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Congress is also considering more tax credits for EVs and hybrids over vocal voices for and against such measures

In the wake of what some are calling the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, many Americans are looking at energy alternatives to fossil fuels -- nuclear power, solar, wind, and geothermal -- with new eyes.  A critical part of that equation is developing vehicles that can tap those energy sources.  With the first EVs from the world's major auto companies set to launch later this year, the pressure -- and excitement -- is on for this new market.

One critical question is how to implement an EV friendly infrastructure.  Part of the charm of the gas or diesel engine is that you can fill up your tank virtually anywhere in the country within minutes.  Faster chargers could do almost that for EVs -- charging them within 15-30 minutes.  However, it will take a massive investment to deploy these chargers across the nation.

The Obama administration is pushing legislation in the Senate that would invest taxpayer money to create EV chargers and other infrastructure in 15 key areas, much like the government's investment in rail a century and a half ago.  Energy Department Assistant Secretary David Sandalow told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee states, "Starting with a smaller number (of communities) would allow us to focus resources and build a team of experts that can support a more widespread rollout.  We need to invest in 21st-century technologies."

The bill would come at a cost of $10B USD to taxpayers – many say that's a small cost, though.  Sandalow states, "The direction of the bill is a good one.  We think this moves in a very positive direction."

That direction would be towards President Obama's goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on America's streets by 2015.  The bill in the Senate, authored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and two others, would put the $10B USD towards giving $250M USD to up to 15 communities.  A House version of the bill comes in at $6.6B USD and would give $800M USD to five "deployment communities" to put 700,000 EVs on the streets.  Both bills have been criticized for including two few communities, which critics say could slow adoption.

A separate bill is even more controversial.  The bill would give tax credits or direct government-funded rebates to buyers of efficient vehicles like hybrids or electric vehicles, while fining those who buy less fuel efficient vehicles like truck and large SUVs.  The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing Detroit's Big Three carmakers, Toyota Motor Corp. and seven other automakers, opposes the measure.  

Kathryn Clay, the group's research director, states, "We believe the legislation should allow manufacturers, fuel providers and communities the flexibility to invest in multiple electric drive pathways, including fuel cell electric vehicle and related hydrogen infrastructure.  We have significant concerns about an approach that would limit investments to a handful of communities, particularly at such an early stage of electric vehicle deployment. This creates a small number of communities that would 'win' and receive significant federal dollars while the rest of country loses out."

Recent surveys indicate growing interest in electric vehicles, though.  And Nissan's initial production run of 14,000 2011 Nissan Leaf EVs has already been sold out via pre-orders.  In total, 20,000+ pre-orders have been placed.  The launch of the 2011 Chevy Volt by General Motors is anticipated to draw similar excitement later this year.

Still the movement has some informed skeptics.  Jan Kreider, an engineering professor and the founder of the University of Colorado's Joint Center for Energy Management, states, "There are inherent chemical limits to what a battery can do."

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, adds, "All-electric cars are the next big thing, and they always will be."

With vocal voices on both sides, the ball is now in Congress's court to find a consensus between the House and Senate on what, if any EV-related measures are best for Americans, and how to be encourage the new industry.

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RE: Fines
By UNHchabo on 6/23/2010 5:39:28 PM , Rating: 2
Most Europeans who actually do try to tow something use a car that's far too small to do the job properly.

This is why the Top Gear presenters are always ranting about caravans and horse trailers all going 20mph under the speed limit; it's because people take their normal commuter car with a 1.8L engine, and try to haul 3 or 4 tons of weight with it. Not only that, hauling that much weight is probably going to take more fuel with a smaller engine that has to rev like crazy than if you had a larger engine with more torque, that was able to essentially idle while pulling that load.

Let's take England, as a case in point, and compare it with the region of New England, in the northeast US. England is about twice the area of New England, but with four times the population. This means that despite New England being a fairly well-settled region (compared with Wyoming, for instance), there's more land available per person. Because of this, even people in this region have more room for multiple vehicles. If someone wants to own a small, efficient commuter car, and also own a pickup for when they need to haul things, they have more room to do so, because storage space is cheaper.

RE: Fines
By Nfarce on 6/23/2010 8:03:40 PM , Rating: 1
Top Gear is hilarious and one of my favorite automotive TV shows. If you ever see pictures of some little car overloaded with junk to where the rear bumper is about to touch the ground, you can just about gaurantee it's not in America with the exception of maybe West Virginia or rural Alabama.

But these comments about what Europeans use and what Americans need is laughable. I've been to Germany, Austria, France, and Italy. Everything is close in. Some cities and neighborhoods people don't even need cars. And in said cities and neighborhoods you can toss a stick of butter through the window to your neighbor.

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