Green Car Journal: As a 'Moon Shot,' the Electric Car is a Challenging Mission

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The race to deliver electric vehicles to the market is on and competition is heating up. But like the Apollo Program, success is likely to be measured over many years and will come at great cost.

I understand first-hand the advantages of an electric car with its high efficiency, zero localized emissions, and petroleum-free operation. But I also recognize the importance of an affordable cost so most people can buy them, and that's a crucial issue that's rarely, if ever, discussed. People should be asking why.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of successfully landing a man on the moon this month, it's interesting to note the many comparisons that position electric cars as the next 'moon shot.' There are synergies at work since, after all, the Apollo Program's lunar rover may be the most high-profile electric car in history. But the editors at Green Car Journal caution that even as get-there-at-all-costs momentum builds for electric cars in Washington DC, it's a giant leap of faith to assume that today's activities will lead to an affordable all-electric car in your garage anytime soon.

"What people overlook is that accomplishing 'big picture' programs like Apollo require accepting the concept of unlimited spending to achieve the mission," says Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of the industry authority Green Car Journal and editor of GreenCar.com. "Current levels of unprecedented federal spending notwithstanding, electric cars are not an exclusive answer to future transportation challenges and consumers will not be willing to buy them at all costs."

In current dollars, the Apollo Program cost well over $100 billion. At its end there was no imperative to produce a consumer product to sell at a reasonable cost. Such is not the case with electric cars. Even after the Obama Administration's $2.4 billion in grants to promote electric car and advanced battery development, plus an additional $25 billion loan program and $7,500 per-vehicle subsidies that could ultimately run into additional billions of dollars, there's no assurance that electric cars will be affordable after the money is spent.

"There's a shroud of denial that regularly excludes the real cost of battery electric vehicles from discussion of their considerable benefits," adds Cogan, who documented the rise and fall of electric vehicles for both the Green Car Industry Newsletter and Motor Trend magazine in the 1990s. He also test drove all major electric vehicles of the era and spent a year behind the wheel of a GM EV1. "I understand first-hand the advantages of an electric car with its high efficiency, zero localized emissions, and petroleum-free operation. But I also recognize the importance of an affordable cost so most people can buy them, and that's a crucial issue that's rarely, if ever, discussed. People should be asking why."

The primary culprit is not the car. Automakers in the 1990s proved they could produce full-function electric vehicles offering the attributes that most drivers expect, although with limited driving range of about 100 miles or so. What they couldn't do was replace a gas tank with an advanced battery pack that cost less than $20,000 to $30,000. Today's electric Tesla Roadster battery cost is about the same. Extraordinarily high battery cost is why we're seeing newly-announced battery electric sedans with a retail cost of $45,000 to $55,000.

Will buyers pay $15,000 to $25,000 more for a vehicle that runs solely on batteries compared to a similar gasoline or clean diesel model? Not in mass market numbers, says Cogan, which is why electric cars should be considered potential mid- to long-term volume vehicles rather than a sure short-term solution as battery costs are being sorted out. Higher fuel economy gasoline, clean diesel, and hybrid vehicles of varying types will comprise the majority of the U.S. market's estimated 11 million annual vehicle sales for years even as battery electric cars come to new car showrooms in increasing numbers.

Recognized as the auto enthusiast magazine of today with a focus on automobiles, energy, and the environment, Green Car Journal has achieved critical acclaim with a Folio: Eddie Award and 16 International Automotive Media Awards since its launch in January 1992. A sample issue can be viewed at http://www.GCJUSA.com, where subscriptions and back issues of the magazine can also be ordered.

MEDIA CONTACT: For further information or interviews of Ron Cogan call 805-541-0473 ext 1.

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Ron Cogan
Green Car Group
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