EDTA's Brian Wynne: "We don't do well with bans on choices"

EDTA Chief rejects Euro-style interventions for EV market growth

President Obama looks at a Chevy Volt and electric Ford Focus, July 15, 2010

In an exclusive discussion with AutoblogGreen at the 2011 Electric Drive Transportation Association's (EDTA) annual conference this week in Washington, D.C., EDTA president Brian Wynne rejected EV-only mandates as a way to drive the industry forward in the United States. While recognizing that some cities, regions and even the EU community are utilizing both 'carrot' and 'stick' incentives to buy and use electric vehicles (EVs), Wynne rejects measures which would ban fossil fuel vehicle usage in any way.

Wynne believes the EV industry needs to work much harder to expand awareness, and even though he believes the industry is at a transition point, there's a lot of work to be done:

We've got our work cut out to expand awareness and understanding of EVs. It takes so many impressions to get the message through. I don't assume the U.S. public is aware of electric drive, and we're going to need to be at this for a long time. It's going to take years to really get our message through. And although it might work elsewhere, we're not going to see any bans on certain type of vehicles. We just don't do well with bans on choices here.

And it's not just consumers that are slow to get the EV message. The process for permitting and installing Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) is also too slow across many parts of the country according to Wynne. He also believes that although some electric utilities are actively leading the charge, many of the thousands of utilities that operate across the U.S. are apparently happy to fall behind:

Of those 3,000+ utilities, not all of them are at the forefront. Some of the tail-enders appear to be focused just on the business of keeping the lights on.

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[Image: AFP/Getty Images – Saul Loeb]

Fleets are likely going to lead the way in deployment of EVs, with Wynne predicting that by 2015 all the major fleet operators will have made substantial investments in EVs and have significant volumes of plug-in vehicles in their fleet, and that by 2020 there will be a much larger selection of nameplates available with volumes per model in excess of 100,000 units per year. And, although the EV industry is clearly at a transition point toward much higher volumes, there are still plenty of risks that might derail the growth of the industry. According to Wynne:

A bad consumer experience could change everything. Safety is a given, and all the people in the industry today are highly aware of that. But customers need to understand EV technology and we have to do everything we can to ensure that's a positive experience. We still don't have a common standard for Level 3 fast charging, but I don't know if that's holding us back at this point. Overall though, I think the President's goal of 1 million plug-in vehicles by 2015 is certainly achievable.

With the industry beginning to grow pretty quickly, Wynne was still cautious about how many companies were actually making money at this point in the growth curve:

There are a lot of new entrants in all parts of the industry, but especially in the EVSE sector. I don't know how quickly demand is going to grow to take up the number of new entrants we are seeing. But it's early in the adoption cycle, and we're going to see the prospect for interesting new business models growing. I wouldn't image a lot of people are making a lot of money at the moment though.

In fact, running conferences on EVs might just be one of the few ways to make money in the sector today. This year's EDTA event attracted more than 700 attendees, up about 15% over last year.

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