2009: The Top 10 EV-related Developments

Oh, what a year it’s been for electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)! I can hardly wait to see what 2010 has in store. But first, in the tradition of end-of-year countdowns, here are my picks for the top 10 developments — good or bad — in pluggable transportation in 2009, listed from least to most important. Do you think I got it right, or would your list be different?

Chevy Volt2 10. We buy GM and Chrysler. The U.S. government bailed out GM and Chrysler, pumping billions of dollars into the sinking automakers in return for part ownership and a promise to produce efficient plug-in vehicles. Later, Chrysler double-crosses us by putting its EV program on the back burner. Wait a minute — don’t we have a say in this? (Pictured: Chevy Volt, courtesy of GM.)

9. Global attention. Between the climate crisis negotiations in Copenhagen and geopoliticking over petroleum, support for EVs grew internationally, with major initiatives announced in England, Germany, Denmark, Israel, China, and elsewhere.

8. Utilities come out of the closet. Other transportation technologies long have had effective industry associations and lobbying groups to promote them. Finally, an Electrification Coalition has emerged, consisting of some major businesses and utilities, with the aim of advancing EV deployment and installation of charging infrastructure. In addition, the number of companies marketing EV charging stations proliferated in 2009.

7. Big oil fights back. In a replay of its dirty tricks and muscle-flexing that helped kill the last generation of EVs, the oil industry and its henchmen seem to be behind a number of disparaging reports and Congressional bills regarding EVs or PHEVs. We can expect to see more of this in 2010. For example, inefficient and wildly expensive hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are a pet project of oil companies, because most hydrogen is obtained from reformulating one of their products–natural gas. When U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu tried to shift federal funding from hydrogen vehicles to battery electric vehicles, lobbyists got Congress to reinstate $187 million for hydrogen vehicle programs. A study under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences claimed that PHEVs would not succeed, but few people noticed that this hatchet job was written by hydrogen fuel-cell advocates who had little knowledge of battery vehicles.

Charge ports Leaf Paul 6. A common plug. Underwriters Laboratories approved the J1772(tm) connector for charging electric vehicles, and the Society of Automotive Engineers is expected to make it the standard charging interface early in 2010 for everything but super-fast chargers. That’s good news, because it should prevent the multiplicity of charging devices that plagued the last generation of EVs. A fast-charging standard will come later — but the sooner, the better. (Photo by Paul Scott of Nissan Leaf charge ports, with J1772[tm] on the right.)

5. Billions for batteries and EVs. President Obama announced $2.4 billion in grants to be awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to advance U.S. manufacturing and development of batteries and electric vehicles.

4. $8 billion in loans. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program awarded $8 billion in low-interest loans to make EVs, including $465 million to Tesla Motors, $1.6 billion to Nissan, and $5.9 billion to Ford.

3. Consumer incentives increase. Plug In America’shares the credit for getting more incentives for consumers to buy EVs and PHEVs. Federal tax incentives of up to $7,500 per car now apply to the first 200,000 plug-in vehicles from each automaker instead of 250,000 vehicles for the entire industry. We also succeeded in getting a 10% tax incentive for two- and three-wheeled EVs, slower neighborhood electric vehicles, and cars that are converted from gassers to EVs or PHEVs.

Tesla4 by Tesla 2. Tesla succeeds. Tesla Motors became profitable in 2009. More than 1,000 Tesla Roadsters are in drivers’ hands, spreading EV grins around the world. Some clever Australians drove a Roadster 313 miles on one charge. All eyes are on the 2011 arrival of their next-generation EV, and on Tesla as the company to beat in the EV marketplace. (Photo courtesy of Tesla Motors.)

1. Plug-in vehicles make a comeback. There’s Tesla, of course, and more. The Nissan Leaf became real in people’s minds as the company plowed forward with its 2010 launch plans and publicity, and Popular Science magazine named the Leaf the “Best of What’s New” in 2009. GM made clear the Chevy Volt PHEV will launch in 2010 no matter what. BMW put 500 electric Minis in U.S. drivers’ hands for a year of testing, generating mostly positive feedback and excitement. Ford began showing off a prototype Focus EV. Even my beloved Th!nk restarted production and should be on sale here in late 2010. Not to mention the electric motorcycles and three-wheeled EVs that already are on the market. Getting drivers behind the wheels of electric vehicles is the key to success in the electrification of transportation.

So let’s sing out the old and ring in the new. (Next week: resolutions!) Happy new year, everyone!

Sherry Boschert

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