The UCS Model E: The Evolution of a Revolution

We stand on the verge of an exciting transition in the auto industry. The battery-electric Nissan Leaf and the gas-electric, plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt are now on the showroom floor and most major car companies have announced plans to offer models driven partially or completely by batteries or fuel cells within the next few years.

The potential is great.

Electric-drive vehicles are not a “silver bullet” solution, but they could be part of a revolution that helps to dramatically cut urban smog-forming pollution, reduce U.S. global warming pollution 80 percent or more, and effectively end our oil addiction by 2050.

We anticipate that battery, fuel cell, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can make significant inroads in the marketplace, accounting for some three to five percent of the new car market by 2020, a third of the market by 2030, and increasing to make up some 70 to 80 percent of the auto market by 2040.

In the meantime, as this transition is underway, the market for gas-electric hybrids can grow, forming a bridge between gasoline and pure electric vehicles. While it will take decades, this is a revolutionary transition—and it has happened before. Don’t forget that American consumers were still skeptical about gas-powered cars back in 1908 when Henry Ford unveiled his company’s Model T. Within just six years, however, Ford had produced more cars than all other automakers combined and the era of gas-powered vehicles had swept the nation.

Electric-drive vehicles can deliver on their significant promise. But to do so, they will need help.

To make this electrifying revolution a reality, we need patience and a mix of smart policy changes.

The federal government has an important role to play by providing research funding for better batteries and fuel cells, incentives to help consumers buy electric-drive vehicles, and grants and loan guarantees for automakers as an incentive to manufacture more of these vehicles in the United States

We need investment in infrastructure to make these new vehicle technologies succeed, like incentives for building recharging and hydrogen refueling stations and, just as importantly, changes to local building codes and zoning laws that can unnecessarily make infrastructure—such as home charging stations and public hydrogen refueling infrastructure—expensive, cumbersome, or even impossible to install. States must play a key role too, reinforcing some of the federal and local incentives and other activities.

The good news is that this money for research, incentives, grants, and loan guarantees to support electric-drive vehicles, the necessary infrastructure, and changes to codes and standards does not have to come out of taxpayers’ wallets. Instead, we can redirect subsidies that currently go to polluting industries like the oil industry which currently receives about $5 billion a year.

But even here, money alone will not be enough. States, and possibly even the federal government, must require car companies to sell significant numbers of electric-drive vehicles.

The UCS Model E: A look into the future.

The UCS Model E provides a look into the future of the auto industry—a future where we can end our cars’ oil addiction, dramatically reduce urban smog-forming pollution, and curb the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

But it is also a reminder that the typical short term political cycle is not enough time to deliver big results, and that we have to invest in a portfolio technologies with some risk if we are to succeed.

Considering that our nation has relied on one basic engine technology and one fuel for more than a century, the switch to electric-drive vehicles may feel more like evolution than a revolution—but it is high time we face the challenges of climate change and America’s oil dependence by moving our transportation system into the twenty-first century.

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