My Clean Break column is a defense of electric vehicles, which are often dissed by auto reviewers who can’t wrap their heads around a world not dominated by noisy, smelly, polluting vehicles. Yes, the internal combustion engine can become and is becoming more efficient. Yes, the internal combustion engine will be here for decades to come. But electric vehicles, despite the pronouncements of some skeptics, will not be dead on arrival. What these folks fail to take into account is that many of the problems associated right now with electric vehicles are likely to be overcome within the next 10 or 20 years as the rate of adoption begins to pick up. The amount of innovation going on in this area is unprecedented, and the benefits will become clear enough by 2020. Nobody is claiming electric vehicles will completely take over. Nobody is saying the adoption of electric cars will be quick. But electric cars are coming — get used to it — and the world will be a better place for it.
It’s time to stop stubbornly clinging to the past.
Honda has always poo-pooed the industry-wide move to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, stubbornly sticking to the idea that fuel-cell vehicles were the future. For example, it has been highly critical of GM’s Volt concept. Takeo Fukui, the company’s president, said in 2008 that he saw “no value in developing plug-in hybrid vehicles.” As recently as this May, the company’s head of research and development, Tomohiko Kawanabe, said it was questionable whether consumers will accept electric vehicles and the “annoyance” of limited driving range and the need to charge the vehicles. “We lack confidence (in the business),” he said. “We are definitely conducting research on electric cars, but I can’t say I can wholeheartedly recommend them.”
Two months later, the company is changing its tune. It announced today that it will begin selling two new plug-in electric vehicles in the United States in 2012, making it one of the last major automakers to join the electric vehicle party. One will be a small all-electric commuter vehicle, while the other will be a plug-in hybrid capable of travelling longer distances. Why the company suddenly changed its position is unclear, but being a loyal Honda driver I’m glad it came to its senses.