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Electrically Powered Vehicles are Fine Until the Power Grid Shuts Down

These days the electric vehicle (EV) seems a marvel of 21st-century technology and environmental success. In fact, electrically powered vehicles have operated continuously, albeit for niche purposes, since the mid-19th century: for example, milk delivery via ‘milk floats’ especially in the UK, and, since the early 1950s, golfer transport.

Is any vehicle as universally loved and laughed at as the humble little golf cart? But despite the EV’s long history and the shine of its new manifestations, consumers have hesitated. According to GreenCarReports, in Canada in 2016, of the bumper crop of 1.9 million total passenger vehicles sold, roughly 6,600 were EVs, a market share of roughly .033%.

Since peaking in 2012, DesRosier Automotive Consultants reported last quarter that hybrid sales are down 32%. In Ontario, the vehicle ‘fleet’ of Canada’s most populous province includes only 5,800 EVs. Other motorized jurisdictions have similar statistics: the US has 36.3% of global sales with over 363,000 cars delivered since 2008 through August 2015, but last year EV sales fell 17%; Germany, with six times the population of Ontario, has been aiming since 2010 for (just!) one million EVs on the road by 2020. So far—50,000— with the optimistic revised goal of 100,000 by 2020.

Consumers are hesitant for many reasons. The standard set of worries includes range, the still spotty re-charging infrastructure, the lengthy re-charge process, and the relatively high cost without offsetting gas savings, especially these days, and the ongoing development of the technology. There is also the pesky question of their environmental beneficence.

In a short video Bjorn Lombard, a high a technology writer compares CO2 emissions produced in the manufacture, operation, and ultimate scrapping of EVs and gasoline powered cars. He explores EVs as ‘coal-powered’ vehicles and the ‘wishful thinking’ that renewables like wind and solar will soon replace fossil fuel based electricity generation.

What then might persuade an average vehicle buyer to jump on board this ever-changing bandwagon? Based on the enthusiastic response to Tesla’s recent launch of the Model 3 —roughly 275,000 consumers have paid the requisite $1,000 deposit for the 2016 model, delivery of which may not happen for two to three years—Matt Teske, a marketing expert in Portland Oregon set out to prove that the problem is simply the age-old one of product desirability.

Mr. Teske published information about an imaginary concept EV named the Chevrolet Jolt EV complete with a sophisticated website touting all its latest desirable features: 230 miles of estimated range, advanced onboard safety technology, fully customizable touch screen display and dashboard, for under $30,000. Within hours, traffic to the site crashed his server. “The site wasn’t ever about tricking anyone,” he said. “It was a way to show automakers that if they offered more compelling electric cars, consumers would respond.”

Another motivator in Ontario, at least, maybe the government mandate. Last week, Premier Wynne’s government promised a program to encourage in the near future the replacement of millions of gasoline-powered cars with electrically powered motor vehicles.

There is, however, one problem with all of this. When the power grid is down – a serious local and national concern that we avoid thinking about – there will be no re-charging and only petroleum powered and hybrid vehicles will be operating.

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