Thousands Gather in Los Angeles to Move Beyond Oil to Electric-Drive

Thousands of stakeholders from over twenty countries and five continents gather this week in Los Angeles to attend the International Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS26) to discuss moving the plug-in electric vehicle industry forward. Automakers such as Ford, GM, Nissan and Toyota, electronic firms such as Siemens, utilities such as Southern California Edison, Southern Company, and Edison International, and charging infrastructure service providers like Coulomb Technologies and AeroVironment are working to provide consumers with greater choices beyond oil and high gasoline prices.

So what should the public and policymakers expect from the industry over the next year? Based on the conference so far, here is what is happening:

1. Automakers will provide more options for Americans to drive gasoline-free.

 Automakers will be introducing up to 40 new models that can plug-in to the electricity grid. Families fed up with high gasoline prices will have a greater array of choices to drive gasoline-free by refueling on domestically produced, cleaner electricity.  

2. Utilities and charging service providers will continue to make “plugging-in” easier and more cost-effective for their residential and business customers.

On average, most utility customers will be able to refuel their electric vehicles on electricity at a cost roughly equivalent to one dollar a gallon gasoline. But with 3,270 utilities throughout the country, electricity rates and utility involvement can vary considerably. As my colleague Max Baumhefner wrote, utilities will have an instrumental role to the success of EVs, and utility commissions throughout the country will need to step in to adopt model utility policies that provide attractive rates for EV customers and make plugging in even easier for customers. Access to charging will also be expanded by charging service providers with a focus on multi-family dwellings and workplace charging as the next big barrier to overcome. 

3. Battery manufacturers and other suppliers innovating and bringing costs down.

Five years ago, there were very few suppliers for EVs. That is changing with the growth of many more companies on a global basis. All segments of the electric vehicle industry are also continuing down the cost and learning curve. In just one year, the costs of lithium ion batteries – the largest single cost component for EVs – decreased by 14% -- according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  GM’s Tony Posawatz said “we see a path to reducing the costs of batteries to half.” Expect to see competition to get fiercer in this industry, with costs continuing to decline.  

 4. Getting cleaner.

As my colleague, Max Baumhefner, points out

Some utilities are cleaner than others, but on average, driving an electric car emits about half as much carbon pollution as the typical gasoline car.  In states with cleaner utilities, such as California, driving on electricity emits only a quarter as much carbon pollution.  And that’s today. Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have set goals for increasing renewable generation, and market forces are pushing aging coal plants out of the mix.  In other words, unlike gasoline, which will only become dirtier as oil companies exploit expensive and increasingly polluting resources such as tar sands, electricity gets cleaner every year.

5. Educating consumers while learning how to market and sell electric vehicles.

 One of the most important steps, according to GM’s Britta Gross, is simply to get consumers into the vehicles to test drive them.  With the idea of electric cars still taking water,  automakers are learning how to educate a public largely unfamiliar with plug-in technology, despite fuel economy being one of the top purchasing criteria for customers.  Dealerships are also learning how to sell these vehicles, with some dealers showing great success through new approaches such as focused training of salespeople and specific education of their customers. As an interview by Forbes with one such dealer showed:  “A payment on a Volt might be $150 more a month,” Brown explained. “But we can show them that they’d be saving $150 or $200 a month in gas with a Volt, so it might make sense for them.”

6. Dusting off and moving on after hit-and-run partisan politics took aim at electric vehicles.

Just as the first electric vehicles were hitting the market, the industry became attacked by some in a political, partisan battle with some pundits showing misguided glee at speed bumps encountered in the development of this new technology and industry. It reached a point that one major newspaper auto column in its review of the Volt wrote: "We should suspend our rancor and savor a little American pride. A bunch of Midwestern engineers in bad haircuts and cheap wristwatches just out-engineered every other car company on the planet."

Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans are united around ending our oil dependency and support having more choices of fuel efficient vehicles, including electric vehicle technologies with the capability to run gasoline-free. This week, thousands in Los Angeles are working together toward this common goal and are helping us move beyond oil as well as the partisan politics.