Electric vehicle race

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Levi Tillemann, author of The Great Car Race, described the arrival of a mass market for electric vehicles during a January interview with Diane Rehm on public radio. He noted that electric cars entered the marketplace in a serious way in 2010. By 2014, about 120,000 EVs were sold.

At the recent International Auto Show, every major car manufacturer — including G.M., Ford, Chrysler and Japanese manufacturers — had several models of electric vehicles, indicating a serious commitment.

For Tillemann, the key drivers of electric vehicle sales include technological improvements of the vehicles and environmental concerns. California, as the nation’s largest car market along with its electrification road map, provides crucial support for the EV market.

When federal air pollution laws were passed in the 1970s, Congress allowed California to develop its own pollution regulations as corrective actions were already under way within the state. Other states were given the option to follow the federal rules or the California rules, which were stricter. As a result, about 25 percent of the car market follows the California vehicle emission standards.

California mandates that auto manufacturers selling cars in their state either produce electric vehicles or buy credits from firms that do manufacture them in proportion to their overall car sales in the state. The mandates and credits program creates a market for electric vehicle sales that Tillemann believes will continue, even though gas prices have fallen dramatically. Tesla, for example, earned $76 million in the third quarter of 2014 from the credits they received from firms that did not manufacture electric vehicles.

Tillemann feels that high safety and emission standards, along with complicated and costly computer codes, have limited China’s ability to penetrate the U.S. market. In response to government incentives to reduce the nation’s reliance on imported oil, Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota developed the very successful hybrid electric vehicle. Japan has focused on developing fuel cell cars as a way to reduce its oil imports and emissions. Tillemann indicates that the U.S. is well positioned in global competition with quality electric cars in the $30,000 range and cost reductions in batteries.

With more electrically powered vehicles in use, sufficient electrical supply must be available to recharge the batteries. If the cars are recharged at night, supplies should be adequate. Pollution levels should be reduced with increased use of renewable energy.

A transition to electrical vehicles will upset the existing infrastructure designed to serve gasoline-powered cars. Traditional autos have a large number of moving parts that require regular maintenance, parts replacement and skilled workers to provide the service.

In contrast, electric vehicles have far fewer moving parts, and the motors are long lasting, requiring only a limited amount of service. They make more use of electronics and require a different set of skills than those needed for traditional cars. As electrical vehicles increase, workers with new skills will be needed, undermining many jobs servicing combustion engine vehicles.

While electric vehicles are cleaner, they reinforce our dependence on individually owned transportation when we should be developing more public transportation options consistent with sustainable lifestyles.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Feb. 4-10, 2015, issue

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