Blogs & Comment

Electric cars to stick around?

Odds are they will with cities around the world ushering their arrival with brand spanking new plug-in stations.

A Nissan Leaf electric car is charging in Portland, Ore. (Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP)

It’s round three for electric cars and it looks like there’s a greater push for them to stay.

Canadian cities like Montreal and Vancouver, U.S. cities like New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco and European Cities like Bucharest and Amsterdam are all gearing up for the arrival of the electric car by installing charging stations.

But it’s an uphill battle ahead. As Nissan announces its continued expansion into the electric car market, Think, a former Ford-owned manufacturer based in Norway, filed for bankruptcy again.

A vehicle with a main power source as a battery is an idea that’s been around for a while. In fact, they were sold in the late 19th century. Clara Ford drove one before her husband’s invention, the infamous Model T car, introduced the era of gas-guzzling vehicles.

Electric car development received a boost from an aggressive stance taken by the California Air Resources Board in 1990. The board created a zero-emission vehicle mandate with the target that 10% of all new vehicles sold by large car manufacturers’ within the state would not emit pollutants in 2003. The Golden State’s approach was adopted by ten other states including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Washington.

With the mandate passed, car companies stepped up their resources to creating its own electric cars. General Motors (GM) created the EV1 that was available for lease, driven by celebrities like Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson and gained a waiting list of interested drivers. Ford joined the competition in 1999 with its purchase of start-up company Pivco, now known as Think, which produced the prototype for its City car.

But the policy faced backlash from the auto industry and GM filed a lawsuit that received backing from the Bush administration. Since then the policy was relaxed and revised to give automakers more time to adapt. Interest and U.S. funding drifted towards hydrogen-fuelled cars.

With the bite taken out of the law, development of electric cars came to a screeching halt despite protests from drivers. GM recalled its electric cars from customers in 2004 and sent many of them to be crushed into scrap metal. There was a campaign by owners offering $1.9-million to buy back their cars but to no avail. Ford planned to scrap Think-built cars in the U.S. but instead they were sent back to Norway, where they were built, after protests began. The company was sold to a Swiss electronics company. The push behind the development was gone and other big companies shifted its resources towards other ventures.

Fortunately, interest in electric vehicles didn’t dwindle and new players like India and China joined the fray.

One California-company, Tesla Motors, took to the streets in 2008 with its Roadster electric sports car. The company recently announced ceasing production of the $109,000 Roadster to create a more affordable sedan in 2012 but it proved that electric cars were a viable means of transportation.

With continually rising oil prices and more and more concerns about global warming, the spark for the environmentally-friendly cars is back. There are more and more options entering the mainstream market like the Nissan Leaf and General Motor’s Chevrolet Volt which both delivered its first cars in December 2010. Toyota’s hybrid Prius is also adding a plug-in component to its newer models. Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV will enter the North American market starting with Canada later this year. Car sales will be watched in the next few years to see how well received these cars are.

In the future will people switch over to electric cars?

It looks like many cities around the world are counting on it and setting time frames to build the needed infrastructure. If anything, at least the next U.S. president and White House staffers will be driving them.