Friday, March 23, 2012

Growth of Electric Vehicles

When the internal combustion engine was first invented it changed our entire way of life. People started to live further out in the suburbs and other newly opened regions. As well it created new economical opportunities as both people and goods could move across area far more efficiently. However, the cost of all this is starting to cost us today. Vehicles running on fossil fuels are largely responsible for negative effects on the environment, and effects on human health. While electric vehicles are viewed as a new technology that is just coming into the market today, the technology has actually been around for quit sometime. In the early 1900s many manufacturers were experimenting with electric vehicles. In fact in 1900 28% of the cars on the road in the United States were electric. However, electric vehicles were quickly dropped as most companies began focusing only on fossil fuel technology. There have always been many theories of the oil companies having a controlling interest in discouraging electric vehicles. For example in the 1930s a partnership between General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil of California purchased a lot of electric street cars networks across America only to take them off the road, and replace them with GM buses. Electric vehicles offered a lot of advantages over gasoline ones. They were quitter, did not produce any emissions, and were easier to start. In 1912 the New York Times commented that electric was the “ideal” technology for cars. However, with advances in internal combustion technology especially the introduction of the electric starter shifted almost all production away from electric cars.

Demand for electric cars began to increase again in the early 1990s as there was a growing concern over green house gas emissions. The California Air Resources Board began to push for lower emission vehicles. Automakers responded, one example was the induction of an all-electric car called the EV1 by GM. This vehicle was initially only available by lease to customers only. The vehicle was very popular and it is believed that there was even a waiting list of customers. However, in 2002 GM announced that it would be taking all EV1 off the road. This came much to the dismay of customers who could not understand why they were being discontinued. Despite the popularity GM claimed it did not see a strong enough customer base for the vehicle to be sustainable. Most of the cars were crushed, while some were sent to museums with the powertrain removed so that they could never run again. Some theories suggest that oil companies were behind the effort to take the car off the road. As well GM may have feared that electric cars may cut into their profitable spare parts market, as electric vehicles have far less moving parts.

Demand increased even more in the late 2000s with the increase the global economic recession and increase in fuel prices. While there has been an increase in electric vehicles offered, the majority of cars still run on fossil fuels today. Even taking into account the emission produced to generate the electricity for these vehicles, a study done in the UK concluded that these vehicles can cut down carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas by as much as 40%.

The major challenge for electric vehicles is to outperform the cost of development, production, and operation compared to vehicles power by an internal combustion engine. Currently they are still generally more expensive than gasoline cars.

Growing technology often takes time and encouragement. As this technology is still relatively new and expensive, it should be the government’s responsibility to encourage growth in this area. Currently as people’s incomes are rising especially in developing countries more and more people are demanding cars and why should they be. In the West we have enjoyed this luxury for decades and they to want the same privileges. However, at the same time we are trying to fight the increase in pollutants, which conflicts this growing demand. I feel that it is more essential than ever now, as there has never been a greater demand for vehicles worldwide.

By Jeff Dallard