The Struggle to Charge-Up Electric Vehicles in America

WASHINGTON, December 12 (By Jaclyn O’Laughlin for RIA Novosti) – Getting Americans charged up about electric vehicles has hit yet another roadblock.

This week a local governing board in Arlington County, Virginia, just outside of Washington, voted against a proposal to create the first all-electric taxi fleet in the United States. The rejection was another example of just how slowly environmentally friendly vehicles are gaining traction in America despite President Barack Obama’s initiatives to energize the industry.

“I feel like we’re not quite ready for this yet,” Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman told the online news organization ARLnow about the proposal that would have brought 40 new all-electric vehicles to the area.

The board cited a lack of charging stations and “range anxiety,” the fear that the car’s battery will lose power before reaching its destination leaving passengers stranded, as the reasons for not approving the proposal.

These apprehensions are held by many Americans when it comes to electric vehicles, Marc Geller, co-founder of the company Plug In America, said in a phone interview with RIA Novosti. He added that the Obama administration’s plan to have one million electric vehicles on US roads by 2015 is “aspirational and it will not be easy.”

“We would all like this to happen more quickly,” said Geller, about the estimated 90,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the roads today, a number that falls drastically short of the US government’s goal.

“Electric cars are actually catching on quicker than people think they are, and are being purchased at a rate that is more rapid than when hybrids were introduced,” said Geller, who is the proud owner of two electric vehicles which he describes as “awesome.”

Obama announced in January 2011 that with more “more research and incentives” the US can break its dependence on oil by having more electric vehicles on American highways.

In order to achieve what appears now to be a lofty objective, the US government plans to invest $7.5 billion in the electric vehicle industry through 2019, including $2 billion in tax credits, according to a report released by the nonpartisan US Congressional Budget Office.

The US government also offers tax credits up to $7,500 to consumers who purchase plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, which Kenneth Green, former resident scholar, environmental scientist and policy analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, disagrees with.

“Economically speaking it doesn’t make sense for the consumer or society as a whole to have to subsidize someone who is well off,” he said in a phone interview about some electric cars and plug-in vehicles, such as the Volt and Leaf, which have a sticker price close to $40,000.

“You subsidize them with tax money from someone who can’t afford a car or can only afford a cheaper car,” he said.


The price tag for an electric vehicle can be considered “overwhelming” by some consumers, but shoppers aren’t “thinking about the $2,000 they spend on gasoline per year,” Geller said.

“They just see that the car is more expensive and then they also evaluate whether they want to go through the paradigm shift in changing technologies,” he said.

Geller compared the electric vehicle to any new piece of technology that has entered the market, such as the iPhone and iPad, which consumers at first might have been hesitant to try.

“People are understandingly resistant to make changes,” he said. “We have moved onto cell phones and computers and it’s really time for cars to catch up, and electricity and batteries provide us that opportunity.”

John-Michael Cross, transportation policy associate with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, said in a phone interview with RIA Novosti that with any new piece of technology there are always the “early adopters who will be the first ones with it” and then “everyone else wants to see how it goes.”

The mindset about electric vehicles needs to change before consumers will start buying more of the environmentally friendly cars and for some people it’s a “mental barrier to overcome, and for some it’s a real barrier until the battery range can be improved,” Cross said.

“The barrier for getting over this is as people see how it is being used in the market and they see that it works for their friends and they see it spread through their communities, people will begin to feel comfortable using electric vehicles,” he said. “That is what happened with hybrids.”

Electric vehicle batteries can last for about 100 miles on some models before needing to be charged again, and studies have shown that the average American drives within that range on a daily basis when they drive to work and run errands, said Cross.

The main hurdles to overcome for the future of the electric car is the idea of charging the vehicle instead of stopping at a gas station to fill-up and “range anxiety,” which can be reduced by the public knowing there are a growing number of charging stations being installed throughout the country, Geller said.

The electric vehicle is just “another way of doing things” and once Americans get more used to the idea, Cross believes they will begin to catch on with consumers.

“People have associated electric cars with golf carts, and the reality is once you have been driving down the highway not using gasoline you don’t understand why you wouldn’t do it again,” Geller said.

There are signs that more people are beginning to understand the benefits of electric vehicles. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced on Tuesday that he wants his city to become the first in the US to replace its entire fleet of vehicles with electric and plug-in hybrid cars by 2025.


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