On January 24, 2007, the day after President Bush’s State of the Unio n Address in which he backed off from his strong statement that “America is addicted to oil,” Sherry Boschert, author of Plug-In Hybrids: The Cars that Will Recharge America, spoke to a packed classroom on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus of Florida International University.
“In his speech, the president said more research needs to take place on batteries and that biofuels have more advantages,” she said. “This position won’t make car manufacturers do much.”
To date, major car manufacturers haven’t taken the lead in producing electric cars, which are cheaper to run, produce zero emissions, and dramatically reduce dependence on oil—even though the technology exists and some companies have made some efforts.
“Electric cars run on domestic power,” Boschert said. “We’ll never go to war over electricity.”
Research counters manufacturers’ assertions.
Manufacturers claim that they haven’t been producing electric cars because no one wants them, the batteries aren’t good enough, and they’re too expensive, she said.
Yet, in her research for the book, Boschert—who installed solar panels on her house in not-too-sunny San Francisco in 1997 and generates so much power that she sells it back to the grid at 35 cents per kilowatt hour and purchases what she needs at off-peak hours for four cents per kilowatt hour—discovered ample proof to dispute each point.
During her talk, she referenced the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? It examines the multiple interests that ended up pulling off the road a zero-emission vehicle manufactured by GM and much loved by the many people who leased them.
The documentary, and her book, point to the large numbers of people who do want electric cars, including those who watched their GM electric cars towed off and taken to a remote site where they were crushed. As part of their effort to keep the cars on the road, supporters created waiting lists, with thousands of names to demonstrate to GM that the demand existed.
She also offered evidence for the reliability and availability of batteries today—enabling drivers of hybrids to use 61 percent less gas.
The question of expense may be the manufacturer’s strongest argument, but Boschert cited statistics showing that people are willing to pay more to drive cars that don’t pollute and don’t rely on fossil fuels.
“New technology is always expensive,” she said. “Look at cell phones, computers, and flat screen televisions. But people bought them, and besides, when any commodity is mass produced, the costs go down.”
According to her, the cost for a plug-in hybrid could be 10 to 15 percent more than that for a standard hybrid. But, she pointed out that people have to look at “well to wheels”—that is, the real cost to produce oil and get it to the car. By that measure, electricity is far, far cheaper.
In her remarks, she cited many grassroots organizations that are making inroads in alternate energy usage, such as wind, singling out Austin, Texas, as America’s cleanest city and noting its motto: “West Texas wind versus Mideast oil.”
Electric car makes appearance.
Following the talk, students had the chance to see, and even drive, a fully- electric Toyota RAV4 EV, brought to campus by Charles Whalen, the public relations director for the Florida Electric Auto Association.
“The car has different gauges, since there’s no gas gauge but, rather, an electricity gauge,” said Amy Mehu, a senior majoring in environmental studies, who took Whalen’s car for a spin around campus. “It doesn’t make the same noises as my Honda Accord.”
Robin Escobedo, who is majoring in environmental science and liberal arts and will graduate this year, didn’t have time to take a drive, but liked the lecture because it fit in with his current studies on sustainability and renewable energy.
“I liked hearing her reiterate what I know,” he said, “and I talked to her after the lecture to tell her about a movie I saw about cities replacing trolleys with buses.”
Boschert provided the audience with many ways to up the pressure on the car companies. For example, at www.pluginamerica.org, her organization’s resource-filled web site, visitors can find phone numbers of the auto manufacturers so they can place a call saying, “I want a car that gets 100 miles per gallon and I won’t buy a new car till I can get one . . . in other words, ‘no plug, no deal.’”
The lecture was presented by the Center for Energy and Business in the college’s Knight Ridder Center for Excellence in Management and by the Department of Environmental Studies. It was sponsored by the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship Studies.