Going greener, feeling patriotic: American EVs and hybrids


Alex Panasenko and Alex Panasenko

Domestic EV technology and the Americans working on it make me feel proud of America and glad that it is recovering from the economic downturn.

Preparing for the March 13, 2013, issue of The Current, I happened to scroll through the pictures for the story about electric parking. A picture of a car I’ve never seen before caught my eye. Some seconds later, Google informed me that it was an American all-electric car, Coda, by CODA Automotive.

That discovery eventually led me to wonder whether America wants an electric car. Surveying automotive history, I got the impression that the fate of an electric car in America is at the mercy of the zeitgeist.

Electric cars have been around since the 1890s, locked in a three-way battle with steam and internal combustion engines for the hearts and purses of American consumers. By the mid 1900s, electric cars had lost the battle and slipped into obscurity. Development of the electric car technology almost halted.

In 1996, the General Motors EV1 made the electric car possible again. The Toyota Prius hybrid came into the scene in 1997 because of America’s renewed interest in greener transportation.

Today, although interested in electric (I hope), America seems reluctant to do what it takes to become domestic, all-electric cars that will compete with a foreign, all-electric Nissan Leaf that’s basking in the spotlight and, with a price tag of about $30,000, still taking sales from American automakers.

Leaving the exhaust pipes behind isn’t a pipe dream anymore though; it’s a matter of commitment and getting the right people and right technology together. Means of cutting costs and extending the range of the battery to over 300 miles per charge are here now. Actually, they have been here since 1997, with cars like the AC Propulsions tzero.

What I find encouraging is that this technology is American and Americans are not just beating around the bush or sitting on the fence. Instead, new technology is being developed and a few motivated and determined domestic brands are doing their part.

Detroit Electric, an American company that once made electric cars from 1907 to 1939, is up and running again, according to their press release. The pricey (in the neighborhood of $135,000) all-electric sports car is due in August (a more affordable sedan to follow later).

California’s Tesla Motors enjoyed some success with its all-electric Roadster (approximately priced at $100,000).

I know, $100,000 is a lot, and Leaf is cheaper. But major USA brands are not too involved with EVs yet.

All in all, the determination of Americans to be greener makes me hopeful for EVs. Unless history repeats itself and the winds of change dissuade America again.