Unfortunately, predictions are never realistic and our economists and so-called number experts hit it wrong more often than not. What's more important is for those whom electric cars make sense to find what they need and be satisfied with them. The rest of the industry will offer some sort of electrification. It might be a simple hybrid assist for city or highway driving, it will be complemented with plug-in hybrids for those who still need to go far. I think the important thing is to be happy we have choice again and take this heavy handed marketing with a huge grain of salt.

John Volt (not verified)    December 4, 2012 - 2:19AM

In reply to by Nicolas Zart

There is one point that always seems to me to be under emphasized in discussions like this. That is the cost benefit of electricity over gasoline. A Volt will go 35-40 miles on a charge. It will go about the same distance on a gallon of gas. The difference: gas is about $4/gal. and a full charge, on an EV rate plan, is about $1.50. That makes electricity the equivalent of $1.50/gal gasoline. What would we all give to have gas prices like that again?

Further to the point of the article, when you look at the owner reviews for both the Volt and Model S, in which owners notably rave about the comfort, performance, quality, etc more prevalently than fuel economy or any environmental prowess, you have to ask if they are giving up anything at all for $1.50/gal gas.

Don Bain    December 3, 2012 - 6:42PM

Your input is appreciated Nick. Yes the bloom may be something I alone see, because I made a romantic connection with the concept of electric cars long ago. Yes the next decade will be transitional with hybrids making up most of the change, but the mere fact so many manufacturers are getting into the EV act is very gratifying to my point of view.

What others see as limiting range I see as liberation from Big Oil. Now that you can get a Tesla with a range of 300 miles, what's the problem? Yes, it's pricey but you'll save enough on gas to cover most of your insurance bill. Plus the fact you can spend a lot more money on a car and not have one as technologically advanced.

It's also good to hear people saying the Tesla S is everything I thought it would be - I still haven't driven one, but relish the prospect.

Tina Juarez (not verified)    December 4, 2012 - 3:36PM

Electric! You are spot on about EVangelicals! TeslaMotor cars EVen rock our world. EVen some of the the electric car racers didn't 'get it' until they drove a Tesla Roadster. Lovely as the fantastic paint job and interior of the new e-Mercedes is, I can tell it just can't be as good as a Roadster or 'S'.. I got the TeslaFever too.