EVS-23: A Surge of Energy for Electric Cars

Anaheim, Californiaâ''What a difference a year makes!

Yesterday, a Congressman spoke up from the floor at EVSâ''for the first time ever, said a startled moderator. It brought home just how much has changed in the world of electric vehicles. And how fast that has occurred.

This yearâ''s Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS-23) saw more than 450 people spend all of Sunday at a workshop on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the usual windowless hall. Automakers, electric utilities, regulators, and even lawmakers debated the complex issues involved in designing, building and selling vehicles with electric drive.

Oh, the Congressman? That was US Representative Jay Insley (Dâ''Washington), who detailed a bill in the House to eliminate oil-industry tax benefits as one way to encourage development of electric vehicles. (He was also touting his new book, Apolloâ''s Fire: Igniting Americaâ''s Clean Energy Economy.)

To understand how far things have come, consider: A year ago, the Chevrolet Volt was unknown. It would have been breathtaking to learn that General Motors intended to build and sell a four-seat vehicle with a 40-mile electric range. A month later, at Januaryâ''s Detroit Auto Show, that very thing happened.

And consider: The demand for plug-in hybrids has exploded, far beyond the supply. Small conversion shops share information online, and charge a handful of customers $10,000 or more to enable them to plug in their Priuses to accept charge off the gridâ''extending its all-electric range from a mile to perhaps 10â''was still far out on the radar.

Now, grumbled the City of Vancouverâ''s Brian Beck, â''Iâ''m ready to change the building code to require electric plugs throughout parking garages, but automakers tell me I canâ''t get their plug-in prototypesâ''so I have to look toward private conversion companies just so we can test plug-ins in our fleet.â''

And how many plug-in hybrids exist today, in the world? Less than 100.

The challenges of making electric-drive vehicles a reality are enormous. There have always been true believers, but when five major automakers come in with large, expensive displays on the exhibit floorâ''Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyotaâ''something real may be happening.

Iâ''ll be posting every day from EVS-23 from now through Wednesday. If anyone has specific issues theyâ''d like me to explore, please contact me: J V [dot] spectrum [at] ieee [dot] org.

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