GM President: The Electric Car Is Not Dead

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A mugshot of GM North America President Mark L. Reuss

General Motors North America President Mark L. Reuss. (Photo courtesy General Motors.)

General Motors North America President Mark Reuss came to the Automotive News World Congress Wednesday, Jan. 16 to say rumors of the death of the electric car have been greatly exaggerated.

According to an official GM transcript of his remarks, Reuss told the assembled automotive industry leaders in Detroit that the “trending theme” throughout the North American International Auto Show that electric vehicles are “dead” was not fact.

“The electric car is not dead,” Reuss assured.

“That’s despite what you might hear, and despite what you might read about Americans not being ready for it, or about it being ‘under attack’ by local governments retracting incentives for it.”

Reuss mentioned that those in the audience may have heard about the cancellation of free parking priveleges for EVs in Los Angeles, or about Washington instituting a $100 extra tax on EVs to make up for gas taxes those vehicles don’t pay.

“Funny thing about the authorities… when they think they’re missing out on lost fees and revenues from one place, they find ‘em in another place,” he said.

He further said those quick to point to the slow sales of electric cars were misguided in judging the cars “dead on arrival.

“We’re talking about a transformation here,” he said, “and transformation takes time.

“It takes a long time to change an industry, to change habits, and to change a way of life,” he added.

Electric cars do have hurdles to overcome. Range is a big one, though it is a function of the time needed to recharge the batteries and the ready availability of quick charge locations. Some manufacturers are betting the biggest hurdle to getting that last part, the infrastructure, to come into existence is price. Take, for example, Nissan’s announcement of a new, cheaper trim model for the 2013 LEAF electric car.

The electric car is faced with a chicken-and-egg scenario in more than one instance:

  • Battery technology has to improve, but can only do so if battery companies see enough market demand for EVs. They want to turn a profit on all the research and development, after all.
  • Infrastructure must be built so EVs can be charged while you shop for groceries or watch a movie, but businesses are unlikely to make the investment until a significant number of their customers and/or employees become EV owners and start demanding on-site chargers.
  • Even as new, better battery technology is being developed, the price of current battery technology must come down to make EVs competitive with today’s crop of 40 mpg cars in terms of cost to own. Of course, that is unlikely to happen until a sufficient number of EVs are being manufactured due to strong customer demand.
  • Alas, strong customer demand is unlikely unless all of the above needs are met.

Chicken, meet egg.

As a total nerd for EVs and as a patriot who would be tickled pink not to send any more of my hard-earned money to overseas oil barons, I hope Reuss is right.

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