SOLUTIONS: Car makers see the value in electric vehicles

By Huck Fairman
Pam and Gary Mount hosted a gathering in November at their Terhune Orchards farm to hear Scott Fisher of NRG Energy present an update on electric cars.
Quite clearly they are money savers for owners of cars like the Nissan Leaf, with the cost of running it, or a similar make, for a year (in New Jersey) averaging $600 — much less than the majority of gasoline-powered cars. And the maintenance of electric cars is also less frequently needed and less expensive than servicing gasoline powered cars.
Mr. Fisher noted that because our state produces electricity relatively cheaply by using a mix of renewables, natural gas, and coal, it benefits local electric car owners. (This corroborates a study by Climate Central of Nassau Street that the benefits of electric or hybrid cars vary state by state depending on their power sources.)
Mr. Fisher added, however, that a number of developments are coming together that will make owning an electric ever more convenient. These include a greater number of manufacturers producing them. BMW has recently joined the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, Tesla, and Ford’s several options.
Audi and Volvo will soon follow, and, he revealed, China will be investing in a billion dollar California plant to produce a competitor to the Tesla, for sales here and in China. (Now the world leader in current CO2 emissions and poisonous air quality, China needs to, and apparently is, ramping up production of electric cars.)
Those aware of China’s push to become the largest solar panel producer can anticipate the effort and investment they will put into this venture. But watch out China! Apple is getting into the electric car business, too, and it brings with it a generation of devotees, worldwide.
Second perhaps, to the growing number of manufacturers, is the increasing mileage soon to be available in Ford’s and Nissan’s models. While some local owners find the current 70- to 100-mile range on a full charge more than adequate for their daily commute or shopping or school rounds, there is no question that greater range will entice larger number of drivers.
A third development is the rapidly increasing numbers of charging stations — including NRG’s EVgo stations — available in urban localities, shopping centers, along highways, at schools, and in employers’ parking lots. This writer has noticed that a Leaf parked on a local Princeton street overnight is never plugged in to any electrical source. The owner, it is presumed, recharges while at work. And this can reduce an owner’s cost even more, depending on a company’s policy. And if that power comes from solar panels, so much the better. It’s a save, save for both.
A related improvement is the increasing adoption of 240-volt DC charging systems which charge faster and don’t need the converters required when drawing from our normal, home AC electricity.
The one component in electric cars, Mr. Fisher conceded, that could benefit from substantial improvement is the battery — which, by the way, car manufacturers recycle. But, he added, a number of large corporations here and abroad are investing billions in research to increase a battery’s range and longevity while reducing its weight. With so many large companies pursuing these improvements, we should expect success in a reasonable time frame.
On top of all of these benefits, of course, is the reduction of our individual CO2 footprints. In New Jersey, with our relatively clean electric power generation sources, petroleum usage by vehicles accounts for 30 percent of our CO2 emissions. Drive along U.S. Route 1 at rush hour, or along pretty much any main road in Mercer County, and one can choke from the sight alone of unending streams of cars, pretty much all emitting CO2. Across the country, 310 million Americans own 250 million cars, of which 150,000 are electric.
New car sales this year are expected to reach 15 to 17 million. In Princeton, on the other hand, an admittedly affluent and well-educated community, one sees many electric and hybrid cars — California on a small scale. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the cost of electric and hybrids will continue to fall to the point where they become widely affordable. Some state governments have aided customers with tax benefits — as air quality is a public concern.
Propelled by government policies such as increasing mileage requirements, the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) standards, and lower emissions levels, and by an increasingly aware public, the numbers of electric cars should grow and their performance and convenience will improve.
But this trend is not only the result of government (of the people, by the people, for the people) policy, but also of corporate leadership stemming from their analysis that electric cars can be both profitable and sustainable, and from individual decisions as people come to see that electric cars save money and can help save the planet that we have known. 
Huck Fairman is a Princeton author who writes SOLUTIONS about environmental issues. 