Are consumers and the auto industry ready to meet the White House's goal of 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015? During today's OnPoint, the Electric Drive Transportation Association's president, Brian Wynne, assesses the auto industry's progress in expanding its EV fleet. He also discusses the climate for passing vehicle policy initiatives in Washington.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Brian, thanks for coming back on the show.
Brian Wynne: Glad to be here.
Monica Trauzzi: Brian, EDTA is holding its annual conference in Washington this week. Coming off of the president's speech on reducing oil imports, how has the discussion on electric drive technology change, evolved over the last year?
Brian Wynne: The focus is becoming much more on getting the vehicles into the marketplace. You know, we have a whole bunch of vehicles that are now in the production phase and coming to the market. So I think what's gaining the most amount of attention, however, is not just the specific vehicles, because we've been seeing that for some time, but the range of the kinds of the vehicles that are coming. So, it's not just about light-duty consumer vehicles anymore, it's also about the transit connect, for example for fleets and some of the medium-sized delivery vans and so forth. So there's a growing number of applications that are going to benefit from the technology.
Monica Trauzzi: So the president has set this goal of one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Is that achievable and how do we get there?
Brian Wynne: It's achievable. If it was going to happen on its own, the president wouldn't need to put it out there for us to have a goal. And from our standpoint, we think it's a great milestone. The goal for us is to have electric drive be a mainstream technology. And to get to those benefits sooner, of course, we can bring that deployment schedule in by really focusing the efforts of industry and government together. That's what it's going to take to hit that milestone.
Monica Trauzzi: Compared to what our international counterparts are doing though, is that a small number?
Brian Wynne: No, it's not a small number. I think the thing to recognize about electric drive is that we've been growing our numbers in terms of the upstream manufacturing for some time now. A lot of the plug-in vehicles are going to benefit from the power electronics and, increasingly, the batteries as well that are being used in regular hybrids. And we've got over almost 30 of those now in the marketplace and there are 20 to 25 that are going to be coming in that plug into the grid over the next two years. Even the gasoline hybrids are going to increasingly use lithium ion batteries, so we want to build up that upstream manufacturing capacity so that we can meet the demands of consumers. There are other countries that are in this race with us and that's a good thing. We really think that this is a global phenomenon and it needs to be. We need to have these platforms be consistent across the globe. So that's actually a really good thing. But I don't feel like we're falling behind at all. I think we're keeping up.
Monica Trauzzi: Tax incentives, they've played a major role in the industry up until this point. What do you feel we need to see moving forward on the tax policy front?
Brian Wynne: Well, we clearly need to extend the tax credits for infrastructure. That's going to be really important. We think it's an excellent investment from a job standpoint, from the standpoint of being ready for the vehicles as they get to scale, as the numbers become significant. And from the standpoint of the vehicles themselves, we have got great incentives in the marketplace now for light-duty vehicles, but we have zero incentives in the marketplace for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. And we think that's worth looking at, because the fleets, the UPSs, the FedExes, the PepsiCos, they're all starting to expand from their hybrids into plug-in vehicles. Whether they be plug-in hybrids or pure battery electric vehicles, some of their drive cycles really benefit terrifically from the lower prices of electricity versus gasoline.
Monica Trauzzi: And how do you get vehicle manufacturers to expand their fleets and give consumers more choices? Because that really seems like the next step.
Brian Wynne: Choice is really important because their consumers are used to a lot of choices and, of course, there are a lot of different kinds of vehicles in the fleet. But I think that's the good news story about plug-in vehicles, where we are today is much different than when we launched the hybrids 12, 15 years ago. As they started to come into the market we weren't really sure how they were going to do, whether consumers were going to accept them. So you had the Insight, then you had the Prius, then you had the Ford vehicles and they came in very slowly. The plug-in vehicles are going to come in in greater varieties and greater numbers and I think that's why this deployment looks different. And, again, they're standing on the shoulders of these hybrids.
Monica Trauzzi: Has the clean energy space simply become too politicized this year to see any real policy move forward? Do you think that we're sort of in a holding pattern until the next election?
Brian Wynne: I hope not. The clean energy space, I think, needs to be looked at from the standpoint of what do we need to where do we need to go in the future? This takes a while. It's not easy to get your grid to where you want it to be. That takes investments over long periods of time and, of course, you know, the grid is changing all the time. Same with vehicles. We need to get going on this. We need to accelerate what's already happening in the marketplace, so that we can bring the benefits of displaced petroleum in sooner. And, you know, those benefits are worth staying on. And I think there's a really strong bipartisan consensus that we need greater energy security in this country. So this is one of the solutions.
Monica Trauzzi: How do natural gas vehicles affect the prospects for growth of your industry? I mean is there enough room for all the different technologies and energy sources?
Brian Wynne: I think they have to be looked at from the standpoint of we need more diversity in the fuel base. Natural gas vehicles, I think, they've typically gone toward niches for larger vehicles, for fleet kinds of vehicles, etc. I think that that's very appropriate to look at. That's the benefit of electric drive and electricity as a fuel as well. There's a diversity in the feedstock. We're creating electricity from lots of different feedstocks. That diversity is really important. And the fact that it's domestic feedstock makes it even more important, because every dollar we're spending in transportation on using electricity we're keeping in this country.
Monica Trauzzi: And do biofuels continue to be contenders in the transportation space?
Brian Wynne: Well, I hope so. I think that we need a variety of different vehicles and a variety of different solutions. At the end of the day, if we're playing on a level playing field and we can get them into the market faster, we get to the real goal, which is displacement of petroleum.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show again.
Brian Wynne: Thank you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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