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USA: E.V. Companies Tell Senate They Need Federal Help

Although it was overshadowed by the Toyota drama taking place in the House of Representatives, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Energy and Water Development held a hearing on “Electric Vehicles in the Light Duty Auto Sector” this week, and the Senators heard a fairly unified message from players in the electric vehicle community. There could be a significant early gap between E.V. demand and E.V. supply, they said, and we need help getting these green cars off the ground.

Perhaps because it was such a busy day, the subcommittee hearing attracted just four senators: its chairman, Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota; Robert Bennett, Republican of Utah; Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, and Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee.

The preferred approach, the witnesses said, would be for the federal government to buy fleets of E.V.’s, thus jump starting an industry that will need some encouragement. The initial high price of plug-in cars is one barrier, and Richard Lowenthal, chief executive of charging company Coulomb Technologies, said that another is “range anxiety” because the first generation of cars is expected to travel about 100 miles on a charge. “Even though the data shows that drivers rarely travel long distances, people do express unease about range,” he said.

Mr. Lowenthal also called for a streamlined permitting process for installation of charging stations. He leases an electric BMW Mini E and said in an interview that it took a month for the charger to be installed. “I experienced buyer’s remorse because I couldn’t use the car,” he explained.

The city of San Francisco and others are working on a faster process, he added, and if electricians can also be empowered as local inspectors, then permitting could be accomplished in one day.

Mary Ann Wright is managing director of the business accelerator at Johnson Controls, which supplies lithium-ion batteries to Daimler and BMW hybrids, and will also make them for Ford vehicles. She told the senators that, based on studies, she sees a chasm by 2015 between a projected worldwide demand for two million E.V.’s (battery cars and hybrids) and what is then likely to be an installed capacity (or how many E.V.’s can be built) of four million.
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