Electric cars are coming!
We're sorry to be buzz kills. But we've heard this one before. Like in 1990. And 1910. Do the
automakers have the juice this time?
By Katharine Mieszkowski
May. 20, 2009 | www.salon.com
On Tuesday, when President Obama proposed the
first nationwide regulation
gases, which would set limits on tailpipe emissions for cars and trucks, he jacked up the buzz
about electric cars. The new regulation requires new cars and light trucks to get on average
35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, which is almost 40 percent more fuel-efficient than the
requirements today. Automakers, which have kicked and screamed for generations about
increasing fuel efficiency, stood politely by Obama, having to suck it up, as their fortunes
now depend on the government. In good part, they will attempt to meet the goal with a flashy
new line of cars powered by the electrical outlet in your garage.
"The industry is already transitioning. Hybrid cars are the first step toward electric drive
vehicles, and the question now is how fast will the transformation take place," says professor
, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of
California at Davis, and coauthor of the recent book "Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward
On May 6, Ford declared it would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convert an SUV
plant near Detroit to churn out the Ford Focus. By 2011, the plant would be producing
battery-electric versions of the diminutive car. Nissan recently claimed that 10 percent of its
new cars will be electric by 2016.
plans to unleash its i-MiEV in Japan this year
and bring it to the U.S. in 2012. Toyota, which has dominated the hybrid market with its
Prius, plans to launch an electric Prius by 2012. Even famed investor Warren Buffett is
jumping on the buzzwagon: He's bought a stake in BYD, a Chinese battery and electric car
The big automakers can thank independent upstarts for helping electric cars today lose their
glorified golf-cart stigma. The flashy, very limited
Roadster goes for a cool $110,000. If
that's a bit steep for you, you're welcome to put down a $5,000 deposit for the forthcoming
Tesla Model S, which will go for around $57,000. Some 1,000 would-be Model S drivers
already have done so. (German automaker Daimler announced that it bought an almost 10
percent stake in Tesla on Tuesday.) Not to be outdone on the innovation front, there's the
, which looks like an insect and has three wheels.
The car in the eye of the publicity storm is the
, which the automaker calls an
"extended-range electric vehicle," which promises to travel its first 40 miles on electricity,
before burning any gas. Obama has said he wants to see 1 million plug-in hybrids on the road
in the U.S. by 2015. He's committed some $14.4 billion in stimulus money to an electric-car
future, including $2 billion for battery manufacturing.