The road to mass adoption of EVs in North America By Jason Wolf

As the global push toward electric transportation continues to gain momentum, industry observers are no longer questioning whether electric vehicles (EVs) will become part of the mainstream. The billions of public and private dollars flowing into the industry suggest electrification is inevitable. It’s appropriate to now ask the next logical question: at what pace will this transition move?

The speed at which any market will tip toward electric transportation is dependent on two key drivers: economics and policy. The economics of gasoline prices and carbon taxation drive the attractiveness of any given market. Policies that enable competition and innovation, while providing clear direction for the market, attract the private funding needed to speed the transition.

One of the principal challenges to EV adoption in the U.S. and Canada is the cost of gasoline, which is kept artificially low due to lower gasoline taxes compared to other industrialized countries.

In the absence of tax policy designed to reduce dependence on oil, the U.S. and Canada have had to adopt a unique approach toward promoting EV adoption: becoming active in directing and supporting the private sector in developing and deploying alternative fuel solutions.

To promote electricity as a fuel, the U.S. for example has recently focused a majority of its investments on the automotive and battery sectors (mainly through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which devoted billions of dollars to advanced vehicle and battery manufacturing), with smaller amounts going to consumers (tax credits up to $7500 per vehicle) and charging infrastructure pilots ($400 million).

In addition to the government’s commitment to supporting these private sector solutions, there are other forces for change that lead me to be optimistic about the long-term prospect of EVs in the U.S. and Canada:

• Local governments are taking a leadership role in preparing for and enabling adoption of EVs

• Utilities and other electricity industry players are beginning to recognize the enormous potential of EV networks in realizing the smart grid vision

• Emerging domestic automakers are breaking new ground to develop the EVs that consumers demand, while established automakers are already bringing the first wave of plug-in EVs to select U.S. and Canadian markets over the next two years

• Industry leaders are coming together to work toward a national commitment to electric transportation (see the Electrification Roadmap for the U.S. by the Electrification Coalition)

Better Place entered the U.S. market in late 2008 and Canada early in 2009, in regions with especially strong appetites for change from the consumers and regional stakeholders: the San Francisco Bay Area, Hawaii, and Toronto, Ontario. These regions provide a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the promise of an electric transportation future, because the first wave of cars is coming and the demand is already there.

Since our announcements, we have been working toward EV readiness in key regions by 2012: aligning regional stakeholders, signing up vision partners, and developing plans for rolling-out intelligent charging infrastructure that is capable of supporting mass adoption of electric vehicles.

Once these regions demonstrate mass electric transportation locally, they will function as templates for regions across the country to mimic, borrow from, or improve upon. Over time, these local projects will expand and integrate, eventually becoming the foundation of a nationwide electric transportation network.

What can you expect from us in 2010? Over the next 2 years, we will be working with leading regions and stakeholders seeking to prepare for and accelerate EV adoption. In the Bay Area and Hawaii we will continue to deliver on our commitments to our local partners to be ready for EV adoption in 2012. Elsewhere across North America, we will work with other leading regions, utilities and other stakeholders looking to achieve EV readiness and promote a broader vision for the nation.

It’s been an exciting year for EVs and for Better Place around the world. As we shift gears to another promising year, one that will see the first wave of EVs hitting the U.S. and Canada, Better Place North America is looking forward to leveraging its global experience to partner with utilities and local governments to ensure that North America is not only a part of the EV wave, but a leading force as well.

By Jason Wolf, Head of Better Place North America