Nawabi: Electric Vehicles Shift into Top Gear

Tough times often create the ideal environment for bringing innovative ideas into the mainstream.

Consumers are motivated to change old, inefficient habits; businesses have an incentive to work together to meet those needs. Groundwork is laid for transformative technologies. When that collaboration is built around a fundamental innovation like electric vehicles (EVs), it has the potential to do more than help consumers save money: It can transform lives.

VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm | Digital Vision | Getty Images

That’s where we sit at the outset of 2012: On the cusp of widespread adoption, one that may very well transform the entire automotive industry.

This will be a key year for the EV industry – and we think the landscape at the end of 2012 is going to look quite different than it does now. Vehicles are advancing and diversifying, charging is getting easier and quicker, and battery technology is improving by leaps and bounds.

Nearly a dozen new EVs are expected to hit the streets this year, from practical sedans to luxury and sports models. They accelerate like expensive sports cars, yet cruise with barely a sound. They are far more affordable than the original EVs, and they use smarter technology that makes them highly efficient, with substantial range.

The new EV “ecosystem” promises to make our lives and our world better with zero on-road emissions, freedom from gas stations and overall cost savings.

New EVs Hitting the Road in 2012

Today you might never realize the car in the next lane is different from the one you’re driving.

Their styles and functions are as varied as the rest of the industry. Last year, a handful of these new vehicles were introduced, including the much-anticipated Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt along with luxury EVs, including the BMW ActiveE, Fisker Karmaand Tesla Model S. But that was just the beginning.

This year, consumers will have even more options when deciding on a new car – from moderately-priced commuter cars to luxurious ones. Gas-powered “household names” will also begin to “plug in” over the coming months. Just about every manufacturer either has an EV scheduled for launch this year or next, giving drivers more options – and driving prices down.

No matter what kind of car you drive, range is always a consideration – how far can you go before the tank or battery is empty? Today’s EVs have a typical range of 100 miles, nearly three times the 37.5 miles driven by an average American each day.

Public “opportunity” charging stations are popping up in convenient locations. Charging infrastructure is quickly becoming a reality as government and public entities build charging networks for the masses, businesses include them as part of their service to customers and workplaces provide EV charging as a benefit to their employees.

But Americans want to explore the open road, too. That’s why the EV industry is partnering with private and public organizations to expand EV infrastructure. For example, our firm, AeroVironment is working with Departments of Transportation to build the West Coast Electric Highway, an initiative to light up the I-5 with fast chargers that can charge an EV in as little as 10 minutes.

The Future is Now

While some remain reluctant to make the shift to an EV, America has a goal of putting one million EVs on the road by 2015. This country has historically shown great progress following the development of infrastructure. Witness the tremendous growth following the Transcontinental Railroad of the late 1800s, the Federal Highway development of the 1950s, and the spread of the Internet in the 1990s. These provided a new way of doing things that was quickly adopted and soon taken for granted.

More and more public and private organizations are supporting the growth of the EV charging infrastructure, a crucial component of our nation’s transportation independence. We may now be at the “curve” of the hockey stick as more EVs hit the road and more EV chargers are installed at locations convenient to you. It feels as if we’re on the cusp of a new era, much like those that drove our destiny in decades prior.

Electric vehicles are here to stay – and we may one day remember 2012 as the year America really began to “plug in” to EVs.

Wahid Nawabi is the Senior Vice President and General Manager, Efficient Energy Systems. Nawabi joined AeroVironment in 2011 as senior vice president and general manager of the Efficient Energy Systems (EES) business segment. Wahid joins AV after a 20-year career as an executive with advanced technology companies in industries spanning clean technology, industrial/electrical equipment manufacturing, telecom, and energy.