Fasten your seatbelts, America. The electric vehicle is about to take us on one heck of a ride. So states James Billmaier in his groundbreaking book on the impending electric vehicle (EV) revolution. He argues that in addition to being a blast to drive, EVs will come to dominate the personal auto market in the coming years because they are cheaper to run and cheaper to maintain. Adopting EVs will also allow America to put the brakes on sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year to OPEC, helping us achieve energy independence within a decade.
But that’s only part of the story. Billmaier outlines how EVs will propel the coming “electriconomy,” a consumer-driven economic boom that will be ignited as society is transformed from an oil-based economy to one powered by electricity. The electriconomy will dwarf all previous technology revolutions—it will be bigger than the computer and Internet markets combined—and will catapult the economy of whichever nation masters it.
It’s a race we need to win for reasons of national and economic security, Billmaier says, but we need to move fast. China is determined to own the EV space itself, an outcome that would be as detrimental to U.S. national security as our current dependence on foreign oil is today. In these pages, he describes what we need to do to win the EV race—what America must do to take charge!
In all the time I’ve been in the automobile industry—more than half a century now—the electric car has been a shimmering mirage, clearly in view but totally unreachable, perhaps totally unreal. Yes, there have been successful electric cars in the past, at any given moment there have always been a few in service, but the true arrival of the universally accepted electric car has always been promised for “sometime in the future.” In ten years? Twenty? Who knew? Mark Twain once remarked, on the subject of fluvial transport,“When it’s steamboat time, you steam.” Today, it’s electric car time.
The advantages of electric cars are multiple and compelling. Instant torque for good initial acceleration, quiet operation, low local pollution, and ease of operation are among their many compelling virtues. Their disadvantage is singular, but even more compelling: they couldn’t go very far on a single charge. The reason is simple: the energy density of batteries was too low, the time to recharge them too long. That was true in the nineteenth century, it was true in the twentieth, and it is true today, with one major difference: the zeitgeist is positive, a critical mass of users clearly perceives the many advantages, and the perpetual negative—limited range—is finally correctly seen as irrelevant in the majority of cases. The revelation that electric cars could be practical despite that range limitation came to me in 1965. On March 13 that year, I bought a new Mustang, trading in the small car that I had, coincidentally, bought on the same date a year before. I have always kept logbooks on my cars, so I had a solid record of what I had done with the departed 38 horsepower Saab 93B. It had never gone faster than 70 mph (because that was its top speed), had only once traveled 100 miles from my home, and any time I had done more than 100 miles in a single day, I could have recharged an electric for at least 8 hours at my destination. So, even with old-technology lead-acid “golf cart” batteries, I could easily have done the 24,000 miles I racked up that year with a primitive electric car.
Note that everyone accepted limited performance from small cars like VW Beetles and my Saab in those days, whereas today 150 horsepower seems to be a minimum requirement. Even so, electric cars have become accepted, and at least three major manufacturers—Audi, Nissan, and Renault—are publicly committed to volume production of pure electrics. I’m certain the venturous buyers of plug-in electrics will find them perfectly satisfactory for more than 90 percent of their driving needs, but the critical requirement is that we all realize that fact and behave accordingly. Right now many people are perfectly willing to drive three-ton SUVs all the time because they “might need the space when we go on vacation.” Rationally, everyone should rent suitable alternate vehicles for the few times range or load-carrying capability is vital and requirements exceed those of a private EV (electric vehicle).
The principal advantage for everyone in adopting electric cars is virtually eliminating urban air pollution. Few remember that gasoline cars, now seen as villains, were once hailed for freeing city dwellers from the disease-producing organic pollution of horses. The civil advantages of electrics were recognized early. Thomas Edison created a pretty good nickel-iron battery a hundred years ago, and his good friend Henry Ford was on record as planning to make inexpensive and practical electric cars as early as 1915. It didn’t happen because the Edison battery was not quite good enough to allow electrics to prevail over the clear advantages of gasoline engines then.
Today’s battery technology is vastly better, and advancing rapidly. A wide variety of efficient, lightweight electric motors is available to car makers. An infrastructure to support recharging is being extended in many urban areas, not just in the U.S. but in both established and emerging economies around the world. What this means for the United States is that there is an opportunity to once again lead the world by providing safe, practical, and inexpensive vehicles. Ninety years ago more than half of all the cars in the world were made in the U.S., with consequent pros- perity, good jobs, and a thriving domestic economy. If the U.S. embraces the potential of electric vehicles, we can achieve world leadership again. And we can totally eliminate the importation of petroleum products. We have more than enough for all purposes if we don’t burn it up unneces- sarily in our outmoded twentieth-century vehicles. JOLT! points the way, with details on every aspect of the electric vehicle revolution.
—Robert Cumberford, Automotive Design Editor, Automobile Magazine
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A couple of years ago some colleagues and I, all computer-technology veterans from Silicon Valley’s earliest days, were discussing the state of world affairs over a couple glasses of wine. (Okay, maybe a few.) We agreed that while we had helped build technologies and industries that have provided a transformational foundation for the planet and its people, we sure had left our kids with a lot of daunting challenges.
Wouldn’t it be nice, we asked, if we could actually do something to eliminate at least one of these problems?
But where would we start? What could we do?
After much discussion, we agreed energy independence was the biggest threat to America’s national security. We agreed that the United States could no longer afford to rely on overseas oil to power its economy. Dependence on foreign petroleum is simply too expensive—from a strategic perspective, an economic perspective, and a national security perspective. The U.S. sends hundreds of billions of dollars overseas each year to support our insatiable need for oil, much of which comes from countries that despise us. We also spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars annually to protect that oil—and not just for us, but for the rest of the world as well.
But we couldn’t do anything about it, could we?
I am pretty sure it was somewhere around the second bottle of wine that we concluded that yes we could. And yes we would.
How? We would do what we have always done. We would find a better technology.
Lucky for us, that technology appeared to already exist—in the form of the electric vehicle (EV). We decided to check it out, to see if the technology met our expectations. If it did, we would work to transform the nation’s transportation system from one based on oil to one based on electricity, which is made here in America. Replacing the cars we drive would go a long way toward helping the U.S. achieve energy independence and increased national security—not to mention boosting our economy and helping the planet along the way.
So after 30 years in the computer systems and software technology industries, I changed tack. I had always been interested in energy issues. Even before leaving my post as a math teacher and entering the computer industry in 1980, I had followed early-generation electric vehicle advances, hydrogen fuel cell research, and battery and other energy storage developments.
But after that night I dove in headfirst. For the past two years I have spent much of my time studying all aspects of the next-generation electric vehicle. And I have come to understand that we’re looking at a technology and economic revolution bigger than the computer and Internet revolutions combined, with the EV the “killer app” that will launch this next wave.
The internal combustion engine is dying. Its death throes may take 20 years, but make no mistake: the end is coming. And that’s an excellent thing, since as you’ll read in JOLT!, EVs represent a better, faster, and cheaper mode of transportation. Ending our nation’s reliance on foreign oil and helping the planet along is great. But the real reason EVs will come to dominate the personal transportation market—cars, SUVs, vans, and pick-up trucks—over the next couple of decades is that they make financial sense to the consumer. Bottom line: they are cheaper to operate and maintain than gas-powered vehicles. (And as you’ll learn, they’re an absolute blast to drive.) Just as consumers ultimately powered the computer and Internet revolutions, consumers will propel the EV revolution as well. Americans will adopt EVs in overwhelming numbers—in the process driving yet another paradigm shift of massive proportions.
Electric vehicles also offer a phenomenal business opportunity. While the Internet represents an annual $1 trillion market worldwide, legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr has projected that EVs and the associated energy market will be six times bigger, accounting for $6 trillion a year worldwide. Speaking before a Senate committee in 2009, Doerr told members that energy technology “is the mother of all markets, perhaps the biggest economic opportunity of the twenty-first century.”
The great unknown, however, is whether or not the U.S. will be prepared to profit from the EV revolution. The coming “electriconomy”— an economy based on an electrified personal transportation system—will result in both massive upheaval and massive opportunity. China, in particular, has acknowledged the inevitability and the potential of the EV revolution and is in fast-forward mode to implement the new technology. But the electriconomy is as essential to America’s national security as is energy independence, and Chinese ownership of the EV realm would leave the U.S. in a dangerous position. Possessing the technologies that power our economy is crucial to America’s strength and well-being.
There is no longer any question of whether or not we will adopt an electric-based transportation system. We will. And the transition will come much more quickly than most “experts” predict. All major auto-makers have some type of plug-in vehicle coming out in the very near future, with the first cars due out at the end of 2010. The U.S. can’t afford to be left behind. But we’re going to need to move fast to become the undisputed market leader.
Thee good news is that we’re halfway there, at least in terms of ability. The U.S. has a well-established history of economic leadership and is renowned for its innovation. It also has a resourceful and skilled workforce able to capitalize on every aspect of the coming electriconomy, from conception and development to manufacture and delivery. In short, the U.S. workforce is a veritable Dream Team.
And the electric vehicle is a Dream Car. EVs are good for us individually. They’re good for us as a nation. And they’re good for the planet.
Hang on, America! The EV is going to take us on an amazing ride.