Commonwealth National Podcast

Pole Position (5/12/11)

Duration: 
1:08:47

Pole Position

Forrest Beanum, Vice President of Government Relations, Coda Automotive
Oliver Kuttner, CEO, Edison2
Bill Reinert, National Manager, Toyota
Michael Robinson, VP for Environment, Energy and Safety Policy, General Motors
Dan Sperling, Member, California Air Resources Board; Professor, UC Davis

Fifteen years have passed since a major automaker has attempted to market an electric vehicle. Within five years, rare will be the auto showroom that lacks one. But before EVs dominate the market, industry, policymakers, and consumers will have to grapple with some unresolved questions, says this panel of industry giants and start-ups. Those questions are a primary reason why “in pure electric cars, there’s very little first-mover advantage,” says Bill Reinert, National Manager, Toyota, “when you’re out there trying to figure out where the infrastructure’s going to go, and how the tow service works, and what happens when the charger doesn’t charge your car.” Dan Sperling, member, California Air Resources Board, disagrees that carmakers should avoid positioning themselves as a leader in the EV race. Yes, there are technology and scaling challenges, he says, but being first “does create a hallo for the entire company, which Toyota understands better than anyone – what the Prius did.” Michael Robinson, VP for Environment, Energy and Safety Policy, General Motors, is coming to see the benefit of that green hallo. His company has sold 2,000 units of its extended-range electric car, the Chevy Volt, since it went on sale in late 2010. Half of those sales have come in California, Robinson says, and 90% of total sales have been to Prius owners. Oliver Kuttner, CEO, Edison2, says carmakers need to figure out how to design electric cars to be lighter and more efficient. “If we were to re-think the way a car is built, and built the car in a more efficient way, like an airplane,” you could downsize the battery – the most expensive piece of an EV, costing upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 per car. During the Q&A, an audience member asks if automakers might be underestimating the demand for EVs. “Absolutely,” responded Forrest Beanum, Vice President of Government Relations, Coda Automotive. He cites Coda’s reading of independent studies finding that 40% of consumers want to own or drive an electric vehicle. What might make the difference this time is that carmakers appear to want EVs to succeed. It might seem counterintuitive, says GM’s Michael Robinson, but “we’re actually pulling for one another to be successful. We want the technology to be successful.” Dan Sperling agrees. “We’re way ahead of the regulatory process. We’re way ahead of the market process. Standardization issues are a challenge. This is a big adventure – and hugely important. We have to make this successful,” he says.

This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco on May 12th, 2011

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