Support for EVs – Key to Cutting Oil Dependence and Pain at the Pump

, research and deputy director, Clean Vehicles | March 8, 2012, 1:56 pm EDT
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Yesterday, President Obama announced proposals for continued support of advanced car and truck technologies, including EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles, as well as infrastructure needed to support these vehicles. These proposals, and others like it, are essential for advancing technology that can help alleviate pain at the pump and dependence on oil.

The proposal includes a new $1 billion federal program to support 10-15 communities becoming models of advanced vehicle deployment. It also calls for increasing the advanced vehicle tax credit from $7,500 to $10,000, and greater support for advanced heavy-duty trucks while eliminating $4 billion in annual oil industry subsidies.

The President’s continued support for advanced vehicles and infrastructure is encouraging, especially as consumer demand for these vehicles is increasing.

Because sales volumes of this emerging market have fallen shy of some automaker and analyst projections, some critics have been eager to trumpet the demise of EVs.  Despite the critics’ naysaying, the fact of the matter is, electric vehicles sales in 2011 look pretty encouraging compared to early hybrid vehicle sales in 2000.  When you consider that an electric vehicle requires a fundamental change in driver behavior – namely plugging the vehicle in – the pace of growth is even more encouraging.

But let’s be realistic. Declaring victory or defeat after one year of electric vehicle sales doesn’t do anyone any good. The internal combustion engine has maintained a stranglehold on the car and truck market for more than a century, and transformative technologies like electric drive vehicles will take time and support to get to a point where they can stand on their own. Transitioning to new technologies in a big way takes time, but the benefits – in terms of national security, energy security, jobs, and the environment – is worth the investment.

If we really want to be spared the pain at the pump, we need alternatives to oil, not more drilling. (See David Friedman’s post at US News and World Report on gas prices.) UCS has a plan to cut projected U.S. oil consumption in half by 2030 by implementing a comprehensive set of solutions.  Expanding the deployment of electric vehicles over the next two decades is one of the key elements of this plan.  Incentives to support the rollout of advanced technology vehicles in communities around the country can help get more electric vehicles on the road and move us in a direction we need to go – away from oil.

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  • Neil St. D.

    Aren’t you overestimating the “national security” contribution from EVs? Sure, they consume less gasoline, some of which is imported from outside the US but they devour vast quantities of rare earth elements during their manufacture. The rare earths are in very limited global supply (more finite, by far than oil) and nearly all must be imported into the US, most from Communist China. It is very risky behavior, indeed, to become wholly dependent upon China for a scarce limited resource. The president’s endorsement of EVs is incredibly short-sighted from a foreign policy standpoint. No legitimate environmental watchdog organization would take the position UCS has taken. Who are you working for — are you selling cars for GM?

    • Thanks for the comment Neil. As you point out, rare earth elements are utilized in electric vehicles being produced today. We can’t ignore these impacts but they are not insurmountable problems nor should they stop us from pursuing promising alternatives that reduce petroleum consumption and global warming emissions. Here are a couple reasons why I believe the scenario you suggest is unlikely to occur. Electric vehicle motor and battery technology will continue to evolve and the amount and types of materials needed to is likely to evolve as well. Technologies do change over time and the changes are often driven with the goal of reducing the use of costly materials. Also, unlike burning oil in our cars and trucks, these materials are not consumed during the operation of the vehicle. This means recycling can be a significant source of materials as the market for these vehicles grows. Finally, increasing electric vehicles in our vehicle fleet helps diversify our transportation energy sources. Right now the US is almost solely dependent oil for transportation. Increasing the use electricity to power at least some of our vehicles will make us less vulnerable to oil price spikes and supply disruptions.