Publication Detail

Electric Cars and the Future

UCD-ITS-RP-94-08

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Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel (1994) Electric Cars and the Future. ITS Review 17 (3), 1 - 4

People won't need to give up driving if WE use electric cars.

Cars are polluting the world's cities, dumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and consuming vast quantities of limited petroleum resources. If this is not alarming enough, consider that the world's auto population is expected to continue increasing even faster than the human population in the coming decades. Can the world accommodate this thirst for automobile based mobility? Can it avoid environmental and economic cataclysm?

Many believe the answer is a resounding no. I do not agree. A more environmentally benign transportation system can be created without reducing access to goods and services. I envision a future only a few decades distant in which petroleum consumption, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by new motor vehicles are reduced to near zero – at little or no additional cost. Underlying this vision are five guiding principles:
  • The most promising strategy for reducing environmental damage caused by transportation is improved technology;
  • Matching technology initiatives with regulatory and policy initiatives creates synergy;
  • Government must actively intervene in creating new technologies and industries. Intervention should be flexible and incentive based, but must also embrace selective technology forcing measures;
  • More experimentation is needed with vehicle and energy technologies;
  • Electric propulsion technologies are the key to an environmentally sustainable transportation system.
Cars are not antithetical to this vision of an environmentally benign transportation system. Although cars impose high societal costs, they provide even greater benefits. By substituting electric vehicles for gasoline vehicles, we have an opportunity to achieve major reductions in pollution, greenhouse gases, and petroleum use without having to deprive people of the accessibility they value so highly. This is not to say that if we use electric cars, people will never need to reduce their vehicle use. In certain areas such as intensely-congested Manhattan, the societal costs of vehicle use may exceed the benefits that accrue to drivers; immediate attempts to get cars off the roads are sometimes justified in these places. In general, however, people are more likely to accept new kinds of vehicles than to give up their cars.