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The Commercialization of Electric Vehicles Continues to Gain Momentum

Auto companies are finding ways to plug in coast-to-coast.

by on Mar.24, 2009

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The success or failure of the growing electric vehicle movement will come down to the successful development of inexpensive, advanced batteries.

Ahead of Nissan’s plan to introduce what it calls Zero Emission Vehicles in the United States next year, the company is promoting the project with a coast-to-coast tour of Nissan’s EV Prototype. The running concept car uses a lithium-ion battery pack and an electric motor making it a pure electric car. Nissan is quick to say “this vehicle does not represent the design of Nissan’s electric vehicle that will be sold in 2010.” Still, it looks good as it is.

The first stop on the publicity tour was San Diego where Nissan and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), the local utility company, formed a partnership to advance electric cars by promoting the development of an electric vehicle charging network. Nissan will also assist the utility in the acquisition of its electric vehicles.

Nissan’s efforts join those of most automakers who are searching for ways to meet increasingly stringent emissions and fuel economy standards with updated versions of alternative vehicles that were not successful in the past. In the case of electric cars, expense, limited range and difficulty finding places to recharge them hurt sales. General Motors has similar labors underway in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The Rocky Mountain Institute has launched Project Get Ready that details what communities need to do to become ready for plug-in vehicles. And the Obama administration is also promoting  the electrification of the car.

Critics of electric vehicles say it is misleading call them “zero emission vehicles” since it does not take into account how the electricity needed to charge them is generated. Most of the electric power in the U.S. is made by burning CO2 producing fuels, predominately coal, oil, and natural gas. Some therefore suggest that EVs should be dubbed “elsewhere emission vehicles” since the greenhouse gases are moved from tailpipes to utility smokestacks. Nonetheless, there are potential benefits in congested urban areas to using electric cars, if ways can be found for apartment dwellers and other users without garages to recharge them. 

This latest link-up with a utility mirrors similar alliances that Nissan is promoting worldwide in preparation for what it hopes will be the mass marketing of electric cars starting in 2012. The company missed the move to hybrids leaving  Toyota with unchallenged “green car credentials,” when Carlos Ghosn, President and CEO of both Renault and Nissan, decided that they were too expensive. Nissan is now placing a large bet on EVs and developing lithium ion batteries through a joint venture with NEC in Japan.

The success or failure of the growing electric vehicle movement will ultimately come down to the successful development of inexpensive, advanced batteries with enough range to make the cars useful to a larger number of commuters than previously. Although battery breakthroughs have been promised for decades now, and subject to millions of dollars of government research money, they have not kept pace with advances in fuel economy or the convenience of conventional vehicles in the mind’s of most car buyers, thereby relegating EVs to expensive curiosities thus far. 

Still momentum is building globally for EVs. The Renault-Nissan Alliance has begun “ZEV initiatives” in Israel, Denmark, Portugal, the Principality of Monaco, Kanagawa Prefecture and Yokohama city in Japan. It has also formed partnerships with the French electric utility company EDF, the Swiss electric utility company Energie Ouest Suisse, the private-car hire service “greentomatocars” and electric transport company “elektromotive” in the United Kingdom. In the United States, the Alliance has agreed to EV partnerships in the States of Tennessee and Oregon, Sonoma County, California, and Tucson, Arizona, to develop an electric-vehicle infrastructure. 

Keep your batteries charged with TheDetroitBureau later today as we  review the latest version of the Th!nk City electric car. Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at the third generation Toyota Prius hybrid that holds a coveted 50 mpg EPA rating — and it doesn’t need to be plugged in.

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One Response to “The Commercialization of Electric Vehicles Continues to Gain Momentum”

  1. Good post, thanks