I've been writing about the economic viability of electric cars lately. I've wondered whether Americans will accept cars with substantially shorter range than conventional cars, and whether the infrastructure needed to support electric cars would ever become a national reality.
I've hoped the answer is yes, because there are a lot of things I like about electric cars -- they represent a chance to finally get U.S. carbon emissions under control, don't require as much maintenance and don't have as many messy fluids and lubricants. That's why I'm excited to see players in the automotive industry making big bets on the technology's real-world viability.
In December, Nissan plans to begin delivering their all-electric LEAF hatchback to some of the 20,000 customers who have placed pre-orders since April. Nissan and Renault president Carlos Ghosn said in an interview this week he expects sales of his company's electric cars to reach 500,000 by 2013. The company just broke ground on a new $1.7 billion factory in Tennessee to produce battery packs for the vehicles, a huge investment even for a multinational giant like Nissan.
Toyota is getting into the act, too, paying $50 million for a stake in Tesla motors, a California-based electric-car manufacturer, and announcing a development partnership between the two companies. The Japanese auto giant, along with Motors Liquidation Co. (the holding company created in the General Motors bankruptcy) also announced plans to sell the NUMMI auto factory in California to Tesla to produce its upcoming all-electric Model S sedan.
And let's not forget plans by Volkswagen, Ford, General Motors, Toyota and other carmakers to bring pure electric cars to U.S. shores in the coming years. All this adds up to good news, because automakers who have invested millions of dollars in electrics will have a big incentive to use their economic and political power to make sure the needed infrastructure will be there to help electric cars become practical for everyday driving.