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March 10, 2011

Get Your Motor Hummin'

The year is 2015. One million electric vehicles whoosh along America's highways and the noise is, well, not likely to inspire fist-pumping rock and roll anthems. But if we reach the goal President Obama has set of one million EVs in four years, it's the start of a quiet revolution that can ultimately free us from Big Oil.

Cars and trucks are so much a part of the American culture that it's hard to believe we've been behind the wheel for barely 100 years. Henry Ford's first Model T's rolled off the assembly line in late 1908 -- a do-everything, go-anywhere vehicle that could get up to 25 mpg. Incredibly, just over a century later, the average fuel-efficiency for all American cars and trucks is worse than the Model T's. That's not progress (unless you're an oil company).

Because more than 70 percent of the oil we consume goes to transportation, we can't break our petroleum habit without rethinking how we get around. Cars and trucks that use little or no gas will be part of the solution. But we'll also need high-speed rail, smart transit-oriented development, and, of course, much better mass transit. Like it or not, though, Americans won't be ready to give up driving completely anytime in the foreseeable future. If we do electric vehicles right, they won't have to.

For one thing, we must create new infrastructure to support those million EVs. Yes, that means charging stations, but it also means developing cutting-edge battery, electric motor, and solar-charging technologies right here in the U.S. If that seems daunting, remember that when the first Model T's came along the vast majority of our roads weren't even paved, and yet we managed to quickly develop the infrastructure that moved us from horse power to horsepower seemingly overnight.

And while we're figuring out how to make it easy to charge our electric cars, we also need to make sure that we're doing it with the cleanest energy possible. Replacing cars that run on energy from oil with cars that run on energy from a coal-fired power plant, just swaps one problem for another.

The best way forward -- solve both problems at once. Get those million cars on the road and aggressively move to cleaner sources of electricity. That's why the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign is actually also an important part of moving Beyond Oil. (And with at least 150 proposed coal plants stopped so far, it's a successful one, too!)

Finally, no matter what anyone says, the only realistic solution to the buffeting our economy takes from unpredictable gas-price hikes is to reduce demand at the pump. If there's one thing the success of the first generation of hybrid cars showed, it's that people are ready to adopt new technologies if it means they can use less gas. And when it comes to fuel economy, it's hard to beat a car or truck that doesn't need gas at all.

I've never met an EV owner who didn't both love their ride and relish their freedom from the pump. Now if we can get a band like Arcade Fire or Gogol Bordello to crank out some electrifying new EV anthems, our quiet revolution will have a 21st-century soundtrack.

Want to tell President Obama that you're eager to see the EV revolution get rolling? Send him a message in support of one million EVs by 2015.

 

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Michael Brune

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