Gore Calls for Electric Vehicle Future

By · July 18, 2008

Former Vice President Al Gore wants the United States to shift its entire electricity sector to carbon-free power within 10 years—and use that power to fuel a new fleet of electric vehicles. Gore challenged “all Americans in every walk of life” to support his ambitious plan, which he compared to President John F. Kennedy's 1961 call to put a man on the moon.

Critics immediately responded by calling Gore’s plan overly ambitious. “The comparison [to the Apollo Project] would be economically apt,” wrote James Pethokoukis, in U.S. News and World Report, “if rather than putting a man on the moon, President Kennedy's goal had been to build a massive lunar colony complete with a casino.” In Time Magazine, Bryan Walsh accused Gore of gross over-exaggeration—Gore said that “the future of human civilization is at stake” if we do not quickly shift our energy use away from oil. Walsh wrote, “If the earlier, personal solutions to global warming—drive a hybrid, put in better insulation—were far too little, Gore's goal seems far too much.”

Even groups that support Gore’s call for electric cars and renewable energy view Gore’s plan as unrealistic. Jim Owen, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities that produce 70 percent of the nation's power, said there's no way that wind, solar and geo-thermal energy could meet all the country's energy needs in 10 years. Owen told the San Francisco Chronicle that “We have to have a balanced energy portfolio that includes [renewables] in even higher percentages, but also has to include nuclear."

While the appropriate mix of energy sources for the electric grid remains an esoteric matter for most citizens, America’s need to modify the source of energy to fuel our cars has become painfully easy to understand. Nearly all cars in the United States run on gasoline—which currently averages more than $4 a gallon. “There actually is one extremely effective way to bring the costs of driving a car way down within a few short years,” said Gore. “The way to bring gas prices down is to end our dependence on oil and use the renewable sources that can give us the equivalent of $1 per gallon gasoline.” The cost per mile of driving an electric vehicle is a fraction of the expense associated with a gas-powered car.

Gore called for the government to help “our struggling auto giants” switch to the manufacture of plug-in electric cars. He said, “An electric vehicle fleet would sharply reduce the cost of driving a car, reduce pollution, and increase the flexibility of our electricity grid.” Currently, there is not a single all-electric vehicle offered by a major automaker.

But the American auto industry appears reluctant to make such a switch. One day prior to Gore’s speech, automakers gathered at an energy security conference organized by 2020 Vision, a non-profit, characterized the current interest in plug-in vehicles as a fad and a “solution of the week,” according to a report on ClimateWire, an environmental news service. Speaking at the event, General Motors' Keith Cole, director of legislative and regulatory affairs, said, "We can't afford to run a business in that kind of scatterbrained approach."

Toyota's Tom Stricker, national manager of technical and regulatory affairs, pointed out that it took 15 years to bring gas-electric hybrids from concept to its current market level—still not quite 3 percent of the new car market. "We have to make vehicles that our customers are going to buy." To bring about a real change, Stricker said, car shoppers are going to have to show a lot more interest in alternatives like hybrids and electric cars.

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