Are electric cars truly the future?

Author:Modic, Stan
Position:Straight talk

The Big Three U.S. automakers are fighting for survival. One of the weapons they are betting on is the electric car.


The growing concern about environmental pollution as well as the vagaries of the supply and cost of oil are intensifying the search for a practical, lighter weight, yet safe electric car--with batteries that cost less than thousands of dollars, have a longer range of travel, and faster recharging rates.

These shortcomings today create skepticism among consumers. Who be willing to pay premium dollars for so little capability?

Most of the world's automakers--and even some newcomers such as Tesla and Fisker--are investing heavily to win the electric car race.

One of those is Toyota. CEO Katsuaki Watanabe claimed that until the industry faces up to global warming and energy issues, "There can be no future for our car business. We need to develop powertrains for alternative energy sources."

The lithium-ion battery is currently the industry's best bet. Because of its limited range, it can't be the final answer. Toyota has 50 engineers assigned to come up with something better. It predicted it will have a plug-in hybrid car on the market by 2010 and will offer hybrid-powered options on all its models in the next 10 to 20 years.

GM's chief Rick Wagoner claimed its Chevrolet Volt electric hybrid would be on the market in 2010, selling for less than $30,000. GM also is building a plant to develop and manufacture its own batteries.

Mercedes Benz will have its Smart minicar, powered by lithium-ion batteries, by 2012.

Death of the combustion engine?

VW's CEO Martin Winterkorn was quoted as saying, "There is no way to replace diesel and petrol cars over the next few years, but the future belongs to the plug-in electric car."

BMW's former head of research, Burkhard Goeschel, agreed. He doesn't see the end of the combustion engine but sees more electric cars on the road all the time. He said a big hurdle will be building an infrastructure to recharge batteries.

"It starts with small things like an electric plug-in in an underground parking garage," he said.

DPA News Agency reported that San Francisco is already working on plans for a network of charging and battery exchange stations.

Even so, Phillip Gott, director of automotive consulting with Global Insights Inc., told me he doesn't envision a time when we will abandon the internal combustion engine. It is efficient, and there is no substitute for it in long-distance...

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