Last month, I was a bit shocked to find out that a blogger for Mashable wanted to interview me for a Mashable series on “5 startups improving society through technology.” Mashable, as you probably know, is one of the most popular websites on the planet. As just one example of that, it’s got nearly 1 million Facebook fans! Of course, I jumped on the opportunity.
Because the Mashable blogger, Stephanie Buck, was interviewing me about electric vehicles, I also bounced the questions off some of our colleagues on Gas2 and other writers here on CleanTechnica. The Mashable writer was on a tight schedule (partly due to her difficulties actually getting in touch with me — largely my fault), so I only got answers back from Jo and Chris of Gas2 before completing and submitting my answers, unfortunately. But thanks to them for chiming in, and for others chiming in later.
You can see what Stephanie did with the interview in this post: Why You Should Consider an Electric Vehicle. Nice post. And you can also check out 5 Startups Improving Society Through Technology for a very quick summary of the company we shared in that series (notably, I used to write for one of the other startups on the list).
But I’ve also been meaning to post the full interview here, since I think it’s a worthwhile read. Stephanie asked some interesting questions, and I think I provided some useful answers (with Jo and Chris’ help, of course).
One last comment though, before the share: realizing that many of the readers wouldn’t be all that familiar with the EV space, I actually consciously decided to focus more on end-user consumer products that excite normal folks (e.g. cars). I left out some top battery companies and discussion of battery technology for that reason.
So, at last, here’s the full deal (only pictures added):
What companies and brands are leading the curve in clean automobile technology?
I’d say that a couple different groups of companies are leading.
First of all, you’ve now got the biggest car companies in the world putting out revolutionary EVs and plug-in hybrids — the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, the Mitsubishi i (which has a base price of just over $20,000 after the federal tax credit), the Ford Focus Electric. Each of these have their own benefits and drawbacks, but they are all one large leap ahead what has come before. You’ve also got the Toyota Prius, which is now the third-best-selling car (of any type) in the world (as of last month), and Honda hybrids — these grandpas of the EV and hybrid world are going strong and really led the way.
Second, you’ve got Tesla and Fisker. These companies made EVs sexy, in my opinion. While Fisker has had its troubles, it seems to be getting on its feet at the moment, and its effect on social appeal for EVs is considerable (in a good way). Tesla is a wonder. It will forever hold a place in the history of clean cars, I think. Not only has it done what Fisker has done with its sexy roadster, but it’s also putting out a wicked cool sedan (the Model S) and SUV with falcon-wing doors (Model X) that are more practical for families.
I know my friends over on Gas2.org would also praise Renault-Nissan’s clean industrial diesels and Honda’s CNG Civics. However, I think the future of clean auto technology is more about electricity than anything else.
What cities and regions are making this tech a priority? Why?
The West Coast is a clear leader, especially California leaders LA and San Francisco. As just one testament to that, the West Coast Electric Highway (lined… or dotted, at least, with EV chargers now extends from California to Canada, as of last week).
However, the Midwest and New York City are also worth noting.
I think these cities and regions are making this tech a priority for a few reasons. My friends a Gas2, again, cite “out of desperation and general hippie-ness” and because people in these areas are “affluent and technologically well-connected.” Combining all of those things together and adding a bit, I think the point is that people in these places, more than others, see this technology as the future. They see that it is a necessity and that it is sprouting and nearly ready to bloom. They see it as a key solution to global warming and peak oil, and also a key money-maker as a result of that.
What are all the elements that go into a successful clean transportation program? (e.g. highways, legislation, regulations, city planning, etc.)
I got my master’s degree in city and regional planning and focused on multi-modal transportation planning and especially bicycle planning, so I can’t help but lean towards that as being a key solution. I lived and studied in the Netherlands, in arguably the best bicycle city in the world (Groningen), and I could go on for days about why good bicycling planning is key to a city having a high quality of life. Bicycling is also the cleanest ‘mainstream’ transportation option out there (when it comes to the climate, air, and water).
All that said (and so much more in my head that I am containing for now), multi-modal transportation planning and programs that give people more choice is really critical. Balancing mass transit with private bicycling options with bike-sharing with car-sharing with walking infrastructure with private cars is the overall challenge. In the US, we just give way too much weight to cars, in essence limiting our own transportation freedom.
Legislation on the local level and also on the federal level is, of course, one of the most important factors making the above possible or not. A lot more money needs to be funneled to transportation options that have historically gotten the short end of the stick. For example, while about 12% of trips are made by bicycle or by foot (and a lot more would be with better infrastructure), only about 1.6% of federal transportation funds go towards bicycling and walking. That’s just sad, and unacceptable.
And, of course, if we stopped subsidizing oil with hugely expensive wars and a large military presence in oil-rich countries, and even (I’m dreaming) funneled that money to other transportation options, we’d live in a different world, and a much nicer one. (As Jo Borras of Gas2 writes, in support of dropping subsidies for oil, “I am not a libertarian, I’m just pointing out that oil and petroleum interests have MASSIVE subsidies that far outweigh the baby shit that the House piddles out onto alt-fuels.” Well said.)
What related products can consumers expect to reach the market next?
More EVs for the average person, more plug-in hybrids, more home EV charging options, more bike-sharing programs (and expansion of the pioneering ones), more car-sharing programs (a great way to help people to go car-free, or at least to reduce the number of cars in their household), more electric bikes (this is a growing trend), more bikes for casual transportation in cities.
Also, more EV–solar power programs and offerings. A lot of big companies in these sectors have already teamed up, but I expect that will only increase with continuously decreasing solar power costs, innovative solar financing options, and new mass-market electric vehicles.
How can everyday people participate? (e.g. in car-share programs)
Drop the car if you don’t need it. I’m not saying this in a preachy way, either. Going car-free is probably the single best thing I’ve ever done to improve my quality of life. Getting around on a bike or my own two feet is just nice. A lot of people bike for recreation (it’s one of the top recreation activities), but don’t realize they can enjoy it at least as much for transportation. Living in quieter, cleaner, more human cities built for such transportation options is just impossible to beat.
To lean into that, get involved in car-sharing. That was a huge help for me in Chapel Hill, NC when I lived there (of course, rental cars can serve a similar purpose as well, but renting a car isn’t always as convenient, times aren’t as flexible, and car selection isn’t always as good). Carpooling is also cool.
A lot of people won’t tough it with a stick, but I’m also a big fan of mass transit. Perhaps it’s my sociological roots, but I think it’s very interesting to observe the public and observe society as a whole from the vantage point of a bus, subway car, or train.
Scooters also look like a pretty sweet and green option, especially electric scooters.
If you think you have to stick to cars, trucks, SUVs, or the like, try out an electric vehicle.
And, of course, follow what your elected officials are doing, and push them to clean up our transportation system. Chris DeMorro of Gas2 puts it simply: “contact your local politicians and let them know you want better, cleaner transportation options.” This goes a long way. And, once you start paying attention and communicating with these people, you’ll also notice that the huge majority of Republicans need to be kicked out (sorry, but it’s true). So, help to kick them out.
And, if you’re a rebel, you might like Jo’s advice: “Slash the tires on G Wagens and Range Rovers.” (I’m sure he was joking, btw.)
Image Credits: Mitsubishi i; Tesla Motors; Business Wire; Groningen bicycling images by me (Zachary Shahan); Alliance for Biking & Walking