The Road Ahead: Accelerating EV Production

As I write this, at least two of Plug In America’s co-founders have taken possession of their new Nissan Leaf electric cars, and three drive Tesla Roadsters. Other drivers are steering new Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids on the roads. More are being delivered every day. Is Plug In America’s work done? Hardly. We need to accelerate the drive to electrification of transportation.

Image courtesy of Tesla Motors.

It’s immensely rewarding to see our years-long efforts pay off in a new generation of plug-in vehicles. But that’s just the beginning, really. Whether you’re hungering for plug-in cars to end our transportation system’s addiction to oil, or to mitigate the disastrous effects of global warming, or to provide an affordable alternative when peak oil prices hit the roof at gas stations, we need more plug-in cars replacing gas guzzlers as quickly as possible.

Automakers’ current plans for EV/PHEV production don’t come close to the volumes of plug-in cars we need to meet any of these goals. While Nissan, GM and Tesla seem to be serious about selling plug-in vehicles, others seem to be following their old strategies of gaming clean-air regulators by making plug-in vehicles “available” only by temporary lease or conducting repeated and lengthy “test projects” instead of offering consumers real plug-in cars. BMW, Toyota and others — I’m lookin’ at you!

Here’s a video excerpt of a talk that I gave at Bioneers in the Fall of 2010 that looks at this topic strictly from the environmental angle — how many EVs do we need in how many years in order to reach the widely-accepted goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80% (compared with 1990 levels) in order to avoid the worst effects of global warming?

First, an acknowledgement, a correction, and an addition to the video. Plug In America’s newest board member, Tom Saxton, helped me with the numbers crunching and created the graphs. Thank you, Tom! Part of the graphs are cut off in the video field of vision, so here are the three graphs. On the left of each is the number of cars sold. On the bottom is the years. On the right is the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions relative to 100% at 1990 levels. The green line needs to get to 20% on the right, which would be an 80% reduction by 2050.

First we looked at the numbers of vehicles that automakers have said they will produce through 2012. (That number has increased slightly since GM decided to produce more Volts.) We used optimistic forecasts by automakers and pundits of plug-in production through 2020, then increased that so that by 2050, 30% of new cars sold would be EVs. Correction: In the video, I say that by 2050 this would result in a greenhouse gas reduction of “less than 20%” compared with baseline, but I meant to say “less than 30%.” So, fail — we need an 80% reduction.

Second, we imagined a crisis mentality (which is really what we need) that gets automakers to rapidly ramp up production of plug-in vehicles starting in 2013 so that by 2031, 95% of new cars sold would be plug-ins. (Blue shaded area represents plug-in car sales and red represents gassers.) If we did that, we could meet 2050 emissions targets. Keep in mind, none of the automakers are talking about doing this. None of our politicians or policymakers are talking about making this happen. The only ones talking about this scenario, as far as I know, are Plug In America and our environmental allies. I suspect that when gas prices at the pump get back to $4 or more, a lot more people will be interested in a more rapid shift to electricity.

But that second scenario assumes that the total number of U.S. vehicles sold doesn’t grow. More realistically, in our third graph, we assume a 2% per year growth in car sales. Even with that crisis mentality and super-rapid ramp-up to EV production, we’re left with only a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050. Fail.

One important addition: In the video, I say that we need to start the massive shift to EVs but also must get people out of cars in order to reach 2050 emissions targets. I also meant to say that a massive shift to EVs plus cleaning up our power grid would be enough to reach 2050 emissions targets. Get our power plants off of fossil fuels and get drivers into plug-in cars — quickly — and we’ll have a chance to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

So if you’ve been wondering whether Plug In America’s work is done, the answer is “No.” We’re in our new EVs, at the starting line of the drag strip, waiting for the light to turn green, and hoping we have enough supporters to fuel us to the finish line in record time. It’s the only way to win this race.

– Sherry

(p.s. If you haven’t already, please join Plug In America today.)



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