Why I love electric cars



I love electric cars. I’ve been writing, doing research, and even a little experimenting on them for two decades.

You can see the latest example of this in our new Model E electric car educational project.

Electric cars are exciting

A completely unscientific look at the interest in electric cars tells me that I’m not alone. A Google web search for “electric car” comes back with 20 million hits. Searching for the more well-known plug-in hybrid, battery, and fuel cell electric cars—Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Honda FCX—each delivers millions of hits. And the last four presidents (perhaps more) have been electric car boosters in one way or another.

There are good reasons for the excitement about electric cars:

  • Battery and fuel cell electric cars don’t need any gasoline for fuel, and plug-in hybrid electric cars only use gasoline when their batteries can’t supply enough power.
  • When paired with natural gas as a source for electricity or hydrogen, electric cars have a lower carbon footprint than even a good hybrid.
  • When paired with renewable power, electric cars can truly approach zero emission status.

Add to that the quiet hum of an electric motor, the potential for great acceleration off the line, the lack of pollution from the tailpipe, and the overall high-tech “cool” factor, and you’ve got the potential for true love.

From electric car hype to an electric car revolution

Despite their potential, my relationship with electric cars has been rocky at times. They’ve always been there for me, at least their potential has, but sometimes they seem to get used as a distraction. Instead of getting significant increases in fuel economy in the 1990s and much of the 2000s, we got programs like the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) and the FreedomCAR Partnership. These programs tended to focus the bulk of industry attention on unrealistic targets and timelines for hybrid and electric cars instead of actually putting the boring technologies to work to boost fuel economy to 30, 40, or 50 mpg. PNGV, FreedomCAR, and the current incarnation, U.S. Drive, have played a clear and important role in accelerating research. But cutting our oil addiction and curbing global warming can’t be about either action on fuel economy or electrification. It has to be about both.

Thankfully, things could be different this time. We’ve just seen most automakers sign on to what looks like a strong fuel economy proposal from the administration and California. At the same time, automakers are introducing or planning to introduce several battery, fuel cell, and plug-in hybrid electric cars over the next few years. It will still take time to see how committed automakers, consumers and policymakers are to an electric car revolution that will take 20-30 years to deliver a large impact, but we’re on the right track.

New electric car web feature

Because electric cars are so important to our future, UCS kicked off a new project on electric cars that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. We call it the Model E in homage to Ford’s Model T, which revolutionized the auto industry about 100 years ago.

Electric cars can help revolutionize the future of the auto industry, but only if they get the support they need. We’re hoping that the Model E will be a resource that will build on the excitement around electric car technology, help answer common questions, and point the way to the policy and technology progresses needed to turn the technology into a market success. You can even take our quiz to find out if you’re ready for a Model-E.

What you see at the site is a labor of love. It is also just the beginning. In the coming months, we’re going to put up a consumer’s guide to vehicle electrification, a detailed assessment of the carbon footprint of electric cars around the country, and more information on the latest electric cars on the market.