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Overview: EVs on verge of re-making history

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Thomas Edison next to a 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47. (Wikipedia.org photo)

On a basic level, today’s EVs (electric vehicles) and PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) are nothing new. Battery powered vehicles resembling today’s modern automobiles have been around for more than one hundred years.

In fact, before the dominance of internal combustion engines, electric automobiles held many vehicle land speed and distance records in the early 1900s. EVs were produced by Baker Electric, Columbia Electric, Detroit Electric, and others and, at one point in history, outsold gasoline-powered vehicles.

While the internal combustible engine automobile, typically powered by gasoline, has, at least until now, won out, electricity has remained a primary means of powering a host of other vehicles, most notably trains. Some of these reach speeds of well over 300 miles an hour -- a fact that notably at odds with the stereotype of EVs as slow.

On the automotive front, the Tesla roadster also seriously undermines the image of EVs as slow. It boasts a 0-60 time of less than five seconds.

The move on the part of automakers like GM and Toyota to “kill” the electric car – attributed by different sources to different underlying factors and forces -- arguably served as a crucial catalyst for the development of a very active, vocal and increasingly powerful pro-electric vehicle (and pro PHEV) movement.This is perhaps best encapsulated by the establishment of non-profit EV advocacy groups such as Plug In America and CalCars.Org.

In the U.S., the 1990s saw a small, but historically significant surge in EV production and consumption. This receded in the early 2000s, with the now infamous confiscation by General Motors of its EV1 from those who leased the vehicle and the subsequent crushing of those vehicles, standing as perhaps the best well-known “low” of the EV resurgence. This moment has been virtually immortalized in the documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car?, which was released in 2005-06.

EV advocacy groups
The move on the part of automakers like GM and Toyota to “kill” the electric car – attributed by different sources to different underlying factors and forces -- arguably served as a crucial catalyst for the development of a very active, vocal and increasingly powerful pro-electric vehicle (and pro PHEV) movement.This is perhaps best encapsulated by the establishment of non-profit EV advocacy groups such as Plug In America and CalCars.Org.

Partly as a result of increasing public support for EVs, partly as a result of the specter of global warming and greater environmental awareness in the U.S. and in the industrialized world, and perhaps partly as a growing consciousness that the world’s oil supply will some day dry up, almost certainly within the next 100 years, and finally, aided by the the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, a big proponent and support of green technologies, what just a few years ago seemed a dark future for EVs appears to have turned around.

Nowhere is this made more apparent than by the fact that major automakers such as Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan and Toyota all have plans to begin producing EVs and/or PHEVs on a mass scale within the next one to two years.

For environmentalists, and for fuel independence advocates, this is a much-awaited development.

GM's now (in)famous EV1. (Wikipedia.org photo)

This is because, if EVs and and PHEVs do, in fact, become mainstream this will substantially reduce local pollution, global warming, and, finally, create the possibility for potentially millions of Americans and people around the world to realize complete and total fuel independence -- through individually solar-charging and/or even wind-charging an EV and/or PHEV.

Complete fueling independence
No other future combination of transportation and fueling -- with the possible exception of diesel cars and biodiesel (which produces emissions) -- offers the same potentially revolutionary fueling independence offered by the combination of solar and/or wind production and EVs.

In short, there is potential for revolutionary change. However, whether a “revolution” occurs or not hinges on a number of factors. Among these:

  • whether the world’s automakers truly invest themselves in EVs and PHEVs and create the technologies necessary to drive them forward;
  • how fast the world’s oil supply disappears and how quickly the price of gas, tied to supply and demand, rises;
  • whether consumers opt for EVs and/or PHEVs in large numbers, with the price, reliability, and driving range/speed of EVs/PHEVs all crucial components in this equation;
  • the development of a plug-in infrastructure and public mindset;
  • the availability and cost of the raw materials needed to produce vast numbers of EVs and PHEVs;
  • in terms of the solar/EV/PHEV synergy, the future cost of solar systems, and the willingness/eagerness of Americans to adopt these systems as a means to partially or fully charge an EV/PHEV.

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