It's the end of the beginning for the electric car.
There has been a lot of hype and derision about the dawn of the plug-in car. But it's obvious the electric vehicle, or EV, has taken a big right turn onto the broad freeway of acceptance.
Here are three reasons why the industry is taking off:
* Electric cars are increasingly affordable and reliable.
* EVs are much cheaper to drive than gas-powered cars.
* The infrastructure, where you power up your EV, is expanding.
It is crucial to note the EV has been in development for a long time. Detractors say the slow pace shows that it's a technology not meant for prime time, suitable only for Euro-style socialists.
The funny things is, electric vehicles are as American as Thomas Edison. Electric vehicles are really tied to the development of the battery, one of the obsessions of Edison, the great American inventor.
"At the beginning of the automobile age, cars powered by gasoline, electricity, and steam all shared the road, and none was an obvious winner," according to Seth Fletcher in his book, Bottled Lightning. "Thomas Edison loved the idea of the electric car. Electric cars were a natural, stabilizing, money-generating appendage to the electrical network he had spent his career building."
For those of you who believe a vehicle is not worth driving unless it's fueled by something dug out of the ground, have no fear because EVs are nothing without lithium. A substance that's been around from the beginning of time but not exactly in great abundance, one of the challenges facing the industry.
Lithium is crucial in making the type of battery needed to help end "range anxiety" in electric cars. Lithium batteries are in the early stages of development but they have progressed enough to make the cars affordable, which is powering sales.
Green Car Reports says the Nissan-Renault duo have now sold more than 100,000 vehicles together worldwide, with the bulk of the sales in the United States.
"That might seem small by the standards of some vehicles, but it makes the Leaf the most numerous electric car ever sold--with plenty of life left in the platform and factories in the U.S. and U.K. now adding to the tally," Green Car said in its report.
American EV sales have more than doubled in the first half of 2013 over the previous year to 41,447 vehicles, according to AOL Autos. While such sales represent only 1.23 percent of the market, it shows how fast the segment is growing. In Canada, EV sales are up 20 percent this year, according to Green Car.
One thing the industry needs to thrive is excitement and innovation and you need only look to Tesla Motors for that. Its gorgeous models are beating their gas-fueled cousins in awards from magazines such as Motor Trend and the company is a stock market darling.
But above all the EV needs to be affordable for everyday driving. And that too has arrived. The U.S. Department of Energy has a useful web site showing how running an EV is so much cheaper than powering your traditional, belching beast:
The eGallon, a quick and simple way for consumers to compare the costs of fueling electric vehicles vs. driving on gasoline, rose slightly to $1.18 from $1.14 in the latest monthly numbers, but remains far below the $3.49 cost of a gallon of gasoline.
The infrastructure supporting EVs is starting to explode. In just one example, Tim Horton's, the place where Canadians usually fill up on caffeine, announced it was expanding a pilot project offering charging stations at some of its locations.
Meanwhile, Tesla has launched an ambitious plan to eventually allow its vehicle owners to travel across North America for free. Yes for FREE. All these car owners have to do is stop at their futuristic, solar-powered stations, for about 20 minutes, and power up.
But most people will still need to plug in their cars overnight at home and if they don't have solar panels on their roof it means drawing from the local grid. It is a major drawback if that grid is still largely powered by fossil fuels, such as coal and gas.
James Conca, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, wrote a well-argued piece showing that on balance EVs offer a lot of benefits, especially since more than half of Americans draw from grids favorable to sustainable fuels.
He concludes that despite a number of drawbacks: "electric vehicles can be a major benefit in our quest to reign in our worst of our effects on this planet."
Bottom line: the electric vehicle industry has zoomed past startup mode. We are in the midst of building an innovative and electrified future. Mr. Edison would be proud.