Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Who Killed The Electric Car?

That is the name of a documentary I watched recently which outlines the origins and sporadic existence of the electric vehicle from its inception in the 1830’s to present day. The filmmaker did an exceptional job of presenting an unbiased look at the advances and hindrances that proponents of electric vehicles, hereafter referred to as EV’s, have faced over nearly two centuries of stunted advances.  He showed that contrary to what the oil companies would have you believe, there is sufficient demand and desire for EV’s to justify mass production by the major auto makers. He also revealed a handful of thought provoking facts that more or less prove that the opinions of large corporations largely outweigh consumer demand.

Many automakers would have you believe that EV technology if still too far away to justify mass production. This is simply untrue. The GM EV1 program showed that a car could service the needs of a commuter in a major metropolitan center. With a range of 80-120 miles on a single charge, when the average commute is only 29 miles, the EV1 was an optimistic spot on an otherwise bleak landscape. The zero emission cars could easily keep up with freeway traffic at 70mph and unless told, you would never even know they were there. They were stylish, quiet, dependable, useful and used no fossil fuels. Herein lies the problem.

Major fuel producers, and their powerful  government lobbyists, will never allow EV’s to compose a substantial  portion of today’s automotive production. The old corporate practice of buying competitors you cannot beat came into reality in 1994 when GM purchased controlling interest in Ovonics and later sold that interest to Texaco in 2001. Ovonics, founded by Stanford Ovshinshky, made major advances in NiMH battery technology that extended the range of the electric car to 150 miles on a single charge. Unfortunately, GM scrapped the EV1 program before these batteries became commercially available.    

It seems now that instead of moving forward, the auto industry has decided to take a detour and explore hydrogen technology. They are of the opinion that a car, that currently costs $1,000,000, has the potential to supplant the EV as the solution to our future needs. They believe that, even though the infrastructure is not in place, hydrogen is a clean, efficient and viable alternative to fossil fuels. While I agree with this in principle, I also see that it is fundamentally flawed thinking at its best. If our true goal is to reduce our dependency on traditional fuels and instead use readily available renewable resources, then hydrogen is not the answer.

I think the only viable, long term solution is an EV supported by solar produced electricity. Solar technology has advanced to the point that it is now financially viable and commercially available in most parts of North America. Because it is naturally occurring, it is the only true zero emissions energy source and is inexhaustible. Even hydrogen, a very clean fuel, pollutes the environment during it production and delivery.

So who did kill the electric car? I think the answer to this question is far more difficult to answer than I first believed. I think that our world’s collective opinion has to pass the point of critical mass, where the environment is an everyday concern instead of a passing conversation. Until this happens we will continue to follow the easiest path and will be at the mercy of major corporations and their interpretation of our needs.

Thanks for reading,


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