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10,000. That’s the best estimate for the number of electric vehicles and plug in electric hybrid vehicles that sold in April. And at that pace the US electric vehicle market will have surged to break the 100,000 mark by year end. This healthy sea change allowing access to growing numbers of no carbon and very low carbon vehicles comes just as the world enters a dangerous age of increasing risks due to world climate change. An age where devastating levels of CO2 at 400 ppm and greater are likely to be the norm going forward. And if we are to prevent jumps to 500, 600, or even 1000 ppm by the end of this century, a rapid transition to EVs must remain a keystone to any mitigation and prevention strategy.
So you can imagine why I’m calling for cautious optimism upon seeing Tesla’s Model S fly off sales lots at the rate of 2,000+ vehicles per month over the course of 2013. Not to say that these sales weren’t earned. The vehicle recently received the highest consumer reports rating ever for any vehicle and was recently named motor trend car of the year. This makes both the Tesla S and the Volt extraordinarily high-quality offerings, beating out nearly all gasoline based vehicles on the measure of quality alone (take that EV haters!).
In other words, the Model S is one beast of a great vehicle. It gets 300 miles per charge of electricity, a range that is even the envy of a number of gas guzzlers. And its speed is a warp-like shift from 0 to 60 in 4.4 (you can barely count them) seconds. The Model S is as luxuriant as it is sleek. Its smooth shape and high class features — the very picture of elegance.
I don’t usually brag about material goods. But you have to give Tesla credit. They’re doing the right thing and they’re doing it the right way.
The Model S’s rocket to stardom has set stocks of Tesla to soaring. Earlier this year, Tesla traded at 30 dollars per share. Today, Tesla stocks spiked at 93 dollars. Speculative interest remains high and it appears possible that Tesla may do to the US auto industry what Google did to the internet — result in its rapid transformation.
As a new technology, the future for electric vehicles is anything but certain. However, in the long run, it can confidently be said that if there is any future for the auto industry, it is in EVs and other alternative vehicles. Oil is a depleting and ever more expensive fuel. Combine that factor with the devastating climate change that oil contributes to and what you end up with is the fuel being nothing more than a costly and dangerous dinosaur. So the stakes for Tesla, GM, Nissan, other EV producers and the rest of us couldn’t be higher. If we want to see the automobile survive we’d better hope they succeed.
And success will mean a very long, tough slog. Over 800 million vehicles are currently in operation worldwide. To replace them all with EVs would require that all new vehicles sold be EVs for a period of 20+ years. Current sales are just a tiny fraction of total sales. With gas guzzlers still holding the bulk of the market captive, it will take a massive rate of sales increase for EVs to make a serious dent in the fleet of carbon emitting autos. It’s a tough challenge, but one we will have to undertake if we are to preserve a climate hospitable to human beings and keep the automobile too. And to do this we will not only need to have an increased availability of EVs like the Model S, Volt, and Leaf, we will also need an ever-increasing price on carbon emissions to speed a transition to low or no carbon technologies. Unfortunately, we are still in a position where alternative vehicles have a small but growing market share and where government policy on the part of transition to non-carbon energy technology has been manic at best. So we will need to see these changes to have much hope for the kind of progress we desperately need.
In the mean-time we should all bask in the minor, though hopeful, success of the EV. It has endured many slings and arrows from an pleathora of well-funded and politically well-connected enemies who fought as hard as they could to make certain this day never came. But, it appears, they have failed. And failed grandly at that. Not only are viable EVs now available to consumers, many of these EVs are now among the best cars ever made. These are innovations that have happened on American soil and as a result of American ingenuity. And, as noted above, they represent a hope for transformation to a less damaging form of automobile that, though it should have come sooner, is certainly welcome today.